تَعْلِيمُ الْعَرَبِيَّةِ فِي كَاليفُورْنِيا Teaching Arabic in California

Topics ranging from issues of Modern Standard Arabic and colloquial instruction, to the use of technology in Arabic. Abdelkader Berrahmoun. Arabic Teacher.

Learning Arabic: Challenges and Opportunities:
During the course of my career in teaching Arabic as a foreign language, many of my students have worked diligently to learn and master this rich yet complex language. Despite the challenges, many students fall in love with Arabic language and culture, and go on to live, work or travel in an Arab country.
In this blog, I would like to share with you some of the difficulties that students encounter when learning Arabic as a foreign language. I will also introduce some approaches that can help non-native speakers more easily access Arabic.
Common challenges include:
- Reproducing the alphabet sounds:
 a few sounds in particular tend to give students problems: ح  ع  غ  ق  
- Learning the vast repertoire of vocabulary
Arabic has a rich and extensive vocabulary. Teachers must carefully select the most useful words for emerging learners. More advanced students can seek out more complex vocabulary.
Some commonly used textbooks tend to present many vocabulary words that are not related to the theme of the unit. When faced with numerous new words, students find it very difficult to absorb and retain this quantity of material.
- Reading and reading comprehension
Challenges: due to the complexity of Arabic sentence structure, students may spend hours attempting to look up and understand each and every word in a reading passage. They may fail to comprehend while focusing on this painstaking word by word approach.
Solution: Direct students to identify where the subject, verb, object, prepositional, connectors are in the sentence. Read to understand the context (with the help of a dictionary), rather than understanding each and every word
- Understanding  Arabic grammar and syntax
Many students have an incomplete understanding of grammar in their own native language. Arabic professors who try to explain grammatical concepts often find that students need a review of the parts of speech such as predicates and prepositions – in order to understand these concepts in Arabic.

Solution: Train students to focus on root words and patterns. 
- Knowing which dialect to focus upon
- Listening comprehension
- Writing complex sentence structures
A program of comprehensive Arabic instruction addresses all of the issues above and must take into account program curriculum, individual cases, learning goals, preparedness and ability, teacher methodology and learning environment. 
Next blog will be focusing on approaches to address these challenges. Please feel free to share any other challenges when learning Arabic.

Technology can play a vital role in the contemporary language class. While traditional methods (lecture, drill, workbooks, etc.) continue to be valuable instructional options for building basic skills, today’s students are generally tech savvy and ready to embrace more interactive approaches.

In this blog I’ll talk about one such approach that I have found to be highly successful: the use of a radio show in the Arabic classroom.
Before going further, a few words about the technological requirements and options:

Not every class will have the means to do live broadcasting from a college or local radio station. As an alternative to live broadcasting, simulated shows can be pre-recorded and aired in class.   If live broadcasting is not an option, the radio show as a project can still be accomplished using software/applications such as Audacity, Voice Memos on iPhone/iPad, and GarageBand.  I’ll discuss these options shortly. But first,

Why use a radio show in the Arabic language class? What makes this approach a great learning method for students?

This project:
  • provides an, authentic context to use the target language 
  • engages interest and creativity through technology and music 
  • offers students an opportunity to apply essential language skills: reading, listening, writing and speaking - and to build confidence in their skills 
  • incorporates research, planning, critical thinking and presentation
  • requires the ability to think, respond, comprehend and interact in the target language, on the spot (especially in live radio programming) 
  • increases knowledge of the target culture: students explore regional musical styles, performers, current events, etc. 
  • allows students to share their learning with a broader audience
  • promotes student choice and ownership of learning, as they choose news topics, musical selections, interviews and other radio show options 
  • fosters both independent study and collaboration; builds a classroom learning community 
How is an Arabic radio show a good teaching tool for instructors?

