International symposium at IUG

On the 13th of March, IUG and the Arabic Centre hosted an international symposium on ‘Opportunities and Challenges of Teaching Arabic as a Foreign Language’.

Participants included our colleagues at the Arabic Centre, staff and students from IUG, our research team at the University of Glasgow and two keynote speakers: Dr. Hasan Kordi from the Islamic University of the Maldives, and Mr. Murshed David from South Africa. The symposium allowed us to exchange knowledge and good practices about teaching Arabic online and about the presence of Arabic within different education systems and in different countries.

Below you can see symposium’s participants from Palestine, the Republic of the Maldives and South Africa as they looked from Scotland!

One monitor, four countries

The UK team illustrated the 2017 report by the British Council called Languages for the Future. The report used a series of indicators to research which modern foreign languages the UK needs for future prosperity and to become a truly global nation. And guess what? Arabic is among the five top languages!

The British Council report considers economic factors, and also non-market related factors, such as the languages most used on the Internet, the languages needed for diplomatic purposes, and languages used for tourism. The report concludes that it is imperative for the UK to find strategies to address its ‘language deficit’:  only 1/3 of the UK population (this includes UK residents whose native tongue is not English) can hold a basic conversation in a language other than English…

When talking to our colleagues and friends during the symposium, however, we stressed that learning Arabic is important not just for economic purposes, for diplomacy or intelligence (although these are – of course – all very valid reasons) but also because it is one of the languages spoken in our communities, and a language through which we can offer ‘linguistic hospitality’ to refugees and people seeking asylum in the UK.

The day continued with the presentations by team members Mrs Lubna Hajjar and Miss Ola Lubbad who showed us some of the ways in which teachers work at the Arabic Centre, and by Miss Hala Al-Shreim who showed us a video compilation, made by our wonderful Gaza colleagues, in which Arabic Center’s students from all over the world introduce themselves. Below are our Gaza team testing the Arabic Center’s new website to show it at the symposium (about which we’ll write a post soon: keep an eye out!)

Getting ready for the symposium…

It was a truly lovely event!

Gaza: the full picture

When doing a Google search for images of the Gaza Strip, Palestine, you may really struggle to find images that are not of rubble, explosions, smoke, young people (usually men) with their face covered, looking threatening. Below is a screenshot showing the first few images that came up when searching the word ‘Gaza’ on Google Images today.

Google’s Gaza

Since Google tailors its results according to previous searches, you may get images that are a bit different. However, whether they come from supportive websites or websites that are hostile, the images are almost invariably along the lines of the ones above. We know, because, when we were putting together the Online Arabic from Palestine language course, we had to scroll through huge amounts of these images to find some that were not of war, misery and destruction.

When our Palestinian colleagues in Gaza send us pictures for this blog’s gallery, the screenshot of the drive where the images were stored could not be more different from the one above. Compare the two!

‘Our’ Gaza

Life in the Gaza Strip is indeed hard: we do not wish to minimise this. But there are people in Gaza who are keen to show that hardship and pain are not all there is in Gaza, that people there are living their everyday lives in the best way they can under the circumstances. That Palestinians in Gaza are managing to hold on to their dignity, hopes and great determination to lead lives as normal as possible, even in the ‘abnormal’ circumstances of the situation they are in.

Kholoud Nassar is a young Palestinian woman who lives in the Gaza Strip. She uses her Instagram account to show ‘the full picture’ of life in Gaza, one which acknowledges that there is war and destruction, but that this is not all. You can watch how she portrays Gaza in the BBC documentary ‘The Instagrammer who wants to show a different side of Gaza‘.

The Khaldi Twins have also been making videos about the Gaza Strip and life in Gaza for a few years now. They too do not deny that life in Gaza is harsh, but they wish to show also all the good things that happen in Gaza. If you have access to Facebook, you may want to check out their page.

This Gaza of both suffering and strenght is the Gaza that our Online Arabic from Palestine shows too. Designed for total beginners, this course is taught by qualified, trained teachers based in Gaza. It will show you the many bright facets of life in the Gaza Strip. You can register through the ‘contact‘ button or by writing directly the Arabic Center at the Islamic University of Gaza.

Guess what? We’re working together again! 😊

After the launch of the Online Arabic from Palestine (OAfP) course, we felt a bit sad. Sure, it was great that the course was finished on time, and that it was now being taught by our colleagues at the Arabic Center, but at the same time this meant that our ‘baby’ had grown up and left home, and now the home felt a bit empty. So, when we were offered a chance to do some more work on the OAfP, we couldn’t believe our luck and we grabbed it with both hands!

Now the joys of Skype communication are back in our weekly agenda, as are the emails that have a mind of their own and self-format in Arabic and English (apparently at random). The sharing of pictures and information on WhatsApp is back, and so is the sending of Facebook messages and emoticons to each other. In short, we’re back to our working closely together through screens of all shapes and sizes, to being colleagues in this ‘bounded’ world of ours that sits at the crossroads of ‘virtual’ and ‘real’ reality. A world that we’d been missing for a couple of months, even though it can sometimes be quite a difficult one.

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Here we go again…

During this new project we are putting together a teachers’ guide for the Arabic course and training new teachers in the Gaza Strip so that they can teach the course and make the most of our wonderful materials. We will also revamp the course’s website and we plan to do a lot of promotion of the course through holding workshops (in the UK and the Gaza Strip) and an online symposium…

…so, once again: watch this space!