Genre-Based Approaches to Language Learning

Genre-based approaches to language pedagogy focus on sequencing curriculum according to textual genres.  In this case, genre is terminology taken from Halliday’s theory of Systemic Functional Linguistics, and refers to a specific function of language, such as a recount of events, or directions on how to do something.  Genres rely on specific linguistic elements to achieve their functional purpose in the world.  I’ve been interested in this approach since reading about the Georgetown German Curriculum Project as a graduate student, and I think it is particularly appealing for helping students make appropriate sociolinguistic choices in diglossic languages like Arabic.  

Since the introduction of intensive, six-credit Arabic classes at UNM, I have been working with my colleagues Heather Sweetser and Abdullah Serag to develop a genre-based curriculum for our Arabic classes.  We have adapted these theories to also work with the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements, considering the Can-Do Statements we target in class to be examples of particular genres (such as giving directions, or describing types of social media).  We then work to find or create example texts of these genres for students to analyze prior to demonstrating that they can do these activities themselves.  We began by using the Can-Do Statements contained in the texts in our textbook, but have shifted to developing more and more of our own material.  

Adopting this approach has been challenging, particularly in terms of the time required to find example texts or adapt the textbook to this approach.  In a chapter of the 2018 book Arabic as One Language, I describe our initial attempt at implementing this curriculum as well as results demonstrating it is effective in both teaching students to perform specific linguistic functions as well as heightening their sociolinguistic awareness.  I also blogged about using this approach to develop a party planning unit in a second year Arabic class.