Raising Arabic-Speaking Children (Part 3)

April 15th, 2011

Earlier, I recounted our attempts to raise bilingual children in Seattle. Next, I depressed readers with the story of our first four years in Dubai.

So, in 2005 we transferred our three children to an international school, where they blended right into the diverse student population. At this school there were more Arabic options to choose from. The Arabic classes were divided into Arabic A (First Language Arabic) and various levels of Arabic B (Second Language Arabic).

For years, other mothers asked me, “Is your child in Arabic A or Arabic B?”

Of course, Arabic A was the high-status answer, and we fell straight into this mindset. So for several years we kept our children in Arabic A—even though the fit was all wrong. By this time, my husband was speaking mostly English with our children, yet he clung to this notion of Arabic A. He could not accept the idea of our children speaking Arabic as a second language—even though they hardly spoke it at all.

Eventually we came to our senses and gradually moved our children into the appropriate level of Arabic B. The pressures of Arabic eased and we all felt better. Meanwhile, I noticed many Arab children with two Arabic-speaking parents were also in Arabic B. They were wrestling with the same language issues that plagued us!

In the mean time, we had other educational matters to deal with—writing issues, math issues, behavior issues… At fifth grade, each child started French. (More complications!) By seventh grade, our son had twelve separate subjects.

For a while, Arabic turned into just another subject—one more class among many. We got busy with our hectic family life, and when we weren’t looking, our children’s Arabic started to improve.

New tutors made a difference. For our oldest son, we hired a youthful, energetic man. Our son admired him and now wanted to do well at Arabic. For our daughter, one of her cousins offered to tutor her. And so, our daughter, who year after year refused to speak Arabic, gradually started to do well in Arabic class.

Flash forward to the present. Our children are all doing much better in Arabic. (Well, two out of three.) Let me start with our youngest (age 9), who is still in the throes of I-hate-Arabic. I refer to him as our “Wild Card” because we still don’t know where his language will go. He spent virtually his entire life in Dubai, and yet he’s made the least progress in Arabic. He does speak “Playground Arabic” with his cousins, but he still has a long way to go.

As for our daughter (age 12), there has been a transformation. At her most recent parent/teacher conference, the young Arabic teacher told me, “She’s confident speaking Arabic. She raises her hand often. Her speaking skills are good. She helps her classmates.”

Really? I leaned forward and stole a peak at the teacher’s notes. Yes, she was talking about our daughter—our daughter!—who had refused to say a word of Arabic for all those years.

Next, the teacher told me about a change in the curriculum. The new textbooks now have an “Expression” section in each chapter. Students are now required to express themselves in both spoken and written Arabic. The teacher told me that she was trying to get the whole Arabic department on board with this new approach.

At last! A shift in Arabic-teaching methodology! I predict that if there’s to be a true change, it will be this next generation of Arabic teachers—dynamic and open-minded teachers like our daughter’s—who will propel it.

Finally, our oldest son: He’s nearly 16 and nearly 6 feet tall. He now speaks Arabic almost fluently (albeit with a limited vocabulary). At some point in the last two years, a switch flipped inside his head. We are not sure what triggered this; even he’s not sure. I suspect it was prompted by multiple factors: family trips to Jordan and the West Bank, participation in pro-Palestinian rallies, and association with his Arabic-speaking peers who think it’s good to speak Arabic. (Peer pressure in our favor!) Our oldest son now speaks Arabic every chance he gets—with relatives, salespeople, falafel vendors, waiters at Chili’s… Once I asked him what language he spoke at the homes of his Emirati friends.

“Arabic, of course,” he told me. “I don’t want them to think I’m a dumb white kid.”

So, there you have it. In the end, what drove his desire to speak Arabic was his strong personal identity—his desire to be Arab and not “a dumb white kid.”

Meanwhile, my husband believes it was due to all those Arabic storybooks he read to our son when he was little.  If that is the case, then he better get busy reading to our nine-year-old. There’s still time!

  1. April 15th, 2011 at 11:46 | #1

    I enjoyed reading this post. It adresses issues we grapple with daily. I am glad someone is sharing this experience with others. My kids all stuggle with similar identity issues and each seems to have chosen a different path just like yours have.

