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Initiative unites language enthusiasts in pursuit of cross-cultural communication

By Mays Ibrahim Mustafa - Jan 29,2023 - Last updated at Jan 29,2023

Facilitators from BlaBla Language Exchange engage learners in discussions to help them practise their target language (Photo courtesy of Asem Al Khateib)

AMMAN — BlaBla Language Exchange, a volunteer-based community initiative, is allowing language enthusiasts to travel the globe without leaving Amman. 

The initiative was founded in February 2020 by Asem Al Khateib to provide language learners with a space to practise their speaking skills.

“BlaBla aims to bridge different cultures together and promote tolerance by allowing people from diverse backgrounds to connect, exchange experiences and form friendships,” he told The Jordan Times. 

The initiative’s team of 31 volunteers includes organisers, content creators and facilitators, who are either bilingual, trilingual or polyglots, according to Khateib. 

He noted that facilitators engage learners in discussions to help them practise their target language by asking questions about previously prepared topics. 

Each session, which lasts for two and a half hours, includes between 100 and 130 language learners divided into groups of 6 to 10 people, who are speakers and learners of two sets of languages, he said. 

“For example, native Arabic speakers who are learning French are placed at a table with native French speakers who are learning Arabic, and facilitators who speak both languages moderate the session,” Khateib explained.

He added that facilitators’ role also involves encouraging shy or reserved learners to overcome their fear of speaking in a foreign language they haven’t yet mastered through the help of volunteer linguists and psychiatrists. 

“Social integration” is a major aspect of the experience BlaBla aims to offer, he continued. 

While it’s preferable that participants have at a least a basic understanding of their target language, learners from all levels and backgrounds are invited to join, Khateib said. 

“We try to be as inclusive as possible and the sessions are accessible for persons with disabilities,” he added. 

Aya Abuayyash, an English teacher who is passionate about learning languages, signed up for one of the initiative’s sessions to learn Spanish, and went on to become one of the intiative’s volunteer facilitators. 

She described BlaBla as “an ever-growing family that makes an effort to make everyone feel like they belong”. 

“Its language exchange sessions allowed me to meet so many people from different countries and diverse backgrounds without leaving Amman,” Abuayyash told The Jordan Times. 

She also noted that, aside from improving her Spanish language skills, this experience enabled her to grow on a personal level by boosting her confidence and communication skills. 

Alona Petrusenko, a Ukrainian residing in Jordan, is a Russian-language facilitator with BlaBla. 

“This enriching cultural experience opened me up to the world by giving me the chance to learn from and teach people from so many different countries,” she told The Jordan Times. 

Petrusenko added that language exchange is a character-building experience that enhanced her communication and leadership skills.

According to Khateib, registration forms are posted on BlaBla’s social media platforms ahead of sessions, which are held twice a week and cover the Spanish, French, English, Russian, Arabic and German languages. 

As of December 2022, roughly 14,000 people benefited from the sessions organised by BlaBla, he said, noting that around 870 language learners have participated in the sessions since January 2023.

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