Do you speak Arabic?

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Updated 18 October 2012
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Do you speak Arabic?

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 http://www.facebook.com/ICanTalkArabic?fref=ts or contact Hadeel Alabbasi directly by sending an e-mail to [email protected]


Joss Stones says Saudi women are ‘strong’ after performing in the country

Updated 43 min 33 sec ago
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Joss Stones says Saudi women are ‘strong’ after performing in the country

  • The singer performed on June 23
  • She said Saudi men are helping the women with the change in the country

DUBAI: English singer and songwriter Joss Stone said she loved Saudi Arabia and that she hopes to visit again, through her personal social media accounts.

According to her Twitter account, the singer performed on June 23 with the help of a Saudi-based travel and event company.

Stone said she had the “sweetest gig” in Saudi Arabia.

The songwriter posted an image of herself wearing a pink niqab on her Instagram account, recounting her experience of the country in detail.

She decided to keep the headcover on even though she didn’t have to because she fell in love with it, Stone said.

View this post on Instagram

Oh #saudiarabia how we love you so ! I cannot wait to tell everyone I meet to go visit this beautiful place filled with beautiful people yet again, pleasantly surprised. Took me a while to figure out how to keep this wrap from falling off and then when I finally got it I realised that I didn’t even have to wear it. What a shame ! So I wore it anyway because I love it. I love the different cultures we get a chance to come across and become part of, even if it’s for just one small tiny moment. It means so much. The women here are strong and exercising their choice to be free, wear what they want and do what they want, their want may be different to what we experience at home but there ain’t nothing wrong in that. To each her own. I spoke to female doctors , managers, directors, vocal specialists, hearing specialists, carers, a singer/performer/artist and they all tell the same tale. The horses mouth has spoken. Yes there are horrible things going on all over the world in many different corners and crevasses but these women individually felt they were not oppressed , they were highly educated and free to choose how they lived their lives. I can only ever speak of those that I have met, I will not comment on what I have not seen with my own eyes because I have no right to. Assumption really is not something I wish to entertain. if you don't know , go have a look for yourself have a look for your self. I have come away from this inspired. Not just by the women but the men too, with how they are celebrating the changes that are happening in Saudi Arabia they are not fighting against it as so many might assume . It seems to me that they are all walking forward together trying to make there world a better place. This is the feeling I got from my personal experience. I would really like to go back one day and explore this place further . Thanks for having me #saudiarabia

A post shared by Joss Stone (@jossstone) on

She praised Saudi women, saying they are strong and exercise their own will. She spoke to a number of women from different professions in Saudi Arabia before coming to that conclusion.

“The women here are strong and exercising their choice to be free, wear what they want and do what they want, their want may be different to what we experience at home but there ain’t nothing wrong in that,” the singer said.

Stone also praised Saudi men for not fighting against the changes in the country, and said “it seems to me that they are all walking forward together trying to make [their] world a better place.”

The concert was part of the singer’s ‘Total World Tour,’ where she tries to perform in every country.

She has already visited Jordan, Oman, Syria and North Korea, among numerous other destinations.