  2. Sara
    April 15th, 2011 at 16:13 | #2

    Thank you!!! First of all… my boys are still in the toddler and infant stages of this struggle. Our toddler only speaks Arabic when prodded and it’s mostly him repeating. I do believe he understands the majority of what is said to him in Arabic. But, it’s only been two years of this struggle and already the English has crept in so severely that I’m starting to think we should drop our one parent/one language rule and I should invest in some Rosetta Stone. Now… I’m thinking we just need to move to Dubai. I have this long-standing fear that my kids will be the “dumb white kid.” (Okay, so the pictures of your ridiculously gorgeous kids in front of a tropical garden – while I just walked my dogs in my winter coat and hat in 33 F outside – might have something to do with it also!) 🙂 Thanks, again!

  3. Carla Stern
    April 15th, 2011 at 17:10 | #3

    This makes for really interesting reading — you’ve got your own SLA research going. I have to say that after so many years, even the Spanish textbooks lack a certain communicative or real-world approach. The one we are obligated to use now (which I hate, but the administration has the power) follows the traditional grammar-heavy curriculum, forcing structures on 101 students who can barely get “Je m’appelle” out.
    By the way, how is your Arabic? Remember when you had that tutor in Pullman who claimed “Arabic has no grammar”?!! That always made me laugh.

  4. April 15th, 2011 at 17:27 | #4

    Thanks for your comment. The more Baba speaks Arabic, the better. There are now so many great children’s books in Arabic. I believe books help tremendously with introducing new vocabulary & structures…. BTW, I think Dubai is a great place to live for cross-cultural families like ours. However, it’s not the best place to learn Arabic. Yet it is better than Seattle or Wisconsin. 🙂

    @Carla Stern
    Yes, I, too have had an interesting string of Arabic tutors…. As a result, I can speak “Functional Arabic”. I get by when I need to, but my Arabic is an odd mix of Standard Arabic & Palestinian spoken dialect. Bizarrely, I lost my passion for learning Arabic when we moved to Dubai. I took a few classes, but my focus was more on the children. All this blogging has re-energized my desire to use it again. I’ve started studying this week & I was speaking it in the souk today!

  5. Lainey
    April 15th, 2011 at 18:38 | #5

    Very touching.

  6. April 15th, 2011 at 21:12 | #6

    So glad it all worked out for you 🙂

    Our children have not done as well. Our 16 year old takes Arabic in a public high school in Idaho. We just hope he passes the class. 🙂 Funny, we have talked about moving to Dubai–which has many opportunities in my husband’s business sector–but apparently that’s not an easy solution to the language problem.

    Great series of posts. I always look forward to reading your blog.

  7. April 16th, 2011 at 04:30 | #7

    Hey are you poking fun at Wisconsin 😉 just kidding! Your posts have spurred me back into Arabic mode with our kids (and myself). I’ve got husband on board finally now that he’s confident in English to slip back into Arabic at home. While I’d love to get them using fusha I think in reality Darija (Moroccan Arabic) is the mostly likely and practical for them right now.

  8. April 16th, 2011 at 05:35 | #8

    I was thinking my friend Sara lived in Wisconsin, but it’s actually Minnesota (one of the cold states!) I think it’s more natural to use your spoken dialect for speaking at home & use the Fusha for reading story books–even if the boys don’t ever speak Fusha, they can get exposed to it & they’ll figure out the meaning from the pictures & context. Have fun!

    Thank you for your kind words. I am impressed that there is Arabic in the Idaho public schools. Wow! Dubai is a fun place to live, but not the best place to learn Arabic.

  9. April 16th, 2011 at 09:10 | #9

    🙂 I also don’t want my sons to be dumb white kids!

    Egypt should be easier on the Arabic than Dubai, but the international “high status” language remains English. Bah.

    We’re going to start on a fus7a tutor soon, isa… Of course the older one takes fus7a at school, but—as one subject among many—it gets lost. As you say, lots of things to keep your eye on with kids!

