- Arabic Voices 1: Authentic Listening and Reading Practice in Modern Standard Arabic and Colloquial Dialects, and: Arabic Voices 2: Authentic Listening and Reading Practice in Modern Standard Arabic and Colloquial Dialects by Matthew Aldrich
One of the greatest challenges that students learning Arabic as a foreign language encounter when they first travel to an Arab country is the gulf between their knowledge of Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and the language of everyday communication used in their host country. I have had numerous students recount to me how helpless they felt during their first week abroad because they expected Arabs to speak to them in MSA. Arabic Voices 1 and Arabic Voices 2 remind the reader of the diversity of the Arabic language and its speakers. Moreover, they demonstrate the significance of learning colloquial dialects in addition to MSA to becoming a well-rounded Arabist.
Throughout the two books, Matthew Aldrich presents a pool of native speakers from across the Arab world who discuss an array of topics in both MSA and their native dialects. With such a variety of topics, the author exposes the learner to the incredible diversity in the language and culture of the Arab peoples, which is key to developing new approaches to studying distinct dialects.
In the introduction to the two books, the author stresses that the existence of the two varieties of Arabic results in language mixing and the influence of one variety on the other. However, this is not the purpose of the two books. According to the author, Arabic Voices 1 and Arabic Voices 2 aim to address the scarcity of materials that offer [End Page 147] opportunities for learners "to hear authentic, spoken Arabic at various speeds and in all its varieties, and by a range of native speakers" (v). As an Arabic instructor myself, I have not come across a textbook that aims to develop listening and reading skills in MSA and multiple dialects at the intermediate and advanced levels.
The twelve native speakers who introduce the segments in the two books represent the geographical expanse and linguistic diversity of the Arab world. Thirty-two of the fifty-seven segments are presented in MSA. Each speaker discusses a variety of topics in MSA and in his or her respective native dialect. The author invites readers to first read the title and a few key words in the segment before listening for the first time. Audio files of the segments are available as free downloads from the publisher's website. Each segment offers four content activities in the form of multiple choice, true/false statements, and matching exercises. Responses to the questions immediately follow the questions. Then the script of the audio is presented in Arabic side by side with its English translation. The author also offers linguistic or cultural notes pertaining to vocabulary, grammar, or aspects of culture. Such notes contain select Internet links to articles and videos for further exploration of the theme of each segment. The last part of each segment contains free space for note taking.
The segments are introduced progressively from shorter to longer and also from slower to faster in each book. In the first part of Arabic Voices 1, each speaker introduces himself or herself to the listener/reader and describes his or her country of origin, studies, hobbies, and profession, which are standard topics for lower-level students of Arabic. The second part covers topics that are relevant to intermediate and advanced learners, including marriage, student life, clothing, childhood memories, religion, and the Arab Spring in Egypt. Arabic Voices 2 follows a similar pattern and offers insights into Arabs' daily routines, hijab, Arabic language (MSA and dialects), education, technology, and transportation.
What is refreshing about the two books is that they offer multiple perspectives on the same topic in both MSA and colloquial Arabic, and the audio files can...