Let's play learning Arabic

January 11, 2020

alaabi kalamna arabicubes play learn autisim

An excerpt from the article published by the Middle East Eye can be found below. Otherwise, click here to access the full article. 

In a quiet corner of a Cairo suburb, Ghada Wali crouches down on the ceramic tiled floor of her family home, creating patterns with Lego blocks. The 30-year old hasn’t raided her old toy box in a fit of nostalgia. Rather, she’s putting the finishing touches on her award-winning graphic design learning method.

Wali, a graphic designer by trade, has come up with a visually bold and engaging way of introducing the written Arabic form. Using Lego blocks as inspiration, she created a design concept presenting each letter of the alphabet, to introduce the Arabic language not just to children but to all "young learners, [and] foreign speakers". 

The images were then printed in a booklet to be sold as part of educational kits under her own brand, Let’s Play, each of which includes a pack of Lego for children and learners to create their own words [...].

The achievement, she says, is just a step towards a much bigger personal goal of sharing her love for Arabic with anyone wanting to learn.

"I want to introduce the Arabic language to young learners, foreign speakers, and to help refugees integrate into their host societies, but also to the youth within the MENA region and living abroad," says Wali, who has been working with the UAE’s Ministry of Education to add Let’s Play to the early years school curriculum.

"The beauty of Arabic is its richness, the fact that you can express one emotion with all its layers," she says [...].

The business of play

Wali is not the only one introducing the different Arabic letter forms to new learners.

Hala Gharib, a mother of two and owner of online toy company Alaabi (meaning "My Toys" in Arabic), had been concerned about the lack of quality educational products in Arabic even before she started her family. She noticed that “learning tools in Arabic seemed dated compared to other languages” and decided to design her own. Her first toy was an Arabic sound board “using colorful and chunky alphabet letters”.

Hala Ghraib encourages teaching Arabic through play
Gharib encourages teaching Arabic through play (Samer Moukarzel Photography)

Not long after, she added Arabicubes, a bestselling product created by another pioneer in language through play, Hanna Lenda, that is still in high demand.

“It’s our role to make it simple and easy for kids to learn,” Gharib says. “And visual memory is a huge part in learning a language.”

The 48 wooden cubes feature a stand-alone letter on one side, and by rotating the block forwards or backwards the letter appears in its different forms, creating simple words and phrases when joined.

'Learning through play is crucial, particularly in the early years, and even for adults'

- Dr Saussan Khalil, Arabic educator

Gharib says there is room on the market for different types of tools to get people learning Arabic using a sensory approach. But the issue isn’t the ideas, it’s the funding. Philanthropists, the business community, need to realize the importance of investing in education that is engaging.

Like Wali, Gharib says it's not just children that her products are designed for. The Arabicubes have been popular with adult learners, speech therapists and social workers in Syrian refugee camps in Greece.

Saussan Khalil, director of Kalamna, (meaning "Our Words" in Arabic) a programme teaching spoken Arabic through phonics to adults and children alike, welcomes all ways to teach Arabic through play. 

Khalil, also a senior Arabic language teacher at the University of Cambridge says: “Certainly learning through play is crucial, particularly in the early years, and even for adults. At Cambridge University we have the world’s first Lego Professor of Play, so this shows not only the importance of learning through play, but the application of Lego in many different ways to enhance the learning process.

"It is also well established that Lego play is used to help children with autism develop their social skills and there are professionals trained to do just this, such as those at Bricks for Autism."

Alaabi kalamna kids play learn arabic autisim arabicubes

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