  10. kimberly
    April 20th, 2011 at 13:32 | #10

    very interesting, and glad for tthe happy “ending”! I wish you continued success, and thank you for your insight.

  11. Samia
    June 16th, 2011 at 22:09 | #11

    I’m a parent of a 2 year old.. I’m not Arab at all, but I want my child to learn to speak Arabic fluently. I was born and brought up in Dubai and I don’t want her to become like me! That is.. I can’t speak Arabic, although I can understand half of it…

    What schools would you recommend? I’ve heard about School of Creative Science in Sharjah and School of Research Science in Dubai.. but any others which follow a UK/US curriculum but at the same time, the kids learn to speak Arabic fluently?

  12. Holly S. Warah
    Holly S. Warah
    June 17th, 2011 at 14:43 | #12

    @Samia I admire your desire for your daughter to learn Arabic. Speaking more than one language is a gift. As you know, Arabic is not the main language in Dubai. Therefore, it’s difficult to learn Arabic here unless you are part of an Arabic-speaking household. It’s not impossible though! The problem with schools that are strong in Arabic, they may be weak in other subjects or they might not be the right fit for your child–culturally or religiously. I would visit lots of schools and ask lots of questions. Ask to speak to an Arabic teacher or the head of the Arabic department. Arabic instruction is gradually improving in Dubai. What you want is a program with various levels so your child can be placed correctly. The ideal teacher is one who uses modern language methods, not simply the copy/memorize approach. Plan to spend lots of time & money on getting the right Arabic tutor for your child (to help with academics & to provide practice). There are also Arabic language schools and programs around Dubai that your child can participate in during the holidays. Spending time with Arabic-speaking friends is ideal! The point is, your child will need lots of Arabic input to become proficient in the language. I will email you shortly with names of specific schools. Best wishes with your goal!

  13. June 20th, 2011 at 11:04 | #13

    Hello Holly, I am an Indian expat living in Dubai and am desperately trying to teach my 5 year old Girl Arabic. Could I have some contact for home Tutors which you think may help? Regards

  14. Holly S. Warah
    Holly S. Warah
    June 22nd, 2011 at 17:23 | #14

    @Jameel Thanks for reading, Jameel. I would suggest by starting with your daughter’s Arabic teacher. Arabic teachers usually know other teachers who are looking for tutoring work. Also, teachers are typically happy when their students get outside help. Also, I suggest doing an online search for “Dubai Arabic tutors” you may discover some language centers in Knowledge Village that offer Arabic tutoring for children. For example, Eton has Arabic programs for kids. Also, if you are in Dubai for the summer, you might be able to find an Arabic summer language program for your daughter. Best wishes with your goal!

  15. Diya
    July 13th, 2011 at 14:02 | #15

    Thanks Holly for sharing your story! I’m a little disheartened now 🙁 I am an Arab married to a non-Arab and I am trying to raise my now 25 month old daughter bilingual. I’ve got an uphill battle. We live in the U.S. with no other Arabic speakers around, and no family members. I have been speaking to her in Arabic, and only in Arabic (i.e. not one single word of English even in public and with non-Arab speaker) since she was born. My husband speaks to her in English and whatever Arabic he knows, which is quite a bit. We always listen to Arabic music and read lots of Arabic books and watch some Arabic DVDs (the Arabic Baby Einstein ones). She speaks both languages now, and since she seems to understand everything I say, I have begun to tell her that I don’t understand her when she says something to me in English, so she translates. It’s not that she always speaks English; in fact she uses both languages equally. But whenever she does use any English word with me, I just say “Mish fahmeh 3leiki” or “Ma Ba3raf shoo ya3ni (fill in the blank).” Most of the times, she is happy to just switch to Arabic and is now slowly starting to use her Arabic words with me from the start. My question is, do you think this can work in the long run? Has your husband tried this technique? Do you anybody who has? My fear is that once she fully realizes that I can indeed speak English, that she won’t oblige me anymore. I also don’t want to frustrate and alienate her. I was also thinking of maybe when she grows up a little more to say that Arabic is our secret language. Maybe that will get her into it when the trick I’m using right now doesn’t anymore. Any advice?

