Nfld. & Labrador

Learning Arabic in Lewisporte in preparation for a Syrian refugee family

While the Town of Lewisporte waits for a sponsored Syrian refugee family to arrive, a local woman is teaching residents how to speak Arabic.
Naz Faidullah is teaching Arabic to some residents of Lewisporte, in preparation of a Syrian family about to arrive in the town. (Julia Cook/CBC)

Newfoundlanders are known for their hospitality, and a group in Lewisporte is putting the marhaba (or hello) where their mouth is.

The Town of Lewisporte is sponsoring a Syrian refugee family, which should arrive any day now. A local woman is teaching residents how to speak Arabic, so that the community can better greet the family.

Hopefully the only point of this is that they will know that we're trying.- Christine Clipstone 

Naz Faidullah, who is originally from Iraq and moved to Canada about 20 years ago, said right now the residents are learning the basics.

"Arabic is not an easy language," said Faidullah.

"It is going to be not a deep conversation that they can carry on, but they are going to be OK to communicate with the family."

Residents catching on quickly

Instead of teaching the student the Arabic alphabet, Faidullah is spelling out how to say each word phonetically. And residents are catching on fast.

"I never thought I'd face one day in Lewisporte I would hear one Arabic word," said Faidullah. "So, every time they see me, "Sa lam a la kum," I am the one who's struggling back to the Arabic!"

The students now know how to say things such as hello and thank you. But they've also thrown in some typical Newfoundland sayings. For example, in Arabic, "my duckie" is "a zi zi."

"They're probably going to look at us and say, "Who's she talking to?'" said student Christine Clipstone.

"But we had fun. Hopefully the only point of this is that they will know that we're trying."

Rev. Stephanie McClellan, the chair of the Lewisporte Refugee Outreach team, has refurbished her home to house the family.

One of the things she wanted to learn was how to ask them if they wanted tea or coffee.

This handout includes Arabic translations of some common sayings. (Julia Cook/CBC)

"Ask them if they want qahwa or shay, which is tea. Do they want sukkar or halib, milk? And a double double would be wasa," said McClellan.

The students know they won't be fluent in Arabic by the time the family arrives, but they hope it'll make the refugees feel like they're a part of the community.

"Because it shows an added layer of we really want to welcome you and we don't just expect you to come and learn from us," said McClellan.

"We want also to learn from you and to welcome you and your culture here."

McClellan said the Syrian family was supposed to arrive a month ago, but they've been held up. When they do arrive, she knows exactly what she'll say.

"Peace be with you, or Sa lam a la kum, and I love you, but I haven't got that one yet," said McClellan.

"That's one of the ones we're going to learn soon."


Julia Cook


Julia Cook reports from CBC's bureau in Gander, primarily for the Central Morning Show.