We can’t communicate in Arabic, even though it should actually be pretty natural…
Society in Israel and in the Middle East is steeped in the Arabic language. It is the mother tongue of 22% of the population of Israel. Moreover, many of the Jewish citizens whose families came from North Africa and Arab countries have a cultural and historic connection with the language. And yet, the overwhelming majority (97%!) of Jewish people in Israel can’t speak Arabic, and the connection with the language is gradually dwindling. Furthermore, Arabic studies in schools and universities are very limited and focus almost exclusively on Classical and Modern Standard Arabic. So that instead of the partnership and understanding that language has the power to create, we have a language barrier that perpetuates the estrangement, animosity, and fear between the communities.
Our story began in Jerusalem, at the end of 2014
In late 2014, Gilad began giving free Arabic lessons in his parents’ living room. The students begged him to upload the videos to the internet… and, as the saying goes, the rest is history! A group of friends came together to film, edit, write, and upload the videos, and so the first Madrasa website and Facebook page were born – open and accessible to everyone for free. It was an immediate success. In a very short time, we had thousands of people learning from our website, and we continued working, as volunteers, to supply our community’s growing demand for new lessons and educational content. In 2016 we became a registered NGO, and in 2017 we decided to take our initiative to the next level: developing a new, cutting-edge interactive course to fit the needs of our students. A course that will not only give access to content to anyone who wishes to learn, but will also provide an educational program and enable continuous study and use of the language.
Learning to communicate is not just our goal, it’s the gist of our social and pedagogical approach
The choices we’ve made of teaching Colloquial Arabic, and focusing on the urban Palestinian dialect and on everyday topics, all spring from here. This is also the basis for our teaching method, which caters for students who have many other demands on their time. For such students, persevering in their studies and finding opportunities for continuous practice often pose a serious challenge. This is why we use short, clear educational videos and put great emphasis on various exercises and games. The most important element that supports the learning process is our student community. When you practice together everywhere (Facebook, Whatsapp, newsletter, study groups, chats, forums, etc.) – you practice more, and you find it easier to persevere.
The project is growing at a rapid pace
While developing new courses (which we hope to publish during 2019), we are also working on creating physical and virtual spaces where our community can meet and practice: practice meetings (based on our course) that we plan to organize in Israel’s central cities; and a video chat platform (under development) where students can speak with each other and with Arabic speakers from all over the country. And it doesn’t stop here. We are working on creating study groups in society’s most central junctions: large employers, public servants (workers of the health system, for example), and social activists.
Founder and professional director at Madrasa
Gilead Swit, holds a bachelor’s degree in Sociology, Anthropology, Arabic and Buddhism. For over 15 years he studied Arabic in various settings, with an emphasis on Dialectology. Founded Madrasa in 2014 and has since served as the professional director and as a teacher.
A teacher and presenter in Madrassa. A graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, teaches Arabic in the USA and in “Medabrot” (Women Speaking) program. Subject coordinator of Arabic in Snunit, a translator, a content writer and an instructor of Arabic teachers.