  16. Holly S. Warah
    Holly S. Warah
    July 15th, 2011 at 20:19 | #16

    @Diya Thanks for the comment. Wow! Arabic Baby Einstein! Who knew? It sounds like you are doing a marvelous job raising your daughter bilingually. I would keep doing what you are doing, especially with various Arabic-language materials. However, try if possible to add contact with other Arabic speakers. Trips to see extended family can be a huge boost, as well as family visitors.
    I know other parents who insist the child speak in the target language, and they pretend not to understand when the child uses the first language. Those parents are usually the most successful. However, I agree that the child will probably resist at some point. When that happens I would avoid making an “issue” of it, which could backfire on your goals. If your child one day refuses to speak Arabic, keep speaking the language and keep reading Arabic stories to her. There are lots of resources out there. I have heard there is now Arabic summer camp somewhere in the US. Also, there is a website community called Mulitilingual Living which could help out. All the best to you!

  17. UmmSami
    August 26th, 2011 at 23:22 | #17

    I so appreciate this. My husband is Egyptian and has refused to speak Arabic with our kids yet somehow expects them to speak Arabic. (Yes, mind boggling.) Or expects their barely able to count to 10 in Arabic Mom (moi) to teach them. We finally got to an area with a good Arabic program at the mosque…so the older kids can at read Arabic…but they still hate speaking it. We’re talking about going to Dubai or someplace else for the young’uns to pick up Arabic, but I’m getting doubtful that it will help as all of the International schools tend to emphasize English (or French or German) over Arabic.

  18. Holly S. Warah
    Holly S. Warah
    August 27th, 2011 at 00:30 | #18

    @UmmSami Yes, the bilingual thing is quite a challenge. As you know, English is used more than Arabic in Dubai. However, my children get far more Arabic here than they would in the US, so it has worked out for us. Of course, it’s not as much Arabic as they would get in Jordan or Palestine or Egypt. Yet I’m not sure we would have lasted this long in those places. It’s hard to say… Anyway, Best wishes with raising your children with Arabic. Thank you for reading & commenting.

  19. Leila
    November 21st, 2011 at 18:45 | #19

    Mom i think that the picture you posted of us is very…. intressting =D

  20. Dana
    January 20th, 2012 at 14:49 | #20

    Hi Holly,
    Thanks for sharing your experience with trying to raise bilingual children. I have the same difficulties. We are moving to Dubai and I’m wondering if you can recommend any good private schools with strong Arabic programs and also some good Arabic tutors for my 4 year old.
    I’d greatly appreciate your help.

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      January 22nd, 2012 at 14:44 | #21

      Hi Dana,
      There are so many schools in Dubai, it’s hard to keep up with them. First of all, I would look at schools that are in the area where you plan to live. (I don’t advise a long daily commute or putting young kids on a long bus ride across town.) Keep in mind that the schools are constantly changing & evolving. Also, the Arabic curriculum and teaching methodology are gradually improving in Dubai. One school that is a good fit for someone else’s child may be a bad fit for your family.
      In general, the British & American & Australian schools have weaker Arabic programs while the international schools have a better chance at having a stronger Arabic program. Of course, this is a general comment & there might be exceptions.

      When interviewing a school about their Arabic programs, you can ask how often they have class. If Arabic is important to you, then you should look for a school that has Arabic class every day or nearly every day. Also, find out if the school has both Arabic A (first language) and Arabic B (second language). After that, find out if there are different levels within Arabic B. A good Arabic program would have 3-5 levels within Arabic B to offer your child the right fit. Also, find out about the training of the teachers. If you talk to the head of the Arabic program, you can ask about teaching methodology. Ideally, a program should offer more than just copy, memorization & dictation. The students should be expressing themselves in the language in speaking and writing. Students should be able to bring home Arabic story books from the library.

      To find out a specific tutor, I would ask your child’s Arabic teacher, the Arab mothers at the school, as well as any of your Arab neighbors. A good tutor is very hard to find. Best wishes & stay in touch! Holly 🙂

  21. noaman
    March 3rd, 2012 at 23:04 | #22

    Assalam-u-alaikum, I’m currently living in the uk with three kids, 5,4,1. I would very much like for them to speak and understand arabic fluently. I and my wife are both from non-arabic speaking backgrounds. what is the best approach you recommend. Oh yes and moving to an arabic speaking country is not a possibilty. Can you please advise me ????

