Sherif Shabaka's Teaching Philosophy

Thoughts on Teaching and Learning Arabic as a Foreign Language

Learning a foreign language

People were born with an innate ability to learn languages. The differences, between the way people learn their first language and a foreign language, are debated. I believe there are similarities and differences. An example of a similarity is that in both cases, a learner benefits from greater exposure to the language being learned.

Some people would argue that the adult who is learning a foreign language is equipped with a lot more tools of learning than the child who is learning his mother tongue. Simple and complicated new words are the same to the adult where simple words are easier to learn for a child.

The most important difference to the advantage of a foreign language learner, in my opinion, is that the foreign language learner has an experience for learning a language, s/he has learned at least one language before. This experience can be employed, by the teacher, to help the student see the pattern of the new language.

Skills oriented teaching

Learning a foreign language involves the development of many interwoven skills at the same time. Reading, writing, speaking and listening for comprehension are the basic four skills that have to grow together leaning on some to go higher on the others.

There is no such a thing as a reading only class or a writing class or a listening class. Every class has to involve most if not all of these skills. However, the teacher can gear the activities and drills covered in the class towards building one skill or another. If I am teaching my students e.g. listening for comprehension, I would need to have them say or write down what they understood in which they must use their speaking or writing skills.

Deduction versus induction

There are two big challenges in learning Arabic as a foreign language: grammar and vocabulary. Grammar is imbedded in the language in a way that, after being exposed to the language enough, people can see the pattern of the built structures. Eventually, learners can build their own sentences, paragraphs and more. Telling the students the grammar rule first and then giving them examples and drills to practice, does teach the students to be able to use the structure. However, I believe that, if we give the students enough examples, they see the structure and come up with the rule on their own, self-discovery.

The difference is that with self-discovery, the construction is harder to forget because the student built the rule of grammar in his/her head, according to his/her own logic.