The Linguist

The Linguist 58,2-June/July 2019

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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APRIL/MAY The Linguist 7 @Linguist_CIOL FEATURES Thebig idea Q What is NaTakallam in a nutshell? A It's an online platform for people learning a language or in need of language services. The goal is to provide an income for displaced people who are officially barred from the local economy or struggle to access work due to factors related to being resettled. We do that by hiring them as online language partners, tutors, translators or interpreters. Q What is your background? A I'm from Lebanon originally but I grew up in New York, speaking French and English. I moved to Lebanon after graduating in Psychology and worked there as a journalist during the Arab uprisings. I have an MA in International Affairs and have always been involved in work related to human rights, social justice and conflict resolution. Q How did you come up with the idea for NaTakallam? A I was working with Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The global refugee population typically can't get work permits, so a massive number of people are in limbo. Millions are highly educated and we risk losing this tremendous human capital. There was a sense of urgency to do something. At the same time, my friends and I were looking for ways to practise Arabic. We are living in an era of the connected refugee, with e-learning on the rise. Seeing the need for language learners to get affordable, flexible language practice, and meeting so many refugees with excellent interpersonal skills, I thought of connecting the two via the internet. Q When and where did you launch? A We're registered in New York but we did a pilot in Beirut in the summer of 2015, which my co-founders and I funded. After that we set up as a social enterprise. We've since secured money by winning competitions and grants, and we also generate revenue. Q What new skills did you have to learn? A I don't have a management or business background, so I had to learn everything: PR, business management, understanding the language teaching and translation markets, training, human resources… We've been in a number of incubators and accelerators that have been very helpful in terms of mentoring and training in social entrepreneurship. Q Who works for NaTakallam now? A We have seven full-time and four part-time staff members, including trained linguists who do our assessments, and a few interns. Our team is scattered around the world, with hubs in New York, Paris and Beirut. We've worked with over 150 language partners and translators in 20 countries; about 85 are active at present. Q How do you recruit language partners? A They are referred through our partners on the ground, or they find us on the internet. They provide their CV and a letter of interest, and then go through two rounds of interviews, NaTakallam CEO Aline Sara on setting up a social enterprise that offers language work to displaced people including a training session. Translator applicants also go through a translation test. We are developing a training module for teaching and language practice, and we've held in-person training in Beirut. Q In which languages do you offer services? A We started with Arabic and then launched Persian with Afghan and Iranian refugees, Spanish with Venezuelan and central American refugees, and French with refugees from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. For our translation, transcription and interpreting services we also offer Kurdish, Pashto, Portuguese, Tigrinya and Urdu. Q How did you develop the curriculum for more formal language tuition? A There was so much interest and enthusiasm for our conversational practice that we added more structured learning. The Head of Arabic at Cornell University, Dr Munther Younes, reached out and we now use his curriculum. Q What are you planning at the moment? A We're developing a website that will be easier to manage as we evolve, and we'll also be creating an app. See for more information.

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