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      March 7th, 2012 at 23:12 | #23

      Hello Noaman, Thank you for the question. Like learning any foreign language, learning Arabic takes time and commitment. I suggest hiring a tutor to come to your house to tutor your whole family (adults & children separately). Alternatively, you could take a class, but it’s tricky finding the right class to meet your needs. If you are a Muslim, weekend classes at the mosque are a good option for your children. Finally, here’s a textbook I highly recommend for you and your wife. You can work through it with a tutor, the answer key & the CDs. It’s called: Mastering Arabic by Jane Wightwick and Mahmoud Gafaar. Below is the link. All the best to you and your family!

  22. Ana
    March 9th, 2012 at 20:16 | #24

    Hi Holly,

    Thanks for sharing your experience. Are there bilingual schools in Dubai? I am thinking of a school that teaches both a UAE and an American or British curriculum, not just Arabic and Islamic Studies. There is a really famous and good one in Kuwait: http://www.bbs.edu.kw/

    Thanks for your help.

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      March 9th, 2012 at 23:34 | #25

      HI Ana, Thanks for the question. Unfortunately, I do not know of any true bilingual school in Dubai where half the content subjects are taught in one language and the rest are taught in another language. There are the “government school” which are mostly in Arabic. There are the Western private schools that teach in English, except Islamic & Arabic, which are taught in Arabic … However, some schools offer more Arabic hours per day than others. This is an important question to ask when considering schools. There are so many new school in Dubai, so it’s hard to keep up with them, and so I can’t give names of specific schools. I hope you find a school that is a good fit for your children and your family. Best wishes with that!

  23. noaman
    March 19th, 2012 at 17:17 | #26

    Salam-u-alaikum. Thank you very much for the advice. Unfortunately our local mosque doesn’t run any ‘ arabic language’ courses for adults, or at least not yet anyway. I think that i will probably have to resort to finding a home tutor. The ‘link’ for the arabic textbook is also much appreciated. Thank you again. All the best, ma’salam.


    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      March 28th, 2012 at 23:07 | #27

      Best wishes on your Arabic journey. It’s not easy but I believe it’s worth the effort. All the best to you, ma’salaama. 🙂

  24. May 8th, 2012 at 12:29 | #28

    Hi Holly,
    We’re also raising our two boys bilingual (my husband is Egyptian). From day one, my husband has only ever spoken Arabic to them, regardless of the situation, where we are or who we’re with. Our oldest son, who is now 9, always answered in Arabic. However, our youngest, who is now 6, began to respond to his dad primarily in English. So I took the boys back to Cairo for 2-3 months and stayed with my in-laws who only speak Arabic. That did the trick, and after a week or two he was responding in Arabic fluently and hasn’t looked back. There are always the two languages flying around our house and overlapping. The boys switch naturally back and forth between the two. Our challenge now is the reading/writing side of things. We go to Egypt for a few months most years and get the boys an Arabic tutor, but are finding it hard to maintain the routine when we’re back in Australia.

    Thanks for these posts. It’s great to see bilingualism thriving 🙂

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      May 10th, 2012 at 07:48 | #29

      Hi Emily, thanks for the comment. It sounds like your family is off to a great start with the bilingual thing. Annual trips to Egypt will make all the difference. I suggest you pick up some children’s books while you are there or order some online. The quality of children’s Arabic books has improved greatly, and books can introduce new vocabulary and new structures. Also, depending on the age of your children, they might be open to watching some Disney cartoons dubbed in Arabic. Every little bit helps. Best wishes to you and your family!

