Sunday, December 18, 2011

An Arabic/English bilingual education plan

It's time to turn a homework assignment into a blog post. This particular assignment was to design a bilingual English/Arabic education plan that a) develops proficiency in English and Arabic while b) preserving the national and cultural identity of the students.

You see, the fun thing about Arabic is that it's not just one language. It's one standard formal/media language that is learned almost as a foreign language even in schools in Arab countries, plus that country's dialect (this is called diglossia, remember?). Some dialects of Arabic are mutually unintelligible. That's why I sometimes go crazy with jealousy when I hear of someone moving to, say, Russia, and teaching their kids, say, Russian. It's so uncomplicated for them! Here, our kids play with Tunisians and Egyptians and Palestinians and Emiratis and for all intents and purposes, those kids all speak entirely different languages. It's maddening, from a language-learning point of view, because all that unstructured play time with native speakers of Arabic does very little to reinforce and promote the formal Arabic they learn in school.

So it was with particular relish that I set about completing my assignment to design a bilingual Arabic/English education program. The very first thing I did was decide to include an Arabic dialect component, rather than putting MSA (the formal stuff) on an unimpeachable pedestal. Because dangit, I want my kid to be able to play in Arabic, not just read poetry or listen to the news. In my bilingual education plan, MSA has its place in literacy and literature classes only. English gets literacy, science, and math (and yes, I know that this may cause students to harbor unrealized attitudes that assign English a more prestigious position in the language hierarchy because science and math are allocated to it, but the truth is that scientific and mathematical research is conducted in English these days). Arabic dialect gets social studies. Everybody's happy.

To that end, Jeremy and I recently engaged the services of an Arabic teacher for our girls. We're Levantine Arabic snobs so we found a young Syrian woman to come over and play with the kids (and a couple of neighbor girls) in Arabic. They don't do drills or write sentences or have any kind of systematic approach to learning Arabic - Miriam and Magdalena get that (via MSA) in school. The point is for them to use real-life, every day Arabic dialect to play and communicate on a child's level.

That's the solution we've found until a bilingual education program like the one I designed for my assignment exists in real life. And believe me, I'm keeping my fingers crossed.


Kathy Haynie said...

Hooray for a mama's helper and bilingual education. A sweet win-win for everyone. Smart mama.

Najla said...


Suzanne Bubnash said...

I love this idea.

Sarah Familia said...

I'd love to see the nitty-gritties of your curriculum plan.


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