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Reviewed by:
  • Mastering Arabic 1 by Jane Wightwick, Mahmoud Gaafar, and: Mastering Arabic 2 by Jane Wightwick, Mahmoud Gaafar
  • Mahmoud Ali (bio)
Mastering Arabic 1. 3rd ed.
Jane Wightwick and Mahmoud Gaafar
New York: Hippocrene Books, Inc., 2015. iv + 278 pp., reference, answer key, English-Arabic glossary, index. ISBN: 9780781813389. Paperback (with two audio CDs), $40.00.
Mastering Arabic 2. 3rd ed.
Jane Wightwick and Mahmoud Gaafar
New York: Hippocrene Books, Inc., 2010. iv + 225 pp., answer key, English-Arabic glossary, index. ISBN: 9780781812542. Paperback (with two audio CDs), $35.00.

The teaching of Arabic as a foreign language (TAFL) profession faces a number of challenges that continue to keep it from catching up with the advancements in other foreign language professions, particularly English as a second language (ESL). Among these is the availability of well-designed textbooks that guide curriculum planning by providing instruction and assessment materials that follow trending approaches and standards for foreign language learning while also taking into consideration the rather complex situation of diglossia in Arabic. To this end, Arabic textbook authors have strived over the past ten years for innovation to live up to current expectations and to meet the needs of both teachers and learners. Jane Wightwick and Mahmoud Gaafar, the authors of the Mastering Arabic series, are no exception.

The books under review, Mastering Arabic 1 and Mastering Arabic 2 are part of the Mastering Arabic series. In addition to these two main course books, the series also [End Page 151] includes the companion books Mastering Arabic 1 Activity Book, Mastering Arabic 2 Activity Book, Mastering Arabic Grammar, and Mastering Arabic Script. There is also a companion website that features online resources, including video activities and other printable material. The series teaches Modern Standard Arabic, the lingua franca in the Arab world.

As the title suggests, Mastering Arabic 1 is an introductory course for beginners, from which Mastering Arabic 2 follows, building proficiency at the intermediate level. Each of the two books, the authors claim, can be used for the classroom or self-study. The books cover a wide range of topics that are relevant to language use for general communication. Each also contains varied texts, dialogues, and exercises that cater to all language skills. In addition, they are rich in cultural insights about the people, society, geography, and dialects of the Arab world.

In the following sections, I provide an overview of each book, looking more closely at each one’s features in terms of structure, form, and content. Then I evaluate the two books based on a set of criteria developed by Hussein al-Rababah and Ibrahim al-Rababah (2013) intended for assessing textbooks designed for teaching Arabic to non-Arabic speakers. These two researchers suggest what they refer to as a “Criteria 1” checklist, which comprises two main categories of textbook evaluation: general characteristics and special characteristics. The second category is employed in this review of Mastering Arabic and consists of two subcategories: content-related criteria and form-related criteria. The former subcategory is composed of twelve criteria addressing those features that are related to the appearance, design, clarity, and age-appropriateness of the textbook in question. The latter subcategory, on the other hand, has thirty-one criteria covering a variety of content-related aspects such as the organization and structure of the materials, language-skills development and integration, task type and design, content attractiveness and authenticity, and learning autonomy and critical-thinking development (for the complete list, see Rababah and al-Rababah 2013, app. 1). Finally, I provide some suggestions for improvements based on personal experience using the books in the language classroom.


As their titles suggest, the textbooks under review, and the series more broadly, assume mastery of Arabic upon completion. This can be encouraging and motivating for both learners and teachers. However, the authors do not specify the level of mastery that learners are expected to reach. Apart from this, the structure of the textbooks is easy to follow. Each textbook has two main parts: Language Units and [End Page 152] Reference Material. The topics covered in Language Units are thematically designed such that each unit focuses on one main theme, providing practice across...


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