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PlayArabic إلعبي بالعربي

October 26, 2018

What to do if you can’t find an Arabic Playgroup in your area? Start one!

This is a parent-led initiative to keep our spoken language alive, creative and fun. We will sing children’s songs, tell stories and play in Arabic. Until we know who we are as a group, and who plans to stick around, I will be leading on the prancing around and exaggerated expressions, in an attempt to engage babies, toddlers and very young children!

The idea is to create a space immersed in spoken Arabic. I’ve been asked whether this will be focused on Modern-Standard or dialect, and if the latter, whether I plan to use Egyptian, Levantine, Arab Gulf, North African etc. Well, I plan to do what I do with my two year old daughter, who I speak with exclusively in Arabic; I speak naturally in my own accent, but replace any specific Iraqi dialect words into modern-standard. For example, I don’t say خاشوگة or أوتي (khashoogha or Outti), I say ملعقة and مكوي (mal3aqa, makwi). So that when she hears and speaks with non-Iraqis, most importantly, her father’s family, she can understand and be understood.

Besides, rather than shying away from our dialectical differences, I’m planning on bringing these to the fore. When we come across a word, like ‘hat’, which has a colourful array of variations in spoken Arabic, I hope we as parents can share these in the group. A way of acknowledging and even celebrating our differences.

Eventually, I hope to do the same with nursery rhymes, as there are regionally specific ones too. This is another way of engaging and connecting diverse migrant cultures, in a similar line to what I’ve been doing for years in the community workshops I’ve organised and led.

The name is inspired from a Cantonese Playgroup I came across, whilst looking for an Arabic equivalent. I’ve yet to find anything like this for under 5 year olds, which I find shocking and sad. I loved the story of the British-Chinese mother, who set-up the first group. She came to he UK from Hong Kong when she was eight, struggles with her own Cantonese, but found a way of passing on her mother tongue, as well as improving hers, through the Playgroup.

I also appreciate the openness of the group, as they are very organised, candid about how they set and run their multitude of groups, and share all on their website. A resource I’ve made full use of that with PlayArabic. I tried to make contact, to say Thank You and maybe pick their brains a bit, but not had any joy.

The next step would be to create a database of all Arabic children’s activities in London. Since organising PlayArabic, I’ve become aware of little music groups and informal classes and such that are not well advertised (or not made public at all!). Friends and friends of friends got in touch to share. Word-of-mouth is a powerful medium, and easily missed if you don’t have your ears pricked. If someone gets to this idea before me, even better, as my time is pretty tight with my own little ones.

The Arabic name is a play on words, purposefully using the unconventional feminine verb, whilst assuming it applies to both female and male subjects. Usually, it’s the other way round, as was the position English language took before the advent of gender awareness, for example, Mankind. Arabic has yet to have such a linguistic revolution, or at least, I’m ignorant of any that have already taken place.

Besides, in my experience, such groups are usually dominated by women, whether it’s mums, nannies, grannies, so why use the conventional masculine form to imply it’s for all? And, fathers/ male guardians are more than welcome of course!

The first session will be at 10:30- 11:30am this Monday 29th October 2018 at Mayfair Library.

Yella, yella!

Spread the word, turn on your singing voices, limber up to act out stories within stories for the next generation!

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