Arabic as a Global Language: Where to Next?

Apr 29, 2024

By Dr. Lama Nassif, Williams College, Queen Rania Foundation (2022-2023)

Last month, I had the privilege of participating in QFI’s “Arabic Language Learning in Europe: Realities of Policy & Practice” Symposium in Brussels. With Arabic at the heart of the conversations, attendees shared a common love for language learning (and passion for language teaching) as a means to enhance cultural understanding and appreciation, foster inclusivity, and build cross-cultural bridges in an increasingly multilingual yet polarized world. I left the symposium feeling more informed, inspired and hopeful for the future of teaching and learning Arabic as a global language.

Exciting themes emerged, such as advocating for Arabic at the policy level, representing linguistic and cultural diversity in Arabic teaching, cultivating research-informed pedagogies, and fostering “communities of practice.” With these themes in mind, I raise the question, where to next? As we share the goal of advancing Arabic as a global language, we need to chart the next steps, enhancing robust planning, research and practice in which we empower teachers and learners who choose to embark on this exhilarating journey.

As I contemplate this question, some steps and further questions come to mind. At the core of these steps are discussions that move Arabic teaching beyond questions of “should we do this or that” to questions of “how do we do this or that?”

  1. Agree on common principles in policy and practice. What are programmatic visions and foundational principles in relation to Arabic as a global language? What are the criteria and standards on which Arabic curricula should be based? How do we foster more inclusive pedagogies? How do we approach cultural diversity across Arabic-speaking countries? How do we approach linguistic variation in teaching and assessment considering the linguistic continuum of Arabic varieties? How do we enhance core competencies?
  2. Consider the intersection of Arabic as L1 and L2. How could the fields of Arabic as a first language and Arabic as a second language inform each other?
  3. Consider common experiences in language teaching and learning. What can we learn from the teaching and learning of other languages? What could inform our program building? What could enhance our pedagogies? What is unique to Arabic?
  4. Enhance research-informed pedagogies. What can we learn from relevant research (e.g., second language acquisition, sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, etc.)? How do we support teachers with research-informed, teacher training and discussion forums? What forums could we provide to Arabic researchers who are keen on the research-practice intersection? How could we support action research in language classrooms?
  5. Foster collaborative practice. How could we start conversations focused on the “how” of doing things? How could we foster communities of practice in which Arabic teachers discuss, collaborate, and share resources?
  6. Establish a database of shared resources. How could we support Arabic teachers as they work to develop materials to complement limited resources while also having to deal with the pressures of daily lesson planning and other course-related and school/university-related logistics?

The list goes on, with exhilarating prospects. I cannot wait to continue this journey with colleagues and learners!

Dr. Lama Nassif

Dr. Lama Nassif is Associate Professor of Arabic Studies at Williams College, where she teaches Arabic, second language acquisition (SLA), and sociolinguistics. Nassif’s research interests include noticing and attention in second language (L2) development, sociolinguistic development in L2 Arabic acquisition, and the interface between L2 research and pedagogy, and her work appears in peer-reviewed, international journals. Her most recent project is a book manuscript entitled Teaching Grammar in the L2 Arabic Classroom: A Focus on Form Practice (Under contract with Routledge). Expected in 2024, it combines noticing and attention in SLA research with pedagogical practices in the teaching of L2 Arabic grammar.

Dr. Nassif is also currently Queen Rania Foundation (QRF) – Education Endowment Foundation Teaching and Learning Resources Fellow (2022-2023) in Amman, Jordan, where she works on advancing QRF’s work on research-informed pedagogies and designing approaches to promote the uptake of educational research for teachers, teacher trainers, and policy makers.