They mastered Arabic despite not getting access to quality books

Dhanusha Gokulan (Principal Correspondent)/Dubai Filed on November 12, 2019 | Last updated on November 12, 2019 at 07.29 pm
Arab Reading Challenge, Arabic, Arab children, foreign countries, Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, France, Dubai Opera,
Few participants from abroad and European countries at the Arab Reading Challenge Day 2 at Address Dubai Mall.- Photo by Juidin Bernarrd/Khaleej Times

In many cases, the students said they find it hard to find Arabic books in their respective countries.

Arab children in foreign countries face a peculiar problem: They don't get access to quality Arabic books. Despite this, the Arab Reading Challenge (ARC) has brought together children - some as young as eight - who are mastering the language despite not having the resources.

Of the 22 semi-finalists from Arab communities in foreign countries like the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, France and the United States, the judges have selected four for the final round. One of them will be crowned the reading champ (foreign countries) today during a grand ceremony at the Dubai Opera and take home Dh100,000.

On Tuesday, November 12, the semi-finalists could be seen nervously pacing around a hall and practising their lines at the Address Hotel, The Dubai Mall. Khaleej Times caught up with them, who said the challenge has been a life-altering experience.

"It boosts their confidence and has drastically improved their Arabic language skills," said Mona Zarka, a Syrian-origin Arabic teacher from France. She is the ARC coordinator for students participating from Holland and France. In many cases, the students said they find it hard to find Arabic books in their respective countries.

"Many of the children are fifth-generation Arabs. They have to learn the language from scratch. In many cases, their parents don't speak the language at home."

Her student, Miriam Lamghire, a 17-year-old Moroccan-origin contestant, is a leading participant from France. "Miriam picked up an Arabic reading habit, despite all these challenges. The ARC has been great for them," said Zarka.

Quest for Arabic books

For Miriam, her favourite book is one that has been penned by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. "This experience has changed my whole life. Once I go back, I would encourage more friends to participate in the ARC. However, finding Arabic books in France is a challenge. Studying at an Arabic school gives me some access to Arabic books," said Miriam.

Iraqi-Jordanian contestant from the US Haya Mohammad (12) studies at an Arabic-medium private school in Kentucky. "I think the ARC is vital for Arab children, especially those of us in foreign communities because we've left our countries behind. In many cases, these countries are in bad shape. Language is all we have left.

"I moved to the US when I was two years old. The only reason we have Arabic books at home is thanks to my mom as she travels to Jordan once in two years and buys them."

The written word

Palestinian-origin Dutch national Syreen Mohammed (18) has read over 30 books. "I feel the present generation does not read much. We're very occupied with social media. I think reading creates such a great feeling, even if the ending of a book is painful."

Similarly, Maria Al Majeed (16) from Australia said: "I read a lot of the books I have on the Internet because it is difficult to find physical copies of the books. I got most of my reading done during the holidays. However, the ARC has been a beautiful experience, and I got to meet so many people."



Dhanusha Gokulan

Originally from India, Dhanusha Gokulan has been working as a journalist for 10 years. She has a keen interest in writing about issues that plague the common person, and will never turn down a human interest story. She completed her Bachelor in Arts in Journalism, Economics, and English Literature from Mangalore University in 2008. In her spare time, she dabbles with some singing/songwriting, loves travelling, and Audible is her favourite mobile application. Tweet at her @wordjunkie88

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