Zaynab Hamdi, founder of ILM Projects created an innovative learning tool inspired by the challenges she faced growing up in the UK and learning Arabic as a second language. As many of us can relate, if we were raised in non-Arabic speaking countries, learning and maintaining our native language if not practiced and spoken regularly at home can be difficult and frustrating. Zaynab shared this struggle.
As a child, she found learning Arabic dull and repetitive. When she ironically began teaching Arabic to children as an adult, she discovered most of her students experienced the same sentiments. Zaynab was determined to change the negative association children have with learning the language. Her startup, ILM Projects is committed to making Arabic a fun and easy language to practice. She’s currently designing interactive tools for teaching Arabic. Her first product, Letter Connector, is a platform that uses color-coded magnetic Arabic letters for an interactive and easy-to-learn experience.
Below, Zaynab discusses her journey with teaching, the Arabic language, and taking a leap of faith to create her own product.
Tell us about ILM Projects. What is it, and how did it start?
So, as a child, like many other children, I went to Saturday school. Instead of watching cartoons like my other friends, I was in class learning Arabic. To be honest, I didn’t enjoy it. I found it dull and boring, and the Arabic language difficult. As I got older, the roles reversed and I started teaching Arabic to young children, who were having the same experiences that I did as a child. At this point, I knew that I wanted to instill a love of the Arabic language into these children, and that I had to make a sincere effort to give them happy memories of learning Arabic. That is how I came up with ILM Projects. The whole idea behind it was making knowledge interactive.
Why did you create this learning game/where did the idea for it come from?
I had the idea for a long time. I always thought it would be so cool for children to use magnets to get used to Arabic letters in their different forms, but I could never find it. I decided, why not make it myself? I joined a makerspace workshop in London and started using the machines there to actually create my own prototypes. Through YouTube tutorials and support from family and friends around me, and many, many trials and errors, I managed to make a successful prototype.
I wanted to create something that was hands on. I didn’t want a tracing sheet, or a textbook. I wanted something engaging and different. Children go to school 5 days a week where they have all sorts of fun and creative tools for learning through toys and technology. My dream is to have the same for Arabic.
I knew that I wanted to instill a love of the Arabic language into these children
How long have you been trying to learn Arabic?
I am originally North African, so I grew up speaking dialect Arabic. However, I never had a formal education in standard Arabic (which was why I went to Arabic school). I grew up with Arabic as a second language. But what really got me into learning was the Qur’an. The way words could have different meanings, subtle points to make, or the way words had been mistranslated, made me realize that to truly learn about the Qur’an, I needed to improve my Arabic.
What has been your least favorite thing about learning the language?
My least favorite thing would be the challenges in teaching. There are thousands of Arabic schools across the world, and yet as a Muslim community, we do not have a standardized Arabic framework to ensure Muslims grow up with a solid foundation in the Arabic language. As a result of this, Arabic teaching tends to lack structure, and creativity. This is more dangerous than people realize because rather than instill a love of Arabic to build a relationship with the Qur’an, it puts people off.
What do you feel is the hardest part of learning the language?
I did a survey with 60 people who went to Arabic school and asked them this question, and more than half said Arabic grammar! The best response I saw was, “Arabic grammar is a killer mate”
That being said, I think anything you don’t know, you will find challenging. However, if you have a good teacher, a well-structured course, and tools to help you be an independent learner, then anything is achievable. It’s really sad when people go to Saturday school for 10+ years and still cannot hold a conversation in Arabic.
How can Letter Connector help making learning Arabic easier and more enjoyable for kids?
ILM Projects is committed to supplementing children’s learning with online resources. So alongside Letter Connector, there will be flashcards, coloring sheets, videos and more to help children get the most out of it. It’s a fun tool for expanding vocabulary and Arabic spelling. So the majority of Muslims all learn how to read Arabic, but when it comes to understanding and spelling people struggle.
By creating resources to be used by children, parents and teachers, ILM Projects is committed to raising the standard of Arabic learning and teaching.
Can adults use it too?
Yes, I used it with adults, children, Arab, non-Arab, Muslim and non Muslim and it was well received and very enjoyable.
Have you received any success stories of anyone being more excited to learn the language thanks to Letter Connector?
Since I started my crowdfunding campaign to generate pre-orders, alhamdulillah I have received emails from Australia, the USA, Mauritius and more. People are excited to use it and are happy that tools are being created to make learning Arabic fun.
Letter Connector is colorful and vibrant. If I had fun tools for learning when I was a child, I don’t think I would have been as upset about missing cartoons on Saturday morning.
Where can we buy Letter Connector?
You have 2 days left to order at a special reduced price at:
After that, it will be available to purchase at: