The best way to learn a language is to immerse oneself in its environment. Arabic has long been popular among students, members of the Arab Diaspora interested in maintaining their spoken skills, and professionals working in or on the Middle East.
In the US alone, Arabic’s popularity has increased two-fold over the past decade and represents the fastest-growing area of foreign language study in the US. Additionally, as conflict continues to unfold in the Middle East, the need for people to communicate with Arabic-speaking refugees is quickly becoming more urgent. While academic and language institutes tend to teach ‘Fusha,’ formal literary Arabic (Classical or Modern Standard Arabic [MSA]), students are increasingly interested in`Ammiyyah,’ the local dialect and primary spoken form of Arabic in a given region. There is a general lack of opportunities to learn and practice the language with native speakers, especially the Levantine dialect, which is spoken in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine. Damascus, once a hub for Arabic learners, is no longer accessible.
The Syrian conflict has triggered the worst refugee crisis since World War II. Even if Syrians manage to flee the violence and obtain asylum abroad, many of those displaced are restricted in their work opportunities, often challenged by language barriers and local labor restrictions. Many Syrians today find themselves stuck in neighboring Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and Turkey, and need a gainful work opportunity to avoid falling into depression, poverty, and even perhaps, crime. Lacking these opportunities, they go through a life threatening journey to Europe—even Latin America— in search of more viable opportunities, but even there, adapting and finding work remains challenging.
NaTakallam (“we speak” in Arabic) operates on the above two premises, pairing displaced Syrians with Arabic learners around the world for language practice over Skype. The platform offers affordable, flexible, tailored Arabic practice with native speakers. On the other end, NaTakallam offers a valuable income source to displaced Syrians mostly in Lebanon, but also in Turkey, Egypt, France, Brazil and Germany. Along the way, users and Syrian conversation partners engage in a powerful intercultural exchange, frequently developing transatlantic friendships between worlds that are often polarized in the media and political spheres.
Who We Are
We are graduates of Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs with extensive experience in language learning and teaching. Our interests lie in economic and political development, human rights, humanitarian affairs and journalism. All core members of the team are originally from the Middle East. More details coming soon.
Our supporting partners:
NaTakallam’s work is being partially facilitated by Lebanese NGO arcenciel, which founded in 1985, currently hosts 13 centers throughout Lebanon and by the Aspen Institute, a non-profit based out of Washington D.C.
- NaTakallam is currently being housed and supported by Columbia University’s Start up Lab at the WeWork space in Soho, New York City.
- NaTakallam is a member of TrustLaw, the members-only service of the Thomson Reuters Foundation which offers NGOs and social entrepreneurs an easy way to request free legal assistance from lawyers around the world.
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