Info : Each month we share an interview of a multilingual family from around the world. The interview shares their story as well as their challenges, successes, tips and advice in language learning. If you would like your family to participate in an interview, please contact us here.
Introduce yourself and your family
Asalamualaikum warahmatullah wabarakatuh ! My name is Catherine Ngaima Sesay from the
Gambia, the tiniest country on mainland Africa, aka the Smiling Coast of Africa and for good
reason too ! Gambians are one of the friendliest people you’ll meet ! I’m a single mommy blessed
with two beautiful bubbly and overly friendly kids, 5 and 2. I reverted to Islam in 2010 in Taiwan
alhamdullillah and I’ve been enjoying the journey since, bumps and all !
I am the owner and founder of Gambian Mommy, my crazy attempt at becoming bi-multilingual !
Gambian Mommy was born out of my love for the Arabic Language and creative teaching which
has led to the start of a beautiful journey to being bilingual.
Gambian Mommy was born out of a lot of things in actuality :
1. Loving Arabic and wanting my kids to have that same love if not more by
having fun resources to learn with
2. Frustration at not being able to find resources that I thought
were both fun and engaging and offering some continuity to teach a comprehensive Arabic
3. I am an absolute failure when it comes to learning languages so I was secretly hoping
that the constant pressure to produce teaching resources to keep up with our homeschool curriculum
will keep me on my toes and have me constantly interacting with the language at some level (since
we have no one to speak it with)
Sooooo I made the first set, called it the Arabic Alphabet Series I, it looked, so good ! I was like, I
have to put this out there. Maybe others might like it too.. and that’s how it actually started. I never
really planned on making printables to sell when I started creating them.
What languages do you speak ?
My native language is English ! But I do speak two of our local languages (Wolof and Aku) which I
learnt from my grandma and househelp growing up alhamdullillah so I don’t feel left out as a
Gambian lol ! On the bright side, however, I speak our local languages way better than my younger
brothers who either speak it very badily or not at all hehe! All in all I suck at learning languages and
I consider myself even lucky to be able to speak and understand two local languages !
How many and which ones do you speak on a daily basis ?
I speak English and try to incorporate and get the househelp to speak Wolof and Fula to the kids as I
don’t want them to feel left out or not part of their culture as Gambians. We’re also learning the
Arabic language so we try to incorporate it into our daily conversations and activities ! To be honest,
I think my 5-year old does that way better than I do. She’ll say things like ‘how do you draw a
saqfi ? I want to draw a saqfi on my house’. She substitutes words and does this particularly when
she does not know or remember the word in English or when we’ve just learnt new vocabulary. Or
she’ll ask ‘mommy, what’s television is Wolof ? And in Arabic ?… What about light ?’
Are you teaching your children these languages ?
I am teaching my kids only English and Arabic as it is harder to teach them our native languages
since we do not have systematic methods such as the phonetics of teaching them. In Senegal, which
borders the Gambia, I heard they have a Wolof dictionary so I’m hoping to include it someday as
well ! I’m also hoping to add French to the mix ! P.S. I am absolutely horrible at French !
Do you homeschool, if so, how do you incoporate the languages into learning ?
Yes I do homeschool ! And may I add, best decision ever ! To be honest I have no idea ! Yes, I don’t even know cause it feels like a cloud in my head ! I have to be an absolute freak when it comes to
planning and coming up with schedules, but my kids are all over the place all the time ! So my
schedules are never followed ! Sucks, I know ! However, what I try to do is to teach both languages
simultaneously or almost simultaneously! So for example, we covered both alphabet and phonics at
the same time, when we learn vocabulary we learn them in both languages. I also try to draw
attention to anything and all things Arabic. In the Gambia, the majority of our imported products are
from the Middle East, so there is quiet a handful of Arabic print around, so I try to draw attenton to
that, and lo and behold the excitement when we come accross words we’ve learnet and actually
make sense to us !
I also try to expose them to only Arabic media ! Yes weird I know, so the only cartoons they watch
are in Arabic or have some Arabic in them such as Siraj, Little Muslim (which the bomb), Zaky and
a few other YouTube Arabic channels ! (And yes once in a while we do slip up and watch English
cartoons :D). I also have this system where she’ll ask what’s this word, and I’ll be like, I have no
idea, but let’s check online and see what it is in Arabic or how it’s said, so even on those days when
I am not in the mood, she’ll ask me to check what the word is in Arabic online and I do grudginly.
So I’ll say, as much as I try to have things structtured, we pretty much just go with the flow ! But I
believe I have to first create that platform for some learning to occur or to spark their interest ! So
what I have done is create my curriculum (based on a lot of research) that sort of guides me on what
to have prepared.
What have been challenges so far ?
Not being a native speaker and having absolutely no one to speak with, so I constantly have to find
ways to keep the exposure to Arabic continous ! With local languages it’s easier, cause it’s all
around and there’s the househelp. I tried to get someone to come in to be speaking Arabic but that
never happened unfortunately ! Oh… and getting Arabic learning materials and resources too !
Especially having them shipped all the way to the Gambia ! It’s an absolute nightmare. Another
thing is, sometimes, I do get tired and demotivated for so many reasons, but her enthusiasm always
lifts me right back up and motivates me alhamdullillah and my love for Arabic too ! Gambian
Mommy really is because of them and for them !
Tell us about one of your successes.
Showing excitement for all things Arabic ! It shows, it’s reflected and it’s contagious ! Because of
it, she is always excited about Arabic, even when I’m not. She treats it like she does English. She
will request for Arabic learning materials just as she would English learning materials. When she’s
in the school room by herself, I catch her writing Arabic, ‘reading’ Arabic, building Arabic letters
alongside the million other activities she has laid out ! It’s such a joy to see !
What do you talk about at the dinner table ?
Dinner what ? I do NOT like to talk when I am eating ! Yea I know…. I am always the quiet one at
the table cause I am so busy paying attention to my taste pallettes ! Which is pretty ironic
considering I’m such a chatterbox. So, I really don’t talk much and most questions get a no, yes, or
we’ll talk about it later , I’d like to enjoy my food ! 😀
So yea absolutely nothing ! And since it’s only three of us now, the conversations are pretty limited
to kid stuff with me silently eating my food or yelling at them to not play around with their food !
Mom life !
What are some other ways besides just speaking the language that have exposed your children to your’s or your spouse’s languages ? (ex. cultural events, food, travel)
It is really hard to find events here in the Gambia that are culturally appropriate for kids ! And
absolutely nothing when it comes to Arabic, so for now it’s just homeschool and the three of ustryna get our languages mastered !
What is some advice you would like to offer to other multilingual families.
Don’t think too much ! Just do and make sure it’s continuous ! You’ll learn along the way, the best
way to learn, I’ve learned, is to make mistakes
Name up to 3 resources you find useful for your family.
Arabic resources ?
1. Ha ! Gambian Mommy resources of course !
2. Arabic moveable letters (I got mine from Alison’s Montessori)
3. Arabic educational cartoons !
Which langauge would you recommend someone to learn and why ?
Arabic !!! It’s so beautiful ! I keep wondering how much more I’ll fall in love with it when I get to
know and understand it so much better… I mean I’m in love with the little I know about it’s usage,
grammar, phonetics etc. It’s an absolutely beautiful language
Ngaima Sesay is the owner and founder of Gambian Mommy ! She creates interactive Arabic learning/teaching resources to teach Arabic reading in a hands-on, fun and engaging way. She loves all things Psychology, Child Development and Africa !
Find her here at :
Blog : www.gambianmommy.com (her blog is currently down)