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Alumni NY Parent: Giving the gift of the Arabic Language one location at a time

Michelle Tager - Friday, December 30, 2016
Samaa Haridi is an international arbitration partner at the law firm Hogan Lovells in NY, who lives in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.  Samaa is Egyptian, and is married to an American citizen, and they have two children, Maya (9) and Zakaria (6).  Samaa grew up in several francophone countries as a result of her father's diplomatic background.  She pursued her law studies in Paris, France before settling in Brooklyn, New York.  

When my kids were born, I was torn between speaking to them in French or in Arabic, as both languages are native for me.  Ultimately I decided for French, while their father spoke to them in English.  It was difficult in a setting where each parent spoke a different language to the kids to introduce a 3rd language through the parents.  But I knew that I wanted my children to speak Arabic.  Arabic is not only the language spoken in their mother's country, and the one their maternal grandparents speak, it is also a beautiful, rich and rewarding language skill to have.  I have seen first hand, through my own legal profession, how important and unique it was for me to speak (and read and write) the Arabic language.  It has helped me in many ways in my career, as very few international arbitration practitioners in the U.S. possess that skill.  

I tried in different ways to introduce the Arabic language to my children: books, TV shows, Youtube videos, at-home tutors/play partners.  Nothing worked.  They were interested, but none of those options were good enough to generate a real ability to speak and engage in the Arabic language.  I looked for more classic Arabic classes for children in the neighborhood, and even outside the neighborhood.  I found nothing.  I then decided that rather than focusing just on my own children, the answer lied somewhere else: in their school.  In their community.  My kids attend PS 58, a public school in Carroll Gardens that offers a French-English dual language program (DLP) and that has been recognized for years as a leading force behind the institution of DLP education in New York.  I knew the school would be welcoming of even more robust and diversified foreign language education.  I also knew a number of parents in our and in neighboring schools who felt my predicament, and who wished their children could learn Arabic.  So I decided to put together an afterschool Arabic program to be added to the school's standard offerings, and I worked with the school administrators to achieve that goal.

It was then that I met Michelle Tager, through parent connections, and I immediately saw the light.  Alefb offered exactly what we needed: a curriculum, and a structure, to make sure the kids were taken care of in the most effective manner possible.  We implemented two different classes (by age groups) to take into account differing maturity levels for the children, and we convinced the school to welcome not only interested PS 58 families, but also families from neighboring schools.  We managed to garner sufficient interest to be able to start the two classes with a wonderful and dedicated teacher.  It has only been 4 months, and my children can now have light conversations in Arabic.  They recognize letters and they enjoy going to Arabic class.  They also met new friends and share North African and Middle Eastern treats in every class.  They are learning a new language but also a whole new culture.

When people ask me what was my proudest achievement in 2016, my answer is, without a doubt: starting the Alefb Arabic program in Brooklyn, and allowing a growing number of children to learn this beautiful language.

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