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Arabic Language Teaching in the United States
This publication was prepared with funding from the National Library of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under contract no. ED-99-CO-0008. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of NLE, OERI, or ED.
In 2000, languages of the Middle East made up only 2% of all foreign language classes offered in the United States: 1.3% Hebrew and .5% Arabic (Cumming, 2001). Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the FBI’s urgent call for Arabic, Pashto, and Farsi translators, interest in the teaching and learning of these languages has increased dramatically. This article looks at the state of Arabic language teaching in the United States today and describes some of the challenges specific to Arabic teaching and learning faced by teachers and students.
One of the best ways to gauge the growing interest in Middle Eastern languages is to look at recent federal funding increases. Education appropriations for fiscal year 2002 included a 26% increase for Title VI of the Higher Education Act and the Fulbright-Hays International Studies Program. This added $20.5 million in new funding to the nation’s Middle East studies centers (Kramer, 2002). In August 2002, the U.S. Department of Education announced the creation of the National Middle East Language Resource Center at Brigham Young University, the first Title VI Language Resource Center to focus solely on the languages of the Middle East. The center focuses specifically on Arabic, Hebrew, Farsi, and Turkish (National Middle East Language Resource Center, n.d.). This new funding reflects the federal government’s growing awareness of the need to enhance our understanding of Middle Eastern affairs and languages.
There has also been an increase in enrollment in Arabic and Middle Eastern studies at universities across the nation. The department of Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Cultures has become one of the fastest growing departments at Columbia University in New York. Enrollment in courses such as Contemporary Islamic Civilization and America and the Muslim World have increased dramatically in recent years (Beam, 2003). At Brown University, in Providence, RI, a number of classes focusing on Middle Eastern languages and cultures had to be cancelled—not because students were not interested, but rather because Brown was unable to find enough teachers to meet the demand for such classes (Attending to Arabic, 2003). In Fall 2002, the department of Arabic Language, Literature, and Linguistics at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., increased its beginning Arabic language offerings from two classes to five (Dillon, 2003).
The Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Monterey, California, the institution that provides language training to the U.S. armed forces and agents of the CIA, FBI, and NSA, reported a “substantial jump in enrollment [in Arabic] as the Department of Defense sent out requests for more Arabic linguists” (Howe, 2002). The U.S. Department of Agriculture Graduate School has seen a rise in the demand for Arabic classes and is now offering five Arabic programs, a significant increase from the one program that was offered before 9/11 (Powers, 2002).
While the teaching of Arabic in elementary and secondary schools is not nearly as common as the teaching of Western European languages such as Spanish, French, and German, there has been an increase, particularly in private schools. A recent survey conducted by the National Capital Language Resource Center found that there are more Arabic programs in private schools than in public or charter schools. Of the 37 Arabic programs located throughout the 12 states surveyed, 22 were at private schools; of those, 21 were Muslim private schools. The average number of Arabic language teachers in the private schools was 5.5, while the average for public or charter schools was 1.83. The private schools averaged less time of Arabic instruction per week (3.9 hours compared to 5.28 hours at the public schools) but the private school students receive Arabic instruction for more consecutive years (8.9 compared to 4.5 for the public schools). Most of the schools surveyed teach Modern Standard Arabic (Johnson & Greenstreet, 2003).
Qur’anic Arabic is only one manifestation of the language. You can be preacher, poet, raconteur, and fishwife in a single sentence. You can, with the Arabic of official reports, say next to nothing in a great many words and with enormous elegance. You can compose a work of literature on the two lateral extremities of the wrist-bone. … They taught us all this, but they didn’t teach us how to speak it. After two years of Arabic, I couldn’t even have asked the way to the lavatory (Macintosh-Smith, 2001).
By far the most common challenge encountered by teachers and learners of Arabic is diglossia. Diglossia refers to a language situation in which two varieties of the same language exist side by side (Asher, 1994). In the case of Arabic, Modern Standard Arabic is the variety learned largely through formal education and used primarily for written and formal spoken situations. Colloquial varieties of Arabic are used for informal conversation.
