Informal Arabic discussion group offers cultural exchange
Every Wednesday over the lunch hour, the Red Room in Kingston Hall fills with a mix of Arabic, English and laughter. The source is a group of students enrolled in Queen’s Arabic for-credit language courses, who gather with their instructor outside the classroom for some regular informal conversation.
“We have to follow the textbook in class, which has value. But the coffee table discussion helps us integrate more of the cultural aspects of Arabic,” says Nadine Abu-Ghazaleh, a second-year biology student. “A lot of us have Arabic heritage and sometimes we will talk about what our grandparents think.”
Amira Halabi, who teaches Queen’s Arabic language courses and leads the weekly noontime discussions, is pleased students are willing to share their experiences. During one session, the group talked about Eid-al-Adha and the family traditions around this significant annual Islamic observance.
“A cultural exchange took place because not every student’s background is Arabic,” says Ms Halabi.
While some of the participants spoke Arabic growing up, Catherine Rioux had never been exposed to the language before coming to Queen’s. The first-year Arts student was interested in learning Arabic having taken several modern Muslim world classes in secondary school. Even though her language skills are not as advanced as many of her peers, she still finds the sessions extremely helpful.
“I don’t participate a lot but I listen. It’s really exciting when I hear certain things I can understand. That keeps me motivated to practice and learn more of the language,” she says.
Sabrin Shekh-Yusef, a second-year English student, was taught Arabic up until Grade 3. She is improving her grammar and spelling skills by taking Arabic language courses and participating in the discussion group.
“The coffee table discussion is relaxed and there’s no pressure to speak entirely in Arabic. Whenever we are confused, Amira will explain and give us a definition or interpretation,” she says.
In addition to the coffee table discussion, Ms Halabi organizes Arabic film nights and meals with Arabic-speaking guests from the community. More information about the Arabic program at Queen’s can be found online.
The Arabic language program, hosted in the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, is the institutional anchor of an expanding Queen’s curriculum introducing undergraduates and graduate students to the Middle East and the Islamic world.