December 1, 2022
When we were in Math class in the third grade, one of my friends asked the teacher: “Why are we learning Math?” The teacher calmly said: “It helps you in life.” Our teacher did not give us any examples! What did that mean for a third grader at that time? Simply nothing! I enjoyed Math as a child, but I would have enjoyed it even more if we connected Math to everyday life and future careers.
Teaching the Arabic language reminded me of my third-grade experience. As a foreign language, it could be a challenge to the teacher and students. I always tell my students that Arabic is not a difficult language, but it takes a longer time to learn because everything is new to an English speaker; a new alphabet, new syntax, and new usage. I believe that students can easily learn Arabic if they have the motivation. In my more than twenty years of teaching Arabic as a second language, I made sure I found a reason to motivate my students to keep on learning!
Getting students engaged with the language and the culture was my key strategy. My students had many hands-on activities, gamification, formative assessments, and project-based learning. I gave them opportunities to collaborate and take charge of their learning. Lessons were filled with many images and movies to help students recall and enjoy the content. I even introduced the cultural products and practices. Students enjoyed learning about other cultures, making new food recipes, and singing simple lines from Arabic songs. I did my best to keep my students motivated!
The truth is that their learning journey became even more enjoyable and exciting when I introduced authentic materials to our class. Authentic material is written in the target language for native speakers—the people of the language. Through discovering authentic material, language became full of life and excitement! It helped students make connections with native speakers by seeing how the language is used in everyday life. For example, students practiced numbers by seeing road signs in Arabic countries and price tags in Arabic stores; they learned the weather by reading newspapers or watching the news in the target language. Students had a reason to memorize the days of the week; to practice their knowledge students were given the chance to analyze original Arabic invitations to different occasions. They were curious to find and communicate the days and times of each occasion. Students enjoyed using their analytical skills for finding the answers while using authentic original invitations.
Instead of looking at beautiful slideshows on making Arabic dishes, students learned about recipes from an original Arabic magazine. The examples go on and on! One student said, “It feels like I am living in an Arab country!” Authentic material in language classes helps students connect with the people of the language, discover how it is used daily, and motivates them to learn and practice their language skills. I highly encourage every educator to bring language to life by putting authentic materials in the hands of the learners. I saw a big difference in the level of motivation, involvement, and enthusiasm after I decided to use authentic materials in my teaching of Arabic.