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A young Saudi man planned to go to the States to learn English. Rather than attending classes at an expensive institute, he was advised to approach a church, as many of them offer English classes for free. The teachers are volunteers who enjoy helping others and do this as an act of “social responsibility”.
This brief anecdote and her eagerness to set a good example about Saudis to foreigners living in the Kingdom inspired Hadeel Alabbasi, 36, to found “I Can Talk Arabic”, an institute that provides classes to all women interested in learning the Arabic language.
Alabbasi lives with her husband and children in Jeddah and is also a writer, family councilor and life coach. She started off by asking expats what they would like to learn and how. “I figured that a lot of people come to Saudi Arabia and want to learn to communicate.” Most courses offered are for men only, and the ones available for women are “either too hard or boring,” Alabbasi stated. In other words, “There is a need: One can find many English institutes in Jeddah, but hardly any Arabic.”
While talking to foreigners and locals, she realized that most locals — including teachers — think Arabic learners should start with the alphabet, but students want to learn vocabulary. Alabbasi visualized how she would like to learn a language if she lived abroad and realized that she, too, would prefer to focus on conversational skills.
Alabbasi met with potential students a couple of months before officially establishing the institute to discuss their wishes and ideas. She then developed a method that engages students in learning to speak the Arabic language without tedious grammar rules. “A summit I once attended inspired me to divide the students in my classes in small groups, learn words and sentences with a leader, and prepare a presentation for the other students.”
According to Alabbasi, this is a creative and effective way to increase the students’ vocabulary, as showing each other a presentation or small play helps them memorize new words and sentences.
It was not difficult to find teachers — or leaders, as Alabbasi prefers to call them.
“They are not qualified teachers, but women who voluntarily guide the students in their learning process and activities,” she explained. The only requirements Alabbasi has is that they are enthusiastic and committed, they should love the Arabic language and would preferably be Saudi. Most of the leaders are old friends of her.
In March this year, Alabbasi finally kicked off with conversation and media classes. The number of students was between two and eight. “The curriculum was a bit hard for the students at the start of the classes, so we changed it this year and made it slightly easier,” Alabbasi recalled. The feedback she received from the students was overwhelmingly positive: “They thought the classes were holistic, fun, warm and friendly.” They also told her they learned a lot in them.
After a summer and Ramadan break, she started the new season with four different classes: My Life, an interactive class focused on everyday life situations; My Grammar, which discusses basic Arabic grammar to improve the students’ conversation and comprehension skills; My Qur’an, in which students first learn how to read the Qur’an properly — introducing Tajweed, (the proper pronunciation of the words) — and then read, understand and apply a sura (a chapter of the Qur’an); and a Book Club, in which students read children’s books. Some of the classes are now attended by as many as 21 students. All classes are open for Muslim and non-Muslim women alike.
To make sure anyone interested can attend the classes, which are held at her home in Jeddah, Alabbasi only asks for a nominal fee of SR20 per class. “However, the expenses have been higher than expected, even though the classes are at my home. If I open a school one day, the fees inevitably have to go up.”
Even though opening a school is a big dream for her, she does not want the fees to be a barrier for any student, keeping in mind the example of churches giving free English classes in the US. “Opening a proper center is definitely on my mind, but I am not looking forward to all the challenges coming with this, one of which are the fees I will have to raise,” admitted Alabbasi. “In addition, questions like ‘Should I start paying the teachers?’ and ‘Do I need to hire qualified teachers?’ will come up once I decide to open an Arabic institute.”
For the time being, Alabbasi enjoys the interaction with the leaders and students. “The pleasure of teaching someone and seeing the students learn something is indescribable,” she said, adding that the leading part was also interesting to her. The administrative side — getting the material together, typing and printing it, answering e-mails in a timely manner — is more of a burden. “Sometimes I feel like I need a secretary,” Alabbasi smiled. “It takes a lot of time, but I know it is part of the job.”
Besides opening an Arabic center, Alabbasi would like to add more classes in the future. “My dream is to make it international. I want people to come to Jeddah to learn Arabic the way Cairo and Damascus are cultural and linguistic centers to provide intensive spring or summer courses to students,” she said. She even dreams of opening centers in non-Arabic countries, just like English and French institutes are found all over the world.
“Another plan is to go to Bangladesh and other developing countries to organize 10-day courses for locals as a charity,” Alabbasi concluded, commenting that many Muslims all over the world would love to learn Arabic but don’t have the means to study it. Serving her language and helping people are Alabbasi’s main incentives for giving the classes. Perhaps this, as well as the church anecdote, could inspire more Arabs to offer non-Arabs the chance to study their beautiful language.

For more information, please visit the institute's Facebook page or contact Hadeel Alabbasi directly by sending an e-mail to [email protected]

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