As Mary Catherine Bateson described, “The Classical language, which was the vehicle of Islam and of the literature and is the primary written form today, is relatively uniform throughout the Arab world and across the Islamic centuries but has never been the ordinary spoken language of the Arabs. Colloquial Arabic is the language of normal conversation, but it varies in ways which reflect all the geographical, social, and religious heterogeneity of the population” (Bateson, 2003, p. xiii). Classical Arabic is used for religious purposes and is formally taught in schools but it has not been a spoken variety since 750 A.D. Modern Standard Arabic, a simplified derivative of Classical Arabic, has become the lingua franca of writing, broadcasting, and formal speaking (Asher, 1994). This situation presents problems for both learners and teachers of Arabic. To be fully functional in the language, students must learn two types of Arabic—Classical or Modern Standard Arabic to read and write and speak formally, and one of the many colloquial forms of the language for informal speaking situations (National Foreign Language Center, n.d.).
Part of the difficulty with diglossia stems from attitudes toward the different dialects of Arabic.
"To many Arabs, Modern Standard Arabic … is the only form of the language which has any worth. The dialects, although they are the universal means of everyday conversation, are regarded by many as degraded forms of the language. This feeling is often reflected in attitudes to foreigners' attempts to learn Arabic: many Arabs, especially if they are educated, feel that only the Standard form of the language should be taught, regardless of the fact that Arabs themselves would never use this kind of Arabic for some of the purposes (e.g. chatting, shopping) for which they insist foreigners should use it” (Holes, Auty, & Harris, 1995, p. 60-61).
Another difficulty that teachers and learners of Arabic face is the dissimilarity between Arabic and most Western European languages, such as English, French, German, and Spanish. Arabic is a Semitic language and very different in structure from the Indo-European languages that English speakers commonly study. Arabic has some phonemes that European languages do not along with a very complex morphological system. Sentence structure is often Verb-Subject-Object instead of Subject-Verb-Object as in English. Also, there are few cognates between Arabic and English or other Western European languages (Ryding & Johnson, 2003).
Anne Shroeder, a nonnative student of Arabic, said, “Phonetically it is difficult to learn to produce the sounds correctly. My first year of colloquial I went out of class with a sore throat. Other physical difficulties involve learning to read from right to left, which resulted for me in a need to upgrade my eyeglasses prescription” (personal communication, June 3, 2003). Arabic’s non-Roman script may present more of a perceived than an actual difficulty to students. According to Karin Ryding, Professor of Arabic at Georgetown University, Arabic orthography is more systematic than that of English, and there is a better correspondence between spelling and pronunciation in Arabic. Also, mastering of the script is usually a significant motivating factor for students and provides a sense of achievement that heightens the student’s interest (Ryding & Johnson, 2003).
The mental challenge of learning Arabic may be much more fundamental. “The single most difficult aspect of learning Arabic is the mindset,” noted Anne Shroeder. “The mode of expressing oneself is so very different, I find, that it requires a restructuring of one's brain to be able to adequately communicate. Every language involves a cultural and mental adjustment to some extent, but the adjustment for Arabic is so much greater than for European languages that even with immersion it takes enormous energy to work with" (personal communication, June 3, 2003).
While there are numerous postsecondary textbooks available, materials specifically for K–12 teaching are practically non-existent. Nidal Abuasi, Principal of the Al Noor School in Brooklyn, New York, finds it difficult to locate age-appropriate literature to use in Arabic teaching. “We don’t have many textbooks in Arabic that are suitable and that appeal to children—textbooks, storybooks, storytelling books, or fairytales. We don’t have many resources available to anybody who wants to approach the Arabic language seriously” (Scalera, 2002). Badiaa Wardany, principal of the Al-Arqam Islamic school in Sacramento, California, notes that it is very difficult to find culturally appropriate teaching materials and that many teachers resort to creating their own curricula and materials to suit the particular needs of American students of Arabic. “Everyone is suffering from the lack of standardized materials for teaching Arabic to American children. The texts from Arab countries are not suitable for the American environment. We are trying to develop our own texts” (Johnson & Greenstreet, 2003).
