By Ismail Slitine Alaoui
By Ismail Slitine Alaoui
Kenitra – As a former teacher assistant of an Arabic language course, I had the privilege of teaching Arabic at an American university that offered an Arabic class for the first time to its students.
Arabic, as a language, has many different varieties of dialects that alternate from the east to the west of the Arab world, which encompasses over 20 countries. One of the most well-known textbooks that was used to teach Arabic at my host institution was “Al-Kitaab.”
For a while, I thought we would solely focus on teaching standardized, formal Arabic, but working with an outstanding and distinguished supervisor gave me an entirely different approach to do my best to be acquainted with teaching Levantine colloquial Arabic. The following are the major reasons that influenced my teaching style, and led me to believe in the importance of integrating any version of colloquial Arabic into the classroom.
1 – Mastering at least one colloquial Arabic dialect will help your students understand the culture of the target group of people they want to meet.
To understand the culture of the Arabic country that students have the desire to visit and work in, they should have in-depth exposure to the local dialect of Arabic in that country. For example, when we want to offer our condolences, Arabic speakers across different countries tend to use slightly different expressions to attain that purpose.
While, in Egypt, you might hear the expression “Il-baqiya fi Hayatak/ik,” in Morocco, you might pick up on a partially different expression, such as “Albaraka f ruskum.” Additionally, in formal Arabic, only educated people will understand the expression, “Ta’aazina Al-Haara.” For this reason, I think that arming your students with Modern Standard Arabic alongside colloquial Arabic will surely provide them with the chance to experience deeper Arab culture inside your classroom before they set out to the Arab world.
Some teachers might disregard the idea of teaching colloquial Arabic because their vernacular version of Arabic is not included in the textbook that I mentioned above. Therefore, I urge every teacher, especially Moroccans, to do their best to integrate one of the two versions of colloquial Arabic that are offered in “Al-Kitaab.” Teachers can choose the one version of colloquial Arabic that they feel more comfortable using. Eventually, teachers themselves will enjoy a different teaching style, and it gives their students the chance to learn a new variety of Arabic that will help them speak the language naturally, rather than only formally.
2 – Colloquial Arabic will help your students be conversational.
Whether you are an Iraqi, Egyptian or Qatari teacher of Arabic as a foreign language, adopting one colloquial Arabic dialect in your classroom will help your students use that dialect easily to interact and have longer conversations with local Arabic speakers. Achieving a comfortability in colloquial Arabic will help students feel at home, whereas mastering Modern Standard Arabic will undoubtedly allow them to use it in its formal contexts and settings.
By learning Modern Standard Arabic, students will also be able to watch the news on Aljazeera, read al-Quds newspaper, and enjoy watching a documentary on National Geography Abu Dhabi. On the other hand, Modern Standard Arabic will not help them fully enjoy watching famous Shaamii soap operas, such as Bab Al-Haara. We have to bear in mind that Arabic dialects that we, as Arabs, tend to use today are similar in many aspects.
Consequently, there is a great overlap between these dialects and Modern Standard Arabic. This means that we should not worry if our students are exposed to a new dialect at some point in the future. Since the basic purpose of learning any language is to simply communicate with its native speakers, your syllabus, as teachers of Arabic, should include both a colloquial version of Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic.
3 – Modern Standard Arabic is not ENOUGH!
Teachers who tend to focus only on using formal Arabic should reconsider their teaching styles, as I once did. My supervisor insisted on using both colloquial Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic as a medium of instruction. After I transitioned to this new teaching style, I firmly believe that introducing both forms of Arabic to students is a decision that every Arabic teacher should take into account. A conversation that I had with two university students perfectly illustrates the benefits of teaching both forms of Arabic. The two students in the conversation attended different universities, but used the same textbooks.
One student was from the same university that I was working at as a teacher assistant (not the main professor), and the other student was from a nearby university. This conversation took place within the last few days of school, after the students had been taught for a year from the same textbook. Our female student was about to finish her freshman year, while the other male student was going to finish his sophomore year.
Frankly speaking, her verbal skills were amazing considering that it was her first year of learning a language that has a completely different alphabet and grammar rules. She thoroughly understood what he said in Arabic, and she simultaneously responded to his questions in an eloquent way.
With obvious difficulty, the male student was able to take part in the conversation using only Modern Standard Arabic. It became clear that the female student from our class, who was taught both forms of Arabic, was able to display a better understanding of the language as a whole. I intentionally use this example to show how powerful using varieties of the Arabic language is, and to hopefully influence teachers to think twice before discarding any colloquial versions of Arabic.
Having listed and discussed the reasons concerning the importance of integrating colloquial Arabic into every day Arabic language classrooms, I hope that no one reading this article, especially Arabic language teachers, think that I have am attempting to undermine the importance of Modern Standard Arabic. Rather, I want to prove how skillful and fluent your ‘students’ Arabic language “levels” would be after using both forms of Arabic. On the whole, my intention behind this article is to shed light on the significance of integrating and including colloquial Arabic into your classroom in addition to the other aspects of the Arabic language. I hope that you do not hesitate to include it.
Edited by Natalie Yazhary
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