Matt Galloway: On any given night, people gather in classrooms around this region to learn a new language. My next guest wants to change the way some of those languages are taught. One of them in particular. With the recent influx of refugees and other newcomers from the Middle East, Waleed Nassar is helping to launch an initiative called LoveArabic. It’s a website, along with workshops and events on Arabic language and culture. Waleed is with me studio. Good morning.
Waleed Nassar: Good morning, Matt.
Matt Galloway: Thanks for being here. What was it that inspired you to launch this initiative?
Waleed Nassar: Well, my wife and I and my kids are newcomers to Toronto and we were really inspired by how the Toronto community and Canada as a whole rallied to make the Syrian newcomers feel at home. So we wanted to contribute and we thought that was the best way.
Matt Galloway: And language is the best way to do this.
Waleed Nassar: Yes, since we’re native speakers.
Matt Galloway: So what is LoveArabic mean?
Waleed Nassar: LoveArabic, we see it as a verb. A way to a approach a new language, a new culture, by you know, approach it with curiosity and try to know more about it through like you mentioned events and classes workshops but also also through our website.
Matt Galloway: So what people do now if they want to learn Arabic?
Waleed Nassar: So, two easy options. If you’re in Toronto, we are based in the Center for Social Innovation and people you know can sign up for adult classes to learn basic Arabic. If you’re anywhere in Canada, were launching a video blog where people can send phrase requests, fill a form and we do a video response with the Arabic phrase in the dialect that they choose.
Matt Galloway: How is this different than how people typically learn the language?
Waleed Nassar: Yeah, typically they learn it using textbooks. You know the traditional classroom setting and we tried that when we started in 2014 but it’s boring. It was boring for us. It was boring for the students. We threw away the books and we took a hands-on approach. You know, learning alphabet using your hands. We have arabic blocks so we can build a word, but also through pop culture, Arabic popular culture. Depending on your interest in dialect, we can connect you with songs, movies. Thank God for YouTube for that.
Matt Galloway: What do you think that will do that’s different than the boring old books as you put it, when it comes to language learning?
Waleed Nassar: It builds a better connection with the person. They’re learning based on their interest, not on somebody who wrote the book, maybe 10 years ago and they’re just following chapter by chapter.
Matt Galloway: You’ve been very clear that you want to make this accessible to kind of all Canadians.
Waleed Nassar: Yes, it’s really important for us because when my wife and I started LoveArabic, we were just trying to fill a family need with our children but then we realized that there was a bit of a perception issue where people were a little bit hesitant because they felt that Arabic and maybe Canadian culture is not compatible.
Matt Galloway: What do you mean?
Waleed Nassar: It’s the single narrative being told about Arabic speakers are the culture. We hear it in the news. We see in the movies. We read in the fiction books. It’s all about violence, oppression, helplessness. but that’s part of the story and we want to change that perception by allowing people to experience it firsthand.
Matt Galloway: What will that do right now? I mean it’s fascinating we’re having this conversation at a time in the United States is in the middle of this roiling discussion about who lead the Republican party in particular and as you say, Arabic culture and language are in many ways front and center in that. If you’re able to be successful with this now, what do you think the potential and possibility is?
Waleed Nassar: That’s a good question. I think it’s more to answer people’s curiosity and media is not working. People want people-to-people interaction they want to sit down and have a chat and understand more about the Arabic culture and we want to do that through people. Through bringing both Canadian-Arabs and Canadians, through our website and through the classes. Bring them together and had have them,you know, chat and you know naturally we’ll find out that were common and we have similar interests other than you know that single narrative.
Matt Galloway: We’re curious individuals, right? We want to learn more and we want to learn more about people who are around us so if we have the opportunity to do it on a person-to-person level the hope is that that that people will follow that natural curiosity?
Waleed Nassar: Yeah, it’s it’s like you said it’s in our human nature and we think it’s an issue of access. It’s hard to learn a language, Arabic specifically, you have to do it through religion, either through a church or a mosque and you’re not really learning the language you’re learning a religion, which most people are not really interested in doing that. They just want to learn the language.
Matt Galloway: Or and about the culture that surrounds the language.
Waleed Nassar: Yeah, and and they want to ask what young people in the Arab world are doing now and we want to facilitate that.
Matt Galloway: What a neat idea, good luck!
Waleed Nassar: Thank you so much.
Matt Galloway: We’ll send people to the website to find out more. Thank you.
Waleed Nassar: Thank you so much.
Matt Galloway: Waleed Nassar is the Co-founder of LoveArabic. The initiative launches today. Includes a website where you can learn conversational Arabic. As well there are workshops and events. If you wanna find out more, visit the website: LoveArabic.ca.