Since September, 11, 2001, Arabic language teaching and learning has become the focus of much more attention from the educational community. This has also brought to the forefront the myriad problems associated with Arabic language instruction. Some of the difficulties Arabic educators must face include inadequate and inappropriate materials as well as difficulties inherent in the Arabic language itself. With the establishment of the National Middle East Language Resource Center last year, the expertise from many different Middle Eastern language professionals in the United States has been brought together to build the resources and capacity of the Arabic language teaching community.
Asher, R. E. (Ed.). (1994). The encyclopedia of language and linguistics. New York: Pergamon Press.
Attending to Arabic. (2003, January 27). The Brown Daily Herald.
Bateson, M. C. (2003). Arabic language handbook. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.
Beam, C. (2003, March 5). Middle East studies sees rise in student interest. Columbia Daily Spectator.
Cumming, W. K. (2001). Current challenges to international education. (ERIC Digest). Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education. Retrieved May 28, 2003, from http://www.eriche.org/digests/2001-09.htm
Dillon, S. (2003, March 19). Suddenly, a seller’s market for Arabic studies. New York Times.
Holes, C., Auty, N., & Harris, R. (1995). Just listen 'n learn Arabic. Lincolnwood: Passport Books.
Howe, K. (2002, September 10). Learning to combat global terror. Monterey County Herald.
Johnson, D., & Greenstreet, S. (2003). Arabic language K–12: A survey. Unpublished manuscript.
Kramer, M. (2002, Summer). Arabic panic. The Middle East Quarterly.
Macintosh-Smith, T. (2001, September). Learning Arabic. The Middle East Quarterly.
National Foreign Language Center. (n.d.). About Arabic. Retrieved May 29, 2003, from http://www.nflc.org/security/arabic.htm
National Middle East Language Resource Center. (n.d.). About NMELRC. Retrieved May 29, 2003, from http://nmelrc.byu.edu/
Powers, E. (2002, August). Lessons from tragedy. Washingtonian.
Ryding, K., & Johnson, D. (2003). Key issues in the teaching of Arabic as a foreign language: A two part presentation. Retrieved June 3, 2003 from http://www.nclrc.org/nectfl2003.html#kita
Scalera, D. (Producer). (2002). I speak Arabic. [Documentary videotape]. (Available from Diana Scalera, 285 Avenue C, 1E, New York, New York, 10009)
In each issue of ERIC/CLL Language Link, we feature one or more of the journals that have been abstracted and indexed for Current Index to Journals in Education (CIJE), the ERIC database's index to education-related journals. In this issue, we profile Applied Linguistics .
The aim of Applied Linguistics is to "promote a principled approach to language education and other language-related concerns by encouraging inquiry into the relationship between theoretical and practical studies." The journal focuses on first and second language learning and teaching, multilingualism and multilingual education, language in education, critical linguistics, discourse analysis, translation, language testing, language teaching methodology, language planning, the study of interlanguages, stylistics, and lexicography.
Recent articles in Applied Linguistics include:
Applied Linguistics and Evidence-Based Classroom Practice: The Case of Foreign Language Grammar Pedagogy (Vol. 21, No. 3, 2000)
Making Sense of Language Teaching: Teachers' Principles and Classroom Practices (Vol. 22, No. 4, 2001)
A Sociolinguistically Based, Empirically Researched Pronunciation Syllabus for English as an International Language (Vol. 23, No. 1, 2002)
Teaching and Researching Motivation (Vol. 23, No. 3, 2002)
The Use of Collocations by Advanced Learners of English and Some Implications for Teaching (Vol. 24, No. 2, 2003)
You can search online for articles from this and other journals indexed in Current Index to Journals in Education.
You can recognize journal abstracts in the ERIC database by their "EJ" prefix followed by a six-digit number. ERIC abstracts can be read at ERIC centers in libraries in the United States and overseas, as well as on the Web.
