The meme above seems to be making the rounds for everything these days, and the image above popped up in my Facebook feed the other day. I smiled, because it my experience it captures a common conundrum in Arabic teaching—we usually focus on Modern Standard Arabic, MSA, الفصحى in the classroom, much to the dismay of many Arabic students, especially those who go abroad. In my own research on Arabic study abroad students, many of them complain about the “uselessness” of fus7a, and support studying Arabic dialects prior to study abroad, so they don’t lose time learning 3ammiyya (although my research also shows they pick up major dialect features quite quickly, sometimes within a few weeks of going abroad). Students and teachers that oppose dialect teaching typically point to the regional variations in dialects, and that students travel to different locations and teachers in the same program may be familiar with varying regional dialects. In this perspective, MSA is seen as being a “neutral” variety because it is used across geographical regions (although research also shows that there is geographical variation in MSA, and speakers of different regional varieties do not necessarily switch into MSA to speak to each other). Thus, whether to teach dialects or not is a seemingly never-ending debate with strong feelings (and not much research) on both sides.
As I mentioned last week, the current stage of our curriculum development is creating our own curriculum and materials. Given time constraints (a constant in teaching!) we are focusing on doing this only in our second year class in the upcoming academic year, and making only minor modifications to the other classes. With the permission of my colleagues (and yes, they read this blog) I’m going to try to document this process here as we go. يالله بنا!
The more I teach, the more I become interested in the process, and the complex interplays between theories of language, theories of pedagogy, context and practice. When I first started teaching, I would become frustrated when I couldn’t match what I envisioned as the “ideal” theory or practice to the classroom. Yet as I gain more experience, I find these interactions between theory, practice, and context to be the most fascinating, and I think my teaching is the better for it. But, before I get into our current plans, I thought it would be useful to provide some background on the phases our Arabic curriculum has gone through since I’ve been involved with it.
In my very first post, I noted the importance of reflection for intercultural learning during study abroad—that is, it’s not enough to simply have intercultural contact, but it’s also necessary to reflect upon this contact. This is also true for teaching—it’s not enough to receive training, and design curricula, and implement lessons, we also need to reflect upon our practices in order to learn from them. Yet oddly enough, it is this step that is rarely built into our jobs as language teachers—we attend conferences and professional development, we make curricula, we design lessons, we teach classes, we grade, and all of these have specific times and places assigned to them. Sure, we can get behind on grading, but we’ll still finish it by the end of the term, and we’re unlikely to show up to class without some sort of plan (hopefully). Yet despite the importance of reflecting upon what we do and how we teach, there’s rarely scheduled time or space for this, and even when we recognize its importance, it’s the first thing to go in the crunch of grading and prepping (at least in my experience). So, in honor of the end of the semester, I thought I’d share some ways that I’ve built reflective practice into my own language teaching (and our Arabic section as a whole).
Last week, I discussed several popular methods of organizing beginning language classes under the overarching critique of focusing on either decontextualized sets of language or prioritizing transactions over social relationships. This week, I’m focusing on what I am interested in implementing in my classroom, drawing from both functional theories of language and translanguaging pedagogy. Language teaching contexts and preferred ideologies vary, so I want to be clear that I don't think there is a one size fits all for the beginning language classroom. However, I do think that too often we don’t even think about what ideologies are informing our practice, and if these are ideologies we even agree with! So, here are some things that my colleagues and I are working on or plan to implement in our classes:
Last week, I talked about how the language of social relationships is often overlooked in beginning language classes, and I think this is one reason students use English. As language teachers, I think we tend to view beginning language classes as the start of a language learning journey, or a step to more advanced classes or study abroad (despite the fact that it’s actually also the end for many students, especially with the way language requirements and offerings are being eliminated these days in the U.S.). Yet choices about what is taught in beginning language classes are also excellent insights into ideologies of language, that again we rarely think about as teachers. Here are some examples:
In my last post, I discussed some practices where I think translanguaging pedagogy simply gives us a new mindset on practices that already occur in the language classroom (or at least in my classroom). In this post, I want to focus on an area of the language classroom where I think we could be more intentional about the use of translanguaging, namely social practices in the classroom.
As is most likely clear from previous posts on nation-state ideologies of language and the multilingual turn, I find the latter a more appealing ideology for my language classroom, especially when combined with functional approaches to linguistics, that emphasize what learners do with language in actual contexts. Yet, as usual, the challenge for combining theory and practice is in the implementation—the theory sounds good, but what does it look like?
The “Multilingual Turn” is a term used to critique the monolingual ideologies originating in the nation-state that have dominated research in Applied Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition in the U.S. Although multilingual ideologies of language have long existed in highly multilingual contexts, they have recently gained traction in critiques of the fields of Second Language Acquisition, Multilingual education, and TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). However, there is certainly a gap in bringing this ideology to the U.S. language classroom where English speakers are learning other languages. These are my thoughts on the implications of a few key tenets of the multilingual turn for the language classroom.
Like formal theories of language, functional theories of language come from the field of linguistics, although this type of linguistics is less commonly found in the U.S.. The type of functional linguistics I am most familiar with is Systemic Functional Linguistics, based on the work of Michael Halliday, and practiced predominantly in Australia. While I am also far from an expert in functional linguistics, a key tenet of functional linguistics is that language cannot be separated from social function, or what humans do with language. This means that in contrast to formal linguistics, there is not a linguistic system that can be analyzed independently of the way it is deployed. In terms of language learning and teaching, this means that:
The term formal theories of language usually refers to linguistic theories that stem from the work of Noam Chomsky on Universal Grammar, or the idea that there is an innate language mechanism in humans that allows us to learn and use language. These theories are are also referred to as generative grammar, and are prominent in linguistic research in the United States. As a results, they have informed a great deal of research on second language acquisition, as well as theories of teaching. When the folk linguistic theories of language learning I discussed previously are contrasted with linguistic theories, these linguistic theories are most often formal theories. From my perspective, there are three main implications for taking an approach to language learning and teaching informed by formal theories of language, and I discuss these below.
Last week, I described the nation state ideology of language, and its implications for language teaching. This week, I’m discussing folklinguistic theories of language, and their implications for language learning and teaching. Generally, “folklinguistic” theories, or the general population’s beliefs about language, are contrasted with “linguistic” theories developed via the scientific study of language, or linguists beliefs about language. Frequently, these are in conflict. There are, of course, multiple linguistic theories, indicating that linguists don’t necessarily agree on what language is either, and I’ll discuss some of those as they relate to learning and teaching languages in upcoming posts. However, for the moment I’ll focus on folk linguistic beliefs I come across in the field of language teaching that to the best of my knowledge are not supported by scientific theories of language.
In my quest to make language and intercultural learning better, I sometimes feel that just when I start to understand one piece of the puzzle, I discover that the puzzle is in fact much larger than I thought. Recently, I have been researching ideologies of study abroad, which led me to think about ideologies for language learning, and just how much our beliefs about what language is influence how we teach it, and what we expect our students to do or know. Yet it is my impression that as teachers, we rarely think about what our ideologies of language are, we just take them for granted.
For U.S. students, study abroad has never been more popular—according to the Open Doors data from the U.S. State Department, the number of students studying abroad has more than doubled since the turn of the 21st century, and about 10% of U.S. students will study abroad during their undergraduate career. As a study abroad researcher, this is both exciting (because more students are getting this opportunity) and disheartening (because there seems to be little attention paid to what happens after students cross that national border and gain the status of a study abroad student).
Hi! I love researching and thinking about language and intercultural learning in study abroad, telecollaboration, and the classroom. This blog is my opportunity to share and discuss these activities.