Everyday, kids wander into our classrooms early, chattering away in rapid Arabic, seemingly uninterested in the fact that we, the American interns, can understand just a few of the words they are saying to us. Words are such a basic part of our everyday life. We think little of when, how, to whom or where we use them. Yet according to a recent New York Times article, the biggest challenge facing students growing up in poverty is a word deficit
. According to the Times, professional parents are in a constant state of narration with their kids. “Blue,” they say, pointing to the sky. “That’s a pigeon, a sand dune, skyscraper, a pomegranate.” But the students surveyed in inner city New York – students who lead in somewhat parallel lives of the students served at TYO – don’t get that same narration. Parents are often too busy juggling many children and do rarely have time to take a moment to describe to their children the world around them . According to the New York Times, “Children of professionals are exposed to approximately 1,500 more words hourly than children growing up in poverty. By the time they are four, children growing up in the poorest areas face a linguistic gap of up to 32 million words.
In serving the neediest populations here in Nablus—the four refugee camps, the Old City and our neighborhood—we face these same challenges with our children. This problem for the students we work with is two-fold. Not only are they exposed to a limited number of Arabic words, but the education system fails to address their English word deficit. Programs like ours
give students the opportunity to be surrounded by different linguistic patterns in both Arabic and English, and begin to catch up to children from more privileged backgrounds.
Intern Megan works with kids on spelling games
Preschools and non-formal education programs are a great first step for encouraging language development, and we as interns build upon that by fostering a love of reading. Each class includes reading time, and at least once a month, TYO hosts a Library Day that combines reading with fun activities.
Providing a space for kids to talk and read and listen to new words is helping them in ways that go further than their class skills or even their psychosocial skills—it’s helping them to better develop into adults who will be able to communicate with their peers both personally and professionally. The chatter of Arabic in our classrooms might be nonsense to us, but to them, it’s the sound of learning.
-Mary, Megan and Tommy
Mary, Megan and Tommy are international interns at TYO Nablus.