Brooklyn is from Los Angeles, CA and an alumna of the Arabic Virtual NSLI-Y Winter Cohort from January-March 2020.
This past winter I was fortunate enough to participate in the new Virtual NSLI-Y program, which provides students the opportunity to learn less commonly taught foreign languages in an online classroom when travel is not an option. While many students are interested in learning critical languages, they are rarely offered in schools. This means that traditionally, one of the few ways to learn other than studying abroad is through self-study. Some of the fallbacks include not having feedback to know if you are pronouncing words correctly and the inability to practice with others. During Virtual NSLI-Y, I enjoyed our interactive classroom because my teacher, Mrs. Maria El Kammaa, paired us up for mini-conversations about what we learned. Each of us repeated words aloud after hearing the correct pronunciation and then wrote the same word down on our whiteboard to show our mastery of the Arabic alphabet. Being at the same level of learning, with no prior knowledge of the language, was beneficial as we got to see one another grow in understanding. Ustadha Maria was always proud of us, encouraging everyone to do our best. She continuously told us “ممتاز”, meaning excellent.
My advice to other students about virtual learning is to make sure to have an appealing notebook to compile notes from the various lessons in one place. Even though my Virtual NSLI-Y experience is over, I am still motivated to review my notes, retaining what I have learned. In addition, independent study is tremendously helpful because it provides extra retention and knowledge, as the program is fast-paced. In Arabic, there are many grammatical rules to memorize, such as verb conjugation endings and the sun and moon letters, being fundamental before continuing to learn. Preparation for each class meeting helped me to get as much out of the program as possible.
One concern of students interested in participating in Virtual NSLI-Y is how to fit it into your day. When I was accepted into the program, I noticed the times of the class given to me were conflicting with school hours. Due to the prestige of the Virtual NSLI-Y program, my principal and teacher allowed me to participate when I normally would have been in math class and provided me with a computer and a quiet space in the school library.
My virtual experience was authentic and included face-to-face conversations with a Moroccan native, an opportunity similar to language learning abroad. From the opportunity of hearing about what to expect from traveling abroad to Morocco, we learned more about Arab culture, including family life, popular foods, traditions, and landmarks. I recommend the virtual program because it is a groundbreaking way of achieving success in reaching one’s language goals. Although prior knowledge of the language is not required, I now have a basic grasp of Arabic and I am better prepared for a successful study-abroad experience.