  25. Inno
    June 22nd, 2012 at 11:47 | #30

    Hi Holly,
    Thank you once more for sharing your story. We will soon be moving to Dubai with our fourteen-year old daughter. She does not speak neither English nor Arabic (she is able to read and write slowly though). We are thinking now about whether to choose for an English- or Arabic-speaking school. However, while they are myriads of anglophone schools, I have a hard time to find Arabic ones. Do you happen to have addresses of such schools. And also have you heard whether they accept non-Arabic speakers?
    Thanks and wishing you all the best

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      June 25th, 2012 at 23:57 | #31

      HI Inno,
      Choosing a school in a foreign country can be very difficult, as everyone’s criteria is different. Also, you don’t know if the school will work out until you try it. Most of the private expat schools in Dubai (even the ones geared toward Arabic students) provide instruction in English, including English-as-a-second language support. For schools strong in Arabic, you might also want to look at schools in Sharjah. Another thing to consider (besides language) is whether your daugther will fit in socially into an Arabic-speaking school. I suggest that you consider international schools that have strong programs in both Arabic and English-as-a-Second-language. If you write to me privately & I will give you the names of a few schools. All the best to you and your family!

  26. Afaf
    November 4th, 2012 at 09:56 | #32

    heheh I really enjoyed reading that. Im 19 and lived in Dubai most of my life. My Arabic used to be quite weak because I only used English with friends. I dont know when it got better, it just happened. My parents never did anything, they just spoke Arabic with us at home.
    My older sister had similar problems with her daughters but she just kept it smooth and spoke both languages with them. My only adivce would be to keep it natural and just use both languages. Dont force it. When I was 15 me and my friends just started speaking more Arabic for no particular reason. Just wait for it with your kids and it’ll happen 😉

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      December 21st, 2012 at 17:16 | #33

      Afaf, Thanks so much for your comment & your real-life insights. I agree: Keep it natural. Don’t force it. Excellent advice!! 🙂

  27. Amal
    December 23rd, 2012 at 16:01 | #34

    I’m so glad I stumbled upon your blog, Holly. We’re planning to visit Dubai next year to check out school for our children. Yes, we’re planning to move there inshaa-Allaah. Right now, two of my eldest children are in all-arabic speaking school, so we want to continue them in that path, Arabic in school and English at home. Probably with extra tutoring or extra classes.
    Can you share the names of some schools that has good/strong emphasis for Arabic ? Thank you so much.

  28. Mona Ghandour
    February 4th, 2013 at 09:10 | #35

    Please if you are Arab stress on teaching your children Arabic (verbal and written)-

    I am 1/2 Arab – ( father Arab mother European) I attended American Schools in Saudi Arabia – I learned Arabic as a 2nd language – I resented learning Arabic – I wanted to be like my all American school friends and to speak English only -so I refused to associate with the Arabic language – I did not want to be mocked- labeled or bullied by knowing Arabic – the less Arab I was the more I would fit in by my so called American friends – so today I do not speak Arabic well and read very little – When I go to visit the Middle East feel like I am ,”The dumb white kid !”
    I grew up in S.A. the Mid 1950’s – I wish I attended an Arabic School and was taught English as a 2nd language – Today I feel that I am 100 percent Arab who happens to speak broken Arabic with a strong American accent – Arabs must speak Arabic – My personal opinion is we should learn it as our first language first

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      February 6th, 2013 at 16:28 | #36

      Thanks for reading & taking the time to comment. I think the 1950s was a time when immigrants to the US & Europe wanted to assimilate to Western culture.
      Now it’s more acceptable to celebrate all aspects of one’s cultural background–especially language. I agree 100% in the importance of learning Arabic. It’s the main reason why we moved to Dubai–so our children could learn Arabic (which we achieved with mixed results!) Sadly, the Arabic language teaching methods are lagging behind. Kids still dislike studying Arabic. I think this will gradually improve in the years to come. Thank you again for sharing your story!

  29. February 11th, 2013 at 19:38 | #37

    I don’t comment frequently on peoples websites, primarily simply because the content is horrible and I am not there long enough to care…. but this blog genuinely made me stop in my tracks. The content is excellent, and I do mean excellent. Incredible work and I’ve saved the website
    and will return later, anxious for more.

  30. Gisele
    March 1st, 2013 at 11:23 | #38

    Thanks Holly for sharing your story. Do you know any Arabic tutors in Seattle for 3 and 5 year old?

