Muna Saleh

Muna Saleh

There’s a lot going on in the life of 31-year-old Muna Saleh. She was born in Saudi Arabia to Eritrean parents, raised in London, and came to New York City ten years ago — and has been living her passions ever since. She the founder of Great Minds Learn. Her paintings can be found at


Sandi:                       Welcome to another edition of The 51%, Conversations with Creative Women. I’m Sandi Klein. An eclectic Muna Sala is her own mini United Nations; born in Saudi Arabia to Eritrean parents, Muna – the oldest of four children – moved to London with her mother and her siblings when she was eight years old. She studied and acting in college in the UK and traveled throughout Europe singing R&B and Pop. Not long after, Muna was on the road again, this time making her way to the states; specifically New York City where she hoped to pursue a music career. As a way to make ends meet, Muna freelanced as an Arabic teacher and a translator of Kengryna, which is the national language of Arytraia. It was during that eight years that she, in her own words, stumbled into teaching and subsequently created her own teaching method. In 2010, she transitioned to teaching online and then in 2011, Muna created Great Minds Learn: live instructor led language lessons in Arabic, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Mandarin taught by a staff of more than thirty teachers. It was re-launched this year. So, at just thirty-one, Muna has worn many hats: singer, songwriter, she also paints, sells her art, she’s a teacher, she’s a business woman; so let’s meet her already.

                                 Muna. It’s a pleasure.

Muna:                      Likewise. Thank you for having me.

Sandi:                       So, Muna, it sounds like you have a lot of moxy, you’ve been there, done that. So, let’s talk with Great Minds Learn and work back. You say your approach to learning a new language is unconventional, so what does that mean?

Muna:                      When I was teaching Arabic, I found that most of my students were learning modern standard Arabic, which is the first thing you learn when you’re learning Arabic and that’s the Arabic that everybody speaks. Now, what people don’t realize is, there are different dialects and this is colloquial, so when you go, say you go to Lebanon, you have to speak that dialect in order for them to understand you.

Sandi:                       That’s like Chinese.

Muna:                      Exactly.

Sandi:                       Mm Hmm

Muna;                      Think of Spanish. When you go to Spain, you speak different Spanish than you would in Latin America.

Sandi:                       Mm Hmm

Muna:                      So, I started to mater several dialects and that was Egyptian and Lebanese. Those are the two dominant dialects in the Arab world. So, if you watch movies, listen to music, that’s what you’ll find; more Egyptian and Lebanese.

Sandi:                       That’s interesting.

Muna:                      Yeah. Most people didn’t know that actually, so I had students from all over, mostly NYU surprisingly.

Sandi:                       Who wanted to learn Arabic?

Muna:                      Who wanted to learn Arabic and they all came with the text books which is modern standard Arabic, they’d been studying for two years, paid all this money, and when we sat down, they couldn’t even speak to me. So, I was like, something has to be done about this.

Sandi:                       Got you.

Muna:                      This is how I developed my online method of teaching, which actually didn’t start off online it was face to face. So, what I wanted to do was make it more fun and so I started creating games and this would be all on paper.

Sandi:                       Mm Hmm

Muna:                      Definitely back and forth, repetition, even musical. We’d sit down and I would kind of give it a melody and they would repeat and surprise, surprise, they remember it the following day. I’d even record stuff for them.

Sandi:                       Mm Hmm

Muna:                      Send it, and it just developed that way. The method itself, I wanted to follow a pattern. So, I knew that conjugation was definitely what people struggled with.

Sandi:                       And it’s boring.

Muna:                      Very, very boring. You know, you don’t want to look at a book and just look at all these patterns and keep repeating.

Sandi:                       Let me just interrupt you, did people what to learn conversational Arabic? That’s who you were teaching it to.

Muna:                      Most definitely.

Sandi:                       It wasn’t that they wanted to be able to read some Tome in Arabic necessarily.

Muna:                      No, but the thing about a language like Arabic is it’s so complex that you really do need to start at the beginning.

Sandi:                       Mm Hmm

Muna:                      So, for me it was very important that they learnt the alphabet.

Sandi:                       Of course.

Muna:                      The sound, and then from there actually I moved on to conversation and conjugation. Vocabulary, building their vocab and then they would slowly start to read by themselves. So, I didn’t force reading on them.

Sandi:                       Mm Hmm

Muna:                      But, we transitioned from writing what they’re hearing in phonetics to writing it in Arabic and then you have accent marks and things like that which I throw in eventually, over time. Nothing all at the same time, it was all just very, very gradual.

Sandi:                       You taught one on one? You didn’t teach a class?



Sandi:                       Join us again for another edition of The 51% Conversations with Creative Women. If you’d like to reach The 51%, contact us at I’m Sandi Klein.

Narrator:                 Thanks for listening to The 51% Conversations with Creative Women. For show comments and suggestions please follow us on Twitter at #sandikleinshow. You can also find us on Facebook at The 51% Conversations. The show is produced and recorded by Chad Dougatz at the Hangar Studios in New York City. Sandi Klein is our executive producer.




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