Research on Arabic Education

QFI is committed to promoting the teaching of Arabic in a communicative way, one that supports the various modes of communication (interpersonal, interpretive, presentational, and intercultural). We support classrooms demonstrating traits of 21st-century skills and global competency in action – classrooms that are interactive, student-centered, and encourage critical thinking. When it comes to teaching Arabic centered on this communicative approach, QFI views Arabic as one language that encompasses all its varieties. This approach reflects the integration that happens naturally for a native Arabic speaker. Teachers should keep in mind how communicative tasks and functions are performed in a real-world context and strive to introduce contextually appropriate language. Working globally, we understand each context is unique, and as such applicability of this approach must be catered to specific locations and education systems. Empirical research on teaching Arabic as a global language in primary and secondary schools is scarce. As such QFI released a Call for Research Proposals in 2021. All proposals were evaluated by 3 external reviewers in addition to QFI staff. There were four winners chosen.

L2 Acquisition of Sociolinguistic Variation: Towards a Psycholinguistic Account

Principal Investigator: Lizz Huntley, Ph.D. Candidate, Michigan State University

About the researcher: Huntley is a doctoral candidate in Second Language Studies and training as a psycholinguistic at Michigan State University under the supervision of Dr. Aline Godfroid. Huntley began studying Arabic in college and felt a continued disconnect with the Arabic she was learning in the classroom, and the Arabic she needs to live in an Arabic speaking country.

Abstract: How can students of Arabic learn both a dialect and MSA? There is lots of anecdotal evidence on both sides of the argument – whether to teach only MSA or to teach integrating a dialect and MSA; what the field is missing is empirical research into how multiple registers of Arabic (i.e. MSA and a dialect) can be acquired and processed by learners. The research question driving this study is “How can students of Arabic learn both a dialect and MSA?” The proposed study explores how students learn Arabic diglossia. The broader field of Second Language Acquisition characterizes diglossia as a form of “sociolinguistic variation” (SLV). This study is one of the first to use psycholinguistic research methods to explore the acquisition of SLV in Arabic and looks at the fundamental cognitive process underlying simultaneous acquisition of MSA and dialects.

Why is QFI Funding this? QFI promotes classroom approaches that focus on the communicative aspects of the language. After all, 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. There is not enough empirical research looking at how students can learn both MSA and dialects simultaneously, which is why we are very excited about Lizz Huntley’s study.

Investigating and Responding to Teachers’ Beliefs of the Integration of Variation in Arabic School Teaching

Principal Investigator: Dr. Rasha Soliman, Lecturer in Arabic Language and Linguistics, University of Leeds

Research Assistant: Dr. Melissa Towler, Post-Doctoral Researcher

About the researchers: Dre. Rasha Soliman is an associate professor of Arabic Language and Linguistics at the University of Leeds.  Dr. Solimans’s research focuses on dialectology and mutual intelligibility in the Arabic language.

Abstract: This research aims to investigate the current beliefs that schoolteachers have in relation to the integration of different varieties of Arabic into their teaching. The data analysis will aim to produce a set of principles to clear misconceptions and guide schoolteachers in how to integrate more variation into their teaching.

Why is QFI Funding this? QFI has been working in the United Kingdom since 2016 and is currently supporting the teaching of Arabic in 31 mainstream schools across Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Understanding how the teaching of Arabic plays out in classrooms in the United States may not necessarily inform or reflect on what is happening in Arabic classrooms across the UK so this research is important to QFI’s work in the UK. Starting from teachers’ viewpoints on the integration of varieties in their teaching will allow for an intimate and accurate look at teachers’ experiences as they grapple with teaching students Arabic in addition to ensuring their students can also score competitively on assessments such as the A-Levels and GCSE that are MSA-specific.

Teaching Arabic as a Global Language in US K-12 Settings: How do Teacher Identity and Critical Language Awareness Matter?