  31. Sherry
    March 4th, 2013 at 20:56 | #39

    What a helpful blog! My husband (Egyptian) and I (American) are aggressively searching for an immersion summer program to aid our reluctant 9yo’s aquisition of arabic. For the past 5 years, he has received weekend instruction at our mosque, but hasn’t been too effective in his reading/speaking arabic. We currently reside in the US and are open to programs here and elsewhere. Thanks!

  32. Hanan
    April 11th, 2013 at 22:37 | #40

    amazing experience, thanks for sharing, we are Egyptian family living in canada, my 4.5 years old fluent in english, understands but doesn’t speak arabic (passive I think), but he is okay with the arabic, loves the arabic letters, your story gave me hope, I imagined he would never be bilingual, I will work more on reading stories for him 🙂

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      April 18th, 2013 at 21:10 | #41

      Hanan, Thank you so much for reading and commenting. Yes, raising bilingual children is a funny, long-term project. Don’t give up!

  33. Colleen
    June 20th, 2013 at 03:04 | #42


    I was wondering if you could give us an update on how your three children are doing with Arabic and what has changed since you posted in 2011. This topic is especially interesting to me as I am a native English speaker, my fiancé is a (Tunisian) Arabic speaker, and the language we use to communicate with one another is French – we would love for our (future) children to be multilingual but are currently planning to live (for the time being) in the United States, in the Greater New York area. I am particularly interested in your continuing insights on raising your children in a bilingual household.

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      June 20th, 2013 at 20:25 | #43

      Hi Colleen, Thanks for following up. Currently my oldest child, who is 18, speaks fluent Arabic. Unfortunately, the Arabic is limited for my other two kids (ages 15 & 12). But they try their best… I think the most important thing is spending lots of time with people (probably relatives) who speak the second language. Plan for lots & lots of travel, and also having relatives come stay for extended visits…. I put a lot of emphasis on books in the home in the second language, which was hugely helpful, but what did the trick for my oldest son was summer visits to see his father’s family. My son really wanted to fit in & communicate, and so that is what drove him to develop his Arabic…. Best wishes & congratulations to you & your fiancé…. What a fun adventure you have ahead of you. 🙂 Stay in touch.

  34. Mei
    July 14th, 2013 at 19:59 | #44

    Thanks for this post. I have a 10, 4,2 and barely 1 yr old children and I reallllyyy want to teach them how to speak Arabic. You mentioned about books that you were using to ur kids. Is it possible if I can get the name of it or where did u purchase it? I put my 2 kids in an Arabic school but I think they need more help. We usually use English to communicate at home and I know thts the reason y I cnt get them to like Arabic as much as I want them. It will help me a lot if thrs books that I can use for teaching. thank u

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      July 16th, 2013 at 05:25 | #45

      Hi Mei, I bought our children’s Arabic books mostly from bookstores in Amman, Jordan and from the internet. I suggest you start with Amazoncom and search for “Children’s books in Arabic.” I’m sure you’ll find dozens of books there, including bilingual books in both English and Arabic. Best Wishes!

  35. Larisa
    August 30th, 2013 at 13:02 | #46

    Hi dear Holly,
    i knew that i know you somehow, when i have bumped onto your blog through yahoo news. yes i was almost sure, you are Holly i met at “Motion” once right before winter holidays and we have been introduced to each other. I am Larisa, russian-american, married to an Emirati man for almost 15 year. So nice to see you here!
    i truly enjoy reading your posts and this Arabic journey is just worth a novel status! as many mentioned, the same story repeats with almost every bilingual family. i will wait as you had given me hope for my 8 years old son to get fully “ripen” for digesting and enjoying Arabic. Sincerely, Larisa (Lara)

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      September 5th, 2013 at 17:02 | #47

      HI Larisa,
      Thank you so much for stopping by & leaving a comment. It made my day! I hope to see you again. Would love to compare notes 😉

  36. Afreen Musab
    September 22nd, 2013 at 09:27 | #48

    Asalamalaikum, I am so happy to find your blog. I am also trying to help my son Umer learn English and Arabic though we are speaking another language at home. My mother tongue is a mixed indian language and I was brought up in muscat and attended an English school there. Then I got married and stayed in dubai where I’m sending my son to an arabic school. Alhamdulilah I read Quran and understand quite a few words, I have even started learning arabic grammar and my son I pray to Allah that I get a good school to transfer him into. I was trying for international school of creative sciences Dr Bilal Philips school but sadly it was full. The fees are also so high sometimes but we are in need of such schools in dubai half day English and half day Arabic.

