Arabic Teacher, International Academy of Columbus
Teaching world languages and cultures is a vital part of schools’ courses. Ohio’s schools have recently witnessed a huge demand for Arabic, one of the main languages in the world. With the increase in Ohio’s Arab population and 50% increase in native Arabic speakers (ODE), parents are empowered by choosing schools that fit their cultural needs. Therefore, the demand for the Arabic language has increased.
In addition, American students’ demand for the Arabic language has increased. According to the Modern Language Association, Arabic is considered the fastest-spreading language in American educational institutions. They claimed that the reason behind the demand for Arabic is that Americans are now more interested in discovering the Arab and Middle Eastern cultures, languages, and dialects. Therefore, Arabic speakers, even natives interested in becoming Arabic educators, should have knowledge about teaching world languages and the specifications that Arabic includes. These specifications include making successful lessons, engaging students, and creating an immersive learning environment.
One of the world language elements to teach is culture. In Arabic, it becomes more important to teach the culture, because understanding the cultural context of the Arabic language will lead to understanding the language. Gaining comprehensive skills in Arabic is related directly to Middle Eastern culture. In schools, the cultural element of any language should be taught by simplifying it to the students’ level, especially elementary and middle schoolers. According to one of the ACTFL 2016 studies, students who had the opportunity to be exposed to cultural content related to a foreign language performed better than students who learn languages without cultural contexts. In addition, teachers are supposed to simplify the complex cultural concepts according to the students’ backgrounds, age, and areas of interest. For example, teaching elementary students using hands-on activities about food or clothes in Arabic will be helpful to them to relate the language in its context. Teachers can choose aspects from Arabic that are likely to catch the students’ attention to make the learning process relevant and relatable.
Another example is students in middle school who are eager to learn about the Arabic culture if the Arabic teacher investigates their original culture and starts a conversation about the mutual elements between their culture and Arabic. For example, they like to compare the mutual words between English and Arabic and to figure out if they are being used in the same context. From that point, the teacher can open the cultural talk with them to expand their knowledge by integrating the new Arabic culture based on their original culture. Humans, in their nature, like to learn about real-life scenarios that they can relate to, such as food, parenting traditions, clothes, and celebrations.
One of the most enjoyable activities that is feasible within the schools that can also increase vocabulary size is food bazaars, such as each student bringing a dish from his or her culture and introducing their dish with the teachers translating the meanings in Arabic. Another activity that students enjoy is assigning student groups some topics to research, like Arab celebrations, Arab traditions in Ramadan, and Arab dialects. The teacher allows each group to choose an issue, then students have to investigate, write and design a poster that is supported with pictures. Then teachers can hang the posters in certain corners in the classroom and use them as a cultural booth.
Teachers can implement culture in teaching and learning Arabic by participating in these and many other activities. They can provoke the students’ curiosity to learn more and gain a deeper understanding of the culture. According to a study conducted by the National Endowment for Arts in 2018, students who study language through culture perform better in the language proficiency assessments.
However, teachers in the Arabic field encounter many challenges; one of the main barriers is the limited accessibility to authentic resources that can help teachers, especially those who did not have exposure to the Arabic culture in real life. In addition, teachers need to be empowered in cultural understanding; a Center for Applied Languages article (2014) claimed that teachers need more resources and cultural training about how to use the cultural concept in the classroom effectively. Lastly, one of the most significant challenges for Arabic is that its popularity is emerging, so most of the schools have a lack of a clear curriculum map that meets the students’ needs.
Nonetheless, technology can be the best part to help educators overcome the issues and challenges that might happen while integrating culture into the Arabic classroom. Teachers and schools who facilitate Arabic language classrooms are encouraged to use open-access resources for virtual tours of Arabic historical places or using the ready-to-use Arabic flashcards. There are unlimited websites for authentic Arabic texts, poems, stories, and novels. Still, as I know from personal experience, teachers need more effort to build a spiral curriculum that implements cultural context throughout it.
In conclusion, teaching Arabic is a growing field that needs more support from stakeholders to help Arabic educators and to empower their cultural understanding, technological skills, and access to more opportunities to learn about the language and how to use multicultural education concepts to enrich the students’ understanding toward gaining more knowledge in the target language. Moreover, understanding Arabic culture through learning the Arabic language can open future opportunities for students in their careers; it is a valuable skill that will help students increase their awareness of other communities and expand their understanding of diversity. In addition, it will allow them to communicate effectively with 400 million people around the world who are Arabic natives, as it is an opening to traveling opportunities through grants and scholarships that many universities in the United States offer for college students if they know Arabic.
Ohio Department of Education. (2020). Ohio’s English Language Learners: 2020-2021. Retrieved from https://education.ohio.gov/getattachment/Topics/Ohio-s-Education-System/English-Language-Learners/ELL-Fact-Sheet-2020-2021.pdf.aspx
American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. (2016). The Importance of Teaching Culture in Language Education. Retrieved from https://www.actfl.org/publications/guidelines-and-manuals/actfl-cultural-guidelines-2016
National Endowment for the Arts. (2018). Learning Languages through Arts and Culture. Retrieved from https://www.arts.gov/artistic-fields/education/learning-languages-through-arts-and-culture
Center for Applied Linguistics. (2014). Teaching Culture in the Foreign Language Classroom. Retrieved from https://www.cal.org/resources/digest/teaching-culture-in-the-foreign-language-classroom