Posted by Abu Abdurahman | 3 Comments
Assalaamu Alaykum Alaykum,
I am a mother of a two year old boy and 4 month old daughter. I speak Arabic but my husband does not and I always wanted to teach my kids Arabic. The other day when I saw this post I was so excited and told my husband I am gonna start speaking to our son in Arabic from now on. Then that same day I ended up babysitting my brother’s kids so my plans went out of the window for that day. I need advice on how to do it since I will be the only one speaking to them in Arabic. What would I do when relatives come which is often. Do I keep switching between my native language and Arabic or speak Arabic anyways even if we have other people around, which is difficult.
Jazaakum Allah Khayr for you all you help. Your website is very helpful.
Wa Alaykum Assalam UmAbdurahman,
I am very happy that you benefited from our post on raising bilingual children, and that it encouraged you to try something similar. When parents are bilingual they possess the ability to really give their child a gift from an early age in an effortless educational experience. Being bilingual opens up so many doors be they educational, or economical. In your case you have the ability to give your child the advantage of being able to speak the language of the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him, allowing him to understand the Qur’an, and Insha’Allah help him to implement its lessons into his life, all the reward of which should return back to you.
How to do it?
I sincerely recommend that you follow the method which we have used and are continuing to use with our children. My wife speaks to my children only in English and I speak to them only in Arabic. Ideally we never switch and we maintain this role as long as we feel is necessary. The benefit of this method is that the child associates one language with one parent and the other language with the second parent. This is important as it allows the child to develop both languages at the same time and maintain a strong level of fluency in both, whereas switching between languages can often confuse the child or put them in a position where they lean more towards one language or the other. If mom only speaks Arabic, than the child has no other choice but to speak Arabic. One thing I would suggest is that you try to speak to your child in Classical Arabic, and not a local dialect. I know this can be difficult, and even in some cultures they may look down upon it, but the most important part of learning Arabic, is that when your child hears the Quran he understands it as if it’s his first language.
One of the things that will help you to teach the child is if you teach him how to read and write in Arabic. This will expose him to more vocabulary words and give you more opportunity to discuss different subjects in Arabic forcing him to think in Arabic and expand his vocabulary.
Let him listen to the Quran as much as possible. You’ll notice that he’ll start to recognize what is being recited and even start memorizing on his own what he hears, especially if they are stories of the Prophets, peace be upon them. This will strengthen his listening, comprehension, vocabulary, and his pronunciation. Memorizing the Quran is equally important. If you are worried about teaching him classical Arabic then both of these things will aid you immensely.
There are always some difficulties that you may have to be patient with, but the reward in the end will surely be worth it. For me one of the difficult things was wanting to say “I love you” to my son in English as it just meant more to me, as it is what I grew up with, but he would then and now only responds to me in Arabic. If your native language is English for example and you can express yourself more using it, than sometimes it may be difficult to hold back and stick to the Arabic.
Another thing that you have to consider is that your husband does not speak Arabic. You have to be considerate about this fact as in the beginning and throughout the process it may be frustrating for him to hear you and your child laughing away in another language while he feels left out. You can possibly fix this by translating or coming to some agreement when you are all together to speak only English. Because my wife also speaks Arabic we don’t have this problem, but I know from experience with relatives who speak a language that I don’t, it can be frustrating at times, wondering what is being said. You might be able to get out of this problem if you also try to teach your husband Arabic as well. Then you might have the option of in the house, only Arabic, and outside, only English.
As for when relatives or friends come over, I only speak to my son in Arabic, I have no exceptions. I know that we are not supposed to speak a 2nd language when others are present who do not understand it, but I do not do this do make others uncomfortable or to hide things from them, it is because I have a goal and a purpose and that is for my son to grow up with Arabic as his first language, even though it was not mine. If needed I translate whatever I say to him, but for the most part, if I have company I speak to my guest in English and my son will speak to them in English as well if they don’t understand Arabic. It may feel awkward initially with guests or family but if you explain to the them why you are doing what you are doing, Insha’Allah they will understand, and if there are those that don’t you can always make them an exception.
Insha’Allah I hope this answered your question and helps give you some ideas to help you start. Insha’Allah once your children are speaking, you are more than welcome to have them contact our sons to practice their Arabic.
May Allah reward you for your question, and any benefit that came out if it.