Sydney mom writes bilingual children’s books to preserve Arabic language


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Elyssa Kari is only five years old, but she already knows how to switch her brain between two languages.

“I think I have to remind her to change at home,” mother Sirine Demachkie told ABC Radio Sydney.

“She goes in English by default, and I go in ‘Arabic’ and she makes the change immediately.”

Ms Demachkie was born in Beirut and moved to Australia with her family when she was two.

She is fluent in Arabic and speaks it at home with her daughter.

The book uses everyday familiar language rather than the classical academic Arabic which is taught in schools.(ABC Sydney: Amanda Hoh)

But when Elyssa asked for a bedtime story in Arabic, Ms. Demachkie was puzzled.

“My reading and writing are pretty basic,” she said.

“So I tried. She was asking what the words meant and we ended up talking about the pictures.

“I was like, ‘Oh, I never want her not to ask me for a story in Arabic.”

Ms. Demachkie couldn’t find any bilingual children’s story books online written in conversational Arabic using phonetic spelling, as opposed to classical academic Arabic, so she decided to write her own.

Mama Baba, iza bit reedo (Mummy Daddy, please), has sold hundreds of copies and has been picked up by Middle East Airlines to gift to their young travelers.

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His second book, Mama Baba, waynkon ?! (Mum, dad where are you ?!), has just been released and mum from Sydney is already preparing the next three volumes of the series.

“There are many like me who cannot read or write Arabic, but they do speak it,” Ms. Demachkie said.

Ms. Demachkie received such a positive response with her first book from people who were not of Arab descent that she included an audio app in her next book so readers could listen to the pronunciation.

Preserving the language in the next generation

Ms. Demachkie is extremely passionate about preserving the Arabic language in her daughter’s generation and beyond.

She said especially for families with a heritage other than English who lived in Western communities, the risk of losing second and third generation mother tongues is common.

“Grandparents can speak it, parents can not speak it, then children can understand but don’t speak it, then the next generation will come.” [the language is lost], she said.

“I spoke to a lot of people in the Middle East, especially in Dubai and Jordan, even though Arabic is a main language, there is a loss there, a decline in the mother tongue because it is not cool or it is old fashioned. “

Cultivate the love of languages

Ms Demachkie said it was important to encourage love for language learning in young children.

With two languages ​​under her belt, Elyssa now wants to be like her friend and learn to speak Mandarin as well.

For parents who are already bilingual or come from a family heritage other than English, she advises “Everything you know, use it”.

And for those who are unilingual and want to learn or teach another language:

“I think we are lucky here in Australia, and although we are a monolingual society and speak English, we are multilingual peoples and communities,” she said.

“We don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on flights and accommodation to immerse ourselves, we can do it in our own backyard with friends, families, neighbors.”

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