Eeny meeny miny moe: Arabic children's tales revived as language teaching method

Amira Noshokaty , Sunday 13 Dec 2015

What better way to teach Arabic to children than to use songs, games and stories? A number of online initiatives now exist to help parents do exactly that

Zat Al-Hema folk Hero, courtesy of Helmi el-Touni to folk section

What better way to teach Arabic for children than to use songs, games and stories?

Fatahi ya warda, Beir Zewila and many more colloquial childhood relics are cleverly revived to attract the younger generations digitally speaking. No one can deny the domination of English as a language in our society, especially among the young children who are directly and subtly exposed to Western fairy tales and stories as their main childhood fare, without balancing such exposure with Egyptian/Arabic folk and authentic tales. Hence came a unique sincere approach to highlight the charm and identity of Arabic language. Hadi badi kromb zabadi (Eeny meeny miny moe) is a Facebook page dedicated to teach Arabic to children in the most fun ways.

"It all started when my eldest child started going to an international school in Egypt back in 2008. The school was looking for someone to animate an after-school activity in Arabic for younger classes, to introduce them to the language and culture in a fun and interesting way. So I decided to take the plunge and for two years started a storytelling activity in Arabic, and the children really liked it," explained Miranda Beshara, founder of the page and a freelance consultant and the Arabic editor of the Microfinance Gateway.

Due to her husband's work they had to live abroad. Hence learning Arabic in a foreign context became a challenge. They did not want to send their children to classical Arabic lessons affiliated with their closest embassy or a religious institution, for the traditional way of teaching Arabic is not fun centred — and all the more so for children exposed to more modern pedagogical methods in other languages and subjects.

"I said to myself, there must be so many people out there in the same situation and who face the same issues in teaching Arabic to their kids. Who is better than another parent to share insights and tested approaches? And what is better than a Facebook page to do so?"

And so the Hadi Badi group started in 2011 as a community platform to collect and share resources to help in either teaching or making Arabic more appreciated by children. Group members share all sorts of resources, whether songs, books, worksheets, online videos, games, applications, websites — anything related to Arabic for children. The genre is also mixed: folk, contemporary, translated and/or original works. "We also share tips and discuss if a certain application or book is good based on experience. The community now encompasses around 400 members not only living abroad, but also residing in Egypt and who are seeking more interesting Arabic resources for their children. It also includes members from other Arab countries, working or interested in such initiatives."

Hadi Badi is not the only initiative in this realm. Adopting the same line of thought are Books and Songs for Arabic for Early Learners, Yalla Arabi, another community-driven Arabic learning and cultural programme, and there is also the Arab Digital Expression Foundation.

Among one of the most interesting initiatives is Hawadeet El-Jedat (Grandma's Stories). "The idea first haunted me in 2003 when I was working with Nahdet El-Mahrousa NGO to document folk heritage in Egypt. I worked on it years later, when I realised how mothers are keen to group up on social media; that it’s a cheap type of crowdsourcing that could be a very good open source for research," explained Hadiel Ghoniem, an Egyptian published writer and mother based in the United States. 

The group gathers and lists Egyptian folk tales as told by grandmothers. Members join to add their grandmother's bedtime stories and currently the stories are being recorded on Soundcloud, so Arabic speaking children can enjoy these childhood gems that were washed away over the years and replaced by all forms of media gadgets that leave no room for the imagination — the magic behind story telling.

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