This is a question I get frequently when I advocate for a multidialectal approach to learning Arabic. The short answer is no.
The longer answer is also no, but with a much lengthier explanation, which I thought I’d give in this post. In general, there are two types of people who ask this question. The first category is those who want to discredit dialect teaching completely (every village has its own dialect, how can you possibly choose, MSA is the answer). The second category is people who find the idea appealing, but the process confusing (does this mean teaching every word in major dialect groups? Isn’t that a lot to ask of students? How do you do this all in class?) This post is aimed at that second category, as those coming from the first have an ideological perspective I will always be at odds with.
Last Fall, I mentioned that my colleagues Heather Sweetser, Abdullah Serag, and I had launched We Can Learn Arabic, an open access website for Arabic learners at beginning and intermediate levels. This is the culmination of six years of moving away from a textbook in our lower level classes, as well as many of the research inspirations I’ve discussed on this blog, including multilingual and genre-based approaches and genre-based approaches. We’ve now been using the website in our classrooms for almost 1.5 semesters, so I thought I’d give an update on how it’s worked, improvements we’ve made, and plans for the future.
November is traditionally the crunch month in the academic calendar, marking the almost end of a long semester (Weeks 11-15 of 17 at my institution). Everyone is tired, stressful assignments are coming up, we’re behind and there’s less time to catch up, it’s getting cold. This year, of course, we also have pandemic anxiety and fatigue, and with case counts rising sharply, New Mexico entered a full lockdown on November 16. Not to mention the weeks of election anxiety and transition stalling*. At the same time, November also brought several bright points in my academic career, so I thought I’d share those here!
As I’ve detailed in my curriculum development posts over the last two years, we have slowly been replacing our textbook with our own materials, generally based on texts we find on the internet or create ourselves. Although I’ve frequently been asked when we will make our own textbook, I’ve actually never been interested in making a textbook–my dream has always been to create an open access website that serves as a textbook in the sense that it provides materials and structure, but is also flexible enough to be adapted by teachers in a variety of contexts.
Today, I’m excited to announce that my dream has come true, in the form of the We Can Learn Arabic website! In this post, I’ll describe what we’ve done so far, as well as some future plans for the site. While we use it in place of a textbook, it could also be used alongside a particular textbook or materials of choice.