Communication and Beyond

Ilham Salimane is the head of Arabic at the Language Centre, SOAS University. She is the Convenor of the Language Diploma in Communicative Arabic and Postgraduate Diploma in Teaching Arabic as a Foreign Language, She has been in the education sector for over fifteen years. Ilham has also taken part in reading publications in the Arabic language with Oxford University Press.

img-20170720-wa0052CARLA Institute had a wide range of courses this summer as part of their summer training programme, which presents the latest ideas and approaches aiming to advance the quality of second language teaching, learning, and assessment. From the range of their courses, I chose to attend a course titled “Beyond Communicative Competence: Using Authentic Materials to Develop 21st Century Literacies “. This course attracted me the most because of the promised content like; the principles of communicative competence and the principles of 21st-century literacies.

The focus of this training was to identify and evaluate authentic materials appropriate for the teaching context and that should engage learners through cross-cultural comparisons, critical thinking, problem-solving, and engagement.

Most teachers, when thinking about authentic material, think of a long-written text extracted from a newspaper or a magazine that can only be taught at high levels. I was thrilled to discover that, indeed, authentic material may not contain any written-text.

Through some of the resources used in the training, I came across a great Spanish lesson where the teacher built the entire literature lesson on a painting. And I also came across a French lesson where the teacher built a lesson on an old cartoon containing two words only. These types of lessons are extremely engaging, relevant and most importantly, REAL!
Most teachers agree that the most successful lessons are those hinged on an authentic material, this might be a written text, short video or just a photograph.

Throughout the training, there was a great focus on 5 goal areas, known as the 5 C’s or World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages. Each of the 5 standards (Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities) include their own standards which helps establish the multiple links between communication and culture.

I advise every language teacher to explore these standards in order to adjust their teaching to a more purposeful communication and to measure students’ progress using the Sample Performance Indicators. In a practical level, I will make sure my colleagues at SOAS LC are aware of this update standards, especially that Arabic was considered in this latest version available in Al-Masdar webpage. Academic Students are also using these standards to self-assess their progress using the ‘CAN DO’ check lists and evaluate diverse perspective. Students goal is to use the language beyond the classroom developing many skills while learning the language.

One of the other highlights of this training was also the perspective of literacy. Traditionally, literacy has been defined as the ability to read and write. However, in the 21st century, the new Literacy Studies suggests a change to this definition. These studies demonstrate how literacy is a social practice rather than an individual skill, it is the set of skills which allows an individual to engage fully in society.

“Literacy is the use of socially-, historically-, and culturally situated practices of creating and interpreting meaning through texts. It entails ate last a tacit awareness of the relationships between textual conventions and their contexts of use, and ideally, the ability to reflect critically on these relationships. Because it is purpose-sensitive, literacy is dynamic—not static—and variable across and within discourse communities and cultures. It draws on a wide range of cognitive abilities, on knowledge of written and spoken language, on knowledge of genres, and on cultural knowledge” (Kern, 2000, p. 16).

If we, the language teachers, take this standpoint to literacy, without a doubt, our teaching shall take a different turn. The goal will be to engage students in lessons where all the language skills are essential to meaning construction, and not just a practice for language forms.

I would like to conclude this blog by thanking QFI once again for this great opportunity, most of my CPD training took place in the UK, mainly with people and context I am familiar with, this CPD was very different and provided me with a different experience. I was fortunate to have met and worked with teachers of different languages (Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Lakota, and Spanish), who have come from different continents and are from different levels of instruction: Postsecondary, High School, Middle/Jr High, and Elementary. It was very enriching to work with such a diverse group.