by Kerby Gilstrap
I have noticed over the course of the past 2.5 weeks that gifted students hate to make mistakes, but making mistakes is a sign that they are learning and trying; mistakes provide opportunities for us to grow. All of this is especially true while learning a second language.
Learning another language is one of the most rewarding challenges any person can undertake. We began speaking Arabic on the very first day of class, learning traditional greetings and basic conversation skills. By the end of week one, our students had mastered the Arabic alphabet and could read and write in Arabic. Now in week three, students are giving oral presentations and even singing in Arabic (Eid miladik ya habibi!).
As a student of Arabic myself, I have enjoyed watching our students acquire new language skills. I remember how difficult it was to pronounce Arabic sounds that we do not have in English such as ghayn or qaff. As one of our guest speakers, Mazin, an international WKU alumnus from Oman, said, “It takes a lot of confidence to ‘just speak,’ but speaking is the best way to learn a language even if we make mistakes. If you make mistakes, your friends will correct you and you will learn.”
One of the most rewarding parts about teaching the class has been sharing about the Arab world. In Kentucky, especially in some of the rural communities represented at VAMPY, there is not a lot of access to Arabic speakers or culture. We have introduced VAMPY students to food, sports, music, dances, countries, and people from the Arab world. I hope all the students feel like their world has grown and become more accessible at the same time.
We have had many special guests and events during the two weeks so far, including guest speakers from Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Syria. Each student has also completed a research project about various countries in the region. This week, we learned about political systems and the Arab Spring from 2011. Wedneday morning, in order to learn more about the impacts of the Syrian Civil War, we had a Zoom session with Mona, a Syrian refugee and musician currently living in Canada.
In Arabic class, we celebrate the mistakes of our students! But طلابي, please never make the mistake of saying “no” to Panda cheese*.
شكراً جزيلاً يا طلاب! مع السلامة
*Panda Cheese is a popular Egyptian commercial; it was one of the class’s favorite videos to watch during VAMPY.