Why Trying To Learn Arabic Language Skills In School Doesn’t Work For Most (And How It Can!)
Thousands of people around the world study Arabic for years at school or university, yet somehow they still never learn to speak Arabic fluently.
Why is that, and (perhaps more importantly) how can we fix it?
Well, that’s what we’re going to look at in this article today as we discuss some of causes of why Arabic students feel bored or discouraged in a classroom environment and, therefore, don’t learn Arabic to their full potential. Afterwards, we will look at how small changes can lead to big improvements when it comes to learning Arabic in the classroom.
- Students: A Captive Audience?
Let’s be honest here. No matter where in the world they’re from, students go into an Arabic language learning classroom expecting the teacher to say “Abracadabra!” and they all of sudden can magically learn to read Arabic or speak it like a native without even having to do anything.
This is because so many language learners have been taught via the “teacher-centric” idea that the teacher is the sun around which students orbit, soaking in the educational light of knowledge of all things Arabic. In other words, students expect their Arabic teachers to deliver the knowledge to them and all they have to do show up to class and by some strange metamorphosis, the knowledge automatically enters their brain and all of a sudden, the can speak Arabic.
This idea could not be further from truth because the truth is that most of what we learn in everyday life happens outside of school and what we learn outside of school is a result of the initiative taken by us to learn it.
However, in the “teacher-centric” world, almost all of the motivation to learn Arabic is not initiated by the student, but rather the instructor. They tell their students what to talk about, which books to learn from, which learning method will be used, and set the pace for how quickly they will learn Arabic. In other words, students are held captive by their teachers desire to teach what they think is best and not by the students’ own desire and motivation to learn the language in a way that is best for them.
So, what’s the solution to the “teacher-centric” problem?
Well, one possible way is to let students know that it is their responsibility to learn the language.
For example, I always like to tell my language students to think of me as a master carpenter who is teaching them how to build a house. I give them the tools and material and show them how to use them, but how they want to build their house is up to them. If they learn to build their house the way they want, they will have a beautiful mansion; however, if they don’t learn how to properly use the tools and materials despite my best efforts to help them, then good luck living in their little run-down shack. They get the point that, in the end, what they put into the class is what they will take out of it.
In the ideal Arabic learning environment, students must take a proactive role in their own language learning both in and out of the classroom by telling the teacher what they like; choosing supplemental learning material such as websites and downloadable Arabic language learning apps (like the one offered on kaleela.com); find ways they like to learn on their own that are enjoyable to them such as games and YouTube videos; and finally, decide what speed they want to learn at that is comfortable to them.
- Arabic is a Skill, Not a Subject
Whether its history, economics, or science, most schools treat all of their subjects the same – as a knowledge-based set of facts that must be remembered in order to pass the class.
Many students fall into this trap and simply learn Arabic pronunciation, grammar rules, and just enough to pass the next exam. However, students must be taught that Arabic is not just simply a subject, but is, in fact, a skill.
By understanding this fact, students will be able to make better decisions, find and use better material, and be more successful in the actions they take along the Arabic learning path.
By studying Arabic as a skill rather than as a subject, students will actually be able to use Arabic naturally and not just spew out a bunch of facts they know about it when they learn it as a subject.
- Students Learn in an “I’m #1!” Learning Environment
School systems today are all about GPAs and class ranking, making learning a competition among students, while learning Arabic should ultimately be a cooperative effort with students working together among themselves.
Think back to when you were young and first learning your mother tongue. You weren’t worried about GPAs or SAT test scores. You learned English (or whatever your native language is) through playing with other children and trying to communicate your need for the crust to be cut off of your peanut butter and jelly sandwich to your mom or dad. Therefore, learning language was a personal, yet collective experience back then.
Arabic has to be learned in the same collective and cooperative mindset. That is, when it comes to learning Arabic, students have to stop thinking in terms of competing with their peers for the highest GPAs and SAT scores. Instead, they have to have active conversations with other Arabic students and native speakers and speak as much as Arabic as they possibly can, even if that means getting out of their comfort zone and making mistakes. With this mindset, students will be happier with their results and their ability to speak and understand the Arabic language.
