Meet the Palestinian teachers!

After the celebrations of the last months, which saw the launch of the Online Arabic from Palestine course, and the arrival at the University of Glasgow of twenty Masters’ students from the Islamic University of Gaza, our team has been busy planning future projects (so watch this space!)

Meanwhile our online intercultural community of students and teachers is expanding. A growing number of learners from different countries are enrolling to take the Online Arabic from Palestine course, people with different cultural backgrounds, interests and expectations. This is really motivating for the Arabic Center’s teachers, who are busy developing even more tailored activities to maximise the students’ learning experiences. The teachers use the innovative course that has been developed but are also integrating it with their own ideas and teaching materials, making our great course even more flexible and suitable for all different needs. They are truly dedicated and creative professionals.

There is some trepidation in the air thanks to these online encounters! When enrolling as a language learner into a new course, you might feel excited, curious, hopeful and even, let’s admit it, maybe a little bit worried, or anxious… One of the first questions you ask yourself is who and how the teacher will be. This is always true, but even more so for one to one lessons, where there’s no way for you to hide 😊 The same happens to the language teachers, who, at the beginning of any language course wonder who their new students will be, how the course will go, whether the students will be rather shy or extrovert, whether the lessons that have been planning will meet the needs of the students and so on.

In this short promo video Lubna, Neveen and Jehad, three of the teachers at the Arabic Centre, introduce themselves. You can see their smiles, hear their voices… even before the first lesson! During the course you will get to know them a little bit better, and they will get to know you a little bit too since – remember – the aim of our course is not only to be introduced to Arabic as a foreign language, but also to create connections and get to know each other’s worlds.

If you decide to take the Online Arabic from Palestine course (you know you want to!) remember that you can contact the Arabic Center through our contacts section or directly on the AC’s website!

Knowledge exchange (beyond borders): some good news

After the sadness and frustration of the last blog post, here is some good news: tomorrow we will attend the Language, Translation and Migration Conference and Public Summit 2018, held at the University of Warwick and organised by the Migration, Identity and Translation Network.

We are delighted: this is a chance to share our learning and experience, to meet and exchange ideas with other people working in the field of education and to get more feedback about the OPAC project. Our happiness also has some sadness, though, because our colleague Dr Nazmi Al-Masri from Gaza will not be able to join us in Warwick as planned due to the brutal realities of travelling out of Gaza, and we don’t know when he will next manage to leave his country.

But, returning to the positive side of this news, we are ready for our presentation for Warwick. This will focus on the OPAC course as a  transcultural creative practice, a practical and useful way to challenge the siege which oppresses the Palestinian people, their culture and their language. Working on this is helping us to see again the wider context in which our project is developing, which at times we have lost sight of when caught up in the minutiae of lesson plans and IT problems.

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In particular we are re-discovering  the role of language learning and exchange as a key element of hospitality, in the context of  creating welcome and safety for Arabic speakers who come to Europe seeking refuge from conflict. We plan to highlight this use of our course in Warwick and look forward to meeting other researchers who are working to connect language education to issues of migration.

This news really has been a welcome reprieve after weeks of feeling a bit stuck and downhearted. This series of ups and downs really does prove the point that we will bring to the conferences: building this OPAC project is a creative practice, and like all creative processes it has its moments of clarity and moments of doubt. We know it will all be fine (more than fine) in the end – but we look forward to sharing and receiving support from like-minded people before we get to the end!

 

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.

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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.