Here are some tips for teaching children Arabic as a second language:
1. Be dedicated and ready to fail
Dedication is the key to succeeding at anything. You will have to dedicate time and money to this effort.
One of the biggest mistakes I made with my children was being afraid of failure. This lead me to not teach my children anything for a while because I feared that it would be incorrect. To get past this you have to set goals for yourself and your child, and realize that if Arabic is something important to you then your child with mistaken Arabic is better than him with none at all.
2. Make sure your child has proficiency in the skills of their first language before introducing them to the same in Arabic
Many times when we attempt to teach our children another language (and we ourselves are not a native speaker of that langauge) we often expect them to pick up skills that are beyong their ability at that time. For example, if a child is not proficient in writing in the english language, then he or she will probably not catch on to quick with writing in Arabic either. Instead given your children some coloring books. Coloring helps the child build the motor skills they need to handle a pen or pencil, and in the end they will be better writers.
Don’t expect your child to learn the Arabic alphabet if he has not mastered the English one. What I mean by this is do not introduce more than one of the same skill set at the same time, not that you should what until he has mastery the english language in its entirety before teaching him Arabic. Trying to master the small skill set in two languages at the same time will confuse the child and you will probably be wondering why it is taking so long for them to learn.
3. Make use of technology and Audio/visual materials
If your child is a toddler, then I highly recommennd that you get some Arabic cartoons or childrens movies. I do not recommend anything from Disney, most of what they have is in the Egyptian dialect and even if it wasn’t contains way too many religious and sexual inuendos. Some classic cartoons like Looney tunes have been translated into Arabic. Some countries have begun their own production, and some american classic have been translated like “The adventures of Tintin” and “The Bearstien Bears” both with impecable Arabic. I saw my children’s Arabic skyrocket after starting to watch these cartoons, and credit goes to my wife on introducing this to the kids.
Look for the JumpStart Toddlers programs in Arabic as well. “My first 1000 words” by Obekan is good, as is “Qamusi al-Ajeeb”. We have used only the last two; my children highly enjoyed them and learned alot of vocabulary from them in context.
If you want to teach them how to read, this reading program is a great start for kids that are old enough to follow along. It works great for adults as well:
For older kids (maybe from 7 and up) :
Other people have used “Al-Arabiyyah bayna yadayk” with its books and cds.
Rosetta stone and WorldTalk have programs too.
4. Design activities for learning
Try to make learning Fun. Use activities like the ones found here at Educating the Muslim child.
Another thing you can do make tags and tag everything around the house, and then constantly ask each other the names of these things.
Randomly ask your kids something, and tell them that if they answer you in arabic they’ll get a dollar or something. I have a friend from Brazil whose father was so keen on him learning Arabic that he did this with him. They were Lebanese, but were fastly losing their language as their mother was Brazilian. Turns out that his Father wanted him to learn Arabic so bad that he would take him to other Lebanese families and drop him off for the day. And a good thing too, because this brother did’nt find out his family were Christians until his 17th birthday when he went to Lebanon to visit family and found out that none of them pray. When he asked he found out that his father was a christian and that He only thought he was a Muslim becuase all those Lebanese families with strong arabic were actually practicing Muslims. and AlHamdulillah the brother is Muslim till this day and is doing alot of Dawah in Brazil.
Try to have your kids visit families that speak Arabic and mix with their children. I have even heard of people going to egypt for the summer and having their kids live with families. If you can’t do one of these then…
If your children are older, go on an english fast. Set a time of the day (preferably longer than an hour) in which your children (and yourself) can only speak arabic to each other. Regardless of your level of vocabulary. Don’t say “I don’t even have enough vocab to do that myself, how will I communicate?” Have you ever seen children have any trouble getting what they want because of a lack of vocabulary? One advantage that you have as an adult is that you can always pick up a dictionary and learn a few more words as you like to use with your kids.
Buy Arabic books, AND NOT JUST RELIGIOUS ONES, and keep them in easy access around the house. I say not just religious ones because the Arabic language is more than Din, and you need a broad vocabulary to be able to express yourself. I’ve found most students here in medina that only concentrate on religious texts to have only a superficial command of the Arabic language, and their understanding is stifled and usually leads them to misinterpretating the Din as a whole (a phenomenon I really think deserves to be studied).
Buy cassettes of Arabic poetry as the addage says “Al-Shi’ru diwan al ‘Arab” Poetry is the record of the Arabs. Poetry helps the mind develop and gives added proficiency in the langauge, as most classical works of literature in Arabic are poems.
A small set of Arabic readers is good also, we use the ones written by Muhammad Muwaffaq Salimah.
For exercises (this is for more advance students) we use “Silah al-Talmidh – al-Lughat al-Arabiyyah” from egypt. Ask most egyptians and they will know exactly what this is. It has alot of vocab and alot of exercises on each lesson, a very helpful series, it goes from K-12.
6. The Quran
Take your kids to a school that will teach the reading and writing of the Quran. Preferably not a “catchabeatdown” Madrasah. Though some kids can bear it, it traumatizes most and puts a mental block on learning. The Quran has been key as an educational tool for centuries, and will also aid the child in his faith.
Play tapes all day long in the house, and let your children write out Surahs every day, say 5 ayahs a day or one small surah. One of the best pieces of advice I got when first learning the arabic language is that “if you cannot read the Quran well you will never be proficient in the Arabic language”. There are manyArabs and Non-Arabs that speak, read, and write Arabic but their proficiency is blocked or stagnated because they simply have not mastered the best of Arabic ever spoken: The Quran.
This is all I can think off that this time. I am sure that other parents out there have more suggestions and tips. Also consult with ESL experts who can give you tips as to methods used for foreign languages in general.