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      October 3rd, 2013 at 10:39 | #49

      Salaam Afreen, Thanks for reading & sharing your experiences. I agree that there is a need for truly bilingual schools. That is, where half the subjects are taught in Arabic & half the subjects taught in English. Arabic needs to get out of the second language classroom. Best wishes with your language goals for your child.

  37. September 30th, 2013 at 00:40 | #50

    Thank you so much for sharing,it brought back memories with our three kids( all adults now).
    We live in Canada my husband is Egyptian ,I am Croatian,children are Canadian born and we are all Muslim by faith( I am a revert ) so it was important to us for our children to know Arabic to read Koran and also to be able to communicate with relatives and other non English speaking Arab friends.We tried several things with various degrees of success but letting them go live in Egypt with various relatives for summer holidays worked the best.They returned back fluent in Arabic and loving it!

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      October 3rd, 2013 at 10:37 | #51

      Hi Mira, Thanks for sharing your experience. Something similar happened with my oldest child. Regardless of all the books, classes & tutors, he had to go stay with his relatives & find a way to fit in and communicate. Thank you for stopping by.

  38. Clodagh
    October 12th, 2013 at 18:24 | #52

    How refreshing to read that I am not the only one with “Arabic Dilemmas” in the house. Finding a tutor here is not easy and the kids are not overly happy to do Arabic after school but if their life is to be here they must learn. thanks

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      October 14th, 2013 at 09:49 | #53

      Thank you for reading. We are all struggling with this problem!!

  39. mostafa elkordy
    November 7th, 2013 at 06:15 | #54

    nice blog! I M EGYPTIAN MARRIED TO ALBANIAN living in NY. i have a 3 and 2 years old boys. and i am affraid that they wont speak arabic like i do. i used to speak to ny first son in arabic and he would repeat and get some words. specially the curses and laous funny sounding words. one the second one staryed taking; they have been taking together in english and worse of all i found the only way to communicate with them is english. some how i started speaking in english with them. i m really woried now specially that i am a real egyptian from the funny kind and it would be a shame if my kids wont understand my slang and jokes. i dont even care if the read or write at the moment. i just want them to talk eyptian arabic. books and videos dont do it for me as they tend to use the prober arabic which is not how i speak. i call a chicken farkha not dajaja and car arabeyah not sayaarah. i have to figure out some thing. but if some one else did. let me know how its done aboos eidak.

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      November 7th, 2013 at 21:02 | #55

      Hi Mostafa,
      Thanks for your comment. Keep reading to your kids–even if it’s a different dialect. If you read to your kids every night, they will get exposed to many new words & constructions. And they will have a positive feeling with Arabic. Make the most of when they are small. When they get older, that is when they start rejecting languages. All the best to you!

  40. December 21st, 2013 at 08:21 | #56

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  41. mrs.ali
    January 14th, 2014 at 00:32 | #57

    Hi everyone!assalam alaikum.
    School registrations are open and im really confused regarding which school to enroll my son into.my son is 3 and i want him to learn arabic n memorize quran.we r non arab muslims.i know about international school of creative science but cant find many reviews to back up my decision to enroll my son there.how about school of research science.any feed back would be highly appreciated!

    • Holly S. Warah
      Holly S. Warah
      January 15th, 2014 at 20:10 | #58

      Dear Mrs. Ali,
      All I can say is tour the school, ask a lot of questions & ask about school ratings and inspections. Maybe you can find this rating information online. In Dubai, all the schools are rated. You can also ask to speak to parents of students. I don’t know anything about that particular school, so I can’t comment on it. It’s always a gamble to select a school. Best of luck

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