x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Losing language barriers at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature The Palestinian-Canadian writer and art journal tutor Fadwa Al Qasem will host a workshop at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature to give native Arabic speakers the confidence

The Palestinian-Canadian writer and art journal tutor Fadwa Al Qasem will host a workshop at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature to give native Arabic speakers the confidence to use their own language. Anna Seaman reports.

The Arabic advocate Fadwa Al Qasem. Courtesy Fadwa Al Qasem
The Arabic advocate Fadwa Al Qasem. Courtesy Fadwa Al Qasem

Although she grew up speaking Arabic at home, Fadwa Al Qasem was educated in English and, when she followed a career in literature and arts, English was her first choice of language despite her Palestinian roots.

It’s a familiar story for many Arabs living across the region and that’s why Al Qasem decided to do something about it.

At the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, Al Qasem will be hosting an interactive workshop called Lose Your Fear of Arabic, where participants will learn to make artistic journals by using cut-outs from Arabic newspapers, playing around with calligraphy and generally having fun with the ­language.

“By encouraging people to use all of their senses and feeling the flow of the language, I hope to give them more confidence in their native tongue,” she says.

“It is not as difficult as some people make it out to be – after all it is our heritage and we should claim it back.”

Al Qasem says that her own journey of reclaiming her language began when she realised that she wasn’t literate enough in her mother tongue to read Arabic ­classics.

“I felt I was missing a big part of my Arab identity, so I began to make an effort slowly by doing crosswords, reading children stories and listening to the news. I worked my way up and in the end, after around 15 years, I managed to read all the books I wanted to. It was like opening up a new world.”

Now, Al Qasem is a published author of two collections of short stories titled The Scent of Cardamom and Paradise No More that she translated into both Arabic and English herself.

“After I discovered the intense nuances of the Arabic language, I found myself writing in it because it is so expressive; then one day my works were published all over the world,” she says.

This single session at the Festival of Literature may not bring about such a trajectory, but Al Qasem hopes that it will lead participants past their hesitation.

“When I started to speak in Arabic, I noticed the older generation constantly correcting me; it was not good for my confidence,” she says. With her workshop, Al Qasem wants to help people overcome any similar fears that they might have and start to appreciate the beauty of their native tongue.

• Lose Your Fear of Arabic with Fadwa Al Qasem takes place on Thursday from 3.30pm to 5pm. For more information, visit www.emirateslitfest.com

aseaman@thenational.ae