Principal Investigator: Dr. Lourdes Ortega, Initiative for Multilingual Studies, Georgetown University

Co-PI: Dr. Hina Ashraf, Associate Research Professor

Team Members: Rima Elabdali, fourth year doctoral student. Saurav Goswami, first year doctoral student

Abstract: Arabic teachers must be highly skillful in tailoring their pedagogies contextually, and in helping their students develop language proficiency for interpersonal, interpretive, presentational, and intercultural goals. Yet, no studies have examined the experiential, professional, and attitudinal predispositions that Arabic teachers hold towards Arabic dialects and integrated teaching. For example, native speaking teachers must negotiate the heteroglossia of Arabic while speaking their own dialects and interacting with their heritage and non-native students. How do they do this? And are different teachers, and perhaps non-native versus native teachers, affected differently when they negotiate MSA versus the dialects in their teaching? This study will investigate Arabic teacher professional identities and their critical language awareness of Arabic. The goal is to understand key differences and similarities between native and non-native speaking teachers of Arabic in the United States in these two areas, and to evaluate how such differences and similarities potentially modulate the manner by which teachers with different biographic and professional backgrounds envision the teaching of Arabic as a global language. Ultimately, the findings will lead to modules for professional development that K-12 Arabic teachers can adopt in order to teach the Arabic language in optimal, integrated ways that capitalize on the strengths and challenges of native and non-native teacher identities and on the motivations their diverse native/heritage and non-native school-age students bring to the classroom.

Why is QFI Funding this? When QFI first started its support of Arabic language teaching back in the 2009/2010 school year, the teachers we worked with were all non-native teachers and doing exceptional jobs in their practice. Across the years our teacher network has increased in number, with most teachers being native Arabic speakers. Still, many non-native speakers are assuming teaching posts too which is diversifying the pool of Arabic teachers in the United States. In addition to increasing the number of teachers of Arabic and providing them with quality and continuous professional development, another QFI goal is to professionalize the teaching of Arabic so that becoming an Arabic teacher is seen as a viable career option. Because of QFI’s focus on teachers, this study was of particular interest to QFI and its findings, and the modules, will make an essential contribution to the professional development of primary and secondary teachers in the United States.

Multilingual and Multidialectal Approaches in the Arabic Language Classroom

Principal Investigator: Dr. Emma Trentman, Associate Professor of Arabic, Foreign Languages and Literatures, University of New Mexico

Materials Developer: Heather Sweetser, Senior Lecturer in Arabic , University of New Mexico.  The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages named her the 2022 National Language Teacher of the Year.

About the researchers: Dr. Trentman’s research has focused on Arabic language learning in study abroad, virtual exchange, and classroom contexts, and over the last decade she has published 15 peer-reviewed journal articles or book chapters in this area. She has also been teaching Arabic for fifteen years, starting as a teaching assistant at Georgetown University and Michigan State University during graduate school, working at intensive summer programs for Concordia Language Villages, Middlebury Arabic school, and the University of Texas at Austin, and as director of the Arabic program at the University of New Mexico (UNM) since 2012. As a teacher, Dr. Trentman has worked with her colleagues to move beyond the MSA-only model that was common when she began learning Arabic. Drawing from genre-based and multilingual approaches to language learning, she has slowly shifted from using textbooks to her our own materials, and in 2020 she launched the culmination of these efforts, the open access We Can Learn Arabic website,

Abstract:  This research creates a research-practice cycle to describe, analyze, and develop pedagogical materials for multilingual and multidialectal approaches in the Arabic language classroom. Multilingual and multidialectal approaches emphasize drawing from students’ full linguistic repertoires to expand them to include varieties of Arabic. While multilingual and multidialectal approaches are appealing from a theoretical perspective, they are often challenging for teachers and students to implement in the classroom. This study addresses this obstacle by creating a research-practice cycle where research on the challenges and successes of multilingual and multidialectal approaches informs the development of pedagogical materials, and teachers’ and students’ experiences with the implementation of the materials influences and refines the research questions in subsequent years of the study. This study will conduct a longitudinal, qualitative study of Arabic classes at the University of New Mexico and at a local high school. The university cohorts are expected to include 1-2 students who studied Arabic at the high school level, which will help examine the ‘speedbump’ between secondary school and university.

Why QFI is funding this research? Much of the research on the integrative approach, or using dialects and MSA when teaching Arabic, are found at the university level. Yet QFI’s work takes place in primary and secondary classrooms. This study is a unique cross-section that looks at both thresholds of teaching and allows the researcher to look at the learner and their progression across secondary school and in a university setting. By working in a university setting with a school partner, it provides a lab-like environment for the research where materials can be tested real time. The study will also triangulate data – drawing from classroom observations, background interviews with teachers and students, student and teacher self-reflections, and assessments. This rich data set will inform the development pedagogical materials that can be implemented in secondary school contexts and such explicit materials will be helpful to teachers who want to teach in multidialectal and multilingual ways but do not necessarily know how.

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