What is Baby Arabia?
It’s a mother and toddler group (six months to three years) that encourages a cultural familiarisation and understanding of Arabic through songs and stories. I used to teach Arabic and realised that children – even native speakers – really struggled with the subject when they had to study it at four years old because they weren’t getting enough exposure to it at home and during their early years.
What gave you the idea for it?
I lived in Mexico for a while, where my son Kai was born, and, as a first-time mum, I attended a lot of local mother and toddler groups. What surprised me was that simply by joining in with their traditional songs and rhymes, the language difference wasn’t really so much of a barrier, and also I learned so much from the local women. Culturally, mother and toddler groups don’t really exist in Arab communities and I saw a chance to help improve cultural integration and understanding by starting one that would bridge the gap between western and eastern mums and tots.
Do you have a lot of Arab mums attending the classes?
It’s about 50/50 now, which is a really nice balance. English has become a big part of life in Arab families because parents often work, the children spend a lot of time with their English-speaking nannies, they watch English-language television and they often converse with their parents in English, too. As a result, lots of Arab children are losing the ability to speak their own language, which is sad. They also struggle when they start studying it at school. Baby Arabia helps in part to address that.
What about the western mums?
They really enjoy the classes too and I love the fact that they are making the effort to help their children feel comfortable within Arabic culture. In the sessions we run we hand out a song and story sheet, with the text in English, Arabic and phonetic Arabic, so that when it comes to joining in and singing, the words and sounds are easy to follow. We cover things like the alphabet, numbers, colours, fruit, greetings – just the basics of the language to familiarise the babies with the sounds. But it’s amazing how much the mums pick up too, and how much more confident they feel, knowing a bit of the local lingo.
You are clearly passionate about this.
I am terribly passionate about it! I believe that when language is a barrier, we fear another culture – but when that barrier is broken down, it gives us the confidence to make new friends and explore new horizons. But I’m not into academics though – I’m into learning through fun.
Tell us about your new boot camp for older kids.
It’s literally an exercise and games class for kids of up to seven. We speak in both English and Arabic but we set the children little linguistic challenges that they have to do before they can play a game, do a jump or kick a football. It’s really taken off, especially as the weather is so good and we are doing it outside. It’s fantastic!
Visit www.babyarabia.com for information and schedules on Nadia’s classes.