Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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Teaching Foreign Languages K–12

A Library of Classroom Practices


Arabic: Teaching Arabic Overview
Teaching Arabic in the United States

اضغط هنا للترجمة باللغة العربية

Arabic is facing some of the same challenges as many other languages that are new to being taught in U.S. schools. Do we have educators in place? Is there community interest? Are there going to be resources and materials in place?
- Paul Sandrock, ACTFL

The Rising Demand for Arabic-Language Instruction

With more than 300 million speakers, Arabic is the fifth-most spoken language in the world. Most speakers of Arabic live in the Middle East and North Africa. But there are millions of Muslims throughout the world who use Arabic—the language of the Quran—for religious purposes.

While only a small percentage of Americans speak Arabic, it has become the fastest-growing language in the United States, according to the 2014 Census. The census also revealed that the number of Arabic speakers in the United States rose 29 percent between 2010 and 2014 alone, and that now more than a million Americans speak Arabic at home. Reflecting this surge in popularity, demand for Arabic-language instruction in primary and secondary schools in the United States has risen. More and more students—including those with Arabic or Islamic heritage—are interested in learning about the Arab world, given its centrality in international affairs.

As a result of this increased interest in Arabic, school and college Arabic curricula are placing emphasis on teaching Arabic for communication and as a way to promote cultural understanding. Some Arabic programs have expanded their traditional focus on teaching solely Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) to incorporating dialects into the curriculum. Arabic speakers do not use MSA for their daily interactions; instead, they speak in their local dialects. This is why the Standards for Learning Arabic K–16 in the United States have taken the position that learning Arabic for communication and cultural understanding requires knowledge of both MSA and a dialect.

Addressing the Challenges

Teaching Arabic for communicative purposes in K–12 in the United States is a fairly new phenomenon. Research findings support this notion. A 2012–2013 survey of 201 U.S. public and public charter schools by Qatar Foundation International (QFI) revealed that fully 68 percent of Arabic programs had been started in the five years preceding the survey. As with any foreign language new to U.S. schools, there are challenges related to integrating Arabic into K–12 curricula:

  • Community support—While the number of K–12 Arabic programs has been increasing, sustaining this trend may prove difficult, especially in places where misconceptions persist between Arab and non-Arab residents.
  • Availability of qualified teachers—With very few colleges and universities offering degree or certificate teacher-training programs tailored for Arabic, there is a shortage of training and professional development opportunities for Arabic-language teachers. To meet the growth in demand for teachers, many K–12 schools have been recruiting Arabic speakers who may have little or no prior teaching experience.
  • Access to Arabic resources and materials—The lack of standards-based teaching and curriculum materials for Arabic-language programs in American schools puts an undue burden on middle school and high school teachers to create their own materials. Most mainstream Arabic textbooks do not address current cultural trends, do not align with national or state standards, and were not designed for today’s digital classrooms. In fact, many of these come from the Arab world and were not intended for nonnative learners.

Adding Arabic to the Annenberg Learner Teaching Foreign Languages K–12 video library addresses these challenges in the following ways:

  • The videos can help familiarize less-experienced teachers with different approaches and methods for teaching languages in general. They can also provide teachers with knowledge of key concepts regarding the most effective practices for teaching Arabic to nonnative speakers.
  • Questions included throughout the lesson materials activate current knowledge through reflection and help connect the video lesson to one’s own teaching.
  • The selection of Web and print resources shared by the teachers who appear in the videos can further enhance the quality of instruction, helping to convey cultural content, inspire task-based activities, and more.

Equipping teachers with training and tools is critical to the success of any language program. As more Arabic programs succeed, additional schools may be encouraged to build programs of their own. This can be expected to strengthen teaching and learning standards, enhance cultural understanding, and, in turn, help foster community acceptance.


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