Radio shows:
  • put learning in the hands of the students
  • promote language fluency
  • offer an assessment of students’ skills. Rubrics can be created to assess specific skills like speaking, participation, grammar, vocabulary usage, etc.
  • allow the instructor to monitor student progress from the initial planning stages through show production
  • create an interactive learning experience
What is the potential impact of an Arabic radio show? 
A radio show can:
  • reach a wider audience of students, staff and faculty at the home institution as well as the local community; awaken interest in Arab cultures, music and language
  • be a forum to explore issues about the Arab/Middle Eastern world and give voice to different social, political and cultural views 
The basics of implementing an Arabic radio show project:

How to get started… 
  • Research options for live, online or simulated broadcasting 
  • Develop show concept and title. Consider student learning goals, themes, musical styles, content, program length, frequency of show , and broadcast audience 
  • Offer technical training to students in small groups 
  • Guide students through the process of organizing and rehearsing their show
For live shows:
  • Meet with the radio station manager; summarize your radio show plans. 
  • Receive training in use of station equipment. If possible, observe an existing radio show. 
Some ideas for radio show content: 
  • Music of chosen genre or geographical region 
  • Interviews 
  • Politics or current events related to the target culture 
  • Sports 
  • Jokes
  • Reviews of films, concerts, CDs, books, etc. 
  • Commentary on topics of interest 
  • School news
Planning steps for students:
  • Choose topics of interest to group members and audience
  • Establish a plan to divide tasks among group members. Each student should participate in selecting show topics, planning, writing, researching/selecting music, narrating, and assembling the show’s elements
  • Research, gather and insert any special effects, transitions, etc. that will make the presentation engaging and enjoyable 
  • Create a written draft of the text. Check for correct grammar, vocabulary usage, and continuity of ideas.
  • Practice reading the narration
Where to find legal music tracks for a radio show: 
  • “World Music “ section of local library 
  • SoundCloud.com 
  • Amazon.com – paid downloads 
  • YouTube http://www.ehow.com/how_7744773_download-music-youtube-legally.html 
  • http://iodapromonet.com/labellist.php - pod-safe music from around the globe 
  • Arabic music 
About software:
The three most accessible programs are: 
  • iPhone – Voice Memos is a voice recorder pre-installed on iPhone and iPad 
  • GarageBand – can be used to create an audio podcast. Students can record their own voices as well as utilizing music files stored on the computer. GarageBand allows multi-track recording.
  • Audacity – a free software for digital audio recording and editing. Audacity can be downloaded at http://audacity.sourceforge.net. Students may benefit from a training session before using Audacity.
What to do if the school doesn’t have a radio station…
  • simulate a broadcast in class 
  • pre-record the show and broadcast it over the school intercom 
  • use iTunes, Garage Band podcast, or other applications 
  • record a show and share online (podcast)
Read some of my students’ feedback on the radio show project: 
What did you learn from doing this show?
“I think the radio show is an excellent way for us to practice our speaking skills. It allows you to speak in Arabic in a relaxed environment. It makes speaking Arabic even more fun while listening to good music.”
I learned a lot about music styles in the Arabic world. Music is so different and varied from a region to another.”
What do you think? Please share your ideas on using a radio show in your classroom. If you have comments or questions on the specifics of implementing a show, please write!



Welcome to my personnal blog. My name is Abdelkader Berrahmoun.  I am a native of Oran, Algeria and have been teaching Arabic for more than 15 years. I’m here to share with you some of my observations, experiences and teaching strategies from the field.

I hope you’ll enjoy reading my blogs for the next 8 weeks. I’ll be addressing topics ranging from issues of Modern Standard Arabic and colloquial instruction, to the use of technology in Arabic classes.

My goal is to generate some constructive discussion about these topics. The community of Arabic instructors is a growing force in this country and we have much to learn from each other. I welcome your comments and hope you will join the conversation.

In the last few years, a hot debate has started in the U.S. about whether we need to focus exclusively on teaching Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) - or incorporate colloquial instruction in parallel with MSA.

Does MSA alone provide students everything they need to interact and understand spoken language in the Arab world? Can MSA and colloquial successfully be taught at the same time?  Is it possible to introduce more than one colloquial in the same class? How does the teacher choose which of the many colloquials to prioritize? How important are authenticity and native fluency when teaching colloquial languages? These are just a few of the issues to be considered.  

