ABU DHABI // A day out at an Abu Dhabi park on Wednesday provided hundreds of children with a chance not only to stretch their legs, but also to exercise their Arabic.
Enjoyment of the usual jungle bars, swings and see-saws at Delma Park was augmented with ventriloquism, singing, storytelling, creative games and writing and reading workshops on Wednesday – all in Arabic.
The park hosted Abu Dhabi Municipality’s Language of Happiness Day to promote the UAE’s Year of Reading.
One of the day’s main attractions was Abdullah Al Ansari’s ventriloquism act starring his talkative puppet, Jasim Kentucky.
“Children might not listen to me if I told a story on my own, but when Jasim is telling it, their eyes light up,” said Mr Al Ansari, a 20-year-old Emirati university student.
Mr Al Ansari said Jasim – named for his resemblance to KFC’s Colonel Sanders – was great for encouraging children to read in Arabic by telling stories of his own.
“Some kids get scared, others are amazed, but they all pay close attention to Jasim, so we plan to continue promoting reading throughout the year,” he said.
Such events were key to fostering the local language, said Samah Alsabaaneh, founder and director of the Beit Arabi project, which focuses on promoting Arabic through fun and engaging methods.
She was also the event coordinator and joined in as one of the performers and storytellers.
“We want children to remove the stress of learning Arabic in the context of school and homework,” said Ms Alsabaaneh, who created the project shortly after arriving in Abu Dhabi from Lebanon 18 months ago.
“As soon as I arrived, I noticed there was a danger of losing Arabic because schools, media and many events were all in English,” said the Palestinian.
Ms Alsabaaneh said events such as the one in Delma Park were as much for the parents as they were for the children.
“We are trying to promote Arabic within the family, which is the foundation,” she said.
“We want to encourage parents to engage with their children in Arabic and take them to events held predominantly in Arabic.”
Ms Alsabaaneh said she had seen positive effects of the Government’s support for reading, with children reading more Arabic books and parents bringing them more material.
Maryam Al Zaabi, head of events at Abu Dhabi Municipality, said the Government support was essential.
“As a department concerned with the community’s welfare, we play an important role in supporting such government initiatives,” she said.
The municipality, in charge of the city’s public spaces, was responsible for promoting the initiative to the public, Ms Al Zaabi said.
“The municipality runs public places such as parks and beaches, so we need to make the most of these spaces to engage with the community,” she said.
Fareed Alaboud took his two eight-year-old daughters to the event.
His daughter Sara had the chance to show off her linguistic talent on stage with the dozens of other children who, in Arabic, told stories, sang, recited the Quran and praised their mothers through poetry on stage.
“When they hear these stories in Arabic, pronounced correctly, it improves their own language,” the Syrian said.
Mr Alaboud said that when one of his daughters won a school award for reading in Arabic it was proof that his vigilance in ensuring the use of the language at home was working.
“English encroaches everywhere, in technology, in the media, in the schools, so you always have to be mindful of using only Arabic.”