Learning Arabic or Chinese can be tricky for Americans, who often struggle with the unfamiliar writing. But an Egyptian teacher in the U.S. says he knows how to make it a little easier and a lot more fun.

“The magic key to teaching language is culture,” said Tamer Elsharkawy, a teacher who left his classroom in Egypt to teach temporarily at Cooke Elementary School in Washington.

Elsharkawy participates in the U.S. Department of State’s Teachers of Critical Languages Program, which brings educators from Egypt and China to the United States to teach their native languages to American students.

Arabic is increasingly important in a global economy, but tough to master, even for gifted learners.

Elsharkawy focuses on the Arabic language with younger children and has more discussion-based lessons with older students, where they talk about Arab culture and Islam, the Washington Post reported.

Elsharkawy’s students in the United States and Egypt also video chat regularly. It helps students in both countries to learn conversational Arabic and English and to share a little about their own lives.

Some parents have sought Elsharkawy’s advice on how to talk about Islam with their kids: “They are not Muslims, but they want to teach their children something correct on this topic” to combat stereotyping, he told the Voice of America (VOA).

Greater cultural awareness is only one of the benefits of learning Arabic. With 350 million Arabic speakers worldwide, the language can open international business opportunities.

Arabic is among the ten languages most taught at U.S. colleges. Spanish and French remain the most frequently studied, but Arabic is increasingly popular among older students. To meet the growing demand, many U.S. colleges and universities have created or expanded Arabic, Islamic and Middle Eastern studies departments and programs.

As for Elsharkawy, he’s enjoying Washington’s rich cultural mix and learning almost as much as his students.

“Washington, D.C., is the most fantastic place for anyone from any nationality,” he told VOA. “Lots of colors, lots of religions, lots of people, lots of backgrounds.”

Learn more about language instruction at U.S. schools, U.S. educational exchange programs and attending college in the United States.

(Video courtesy of Voice of America/Arash Arabasadi)