Ghassan Husseinali Attends MESA Meeting

Thanks to a travel grant from the CLS at Yale University, I was able to attend the annual MESA meeting held this year in Boston. During the meeting, I attended the following important sessions relevant to the teaching of Arabic as a Foreign Language in the US:  Arabic Language Register: Ideologies and Practices; Evaluative Development of Curriculum Innovations in Teaching Arabic as a Second Language; and Teaching Arabic Variation: Linguistic Reality, Linguistic Dissonance, & Linguistic Choice.

The following is a summery of some of the presentations that I found to be important to our field.

1. Study Abroad Program Evaluations: Acculturation, Linguistic Proficiency and Diglossia

The results in this paper found that students who study abroad improve their intercultural competence. It was also found that students who studied a dialect before their study abroad program had an advantage in terms of perceived benefits at the end of their programs. Most of the subjects of this study disagreed that knowing MSA helped them interact with the host culture. In contrast, they reported that the more they interacted with native speakers in their dialect (spoken variety) the more confident and proficient they felt. The results of this study stress the importance of teaching dialect to learners of Arabic before they move to the native culture. However, the results of this study are based on self reports of proficiency.

2. Integrating Dialect with MSA

This paper advocated exposing Arabic learners from the beginning stage to more than one dialect. At the end of the semester, learners were mixing two dialects (Levantine and Egyptian) with MSA. This is unnatural since native speakers mix (if they choose to) only one dialect their native one with MSA.

3. Adapting Literature in Arabic Classrooms

The presenter showed that teachers have to be careful in using literary material in their classes. She was against using childrens’ books with college learners. Instead she advocates using real literary works (to enjoy their meaning and message) with minimum adaptation (changes) to maintain their aesthetics and message.

4. Arabic in Danger

This paper discussed the imagined threat to Arabic as discussed in Arabic media. Aljazeera TV advocates using pure MSA forms over dialect only or mixing, because the editor perceived dialects as a threat to Arabism/Islamist ideals. However, there might be practical reasons for this policy other than ideological ones, such as comprehensibility across Arab countries and the national status of the program and its host who may want to avoid regionalism.

5. Teaching Arabic Variation

Four panelists discussed three different approaches to teaching AFL. The first view was to teach Colloquial first and MSA later. The second view was to integrate both Colloquial and MSA from the first day using Colloquial for oral communication and MSA for reading and writing. The third view was to start with MSA only and teach colloquial in the host country to which the student chooses to go to. All views were personal with anecdotal evidence. No one presented empirical data to either support their view or to disprove others. This remains a personal and sometimes entrenched ideological preference.

6. Yale Press workshop

The authors of three Arabic textbooks published by Yale University Press presented their works. I found this workshop very useful and the materials were very interesting. I was also able to ask questions about the underlying pedagogical rationale of these books.

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