Translingual Approaches in World Language Education: Perspectives from Arabic Learning Contexts
A couple of weeks ago, I co-organized a colloquium with Khaled Al Masaeed at the American Association of Applied Linguistics Conference titled “Translingual Approaches in World Language Education: Perspectives from Arabic Learning Contexts”. Although I have attended the AAAL conference most years since 2007, and it is probably my favorite conference, there are usually only 1-3 presentations focused on Arabic. So, to have an entire colloquium focused on Arabic was a dream come true!
There were five presentations followed by a discussant in our colloquium, and I thought I’d give a short summary of them here.
The first three presentations presented research focused on multidialectal practices in a variety of contexts: study abroad, community schools, and university classrooms.
Khaled Al Masaeed presented on “Multidialectal practices and pragmatic development in L2 Arabic”. His study analyzed Arabic learner productions on a spoken discourse completion task before and after a short-term study abroad program, and compared them to the responses of local speakers. Following the study abroad program, learners used similar pragmatic strategies, but their responses were rated as more appropriate, largely due to the incorporation of dialectal features. This presentation was recently published in Applied Linguistics if you’d like to learn more!
Yousra Abourehab and Mahmoud Azaz examined “Pedagogical translanguaging in community/heritage Arabic language learning”. They looked at transcripts of teacher-learner and learner-learner interactions in an Arabic Saturday school, where learners come from multiple linguistic and dialectal backgrounds. Their work demonstrates the preponderance of multidialectal practices, despite the school’s official policy of using fuSHa (MSA) only, and the ways in which this makes spaces for learners to demonstrate their identities and also expand their linguistic repertories. You can read more about this work in their article in the Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development.
Lama Nassif and Shawna Shapiro focused on “Sociolinguistic awareness in L2 Arabic: A study of learners’ code use repertoires”. Their study focused on the extent to which third year Arabic learners were aware of the complex Arabic sociolinguistic situation, and how they made choices about which features of Arabic to use, from those associated with fuSHa (MSA) to various Arabic dialects. They found that while learners were aware of variation in Arabic, and were making some strategic choices in their use of fuSHa and dialectal features, they had sometimes simplistic views of the sociolinguistic situation, and could improve their sociolinguistic awareness. This study is under review, and will hopefully be published soon!
The next two presentations took a more pedagogical focus, describing the incorporation of translingual practices in Arabic classrooms.
Sarab Al Ani’s presentation, “Languages in Dialogue: Arabic and Hebrew” describes a unique class at Yale University, where advanced level Hebrew and Arabic students spent time learning the opposite language, drawing on the shared characteristics of these Semitic languages, and examining cultural similarities and differences. While classes like Portuguese for Spanish speakers are more common, I think there is a lot of interesting potential for these combined language classes. You can read more about this class in this Yale News article.
I gave the final presentation, “Translanguaging Pedagogies in the Arabic Language Classroom”, describing our 2019 implementation of a social media unit in our Intermediate Arabic class, and how we drew students’ attention to multilingual and multidialectal features to try to develop their sociolinguistic competence. I also presented student reactions, from positive ones focused on the connections they were able to make through using arabizi on social media, to those who were worried about using too much English (and sometimes these were the same exact students!).
Following the presentations, Sonia Shiri presented as our discussant, noting the ways in which these studies emphasize the need to engage with the Arabic sociolinguistic situation in all of its complexity, and to prepare Arabic learners of various backgrounds to do so as well. Encountering Arabic varieties that are difficult to understand is just part of being an Arabic speaker, and the sooner we learn to work with that reality the better! She also addressed a common concern about translanguaging approaches, which I would really consider a misconception of them, and that is that accepting translanguaging means anything goes, or we can use any linguistic features, anytime, anywhere. As she rightly pointed out, this also flies in the face of social realities. What translanguaging approaches can give us however, in their focus on the connection between specific social contexts and language features, is the development of metalinguistic and sociolinguistic awareness that allows speakers to make their own choices about how they wish to engage, and receptive skills to engage with others from a wide variety of social and linguistic backgrounds.