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What is NaTakallam?
Aline Sara, Co-founder, NaTakallam
In recent years, the popularity of Arabic language learning has risen dramatically, and it is now among the fastest growing foreign languages to learn in the US. Many language learners want to study an Arabic dialect, such as Levantine, but most resources and curricula focus on the more formal and less colloquially used Modern Standard Arabic. Practice is important for language learners, yet travel to the Middle East can be expensive, and it is now impossible to attend previously popular language courses in Syria.
Conflict in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, has triggered the worst refugee crisis since World War II. There is a need to better understand this part of the world and to encourage young people worldwide to get involved and support refugees. For the displaced people, their situation can be compounded by restrictions on their right to work, leaving them unable to earn a living. Refugees and asylum seekers can also be subject to unhelpful stereotyping and misrepresentation due to a lack of understanding of the refugee situation or Arabic culture.
NaTakallam connects language learners around the world with displaced Syrian or Iraqi people for online Arabic lessons and intercultural exchange, usually over Skype. NaTakallam means “we speak” in Arabic.
Refugee conversation partners gain much needed access to income, as well as training and transferrable skills. Language learners get to learn and practice Arabic skills from a native speaker, who can also offer an insight into the culture of the region. The lessons are organised in a flexible and tailored way, at an affordable price. Language learners are typically individual adults, although NaTakallam has also partnered with K12 institutions and colleges to provide group instruction. A teaching support system is being developed to train tutors, to ensure high retention rates and student satisfaction.
NaTakallam can also be used to teach global citizenship and increase intercultural understanding. One school in Hong Kong used NaTakallam to support their learning about migration. 4th graders were able to talk to displaced people via Skype and hear their stories directly, bringing the issue of forced migration to life and helping the student to contextualize and understand the issue more deeply. This type of learning can also be an opportunity to explore empathy and promote responsible global citizenship. NaTakallam works closely with teachers and instructors at all levels to ensure that the school’s needs are met, by assigning refugee conversation partners to the school based on the saliency of their stories to the specific subject matter and context
In 2016, NaTakallam was winner of the World Bank Youth Summit ‘Rethinking education for the new millennium’ award and this year, it was selected a top 5 idea among 650+ submissions in the Bridgebuilder Challenge a collaboration between GHR Foundation and OpenIDEO that recognizes development solutions through open innovation at the intersection of peace, prosperity and the planet.