While growing up in Scotland, Jinanne Tabra struggled to learn Arabic. The textbooks used in her weekly lessons couldn’t keep her attention. So years later, when Tabra’s mother, a librarian at an elementary school in Qatar, complained over dinner one night about her students’ lack of interest in Arabic books, Tabra wasn’t surprised. She was inspired. “I realized if it was hard to get kids to read Arabic in an Arab country, kids overseas didn’t stand a chance,” Tabra says. “There needed to be a go-to website where people around the world could find out about and order all the best materials for learning Arabic.”
That night, Tabra bought the domain name Araboh.com. “I chose the name Araboh because the ‘oh’ is a form of endearment in the Arab world,” Tabra says. “As a child, my friends often called me Jinannoh, a child named Ahmed might be nicknamed Ahmedoh. I wanted the name to reflect that family-like closeness and that sense of community.”
The entrepreneurship bug bit Tabra while she was a business administration student at Carnegie Mellon’s Qatar campus in Doha. She chose CMU because she wanted to stay close to her family. The university, which provides the same curriculum and many of the same professors as the main campus in Pittsburgh, offered full-time, English-language undergraduate degree programs in business and computer science. She used lessons from business classes and guidance from her professors to prepare for the live launch of the site in July 2008, a few months after she graduated.
In its current state, Araboh.com lists thousands of books, ranging from translations of popular American titles to original Arab stories, to textbooks and worksheets. Every book has been vetted and ranked by a member of the Araboh team on how entertaining, engaging, and practical it is in teaching Arabic. Visitors can also find step-by-step learning guides, advice on what materials to start with, and interactive activities to complement text lessons.
Araboh.com is a distribution site not unlike Amazon, except the team is a lot more involved with the inventory. “We’re not just a middleman,” Tabra says. She and her team work with publishers to ensure the quality of the product. Inventory is kept in a warehouse in Qatar, but the headquarters is now in Boston. Deliveries have been made to more than 50 countries around the world. Although they sell to a lot of individuals interested in the language, more than three-quarters of revenue comes from institutions around the world looking to augment their libraries and classrooms with Arabic educational materials. —Sommer Saadi, posted Dec. 14, 2011