Nadia Wehbe, founder of Baby Arabia, a ground-breaking mother and toddler program, has just won Ro’Ya, a prestigious business initiative set by the Dubai Business Women Council and Mastercard. We talk to her about how early exposure to Arabic is so important for children.
How did Baby Arabia originate?
I started Baby Arabia over three years ago as a need for my son. I didn’t teach it myself at the beginning, as I thought I couldn’t. So I would hire people, but they weren’t teaching it how I wanted it. I purely wanted a mother and toddler group at the beginning, a place we could go and speak Arabic. I come from an English mother and a Palestinian father and my mum struggled to get us to speak Arabic. If it wasn’t for her commitment, I wouldn’t be speaking Arabic today. My husband and I want our kids to speak both our languages, so they both speak Norwegian and Arabic. I sometimes have to put my foot down if they answer in English, but at least they understand what I am saying!
Where are Baby Arabia classes held in Dubai?
We started with one class in one play area and we are now in three or four play areas. In addition, we are also in nurseries as their language provider. Sometimes the classes are part of the nursery fees or sometimes parents pay extra.
We are still the only mother and toddler group in Dubai that does Arabic. We teach French and Spanish now also – this has come from demand from parents. Mandarin is something we will be looking at this year, but it depends if we can find the right teacher.
Who can attend the classes?
The classes have always been for both native and non-native speakers. There is so much action in the classes that we believe that non-native speakers can understand what is going on.
For the Arabic mums, it is about putting themselves in situations where the children hear Arabic from someone other than themselves, in a fun way. Mother and toddler groups are not very common in Arabic culture, so it has been an educational ride for them.
All the mums walk out of our classes with big smiles. We start the classes in a circle with our little guy, our mascot, who goes round and says hello, how are you? We have a letter of the day, in Arabic and phonetics. We do a game or some art, another song, some dancing and then we say goodbye to everyone.
How does it help the kids?
I have seen children who have nothing to do with Arabic, sing whole songs in Arabic. I think it’s brilliant.
They are hearing it, they are seeing it and the biggest thing is, they are feeling it. So when they start school and go into an Arabic class, they have a positive feeling inside.
Educationally, there is no wrong in teaching languages right from the start. We are opening children’s minds to understand that one word is not telling them three different things – a ball is a ball is a kurah!
How are you growing your Baby Arabia business?
In terms of expansion, we want to franchise Baby Arabia, so that rather than us providing the teacher, we want to train teachers in nurseries, give them our resources and a programme so they can teach Arabic. I recognised the need for exposure to Arabic from the beginning.
Tell us about your award
72 people initially submitted their business plans and then three of us had to pitch in front of six judges. The judges left the room and then came back to announce the winner, which was me! I won based on my expansion plan, which is to develop the programme so it can be sellable to nurseries. I want to give teachers the tools to deliver language as easily as possible, in a mainstream and integrated way. We have shown over the last three years that our way, the Baby Arabia way, works.
Get started with Arabic
My name is….
Can you speak Arabic?
Hal tatakallamu alloghah alenjleziah alarabiah?
I like Arabic
Ohibbu allughah al arabia
To find out more about Baby Arabia’s classes, visit www.babyarabia.com or call 050 624 7263.