Sally Abou Melhem, Office of Communications, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Arabic and Near Eastern Languages Department and the Department of Education at AUB, in partnership with Qatar Foundation International (QFI) and Qatar Foundation (QF), held a forum entitled "Arabic Language and Communication Skills in the 21st Century: Perspectives and Approaches." Participants included a number of lecturers from Arab and other countries who teach Arabic as a first and second language at different levels: university, secondary, and preparatory.
The forum aimed to review and discuss numerous theoretical and practical matters related to teaching communication skills in the curricula of Arabic language taught as a first and second language, and how to establish communication skills as a basis for curriculum shaping. The forum devoted particular attention to linking the development of these skills to developing the critical and analytical thinking capacities of pupils through academic writing, which represented one of the key areas of focus in the discussions.
Dr. Anies Al-Hroub, chairperson of the AUB Department of Education, said that the Arabic language suffers from psychological problems, which can be briefly summed up as the condescending view of its students, social problems in which the speakers of foreign and Arab languages are divided into job market-related social and economic classes, and scholastic-pedagogy. He added, “If we focus on the later issue, we find that teaching Arabic, even in Lebanon, is limited to Arabic language, religious education and history, while the scientific materials are taught in foreign languages. Thus, there is discriminatory separation between foreign languages and Arabic language. Foreign languages help a pupil to complete his studies in science, medicine, engineering and others and reach broader horizons, while Arabic language is limited to poetry, religious studies and mythology.”
Forum organizers stated that there is a gap that separates many students from the Arabic language, and there is a growing sense of alienation towards the language and their future relationship with it professionally and culturally, in addition to their sense of inefficiency and lack of skills in Arabic. This reality raises many challenges. However, the forum was based on the belief that these problems are not intrinsic to the language itself and to its difficulties, nor in its ability to keep up with the times, but in the educational curricula and approaches used in many educational establishments in the Arab world. The forum also stemmed from the premise that the way to change this reality is to re-engineer curricula and approaches to education, and develop new materials for teaching within the frameworks of communication and its components applied in many modern approaches to teaching languages.
Executive Director of Qatar Foundation International Maggie Mitchell Salem commented on the discussions that took place in the forum saying that what really resonated in them was a focus on the purpose of language: Why are students learning it, and what will they do with it? She added that this was the first of what will be an ongoing conversation.
The conference spanned two days where presentation sessions and discussions dealt with issues related to communication and its relation to the needs of learners, and ways to make communication an integral part of the process of formulating the learning outcomes of Arabic courses in all stages of teaching. It also discussed how to reconcile the "communicative" approaches to Arabic curricula and mainstream approaches that focus on grammar. The forum also dealt with the topic of academic writing and methods of employing it as a tool to develop the abilities of learners to think analytically and critically.
Commenting on the forum and the results achieved, AUB professor Mahmoud Al-Batal said, “In our assessment, this forum has contributed to the development of awareness among participants that the focus on communication skills can contribute to changing the reality of the current Arab curricula. It also laid the foundations to establish a network of those concerned with the development of communication skills in Arabic, in the Arab and foreign countries. It is our hope that this forum will be the first in a series of future forums that will establish new visions and approaches to teaching and learning Arabic, based on the needs of learners in the 21st century.”