Subscriptions to the journals indexed in ERIC can be obtained from the publishers. Individual articles from many journals are available from the article reproduction service ingenta: 800-296-2221; www.ingenta.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
This issue focuses on foreign language education and features the articles Attaining High Levels of Proficiency: Challenges for Foreign Language Education in the United States and Making Content Connections Through Foreign Language Instruction via GLOBE. ERIC/CLL News Bulletin also includes the latest news from ERIC/CLL and our partner organizations.
New Resource Guide Online
Digest Focused on Incarcerated Youth Learning English
NCLE's new digest, English Language Instruction for Incarcerated Youth by Margo DelliCarpini, discusses the issues and challenges in providing English language instruction to linguistically and culturally diverse incarcerated youth ages 16-24. The digest suggests best practices and models to provide intervention in correctional settings.
New NCLE Publications on Reading and Adult English Language Learners
Learning to read in English is difficult for adult English language learners. They come from diverse backgrounds and have different experiences with literacy in their first languages. Reading and Adult English Language Learners: The Role of the First Language, a 4-page brief by NCLE staff Miriam Burt and Joy Kreeft Peyton, looks at the relevant research and discusses how literacy in the first language can affect the acquisition of reading skills in English and the ways that instruction should be delivered. Also now available from NCLE is Reading and Adult English Language Learners: A Review of the Research by Miriam Burt, Joy Kreeft Peyton, and Rebecca Adams. This book addresses factors influencing adult literacy development in English and the process of learning to read in a second language as well as implications for practice and research.
New ERIC Database Search Engine and Redesigned ERIC Site
A new ERIC database search engine hosted by the ERIC Processing and Reference Facility was launched in mid-May. The redesigned ERIC Web site was also launched at that time and provides access to the new search engine.
U.S. Department of Education Seeks Broad Input for New National
Education Technology Plan
The U.S. Department of Education announced that it is calling for broad participation and input from a wide array of education stakeholders in crafting a new National Education Technology Plan as required by the recently enacted No Child Left Behind law.
The department is actively seeking advice from a variety of constituencies in education, especially students, parents, K–12 educators, colleges and university leaders, and business and industry. Individuals and organizations are being asked to identify and communicate to the Department of Education their top issues, priorities, concerns, and barriers that need to be addressed for technology to improve teaching and learning in the 21st century. Interested parties can give their input by visiting the National Education Technology Plan's Web site.
ERIC Request for Proposal
The Educational Resources Information Center 2003 request for proposal will be released by Friday June 27, 2003. The RFP number will be ED-03-R-0018. The official release of RFP ED-03-R-0018 will be on the Federal Business Opportunities Web site.
The Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL)
The Center for Applied Linguistics announces the BEST Plus, the newest addition to our line of distinguished language testing products. The BEST Plus is an adaptation of the Basic English Skills Test (BEST) oral interview. The BEST was developed during the early 1980s to meet the need for reliable assessment of adult English learners' oral proficiency and literacy skills. Like the BEST, the BEST Plus assesses interpersonal communication using everyday language.
The BEST Plus comes in two versions—a computer-adaptive assessment on CD or a semi-adaptive print-based version. Both versions are administered as a face-to-face oral interview. In the computer-adaptive version, the test items are delivered via computer. Prompted by the computer screen, the test administrator asks the examinee a question, listens to the examinee's response, uses a rubric to score the response, and enters the score into the computer. The computer then selects the next test item, choosing questions most appropriate for the examinee's demonstrated ability level. In the print-based version, test items are arranged in fixed-form level tests. The test administrator gives the examinee a quick locator to determine the appropriate level test, administers the items in the level test, and marks the score in the test booklet. For more information, see the Best Plus Web site.