- Out of Class, Out of Mind
As with most languages taught in schools and universities around the world, Arabic is hardly used by students outside the classroom. While in class they might learn how to read Arabic and even learn some facts about Arab literature or Arab culture; however, once class is over and the books are put back in their backpacks, students don’t take the time to actually practice their Arabic language skills.
Whether students learn Arabic online in a virtual classroom or in an actual classroom environment, the number one rule of an Arabic class must be to use the language skills of reading, writing, listening, and speaking in as many situations and scenarios as possible.
In the same vein, teachers have to find new and exciting ways to motivate students to use their target language both in and outside of the classroom. The more students start to enjoy learning Arabic, the more they will want to use the language in class or on the street. Online search engines are a great place to start and offer a plethora of suggestions such as games and music that make learning more fun and enjoyable for students learning Arabic.
- Same Stuff, Different Day
Too often these days, teachers, (and by proxy, students) are forced to use materials that are provided by the schools, universities, or language academies they teach at and must also follow the strict institutional guidelines when presenting their material. However, these institutions don’t take into account the important role good material plays in the initial phases of learning Arabic and ultimately, the students’ success in learning Arabic.
Especially in the beginning phases of Arabic language learning, if the material is too outdated, boring, or inefficient, it can have a negative impact of those who really motivated and eager to learn Arabic.
The material you use to learn, at least in the first initial phases of language learning, plays a very important role in your eventual success. If the material is boring and inefficient, it risks impacting negatively even the most well-intentioned and eager learner.
As a result, educational institutions and teachers should work together to find material that is both well-organized and piques learners’ interest. Additionally, teachers should create supplemental material that can be adapted to their unique classroom of learners. Instructors can also encourage learners to participate in the process of selecting the material and also allow them create or find interesting learning material on their own to share with the class.
- Why Are Students Studying Arabic in the First Place?
Unfortunately, when asked why they want to study Arabic, many students can’t answer the question. Some chose to study it because knowing a second language is prerequisite for obtaining their degree. Others because their friends were doing it and it looked like fun.
This is unfortunate because the number one reason most students fail at learning Arabic is simply because they have no real idea as to why they wanted to study it in the first place. In other words, they study it because they have to, not because they want to. As a result, without a goal and the motivation to reach that goal, students will never learn to be fluent in Arabic.
To address this issue from within the classroom, one of the very first things teachers should do is ask students to brainstorm what their intrinsic motivation is for learning Arabic. (Intrinsic motivation is motivation that comes from within and with reasons that are personally important to and individual). Teachers should encourage students to think of reasons that are personally motivating, and tied to their personal goals, passions, and interests.
For example, some intrinsic reasons to learn a language could include:
- “I want to learn Arabic because I am studying Middle Eastern culture and Arabic will be helpful in pursuing my degree”
- “I want to live in Egypt so I want to learn Egyptian Arabic.”
- “I have a Lebanese friend and I want to speak and communicate with her in Levant Arabic”.
These compelling reasons are will generally carry students past any obstacles they meet along their learning journey.
In sum, learning Arabic can be a fantastic journey whether in a class or outside of it. Unfortunately, many students who want to learn Arabic have a bad experience when it comes to learning the language in a classroom. This is due in part to the lack of essential elements like enjoying the lectures, being proactive in them, regularly attending them and being provided with the proper motivation needed for successful Arabic language learning. Following the tips above can help minimize the risks of boredom and discouragement among Arabic language learners and increase their chances in learning the language successfully.
If you found this article interesting, we invite you to visit us at kaleela.com where you can find more interesting articles and posts on learning the Arabic language and learn more about Arab culture, too. While you’re there, why not download the aforementioned Kaleela Arabic language learning app to your Android or IOS mobile device? It’s the best way to learn Arabic with one of the best Arabic language learning apps available today.
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