Photographs as bridges

As the course material develops we continue to work out ways to address the question of doing without a bridge language in teaching beginners, as outlined in a previous blog post

We have discussed how using body language and hand gestures across different cultures can work, but also how it can be problematic, especially when two people are not in the same place when they communicate.

We are now exploring the idea of visual flow charts to direct students over the first few lessons, until they become familiar with the structure and processes of the course and their language capacity expands.

We have investigated various online platforms which permit dual, synchronous writing on a virtual notepad, so that learners can begin using the Arabic script and teachers can guide and correct the learning.

We have also realised that a lot of existing teaching material which is low on text and high on visuals seems to be aimed at young children; while this makes sense for many reasons, it leaves us with the question of how to include visual, non-text learning material for adults so that they don’t feel infantilised or patronised.

While all these questions were being discussed, Sahar from the Gaza team uploaded some pictures that she took, of places that she likes and are important to her from her home. Sahar’s pictures are now on the ‘Our Gaza’ photo gallery that you can find on our main page. Do have a look at them, and see what thoughts and emotions they inspire in you.

Showing people these photos and listening to their reactions has opened up a whole new horizon of possibilities regarding photographs as bridges that people can use to build shared language and understandings. The images in the gallery are at the same time simple and complex, connecting straight back to the capabilities approach which is at the heart of the language course, in particular the two key capabilities of affiliation and emotions.

The capability of affiliation enables people to express elements of their home and while being able to imagine other people’s places of residence and belonging. Our language course is built so that learners can acquire and express these capabilities in Arabic, at a beginner level. The course is also built around enabling people to express and understand attachment to places and people, as well as justified anger about difficult situations such as the siege currently happening in Gaza.

All the photos sent by Sahar are connected to these two capabilities: the images are both simple and complex, resonating with familiarity to people from different parts of the world, while also being very particular to the reality that is Gaza.

Two Italian members of the Glasgow team immediately spotted the pizza. People who have long lived in Scotland were fascinated to see that thistles grow in Gaza; that one photo generated an email exchange between Gaza and Glasgow about national symbols and plant names which was not technically building a language course, but was certainly enriching and building of our affiliation capabilities.

One of the photographs shows a monument by with some Arabic writing, by the Gaza sea shore.


The sentence in the middle section of the monument

هذا البحر لي

is a line from a Darwish’s poem. It translates as: “This sea is mine”. It is a very simple yet powerful sentence, whose sound the non-Arabic speaker in the team has enjoyed tasting, and trying out for measure. She discovered the full poem online, recited by Darwish himself, and noticed how the sound لي (lee = mine) is woven throughout the poem. In the specific context of Gaza, this short, simple word repeated over and over, at times almost shouted, carries so much emotion, history, resolve…

A seven-year-old in Scotland looked at the images and immediately pointed out the delightfully familiar (“Balloons! Upside down balloons! Seagulls like here! Puddles too! A beach!”), before going on to notice the unusual (“Why is that drawing all covered in lines?'” referring to Qur’anic calligraphy).

Listening to a child express affiliation has brought our reflection back to the question of ‘childish’ teaching materials that risk ‘infantilising’ adult learners. If a child can learn and discover new things from a photograph, why not use photos for adults too? Why not incorporate the exchange of photos taken by teachers and students as part of the course itself?

Sometimes, it seems, complex questions have answers that are both simple and multilayered. We look forward to seeing where these photograph-bridges will take us to next.

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