With the increased interest in studying Arabic as a foreign language in universities around the world, the field of Teaching Arabic as a Foreign Language (TAFL) attempts to respond to the needs of students and programs by creating Arabic language instructional materials and pioneering much needed research in the field.
Because of the generous grant I received from the Berkeley Language Center I was able to participate in a very important conference in January 2013 called the “International Conference on Teaching Arabic in a Changing World: Needs and Challenges” held at the American University in Cairo, Egypt. This was the first international conference that was dedicated entirely to the field of TAFL and attracted researchers and instructors of Arabic from around the world including the United States, Egypt, England, Jordan, Oman, Morocco, Russia and Japan. This conference was a rare opportunity to discuss new research, share ideas and to discuss the future of Arabic language instruction on such a large scale. Key topics of the conference included the teaching of the productive skills in light of the diglossic situation in the Arabic speaking world, using technology in teaching, teaching listening in an interactive way, and feedback.
I presented a paper on the topic of feedback titled “Student and Teacher Beliefs on Written Corrective Feedback in the Arabic Foreign Language Classroom” in which I discussed my research that was conducted in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at UCB in the fall 2012. My research brought to light a mismatch between student and teacher beliefs about how students should receive feedback on their writing. This paper was meant to be a starting point for further research into how writing is taught in the Arabic foreign language classroom, a topic which I believe deserves more attention. At the conference, I was able to discuss my research with others interested in the topic of feedback and I received many important suggestions. This conference was a vital step for me in moving forward with my research and translating the findings into recommendations for the Arabic foreign language classroom.
Besides the individual papers presented, perhaps the most important part of the conference was a round table discussion that included Arabic language instructors, curriculum developers, and scholars in the fields of linguistics and teaching methodology from many countries. The round table discussion revolved around specific challenges that face the field of TAFL and a brainstorming of solutions to these challenges. I found the discussions to be very enlightening and walked away with many practical steps that I could enlist in the Arabic program at UCB. In addition, this was a great opportunity for me to talk with others in the field and make lasting contacts.
I also attended a pre-conference workshop called “Listening Comprehension in Arabic: Teaching Techniques and Learning Strategies”. This workshop was conducted by Dr. Mahmoud Al-Batal from the University of Texas, Austin. At this workshop we discussed strategies for teaching listening activities in an interactive way followed by a hands on session in which we worked in small groups to create listening activities for a database. I enjoyed working with others in the field to create materials together.
I benefitted greatly from participating in this conference and am very grateful to the BLC for their support.