Saint Mary’s University is offering new class this year for people to learn basic Arabic at The Language Centre.
“It’s not difficult at all to learn any language if you have the will or the motivation to do that,” said Muhammad Elhabibi, an ESL support specialist, Tuesday evening.
He teaches one of three classes, made up of 14 students each, Tuesdays and Thursdays for a month-long period that began last week.
Although the classes have been in the works for months prior, he noted it’s a particularly topical addition because of the influx of Syrian refugees, many of whom only speak Arabic at the moment, to Canada.
The students range widely in age, and some work in the government and private sectors.
Part of the aim of the $150 program, which is open to the public, is to educate students on Arabic culture in ways some mainstream media isn’t: “Sometimes, people are misled, if I can say that,” Elhabibi said.
“Most of the world is not white, and most of the world does not speak English or French, and so I am extremely interested, especially as a person of colour,” said Evelyn White, a Halifax journalist.
She is taking the class to learn to speak conversational Arabic to help her in work and social situations.
“Our job is to engage with the world and with individuals from all walks of life,” White added.
Bob Doherty, another student, is part of a committee of churches working to bring a Syrian refugee family to Nova Scotia.
“I’ve taken Italian, I’ve taken French, I’ve taken Spanish, I’ve taken Greek. [Arabic] is probably the most difficult language I’ve ever encountered in my life,” the retiree said .
Doherty said he can empathize with the newcomers because he lived in Germany before when English wasn’t as widely spoken.
His aim is to learn enough words and phrases to ask the family, expected to arrive in a couple of months, about the things they need, how their trip went, and the like.
“It would fill them with some degree of warmth about arriving in the country, especially after the long journey and what they’ve gone through in their own circumstances in their own land and where they’ve been in refugee camps,” Doherty said.
The classes are being held on a trial basis; the plan is to continue offering them as demand dictates.