Arabic Language Village Opens
It's mid morning at Concordia Language Villages' newest village, Al-Waha Arabic for the Oasis - and all 61 students are seated on benches on a large, open porch. Surrounded by thick woods and the still waters of Leek Lake, and dotted with eight-person cabins, Camp Trowbridge is the perfect backdrop for a morning skit to introduce some new words in Arabic.
Turkia Arfaoui leads the counselors in performing a short play for the villagers. The theme for the day is family and the staff introduce the Arabic words for mother, father, baby and other relatives first through a song they teach to the entire group, and then through a skit about a giant carrot that required the help of a whole family to pick from the ground. Arfaoui, the village's curriculum facilitator, and the counselors act out their parts with huge smiles, exaggerated hand motions and contagious energy.
"I'm so excited about this village and to start our sessions with such a great group," says Arfaoui, who teaches at a private Islamic school in Fridley, Minn. "They are here to learn and to have fun."
Concordia's Arabic Language Village opened July 10 with a two-week session for students ages 8-14, followed by a two-week session July 24 for young people ages 13-18. Like at the other 13 Language Villages, Al-Waha villagers learn through immersion - experiencing the language and culture through a variety of activities, including singing, dancing, sports, art and meals.
Villager Safiya Howard, 15, of Washington, D.C., came to Al-Waha following an introduction to the Arabic language class and a two-week trip to Egypt, funded through a grant awarded to D.C. public schools by the Mosaic Foundation. Eager to learn more about the Arabic culture and language, Howard was thrilled to receive a scholarship to Al-W_ha as well. She found herself quickly picking up the language through the many songs, while also enjoying handcrafts and the food.
"It's very exciting to be here," she says. "I have an open mind, so whatever comes my way I look forward to. I definitely want to come back."
While in Egypt, Howard visited an orphanage, a moving experience that she says has inspired her to learn Arabic so she can return to Egypt in the near future.
"I want to help the kids there," she says.
Chase Smith, 17, of Seattle, also signed up for Al-Waha in conjunction with an overseas trip. Sponsored by OneWorld Now!, Smith traveled for three weeks in Morocco, where he spoke mostly French but picked up some Arabic as well. The teenager is studying Arabic and Japanese through programs offered at his school, all while teaching himself Spanish and French during his free time. At Al-Waha he carries around a notebook, diligently taking notes during small group learning sessions and even translating words into three or more languages in neat columns on his pages.
"I'm learning a lot here," Smith says. "I try to study all day."
Arabic is the fifth most spoken language worldwide, the primary language of 22 countries, and an important language and culture regarding world affairs. National experts in the field of language learning, and Arabic in particular, have helped create the Al-Waha curriculum.
Al-Waha dean Ghazi Abuhakema says the village offers a fun, exciting location for children to learn the language and about the many ethnicities that make up the Arab world.
"We're here to present the Arab world as it is," Abuhakema says. "We're carrying out the mission of Concordia Language Villages. Our agenda is just to teach these kids the language and culture. And we will learn from these two sessions so we will be even better in future years."