Georgetown Holds First Annual Conference on Teaching Arabic to Heritage Learners

May 2, 2019

The Arabic Language Department at Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q) recently organized a two-day conference titled “Arabic Heritage Education: Pedagogy, Challenges, and Prospects.” The international gathering of leading scholars in the field of Arabic language instruction shared ideas and research on the unique learning requirements and teaching strategies for Arabic language students who are already Arabic speakers, or who share a cultural connection to the language, but who are not considered native speakers because they lack proficiency in Modern Standard Arabic. 

"This conference is the first of its kind in the region at the academic level. It tackles, for the first time, the issues of Arabic heritage learners, a group rapidly increasing in the Arab world due to cultural and social influences and changes in recent years,” explained Dr. Yehia Abdel Mabdy Mohamed, The conference organizer and an associate professor of Arabic Language and Culture at GU-Q. “The academic community’s interest in this field has been generated by the reputation in GU-Q’s unique Arabic language program for Arabic language heritage students, which differs from the course of language teaching to non-Arabic speakers in terms of motivation, curricula and course content.”

The conference attracted top scholars from around the world, and shed light on various topics in heritage language instruction, including assessing students on the native to non-native language spectrum, preparing instructors, the impact of literature on elementary students, teaching Arabic literature, approaches to errors and mistakes by heritage learners in the Western world, and the experiences of GU-Q’s language program.

“Students of Arab descent constitute the majority of our Arabic students,” said Abbas Al-Tonsi, senior lecturer and head of the Arabic language program at GU-Q. “While speaking one Arabic dialect fluently, these students have limited exposure to Modern Standard Arabic, which usually influences their competency in reading and writing skills.” Al-Tonsi, whose career highlights include publishing some of the most successful teaching textbooks for heritage learners, and who served a pivotal role in establishing GU-Q’s Arabic language program, gave the keynote address at the conference, in honor of his coming retirement.

The conference organizers believe much still needs to be done in terms of research, course preparation, and material development, and hope this conference initiates further discussions and collaboration in the field of Arabic for heritage learners.

The conference comes at a time when the demand for skills training in advanced Arabic is increasing in Qatar and the region due to the 2019 Qatari law for the protection and promotion of Arabic language mandating that all ministries, government agencies, public bodies and institutions use the Arabic language in their meetings and discussions and in all resolutions, regulations, documents and visuals produced. GU-Q offers students a minor in Arabic, and Arabic classes both for heritage learners and non-native speakers, and a variety of community classes teaching Arabic, and on general subjects taught in Arabic.

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