What is the point of learning a language? When students learn a language, they are also demonstrating an increased interest in not only speaking the language but also understanding more about the cultures associated with it, including learning about the countries and people who live where this language is spoken. This means when teaching Arabic, it is essential to consider the total Arabic language and all its varieties, including Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and the various dialects of Arabic. This is just as essential to a student from an Arab background wanting to learn more about their own language as it is to someone who has no prior connection to Arabic, but just wants to learn a brand-new language.
The approach to Arabic education adopted by QFI also comes in line with the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Language (ACTFL) National Standards for Foreign Language Education that states the following: “In oral communication, contemporary speakers of Arabic do not observe a strict separation between fusHa and ‘ammiya but mix them in varying degrees depending on the level of formality of the situation, the complexity of the subject matter, the identity of co-participants in the conversation, and their own levels of control of fusHa. An essential part of knowing Arabic is knowing both the fusHa and one or more ‘ammiyas, and mastering how, when, and to what extent to mix them, either by introducing colloquialisms into fusHa or by bringing fusHa structures into ‘ammiya. Being aware of this continuum of language use will serve teachers well since it applies to heritage language speakers and to those who are learning it as a foreign language” (NSFLEP, 2006, p. 116).
The teaching of Arabic has historically focused on MSA because it is comprehensible to all Arabic speakers, or because it is needed to take a certain examination. Arabic is often taught in teacher-centric classrooms with an emphasis on rote memorization and grammar drills which leads to many students graduating with a sense of dislike of the Arabic language or with proficiency in fusHa (Modern Standard Arabic) but who may not be able to communicate with other Arabic speakers.
Many in the field of Arabic education feel students will get a chance to learn an Arabic dialect once they travel or will learn it at home if they are native/heritage speakers. Arabic education programs which teach students to use MSA in everyday speaking situations, and eliminate dialect from the learners’ spoken language, create an artificial and fake mode of communication that does not exist in everyday life. More importantly, this unidimensional approach to Arabic does not fulfill the learners’ needs for the ability to communicate with Arabic-speakers who are able to use their dialect but also naturally code-switch between MSA and a variety of dialects. Native speakers of Arabic living in Arabic-speaking communities use both MSA and a dialect daily. An authentic use of the Arabic language, including mixing MSA with dialect, is required by most major proficiency examinations such as the ACTFL OPI, STAMP and other measures used to evaluate language ability level through professionally proficient/fluent. Therefore, it only makes sense for educators to mimic these real-world situations by exposing students to authentic uses of the language at an early stage of the learning process of Arabic.
The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages also views language learning to be grounded in the purpose of communication. But unlike ACTFL and NSFLEP, CEFR is not language specific and there have been no documented efforts of CEFR and Arabic specifically. However, the framework “describes in a comprehensive way what language learners have to learn to do in order to use a language for communication and what knowledge and skills they have to develop so as to be able to act effectively. The description also covers the cultural context in which language is set.” The approach of the CEFR is to see the learner as a social agent that is developing functions for communicating rather than just memorizing language rules. As such the teaching of Arabic and its varieties is just as essential.
Students who are taught the varieties of MSA and an Arabic dialect will be better prepared to thrive in a variety of social, academic, and professional settings, just like a native speaker living in an Arabic speaking country. An example of this includes teaching a variety of vocabulary words. For example, words such as عندي instead of لديَّ and the يلبس instead of يرتدي are words used in both MSA and the dialects, and in each instance, both can be taught and included in the classroom at the beginning levels of proficiency.