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Using Culture to Teach Arabic to American Students

Learning a new language is not easy, but an Egyptian in Washington, D.C., says he knows how to make it less difficult.

Tamer Elsharkawy teaches Arabic to children. He says that “the magic key to teaching language is culture.”

Elsharkawy came to Washington through the State Department’s Teachers of Critical Languages program. The program brings teachers from China and Egypt to the United States. One of the goals of the program is to help American students learn Chinese and Arabic.

The program helps the teachers and students learn about the cultures of other countries. Elsharkawy says learning languages helps students learn more about the world.

“Some parents reach out with me to because they wanted to know how to deal with their children here in Washington, D.C. about this kind of stuff like Islamophobia. They are not Muslims, but they want to teach their children something correct about this topic. So this is a part of what we are doing.”

Spanish is the native language of many of Elsharkawy’s students at Cooke Elementary School. So, many of them are learning English and Arabic at the same time.

Flora Lerenman teaches English at Cooke Elementary. She helped the school become a part of the Critical Languages program. She says learning two languages at the same time helps the children learn faster. And she says the children are learning more than just a new language.

“I really believe in students having a global education and an international outlook.”

Elsharkawy said he is also learning about the world. He has explored the local Muslim community and the many cultures in Washington.

“I think Washington, D.C., is, like, the most fantastic place for anyone from any nationality to be here -- lots of colors, lots of religions."

Elsharkawy says he knows that the children at the school -- some of whom are as young as five years old -- might not remember all of the Arabic words he teaches them. He says they might even forget his name. But he says he hopes that they will always remember him as a teacher they liked and respected.

I’m Caty Weaver.

VOA Correspondent Arash Arabasadi reported this story from Washington. VOA’s Marissa Melton contributed to the report. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted it for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

reach out to expression contact; communicate with

Islamophobia – n. dislike of or prejudice against Islam or Muslims, especially as a political force.​

outlook – n. the way that a person thinks about things

fantastic – adj.extremely good​

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