Where should the birds fly?

Between the 1st and the 3rd of May the UNESCO Chair for Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts had its second annual Spring School, to talk about asylum and refuge from many different perspectives. And what a great success it was! Three days of presentations and workshops in the welcoming Heart of Scotstoun Community Centre in the West End of Glasgow. The School attracted academics (some from as far away as Australia!),
experts-by-experience, advocacy groups, integration networks and activists, and we talked, thought, laughed (even cried a bit) and enjoyed together the yummy food cooked for us by the great team at Küche.

nourishment
and more nourishment

The theme of this year’s Spring School came from a song by Karin Polwart, from her wonderful ‘Wind resistance’ album, which talks about the collective efforts of geese as they fly in a V formation. Birds thus featured prominently in most presentations and workshops, and our Palestinian Arabic taster was built around a line from a deeply moving poem by Mahmoud Darwish, called ‘The earth is closing on us’. The line says:

‘Where should the birds fly, after the last sky?’

So, at the workshop we learnt to greet and introduce ourselves in Arabic, but also the name of colours for squares of origami papers, which we then folded to make ‘asfour’, birds of many different colours. Arabic has two words for bird. One, ‘tayir’, indicates the general order of feathered animals, while asfour is used to refer to the little birds whose specific name we don’t quite know: the ones that dart around our cities and countryside, that sing – sometimes beautifully – and that can make us smile. All the little, colourful asafeer (this is the plural of asfour) we made at the workshop were collected at the end and gathered together on a piece of driftwood, so they could be displayed in the main hall for everyone to enjoy.

where should the birds fly?

Quite a few of the workshop’s participants said they want to learn Arabic with our friends and colleagues at the Arabic Center of the Islamic University of Gaza. All of them said they had had a wonderful time (and so did we!)

clothed in birds

Team member Alison delivered the keynote speech to mark the end of the Spring School, coming back to Karin Polwart’s birds, and dressed in the little asafeer of our Palestinian Arabic workshop.

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!

Did you know that language learning can involve dancing?

For the past two Fridays the Glasgow team run an Arabic workshop, first in Glasgow (22nd February) and then in Newcastle on Tyne (1st March)

The workshops are aimed primarily at people who are working with refugees and asylum seekers, but are open to anyone interested in learning Arabic from the Gaza Strip for study, work or just interest. In the workshops we:

  • outline the importance of giving a space to the languages people seeking asylum and/or people who have refugee status;
  • offer information on the Online Arabic from Palestine language course (for beginners) that was developed through a collaboration  between a team at the School of Education (University of Glasgow, UK) and a team at the Arabic Center (Islamic University of Gaza, Palestine); and
  • give a taster Arabic lesson for beginners

As part of our taster Arabic lesson we decided also to stand up and learn some steps of the traditional Palestinian dance called Dabke. Our team member Nihaya taught us a few steps, and everyone had so much fun!

Here are some workshop participant practising the Dabke and counting in Arabic:

Wahed, ithnan, thalatha, arba’a, hamsa, sitta!

Well, ok, we have a long way to go still before we match the professionals (see the wonderful video below for comparison 😉) but we all had a great time!

As well as dancing the Dabke while counting in Arabic, workshop participants learned to introduced themselves in Arabic and to say where they are from. Here are some of the comments by participants

“Thank you for the workshop, it was very informative and fun”

“Thank you for the workshop, it was great and I still remember the numbers”

“Thank you for the workshop and a very enjoyable dance”

“Thanks for the workshop, the Dabke was great”

We will also do the workshop in Manchester, on Friday the 8th of March. Check out the flyer below and contact Nihaya.Jaber@glasgow.ac.uk if you are interested in taking part!

Manchester workshop details