- Arabic as One Language: Integrating Dialect in the Arabic Language Curriculum ed. by Mahmoud Al-Batal
Mahmoud Al-Batal, ed.
Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2018. xvii + 332 pp., index. ISBN: 9781626165045. Paperback, $39.95.
The very title of this timely collection of articles is a forthright statement about the realities of the Arabic language, but in the pedagogical context within which it seeks to find a place (not least through its subtitle), it can also be seen as the culmination of a lengthy developmental process that traces its origins back some four decades. I was heavily involved in the earliest stages of that process, and I must begin this review by expressing my personal delight that a highly qualified and committed group of Arabic teachers has responded to the invitation of the editor by offering a variety of models whereby the goal stated in the subtitle can be essayed and indeed achieved. I also need to acknowledge here the central and pioneering role that Mahmoud Al-Batal, the editor of this volume, has played in the developments described here throughout those four decades and beyond.
The essays included in this volume are a reflection of the profound changes that have been and still are taking place in Arabic language pedagogy and that saw their beginnings in the 1980s. At that time came the realization—within several spheres both academic and nonacademic—that there was a national need for users of Arabic (and other languages) who could move beyond the purely textual skills of more traditional pedagogical approaches and acquire the communicative skills needed for meaningful contacts and exchanges with native speakers. The issues that immediately [End Page 159] arose, and that have since that time involved discussion and implementation of a variety of pedagogical experiments (many of which are discussed in this volume), were and are focused on the need to develop curricula, methods, and materials that would endeavor to replicate as far as possible the learning sequences of native speakers while still meeting the expectations of academic institutions where the bulk of Arabic teaching and learning occurs. The pedagogical questions involved and a variety of possible solutions to them are well expounded in the four sections of this volume.
The first set of essays is concerned with the theoretical and practical background to the integration project and the various modes of implementation that have been tried. Al-Batal sets the scene, as it were, describing the more recent history of Arabic language instruction in the United States and noting what he terms the “firewall” that still exists in many, if not most, academic programs between instruction in the standard and colloquial forms of Arabic. This situation results certainly from vigorously maintained cultural attitudes of long standing in the Arabic-speaking regions and is duly reflected in resulting priorities long established in many academic programs of study. The rationales for the kind of integrative approach that he expounds and advocates are then explored and illustrated in essays that describe the planning and implementation of such programs at Cornell, Brigham Young, and Michigan State universities in the United States. An interesting comparative perspective is provided by an essay in which the introduction of such an integrative approach to a graduate program at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and the “barrier of fear” that needs to be overcome are clearly discussed.
The second set of essays looks in more detail at questions associated with curriculum design, in some cases within the context of specific external organizational mechanisms: the Common European Framework in Europe, for example, and the Flagship Program in the United States. Of particular interest and importance in the current (2018) environment for Arabic language studies is the chapter on the incorporation (at the University of Texas at Austin) of the colloquial dialect of Morocco into initial levels of Arabic instruction. Among the rationales cited is the current unavailability (for security reasons) of many study abroad programs in the “Middle Eastern” regions that have previously hosted such programs for many decades, and therefrom the increasing role that Morocco has been...