RefuTales-founder Sajida Altaya not only wants to share her opinion, but also give a taste of her culture – quite literally. According to her, you get to know a person through their kitchen. Proudly, she invited her co-founders to her family home in Stuttgart for a typical Syrian dinner.
We learned that her sister Heba has a totally opposite view on the importance of learning the local language.
A sister’s quibble
With the help of her daughters, Sajida’s mother Waheba was responsible for the cooking. They spared neither cost nor effort: guests are cared for to perfection, serving fresh tabbouleh, stuffed vegetables, soups and homemade fries. In between, we enjoyed cakes, fruit juice, tea and Syrian coffee. It was delicious.
When we exclaimed that Waheba simply had to open a restaurant, it was difficult for her to hide a smile on her face. We had struck the right chord: it is her dream to open an authentic Syrian restaurant in Stuttgart with her son. "The Syrian cuisine has much to offer," she nods enthusiastically, "I like cooking and want to share this with Germans". We share her confidence – with cooking skills like hers, it will undoubtedly be a success.
"The Syrian cuisine has much to offer. I want to share this with Germans"
RefuTales’ interview with Sajida was a hot topic during the meal. Sajida's sister Heba, one year her senior, was particually keen to discuss it. Heba had a totally opposite view on the importance of learning the local language. Sajida believes that learning German should not take priority over her University studies. She thinks it's a big waste of time to spend years having to master the language, before being able to continue her studies. Ideally, she would immediately continue her engineering studies in English, while learning German on the side at her own speed. In her view, this is the best way to be of value to the German society as soon as possible and develop her own potential.
Heba didn't agree with that position. "It's a waste of time to study in English!" she stated firmly, "I'm in Germany and need German in my daily life, not English. If I studied German just on the side it would take years to get to the level I could reach in months if I focus exclusively on German. I'd like to get a university degree, but one in German. Once I know the language sufficiently, I will enroll in university. Hopefully I'll make lots of German friends. You will be amazed how fast I improve!"
"I'm in Germany and need German in my daily life, not English. I'd like to get a university degree, but one in German."
Learning trough movies
Currently, Heba takes an intensive German language course. She speaks already quite a bit and is working towards the B1 level. "I must admit that the lessons (which usually last a whole day, ed.) can sometimes be pretty boring. There’s a danger in this. I may be motivated enough to keep up with it, but this is not the case for everyone. Learning should be fun. Otherwise you get an aversion to the language."
We talked for a while about how the lessons could be improved in her opinion. Heba didn't seem to have an issue with the lessons themselves, but with their monotony. “They must be enriched with something different. I for one like to watch movies and series. That's how I've learned English: by watching American movies and series. (Laughs) So I gave myself ‘Watching German movies’ as homework. That's not easy, tough. They are very hard to find!"
"Learning should be fun. Otherwise you get an aversion to the language"
At this point, we suggested that Netflix had a large collection of movies with German audio. To our surprise, she'd never heard of it. We then quickly logged into our own account, after which she was afire: "So many movies ... Great! I must have that!" Heba immediately made an account. Especially the family package appealed to her, given that her sisters also like to watch series.
When she discovered that she could watch her favorite series dubbed in German, she was all joy. "Why haven't I heard of this before?" she asked, shocked. "Also, why is this not promoted to refugees, in the language courses for example? Netflix is a great resource to learn the language! Maybe, refugees should be given a free, temporary Netflix account by the government, with audio only in the local language and subtitles in the local language, English and Arabic? Who wants, can buy a full subscription, but this way you give an extra incentive to learn the local language.”
"Maybe, refugees should be given a free, temporary Netflix account by the government, with audio only in the local language and subtitles in the local language, English and Arabic"
She pondered over this idea and got more and more convinced by it. "Such an account costs around as much in a year as a single day of language courses! These courses are only effective for those who are really motivated. It's a win-win, I would say: entertainment in the local language, complemented with language lessons. Refugees are just like everyone else: they learn best when they have a concrete purpose and fun."