How One Digital Language Platform Is Employing Syrian Refugees
By Minji Hong
So, you decide one evening to head out to a bar with a friend to spend some time together, and just have a chat on what you’ve both been up to these days over a few drinks. Now, replace the bar within the comforts of your home, the friend with a Syrian refugee physically living across the ocean, and the drinks with the Internet, which virtually allows you two to talk to each other through the computer screen in front of you. Most importantly, imagine the whole chat was in Arabic. This is exactly the kind of scenario NaTakallam, which literally translates to “we speak” in Arabic, is trying to write as a new digital language platform, by pairing Arabic language learners with Syrians currently displaced in Lebanon to facilitate conversation-based interactions online, which benefits both you and the underprivileged.
Driven by their mission to promote “a different kind of Arabic learning,” this startup was recently launched in July by three graduates of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, namely, Aline Sara, Anthony Guerbidjian and Reza Rahnema, all of whom originally hail from the Middle East. It is a relatively fast-growing company with currently home to 80 students, 15 conversation partners, with an overwhelming number of new sign-ups (500!).
Based on their belief that immersion is the best approach to learning a language, and in response to the growing popularity of the Arabic language worldwide, and to feed the rising demand for learning its diverse range of colloquial forms, as well as the precarious situation the some 1.2 million Syrian refugees find themselves in Lebanon with an incredibly unstable job security that for the most part take a toll on their health, NaTakallam is a one-stop solution.
If you are learning Arabic, you’d pay about $15 per session, seventy percent of which goes directly towards contributing to the livelihood of your very own Syrian conversation partners in Lebanon. Moreover, these sessions are unique in that you get an interactive approach to learning colloquial Arabic with a native speaker whilst gaining insight into the real struggles these refugees are confronted with in their daily lives, getting a whole different perspective from the information the media feeds you. Not to mention, the duration, time, and the format are flexibly tailored to your availability and needs!
NaTakallam financially and psychologically supports the Syrian refugees in Lebanon. By establishing a partnership with the SAWA for Development and Aid, a Lebanese non-profit organization it provides these refugees with paid job opportunities as “conversation buddies,” while fostering a relatively secure and safe, but most importantly casual and amicable environment, for these refugees to find solace from their realities in constant turmoil in building an interactive friendship and a bridge between different cultures.