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Throughout my career as a learning and instruction designer for Arabic as a foreign language, I got used to hearing students say: “Arabic is a very difficult language to learn “or “why learn standard Arabic when native speakers don’t use it themselves?” In this article, I will highlight the most common struggles students face when learning Arabic as a foreign language:

Arabic is difficult:

I would prefer to say that Arabic is different for learners whose foreign language experience is limited to European languages. However, just like learning any foreign language, the more teachers and learners collaborate at the beginning stages of language learning, the easier it gets later on. When teaching more advanced concepts such as; verb conjugations, the root system and verb patterns, students should be guided to see the connections between them all. It also helps to explain to learners that these concepts are not just rules to “apply” when writing or reading, but they also help to comprehend the language more easily. The earlier teachers work to help students see the relevance and practical use of what they are learning, the better. Language is for communication, so help students to use what they are learning to communicate.

Grammar first:

If you come from the school where a foreign language is not learnt as a functional tool of communication, then you probably swear by the grammar. However, language is not just about mastering rules and accuracy. We must aim to teach for independent transfer of language use in various communicative situations. As stated earlier, language is for communication and it should flow smoothly and with ease, we educators must resist this constant desire to correct every single grammatical mistake that learners make. Allow for learners to build their self-esteem with Arabic in constant practice through group work, role-plays, exploring patterns in written and oral texts, repetition and peer feedback. Believe me, they will get it! Instead of stressing on grammar instruction, stress on interaction and expression.

Instruction through English:

Every time I talk to an AFL teacher; this issue is brought up: how am I expected to instruct my international class through Arabic? And my response is always: Which Arabic are you referring to? Learners will never be expected to understand Arabic from day one right? But how about trying to raise its doze each week? How about setting expectations to use the language learners are building on each day? This can begin with the integration of short daily conversations. Who said we have to wait until all learners successfully learned the alphabet to move to conversational Arabic? The point is, you can instil Arabic from day one if you use the right material and approach that help you to do so. You can always count on speaking with the combination of English transcription and Arabic words at the beginning. The fact that “they don’t know how to write the word” should not be an issue.

Separating standard from spoken Arabic:

This can be a controversial topic, but I am not here to say which one is authentic and worthy of teaching, because they both are. However, I have noticed that using a merging approach has an incredible impact on fluency and confidence. Think about it: how do we, Arabs, speak the language? I don’t speak all dialects, but I can generalise and say that both versions become naturally merged in speech. So, trying to accept the fact that we could teach the language the way it is spoken in reality, might not be a horrible idea. This approach can be challenging and difficult at first, but talking to experts who have done it, observing classes that follow it and finding resources that make it easy for you, are all worth trying.

Arabic is a fun language to learn. Help your students to interact with the language even among each other as foreign language students and explore unconventional approaches to make it more fun to use for daily interaction.

By: Hiba B. Ibrahim