Using Arabic in the Home

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The Prophet, sallallaahu alayhe wasallam said, “Whoever pursues a path to seek knowledge therein, Allah will thereby make easy for him a path to paradise.” (Muslim)

The importance of teaching Arabic to our children at an early age cannot be over emphasized. Arabic is the language in which both the Qur’an and Sunnah are conveyed to the believers. In addition, one needs to know Arabic in order to perform salah and make Hajj. Arabic also serves as a medium of communication between Muslims. Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, through his infinite wisdom has given children the unique ability to learn second and third languages easier than adults have. Therefore, it is important for parents to take advantage of this “critical period” to teach and speak Arabic within the home to their children.

When referring to native or first language learning, researchers are referring to children who learn language(s) before the age of three. After the age of three, the new language is considered to be a second language. Bilingualism refers to the concept of a child learning two languages through exposure from a primary caregiver from birth. Usually these follow one of two patterns. The first pattern is “one-person, one-language” situation where one of the parents speaks only one language and the other parent another language. The other pattern is when both parents speak both languages to the child simultaneously. This leaves the question – which style is better for the child? Research suggests that the one person-one language style helps the child separate and learn the two languages. This is especially true if Arabic is not the native language of one of the parents. However, consistency is the key. Another situation is when neither of the parents are native Arabic speakers. Can Arabic be used as the primary language in the home and the children speak Arabic as their first language? According to Umm Sulaiman, the answer is “yes.” Both Umm Sulaiman and her husband are native English speakers who have never lived outside of The United States. Yet, their seven children speak only Arabic within the home. In order to accomplish this impressive goal, Umm Sulaiman has offered several suggestions for parents.

1. The most important point is to learn Arabic yourself.

For Umm Sulaiman, a commercial course with audio tapes was essential. For others, computer programs that teach Arabic also accomplish the same goal. The main key is to stay one step ahead of your children and use your new knowledge constantly in the home. For example, once Umm Sulaiman knew that one of her children knew a particular term or word in Arabic, she no longer responded to it in English for that child.

2. Another important aspect of Arabic learning is to immerse your family in Arabic

Purchase and use videos, computer programs, and children’s books in Arabic. Arrange play dates for your children with other children who speak Arabic. Play the Qur’an constantly in your home. Umm Sulaiman suggests “drown them in the sound.” Not only is this a very practical suggestion, but language learning research suggests total immersion as the best method of second language learning.

3. Teach your child Qur’an simultaneously with Arabic.

Children have a unique ability to memorize Surahs. Umm Sulaiman discovered for her children “the sound of tajweed, the ability to know the Makhraj or pronunciation of each sound when learned correctly will also make the sound of Arabic just flow from their mouths.” Furthermore, memorizing Surahs with your child reinforces this act of ibadat throughout your child’s life. Allah’s messenger, sallallaahu alayhe wa sallam, said, “If anyone recites the Qur’an, learns by it, declares what is lawful in it to be lawful and what is unlawful in it to be unlawful. Allah will bring him into paradise and make him the intercessor for ten of his family whom have deserved Hell.” (Tirmithi)

4. Lastly, relax and enjoy Arabic learning.

Usually adults have a fear of making mistakes in second language learning. This can limit one’s opportunities to practice the language and learn new words and phrases. Furthermore, children may pick up on this fear of making mistakes and they themselves will start using their native language in stressful situations. Adopt the motto: “If you are not making mistakes you are not learning.”

Maysoon Zaza