Focus on MSA:  Some Arabic teachers hold the view that MSA should be the sole instructional focus, because it is the most widespread and formal written language used in the Arab world. MSA offers an underlying foundation for all Arabic students - with essential elements of widely accepted grammar, phonetics, script and sentence structure. Beginning with a strong knowledge base of MSA, students can then go on to learn regional dialects. Many words in colloquial Arabic are directly derived from MSA. Thus, some teachers feel that MSA can stand on its own as a primary focus.

Challenges of fitting colloquial into Arabic instruction:

There is some resistance in our field to teaching colloquial Arabic – for varied and legitimate reasons.  Due to insufficient class time, teachers must choose focus and are frequently juggling breadth versus depth. Students may find it overwhelming to master all the essential foundations of MSA. Adding colloquial study to the basics of grammar, vocabulary, sentence structure, reading, writing, listening and comprehension can be a daunting task for teachers and students alike.

Colloquial language is usually specific to a place and culture. Even in the same region, different dialects are often spoken. It’s not advantageous for students to learn one colloquial that can’t be applied in other countries or regions.

Further complicating teaching and learning of colloquials is the variation of grammar and lexicon from one colloquial to another – sometimes even within the same country. Those who teach a colloquial should have native fluency in order to understand and convey the nuances and grammatical rules of a particular dialect.

Why is it important to teach colloquial Arabic?

A knowledge of specific dialects expands students’ opportunities and insights about countries or regions in the Arab world.

§  Many of our students seek academic options offering advanced study, travel, and internships in Arabic speaking countries. Study abroad programs provide an immersion experience and opportunity to advance and refine language skills. Students need to know the everyday spoken Arabic of the host country in order to survive, communicate and interact.

§  Arabic students with concentrations and career goals in linguistics, Middle East Studies, religion, government, international relations, journalism and other fields can benefit from colloquial Arabic studies that focus on countries and regions of interest.

Whatever the motivation, learning colloquial Arabic offers students a deeper understanding of sociolinguistics, and provides an entry point into particular cultures within the Arab world.

Students should play a major part in choosing particular colloquials to study that will help them achieve their personal, academic and career goals.

Issues and obstacles related to learning colloquial Arabic:

§  Factors such as political instability and the Arab Spring movement have impacted study abroad programs in the Arab world. Students now encounter reduced opportunities and placements. Jordan and Morocco are currently the main centers of study abroad programs. These limited opportunities prevent students from experiencing a diverse range of dialects firsthand.

§  On campus, opportunities for colloquial study are dictated by the presence or absence of trained native speakers.

§  Although some Arabic textbooks or reference works offer directed colloquial study, the majority of these books are for Levantine or Egyptian Arabic. While this is an important step, other dialects are rarely represented.  Part of the reason is that Arabic teachers from under-represented dialect groups have yet to create their own materials.

§  In some universities and colleges, there is an internal debate over which dialects should be taught, and which will be left out. Political considerations and regionalism play an important role in deciding which dialects and study abroad programs are offered.

These factors and curricular decisions can influence students’ views of the Arab world. The spectrum of Arabic dialects reflects historical, cultural and political diversity that enriches our heritage. It’s important to expose students to this diversity.

Options for Integrating MSA and colloquial Arabic

The debate continues about whether and/or how to incorporate colloquial Arabic study into an MSA-based Arabic program. What are some options that serve students’ needs and are realistic to implement?

§  Interface between Arabic faculty and college advisors to assess students’ language learning/career goals;  provide resources for focused colloquial study  

§  Create a Skype directory of available online tutors in diverse dialects

§  Pool resources with native Arabic- speaking colleagues and Teaching Assistants from different countries and regions

Options for Colloquial Exposure and Instruction

§  Conversation groups led by native speaker

§  Independent studies

§  Special interest courses focused on a specific region and dialect

§  Compile primary sources for colloquial exposure  (such as TV or radio stations, social media and films in colloquial)

(see http://langmedia.fivecolleges.edu/ )

§  Books/audio focused on a particular dialect

(see  http://www.routledge.com/languages/arabic/ )

What do you think about the topic of Modern Standard Arabic and colloquial instruction? Please share your ideas and creative approaches to this issue.


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