In recognition of the Arabic language’s importance to humanity, many universities in the Arab region offer classes teaching Arabic to non-native speakers and are constantly trying new teaching methods to overcome the challenges this study encounters.
According to the United Nations, which celebrates World Arabic Language Day on December 18 each year, Arabic “is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, used daily by more than 400 million people,” and is “a pillar of the cultural diversity of humanity.”
At the University of Bahrain, Diaa Abdullah Al-Kaabi, head of the Department of Arabic Language and Islamic Studies, said that a committee of teachers was developing online content for teaching Arabic to non-native speakers as part of the department’s efforts to advance the language.
Arabic “is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, used daily by more than 400 million people,” and is “a pillar of the cultural diversity of humanity.” – from a United Nations statement on World Arabic Language Day.
During a seminar at the university marking World Arabic Language Day, Al-Kaabi said major changes and transformations in the world today raise questions about the alienation of the language and the alienation of youth.
She said she was encouraged by a number of initiatives that Gulf countries have launched to highlight the importance of Modern Standard Arabic, teaching it to non-native speakers, and supporting it through specialised research centres.
These efforts recognise “the necessity of preserving the language and making it as it once was, a civilized bridge between multiple cultures,” Al-Kaabi said.
Students and Teachers’ Experiences
Anas Haami, a Thai graduate student in the Department of Arabic Language at Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, said that his decision to learn Arabic was linked to his desire to better understand the Qur’an and religious sciences.
“Studying Arabic helped me work as a translator and a teacher for foreigners, while attending school classes,” he told Al-Fanar Media.
While Arabic is sometimes classified as one of the hardest languages for non-native speakers to learn, Shayma Ahmed, a graduate of the Faculty of Commerce, English section, at Al-Azhar University, said her school doesn’t agree with that impression.
One of the challenges encountered in teaching Arabic to non-native speakers is the lack of professional qualifications for teachers, who need of more training in modern teaching methods, according to a study by Nadia Lotfy Nasser, an associate professor at King Faisal University, in Saudi Arabia.
“The difficulty in learning Arabic is related to the learner’s will to enjoy the aesthetics of the Arabic language,” Ahmed, who has ten years of experience in teaching Arabic to non-native speakers, told Al-Fanar Media. “This requires more time.”
Mark Babai, a Hungarian student of Arabic at the American University in Cairo, said that his one year of learning at the university’s Center for Arabic Language Studies had helped him to study for a master’s degree in teaching Arabic for non-native speakers.
Academic Research on Teaching Arabic
Several academic studies have explored the challenges of teaching Arabic to non-native speakers. One of those challenges, according to a study by Nadia Lotfy Nasser, an associate professor in the Faculty of Arts at King Faisal University, in Saudi Arabia, is the lack of professional qualifications for teachers, who need more training in modern teaching methods.
Another problem identified in Nasser’s study, which was published last year in the Malaysian Institute for Science and Development’s Journal of Arabic Language Specialized Research, is that some teachers use colloquial dialect, which makes their explanations hard to understand and the learning process more difficult.
Egypt’s experiments with teaching Arabic to non-native speakers in the 1960s revealed the need to start with the audible word before the written word, and to focus on studying linguistic patterns, according to a study by Shaimaa Shaaban Omran, of the Higher Institute of Languages and Translation in Aswan.
Nasser’s study lists several elements that will help teachers teach better. These include having a good knowledge of the general culture, psychological balance, tolerance, optimism, and avoiding emotion.
Teachers must master listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills, and use Modern Standard Arabic inside and outside the classroom, the study says. They must also be experts in the language’s phonetic aspects, especially sounds that have no equivalent in other languages.
Nasser’s study suggests that an applied online classroom environment can help resolve many of the problems learners face. In the era of computing and multiple digital resources, reading, writing, listening, and grammar are no longer the obstacle they once were.
Modern Teaching Methods
Another study, by Shaimaa Shaaban Omran, a teacher at the Higher Institute of Languages and Translation in Aswan, was published in April in the Journal of the Faculty of Arts in Qena, South Valley University, in Upper Egypt.
The study, titled “Modern Methods of Teaching Arabic to Non-Native Speakers,” reviewed what has been learned from earlier experiences, such as Egypt’s experiments with teaching Arabic to non-native speakers in the 1960s. Those experiments revealed the need to start with the audible word before the written word, and to focus on studying linguistic patterns.
Another finding of Omran’s study was that grammar should not be studied for its own sake but rather as a means of understanding and correcting mistakes.
The Egyptian experiments also showed the need to use audio-visual means to help students acquire basic language skills, and recommended allowing learners to use their native language or an intermediate one to understand the meanings of difficult words or abbreviations.
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