Halifax's Saint Mary's University is offering a beginner conversational Arabic course for the public starting in January, in time for the arrival of Syrian refugees.

Teacher Muhammad Elhabibi says he hopes Nova Scotians might be willing to learn Arabic, a language common to many students and families who arrive here unable to speak English. 

"You may have your neighbour who speaks Arabic from Lebanon, from Saudi Arabia or any other country, so I think it is needed in communication for everyday life here," Elhabibi said Thursday.

Speaking Arabic builds connections: teacher

The ability to speak Arabic will build connections with Arabic speakers, he said, 6,000 of whom live in Nova Scotia, according to the 2011 census. The skill would also be useful to people who travel to the Middle East for business, he said.

The course will run two evenings a week for a month, and will accept 15 members of the public who can sign up for $150 at Saint Mary's language centre in south end Halifax.

Students will learn classic Arabic, which is most commonly used by people in 22 countries. Classes will focus on the most common expressions and greetings, such as "As-salamu Alaykum."

"It means 'peace be upon you' and it's acceptable in all Arabic settings," said Elhabibi said, who is an Egyptian-born Canadian and an English as a second language specialist.  

'I feel a sense of achievement'

He said he enjoys working with people who've never before spoken the language.

"You have no idea about Arabic before meeting me," Elhabibi said. "Then after that, when you produce some, I feel a sense of achievement." 

Elhabibi will also teach English to 10 Syrian refugees the language centre has agreed to sponsor as students for one year.