Language Education in the Time of COVID

This year has thrown us all for a loop. Even if you’re fortunate enough to have not fallen ill to COVID-19, it has disrupted your life: social gatherings are restricted, travel is difficult, jobs are being reduced or eliminated. (Or have become even more hectic. If you work in healthcare, you have my utmost respect.) Even if your job hasn’t changed, your free time has. No longer can you just pop over to your favorite café on a whim: get your mask and your bottle of hand sanitizer, but oh, there’s a lineup; stand six feet behind the next person and endure the Winter chill.… Schools are struggling, as well. Teachers are scrambling to put their curricula online, and students are straining their eyes in front of computers and tablets. We at Nasma have been busy researching and working on the best way to learn Arabic online for kids, so this blog post will delve into some of the insights we have made as we struggled into this new frontier of language education.

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A New Language: More Than Just Words

Learning a new language is a terrific challenge. People don’t so much speak their mother tongue as they feel, dream, and live it. Every motion you make, from making your coffee to driving your car, comes with a constantly running subconscious narrative in your native language. And this hazy, half-formed level of thought can be quickly and eloquently turned into spoken and written text in a few hundredths of a second. The brain’s ability to process our native languages is truly marvelous.

Learn Arabic online for kids

Those few hundredths of a second can stretch into long, uncomfortable pauses if you’re trying to speak a new tongue. Vocabulary is an obvious difficulty: you’ll probably manage “good morning/afternoon” without much difficulty. Stammering out the kind of coffee you want might take a second, but that’s not bad … oh! The barista asked an unexpected question. Seconds pass as you pick apart her words and form your reply … “yes, I would like cim—cimman—cinnamon, please.” At this point, the patient cashier will probably just turn the register’s display to show you how much you need to pay.

And vocabulary isn’t even the most challenging part of learning a new language. Idioms tend to throw off even intermediate speakers of a language.

For example, one common expression in Levantine Arabic is “bint issakaafi ḥaafi” (بنت السكافي حافي). Translated literally, this means “the cobbler’s daughter is barefoot.” The English speakers reading this are probably confused: a more suitable translation would be “physician, heal thyself!”

In terms of language acquisition, children leave us adults in the dust. Their growing minds absorb languages extremely well, so it’s a good idea to get your child learning a new language as young as possible.


How You Can Help Your Child Learn Online?


Learn Arabic Culture

Teachers all over the world, no matter the subject, no matter the age group, whether they’re teaching online or in the classroom, will tell you that parental involvement correlates hugely with academic success. In these uncertain times, your contribution to your child’s education is more important than ever. Teachers, struggling to make their lessons work with online classes, may not be totally efficient in their class management. This is not the fault of the teachers: if a student drifts off in an actual classroom, that’s easy to notice and correct. When trying to teach through a screen, however, inattentiveness is hard to see. They might look like they’re paying attention, but maybe there’s a smartphone playing YouTube videos just out of view.

What, specifically, can you do to ensure that your child is getting the most out of their online studies? Be involved. Ask to see their course materials and homework, even if you don’t understand the material. If the teacher doesn’t mind, pop in and watch part of a lesson. Email the teacher with any comments or concerns you might have (don’t worry about being annoying; an uninvolved parent is much more frustrating than one who asks a lot).

I think that every parent everywhere, after asking their child, “what did you learn in school today?” gets a monotone “nothing” in reply. Instead, ask specific questions about your child’s schooling. Ask what they read today, ask what they need ready for the next class, and ask them to demonstrate a bit of what they know. Don’t neglect the social aspect, either: ask who they spoke with today and how the teacher is doing.

Nasma’s Kid’s Program: The Best Way to Learn Arabic Online for Kids

At Nasma, we pride ourselves on our Arabic for kids program. It has worked well when teaching at our home base in New York City, and we have worked ceaselessly to optimize our curriculum for online delivery. Starting in the new year, we are launching a Winter-themed six-week program. For six Saturdays, your child can join four other children and one of our dedicated teachers and learn Levantine Arabic for all things related to Winter: colors, games, sports, and so much more. Our curriculum is fun, challenging, and safe, and full of engaging stories, songs, and arts and crafts to keep your child busy and entertained. There are several sessions for our six-week course, divided by age (three and four, and five through eight) and Arabic ability (classes are either bilingual or Arabic only). Visit the Nasma Kids’ program page to see what session is right for your child.

If you’re not ready to take that plunge, we have other, free methods of Arabic learning, for kids and others. Our Instagram page posts an Arabic word of the day. There are also Podcast Tuesdays, featuring short chats posted each week from Nasma founder, Carol Haidar. (These are perhaps not the best way to learn Arabic for beginners, being suited for those at an intermediate level.) Finally, you can check out our YouTube channel, which features weekly tips for beginning learners of Levantine Arabic, so it’s a great way to start to learn Arabic online, for kids (and yourself!).