NaTakallam: connecting refugees and language learners worldwide

NaTakallam: connecting refugees and language learners worldwide

  • Overview

    Vision / description

    NaTakallam’s immediate goal is to provide displaced Syrians with an income. Many who manage to flee the ongoing conflict in Syria are barred from the local workforce in their country of resettlement (notably neighboring Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, Iraq), or are not able to find jobs due to not speaking the local language. NaTakallam offers them a viable work opportunity through the internet economy. This is done by recruiting, training and pairing these refugees or displaced individuals through our NGO partners on the ground with Arabic learners worldwide for Arabic conversation-focused sessions over skype. The win-win solution provides an affordable, personalized way to practice Arabic with native speakers for users on the one hand, all while contributing to displaced Syrians’ livelihood on the other. NaTakallam believes it is one thing to donate money and food to someone, but there is an entirely different impact to give displaced individuals a job. This platform also facilitates intercultural exchange between two frequently polarized worlds.

    Project objectives

    We hope to benefit large numbers of displaced people and marginalized communities, by providing them with employment, rendering them independent and financially sustainable through a rewarding job opportunity (namely teaching the outside world their language and culture, an especially exciting means of making a living that is different than, for example, working in unskilled labor, which is often the case of refugee and immigrant populations). These individuals themselves will often be able to use the income they will have gained to support their families. Given the global scope of NaTakallam, the initiative is very easily transferable to a large array of countries. It is also an initiative that can be expanded to other refugee communities other than the Syrian community, such as the Iraqi community or the Yemeni community. In addition, it can also be potentially implemented with other languages, such as Dari, Spanish or French.

    In the US alone, there are over 150 universities with significant Arabic or Middle East departments to which we have plans of selling NaTakallam’s services as a complement to traditional language study in the classroom. We hope to develop NaTakallam as a required addition to the typical Arabic course in major universities around the world.


    Our beneficiaries are displaced Syrians, as well as language learners and universities globally. Both beneficiaries gain a unique intercultural exchange and understanding along the way that helps break negative stereotypes, bridge cultures, and impacts students at a young age without the cost of travel. Arabic has long been popular among students, members of the Arab Diaspora interested in maintaining their spoken skills, and professionals working in or on the Middle East. In the US alone, Arabic’s popularity has increased two-fold over the past decade and represents the fastest fastest-growing area of foreign language study in the US. As the Syria crisis worsens, the need for people to communicate with Arabic-speaking refugees is quickly becoming more urgent. Unfortunately, Arabic is difficult to learn, notably due to the discrepancy between Modern Standard Arabic (typically offered by institutions/language programs), and the spoken version that varies across regions. There is a general lack of opportunities to learn and practice the language, especially the Levantine dialect spoken in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine. Damascus, once a hub for Arabic learners, is no longer accessible. Not only does NaTakallam fill the Arabic learning void by offering language learning with Syrian conversation partners, we have also created an opportunity for people to directly help displaced people.

    Current progress

    The implementation of our work is being facilitated by NGO partners on the ground. We have addressed the issue of limited livelihood options for refugees by providing monthly incomes to the refugees working with us. Some of them are making double or triple the minimum wage in their host city (Beirut or Cairo, for example). To date, over 25 Syrian refugee tutors (in 7 countries) and some 600 individuals (aged 8 to > 60 from over 25 countries) have engaged in online NaTakallam sessions, giving refugees a rewarding job and users an exciting opportunity to practice their Arabic. By speaking on a weekly basis with displaced Syrians, outsiders are able to better understand the everyday challenges of the refugee community, and overall culture of the Syrian people.

    Project URL

    Sustainable Development Goals

    1. No poverty; 4. Quality education; 8. Decent work and economic growth; 10. Reduced inequalities; 11. Sustainable cities and communities

    Partnership types of interest

    Advocacy of global issues; Business opportunities in low income communities/countries ; Project funding

    Detailed location

    Lebanon, France, Germany, Brazil, Turkey, Egypt, Armenia, Iran,

    Issue areas

    Education; Gender Equality; Human Rights; Migrant Workers; Principle 3; Principle 4; Principle 5; Principle 6; Social Enterprise; Women's Empowerment; Youth

    Business sectors

    Industrial Goods & Services - Support Services; Other; Travel & Leisure


    Global Refugee Crisis


    Existing partners

    - The Aspen Institute- an education and policy studies non-profit organization based in Washington DC whose mission is to foster mission-based leadership on global critical issues.
    - American Councils for International Education- a Washington DC-based international nonprofit creating educational opportunities that prepare individuals and institutions to succeed in an increasingly interconnected and rapidly changing world)
    - Two refugee-focused NGOs in Lebanon
    - Swarthmore and George Washington universities

    Stakeholders consulted

    Academia; Civil Society groups; Government; Minority groups; Youth

    Preferred partner organisation(s)

    Academic; Labour Global; Labour Local; NGO Global; NGO Local; Public Sector Organization; UN Entity

    Type of support needed

    Project implementation; Seed funding

    Collective Action
    • This initiative has a potential for scalability.
    • This initiative is seeking additional partners.
    • This initiative respects all dimensions of sustainable development.
    • This initiative is not submitted with commercial intent.