The Center for Research on Education, Diversity & Excellence (CREDE)
Review of Research on Educational Resiliency (Research Report No.
by Hersh C. Waxman, John P. Gray, & Yolanda N. Padrón
This report explains how a focus on educational resiliency—success in school despite the presence of adverse conditions—might lead to improvements in the education of students at risk of academic failure. Issues related to the definition of resiliency, resilience studies, and implications for educational practice and research are discussed. This publication is available for $5.00 from the CALStore.
More multi-day trainings on the research-based model of sheltered instruction known as the SIOP Model have been announced. The institutes will be led by Dr. Jana Echevarria (California State University, Long Beach), Dr. Mary Ellen Vogt (California State University, Long Beach), and Dr. Deborah Short (Center for Applied Linguistics). Teachers, administrators, staff developers, and university professors should visit the SIOP Institute Web site to learn about the variety of programs tailored to meet the needs of different audiences—The SIOP Institute, The SIOP Institute II, Administrators’ SIOP Institute.
Talking Leaves (Vol. 7, No.1, Spring 2003)
The latest edition of the CREDE newsletter is now available online. Download the newsletter and read about applications of CREDE research to professional development programs.
UCLA Language Resource Center
of Life: A Tribute to Russ
The UCLA Language Resource Center created a Web site in memory of Russ Campbell who died March 30, 2003. Russ Campbell was a teacher, innovator, and mentor to many in the field of TESL and Applied Linguistics.
American Association of Teachers of German (AATG)
German in America: Past Progress and Future Promise. A Handbook for Teaching
Over the past three decades, rapid developments on a host of fronts have impacted the teaching of German to the point where the field has been forced to engage in wholesale reexamination of its fundamental purpose. Why do we teach German in America, how do we teach it, to whom do we teach it, and what exactly is it that we teach? This collection of new and previously published essays dealing with the teaching of German in the United States was commissioned by AATG to commemorate the publication of a similar volume in 1970. The purpose of the present volume is to assess the state of the German teaching profession in America 30 years later and to offer a view to the future.
Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT)
The 29th Annual JALT
"Keeping Current in Language Education"
November 22-24, 2003
Plenary speakers Jack Richards, Dave Willis, and Simon Greenall will update us in the fields of communication, form, and socio-cultural training respectively. Featured Speaker Workshops on Monday afternoon, covering a variety of recent topics, provide opportunities to delve deeper into one or two particular currents. A new addition to the program, the Participants' Plenary hosted by featured speaker Elka Todeva, is an opportunity to reflect on what has been heard and talked about throughout the conference. Finally, the conference roundtable will concretely pull together the main themes of the preceding three days.
Second Language Education Centre
The Second Language Education Centre (SLEC) in the faculty of education at the University of New Brunswick, Canada, is pleased to announce the launch of their new Web site. The SLEC focuses on teacher preparation and research in French as a second language and English as a second language. The Web site contains hundreds of useful pages and links for teachers looking for resources, administrators looking for research summaries, and potential students seeking program information. For more information contact the director of SLEC, Sally Rehorick.
Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (NECTFL)
Call for Proposals
The Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages invites submission of proposals for presentations, panels, papers, hands-on sessions, poster sessions, and workshops to be conducted during our 51st annual meeting next year. Electronic submission is possible through the NECTFL Web site, and the postmark or electronic submission deadline is June 30, 2003.
We invite proposals on any topic or issue of interest to foreign language educators, but we are especially interested in proposals related to the conference theme, "Listening to Learners." We would also welcome proposals for sessions presented in the target language. Areas that are sometimes underrepresented include middle school, the teaching of literature, research reports, certain languages (Arabic, ASL, Chinese, ESL, Italian, Korean, Japanese, Latin, Russian), and community and liberal arts colleges.
Contact NECTFL at email@example.com if you have questions.
American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL)
New Executive Director of ACTFL
Bret Lovejoy has been appointed ACTFL’s newest Executive Director. Bret brings extensive experience in managing educational non-profit organizations, most recently in the position of Executive Director of the Association for Career and Technical Education for 7 years. Prior to that, he served that same organization as Assistant Executive Director for Government Relations for 4 years and before that spent 3 years as the Legislative Director for U.S. Representative Marge Roukema from New Jersey, who was on the House Education Committee.
