Yale Language Faculty Well-Represented at ACTFL

Muhammad Aziz

On Saturday, November 20, I attended several sessions in the morning, but I did not feel that there was anything striking that needs to be mentioned.  In the afternoon, some of the Arabic presenters, unfortunately, did not show up. Ghassan Husseinali, who was a lector at Yale last year and is now at George Mason University, gave a presentation revolving around “Arabic Learner’s Beliefs about Learning Arabic as a Foreign Language.” The value of this paper was to show how we could conduct surveys and get some generalized results. During the 4 to 5 p.m. session titled “Using Technology to Promote Arabic Learning,” there was something that needed a closer look for further research. Again, the first presenter was absent.  The second presentation was by Nader M. Morkus from Middlebury College. His topic was “Telecollaboration: American Learners of Arabic and Arab Learner s of English.” His observation revolved around cultural communication rather than Arabic per se since the research was done through English, using the messenger tool.  The interesting thing about Morkus’s research was that we learned how people from different cultures communicate with each other about cultural topics and sometimes about very difficult topics involving religious issues.   In terms of Arabic language, we did not learn anything that deserves mentioning. However, our perception of looking at cultures as a whole did change.   We learned that in every culture there are all kinds of people. Some carry with them traditional values and beliefs from their surroundings. Others live in their communities as though they are not part of that community.  The third presenter discussed teacher’s scaffolding of oral Arabic language production.  The objectives were not clear to many attendees, including myself.

On Sunday, November 21, the only lecture that deserved mentioning was “Teaching in the Target Language: Why, How, And When.” In this presentation, Muhammad Eissa, from the University of Chicago, addressed the pedagogical background and values of using target language in foreign language teaching and demonstrated how it could be done in the first day of class. The new thing I learned from this presentation was that you could let students from the first day of class write the alphabet without having the teacher explain how the letters were connected.  Our assumption, given the difficulty of the Arabic alphabet, was that we would have to show students first how the letters were connected and then ask them to start writing simple words after they had assimilated the process. In this presentation, we learned that you could trust students from the first day of class to be able to connect letters without prior knowledge, simply by writing a few students’ names on the board and letting students identify these letters with a little help from the teacher.

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