Meet Habiba, حَبيبة, my Arabic-speaking alter ego!
Although she doesn’t speak Arabic as well as I* would like, Habiba is always trying to learn more!
One of the things Habiba does to help her learn is to read story books in Arabic. There are many great children’s books available in Egypt, but Habiba finds them very hard to read. You see, most of these books are written in Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), and Habiba is trying to learn Egyptian and Bedouin Arabic. There are many words used in MSA that are not used in these spoken dialects of Arabic, so while she may be able to decode (sound out) the words in the books, she has little idea what the words mean.
Because there is no standard written form for Egyptian or other Arabic dialects, there are very few books for children written in these languages.
So Nadim, her Arabic tutor, suggested that Habiba write her own books! He knew it would be a fun way for Habiba to learn more about Egyptian Arabic. All Habiba had to do was use the Arabic alphabet to write the sounds of the Egyptian words. She had a lot of fun writing and illustrating her first little story, Habiba Draws Dahab. And Nadim was right – she learned a lot – vocabulary, grammar, and spelling! Habiba went on to write two more books. Nadim now uses the books with many of his students and they have asked for more! Habiba is now working on writing her sixth book and has ideas for many more. She enjoys writing about things that she likes or knows a lot about, so you’ll probably see more titles about the nature, culture, and places of Egypt and South Sinai.
* Bernadette Simpson is an American living in Egypt, where she has been teaching children for more than twenty years. She holds a Master in Education degree and is certified to teach all subjects for grades K – 12 for both general and special education students. But her passion is teaching language – speaking, reading, and writing. Teaching with and through children’s literature is core to her approach. She believes providing engaging and authentic stories that children can relate to is essential in creating motivated and enthusiastic language users, and hopefully lifelong readers.
She is the author of An ABC Escapade through Egypt, an alphabet book highlighting many of the fascinating wonders of modern Egypt, which she wrote for her students in Cairo. She has also written a guidebook to the flora of South Sinai, Wandering through Wadis, which is available as an eBook here.