As a former teacher assistant of Arabic, I had the privilege to teach Arabic in an American university that offered Arabic for the first time to its students. All of us know that Arabic as a language has many different varieties that alternate from the east to the west of the Arab world, which encompasses over 20 countries. One of the most well-known textbooks that were used to teach Arabic in my host institution was “Al kitaab”. For a while, I thought we would solely focus on teaching standardized formal Arabic, but working with an outstanding, distinguished supervisor made me think in an entirely different way and try to do my best to be acquainted to teaching Levantine colloquial Arabic. The following are the major reasons that made me change my mind and believe in the importance of integrating any version of colloquial Arabic.
1) Mastering, at least, one colloquial Arabic dialect will help your students understand the culture of the target group of people they want to meet
To understand the culture of the Arabic country that students have the desire to visit and work in, they should have an immense exposure to the local variety of Arabic in that country. For example, when they want to offer condolences, Arab speakers tend to use slightly different expressions to attain that purpose. In Egypt you might hear the expression “il-baqiya fi Hayatak/ik”, while in Morocco your ears might pick up another partially different expression like “Albaraka f ruskum”. In formal Arabic, only educated people will understand the expression of “ta’aazina Al-Haara”. For this reason, I think that arming your students with modern standard Arabic alongside colloquial Arabic will surely provide them with the chance to experience the culture inside your classroom before they set out to the Arab world by using the colloquial that you have voluntarily chosen.
Some teachers might disregard the idea of teaching colloquial Arabic because their vernacular version of Arabic is not included in the textbook that I have mentioned above. I, therefore, urge every teacher, especially Moroccans, to do their best to integrate one of the two versions of colloquial Arabic that are offered in “Alkitaab”. Teachers can choose the one that they feel more comfortable using. Eventually, teachers themselves will enjoy doing so and it gives their students the chance to learn one variety that will help them speak the language naturally and not formally.
2) Colloquial Arabic will help your students be conversational
Whether you are an Iraqi, Egyptian, or Qatari teacher of Arabic as a foreign language, adopting one colloquial Arabic dialect in your classroom will get your students to use that dialect to easily interact and have longer conversations with the local people. Achieving a comfortability in colloquial Arabic will help those students feel at home whereas mastering Modern Standard Arabic will undoubtedly allow them to use it in its formal contexts and settings. By using it, they can watch the news on Aljazeera, read al-Quds newspaper, and enjoy watching a documentary on National Geography Abu Dhabi. On the other hand, Modern Standard Arabic will not help them to fully enjoy watching famous Shaamii soap operas like Bab Al-Haara. We have to bear in mind that Arabic varieties that we, as Arabs, tend to use today are similar in many different aspects. Consequently, there is a great overlap between these varieties and Modern Standard Arabic. This means that we should not worry if our students have been exposed to another new variety at some points in the future. Since the purpose from learning any language is to simply communicate with its native speakers, your syllabus, as teachers of Arabic, must include both one colloquial version of Arabic and modern standard Arabic.
3)Modern Standard Arabic is not ENOUGH!
Teachers who tend to focus only on using formal Arabic are totally mistaken. My supervisor insisted on using both colloquial Arabic and modern standard Arabic as a medium of instruction and that was the right decision that every teacher of Arabic should follow and take into account. To illustrate this, I had the chance to accidentally attend a conversation that happened between two students who attended different universities but used the same textbooks. One student was from the university where I was working as a teacher assistant (not the main professor), and the other student was from a nearby university. This meeting happened in the last days of school. Therefore, our student was about to finish her freshman year, while the other was going to finish his sophomore year. Frankly speaking, her verbal skills were amazing considering that it was her first year of learning a language that has a completely different alphabet and grammar rules. She totally understood what he said and she simultaneously responded to his questions in an eloquent way. With obvious difficulty, the other student was able to take part in that conversation using Modern Standard Arabic. I intentionally used this example to show how powerful using varieties of the Arabic language. This should make teachers think twice before discarding any colloquial version of Arabic.
Having listed and discussed the above reasons concerning the importance of integrating colloquial Arabic, I do not want any of you, especially teachers of Arabic who have had the chance to read this article to think that I have undermined the importance of Modern Standard Arabic. Quite the opposite, I want to prove how skillful and fluent your students level would get after using both varieties of Arabic.
On the whole, the intention that lay behind writing this article is to shed the light on the significance on integrating and including colloquial Arabic into your classroom. So, do not hesitate to include it!