Kristen Brustad, Mahmoud Al-Batal, and Abbas Al-Tonsi
Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2013. iii + 440 pp., appendices, Arabic-English glossary. ISBN: 9781589019621. Paperback (with 1 DVD-ROM) $69.95, companion website access key, $24.95; paperback/DVD/website access bundle, $89.90.
When I heard that the new edition of Al-Kitaab, Part Two (AK2) would be ready in time for the 2013–14 academic year, I leapt at the chance to teach from it, sight unseen. I had been enjoying teaching the third editions of Alif Baa and Al-Kitaab, Part One (AK1) (despite occasional glitches), and I welcomed this as the next step forward.
There is a lot to like in the new AK2. Like its predecessors in the 3rd edition, it features four-color illustrations, an uncluttered layout, and, at, least for the body of the text, an easy-to-read Arabic font. Unlike Alif Baa and AK1 3rd editions, the 3rd edition of AK2 uses plain paper instead of the slick, coated, magazine-like paper that has been making it so difficult for students to write smudge-free answers in their textbooks.
One of the things I like best about these new editions of AK1 and AK2 is that they have been arranged with an eye toward what can reasonably be covered and absorbed by the average student over the course of the average year. These portion sizes will not suit everyone, but they work reasonably well for my program, and since the length of each individual chapter in the new AK2 was roughly similar, it made planning the year much easier than with the older edition. While I initially hoped that I might be able to recycle exams and quizzes used with the second edition, I found that the grammatical content and featured vocabulary of each lesson had changed just enough that I had to completely rework all of my assessment materials.
Like Alif Baa and AK1 3rd editions, the new AK2 features a companion website with exercises that can be machine-graded (more on this feature later) as well as streaming [End Page 175] videos in Modern Standard Arabic and both Egyptian and Syrian colloquial dialects. In addition, the book expects students to load their electronic devices with Al-Kitaab content for listening and watching on the go. In short, there is much to like here, and because the Al-Kitaab series is so widely used, adopting the sequence makes it easy for students to move from one instructional setting to the next, since they can expect to find the same basic, shared vocabulary in use in most academic environments.
Inevitably, there are some problems. I would argue that in the case of the Al-Kitaab sequence, many of these are related to larger structural issues in our field. For example, language teachers are still struggling to find the best ways to integrate computer technology into the learning environment. Streaming audio and video content is a great convenience as long as everything in the internet pipeline is working smoothly. Although Georgetown University Press includes a DVD in every textbook, both the press and Quia, their online content provider, need to recognize that these DVDs are useless to most students since their laptops no longer include DVD players. MP3 and MP4 files should be downloadable and savable to the students’ electronic devices from a free online location.
One technological problem specific to AK2 3rd edition is that as students become able to produce greater volumes of language, much of the utility of the autograding feature of the companion website is lost. Cloze and matching exercises are well suited to correction by computer, but when the online exercises expect students to type entire transcriptions of for example (i.e., sentences using the new AK2 vocabulary words), it is virtually impossible for the website to anticipate all possible voweling and punctuation variants that might occur in even a single transcribed sentence. My students—and I agree with them—found using the website to grade homework satisfying only for simple, mechanical exercises that could be...