Bret brings a wide breadth and depth of experience to the position. His particular strengths are in the areas of strategic planning, fiscal management, media relations, government and business relations, and law. During his career in the Washington area, Bret has become known for his ability to build consensus among groups and he is well networked in the Washington area with contacts in a wide variety of educational associations and on Capitol Hill. Bret’s references described him as a “superb writer and conceptualizer, extremely bright,” and “team player, sensitive to people and great intellectual capacity.” He was also described as “quick at picking up content” and “good at understanding a complex organizational structure.”
National K–12 Foreign Language Resource Center
The National K–12 Foreign Language Resource Center invites practicing K-16 foreign language teachers to submit original, innovative, technology-based and standards-based activities that have been successful with their students to be part of a new database collection of K-16 technology activities. This Technology Activities Database is designed to help classroom teachers integrate new technologies into the curriculum and to help teacher educators integrate technology into teacher preparation programs using a standards-based approach. Go to their Web site to find more information and to submit your activities to the database.
The National Capital Language Resource Center (NCLRC)
NCLRC Summer Institutes
May 19-July 8, 2003
Please register for the institute(s) of your choice at least 5 days before the start date to guarantee a place in the institute(s) and lodging accommodations. For further information, visit http://www.nclrc.org/Suin03main.htm or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA)
Coordinator of Second Language Assessment Projects
The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) at the University of Minnesota is seeking a Coordinator of Second Language Assessments Projects funded by Title VI Language Resource Center funds and other federally and state-funded foreign language and English as a second language assessment projects.
Full-time professional/academic position.
This is a one-year, renewable appointment based on availability of funding.
Preferred start date is September 1, 2003, or as soon as possible.
Submit a letter of application stating interest and relevant experience along with a CV, samples of your work, and the contact information for three references to the Assessment Coordinator Search Committee, CARLA, University of Minnesota, 619 Heller Hall, 271 19th Ave. So, Minneapolis, MN, 55455.
CARLA, University of Minnesota, 619 Heller Hall, 271 19th Ave. So, Minneapolis, MN, 55455.
Phone: (612) 626-8600
Monday, June 16, 2003 by 4:00 p.m.
The University of Minnesota is an Equal Opportunity employer.
Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)
TESOL and McGraw Hill Education to Collaborate on EFL Standards
Project in China
Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc. (TESOL), and McGraw Hill Education have entered into a partnership to write and publish EFL content standards and teacher performance standards for Chinese primary and secondary schools in collaboration with a cross-section of Chinese educators. The partnership is designed to address the need to train over two million additional EFL teachers in China in the next decade. For more details, view the PDF press release online.
Practical Applications of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Adult Education and Family Literacy (AEFL) Acts
The George Washington University
Washington, DC, USA
June 27-29, 2003
University of Colorado at Denver
Denver, Colorado, USA
July 11-13, 2003
National Council of State Supervisors of Foreign Languages (NCSSFL)
The Annual Meeting of the National Council of State Supervisors of Foreign Languages (NCSSFL) will take place November 19-20, 2003, at the Marriott and Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia. The NCSSFL Annual Meeting is open to members from state education agencies responsible for the implementation of foreign language policies and initiatives in their respective states. New members are welcome. For membership information, go to the NCSSFL Web site.
California Association for Bilingual Education (CABE)
2004 Call for Presentations
29th Annual Conference March 2004
San Jose McKenery Convention Center, San Jose, California
CABE cordially invites you to submit a proposal to present at the CABE 2004 Conference. The Annual Conference is a major educational event for school and university personnel, parents and other individuals who work with all students and specifically English language learners and heritage language students. Over the years, CABE conferences have gained a reputation for providing participants with quality, in-depth, and innovative professional development. The goal for CABE 2004 is that, as bilingual educators, we draw from our rich resources and assume a major role in promoting and supporting educational excellence for all in California. We invite you to join us by submitting presentations that represent the most current practices for English learners and other second language learners.
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