Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Serving the Less-Commonly-Trained Teacher: Perspectives from Arabic Instructors

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Serving the Less-Commonly-Trained Teacher: Perspectives from Arabic Instructors

Article excerpt

Many less-commonly-taught languages (LCTLs) have seen such dramatic growth over the last two decades that the demand for qualified instructors and quality materials has outpaced supply. Among these, Arabic enrollments and programs have expanded faster than any other foreign language, with six-fold growth in the first decade of this century (Goldberg, Looney, & Lusin, 2015). While there is a long tradition of teaching Arabic in the U.S. for the purposes of scholarship and in religious contexts, the recent expansion has clearly been driven by sociopolitical concerns. As a result, the diversity of individuals who choose to study Arabic and the complexity of their motivations have expanded along with their numbers.

More than a decade ago, Allen (2007) stated that "Arabic is now firmly on the public screen, and universities, liberal arts colleges, community colleges, and pre-college schools, both primary and secondary, are taking an interest in Arabic and Islam" and, consequently, "they are all seeking help, guidance, and advice from the small number of those who possess expertise in the Arabic language and its pedagogy" (p. 260). Since then, Arabic instructors have made strides in designing curricula, developing materials, and establishing effective pedagogical practices (Wahba, Taha, & England, 2006). Meanwhile, many new instructors have sought to enter the field via traditional and non-traditional paths.

Becoming a master teacher of any foreign language is fraught with challenges, particularly for aspiring teachers who have high levels of proficiency in the language but little training in pedagogy. Teaching a foreign language effectively involves a constellation of skills that has not been fully explored and mapped, particularly in regard to LCTLs. Linguistic proficiency, as complex as it is, accounts for only a fraction of the pedagogical knowledge and abilities that teachers need in order to successfully promote second language acquisition. Aspiring teachers need to be able implement their knowledge to serve the needs of various learners, and they must reflect on their practices in order to grow (De Felice & Lypka, 2013; Murphy, 2014; Olsen, 2016).

For proficient users of the target language who want to begin careers as instructors, what barriers do they face as they seek professionalization in the field? How do they go about building the pedagogical skills that will complement and mobilize their linguistic skills? What credentials can they and must they gain in order to demonstrate these skills to administrators who might hire them as instructors?

The research we discuss here provides insights into the challenges faced by current and prospective teachers of Arabic. Focusing on two specific emerging professionals, it aims to identify many of the issues and challenges that such instructors face and to shed light on their professional development needs. As faculty in a master's program for teachers of many foreign languages, we hoped that this process of inquiry would inform our own curriculum and the issues raised by these individuals will resonate with the experiences of others who aspire to teach Arabic and other LCTLs.

Common Challenges for Aspiring Teachers of LCTLs

Arabic instructors, like instructors of many other prominent LCTLs such as Chinese, Korean, and Russian, share a range of difficulties that are not relevant for teachers of commonly-taught languages. In addition to the small-number of qualified teachers, there is a much narrower selection of materials, including textbooks and technological resources, and much less research on effective instruction for learners of these languages. At the same time, there is a widespread belief that these languages may require far more time on task in order for learners to reach levels of proficiency that will sustain the use of these languages for professional purposes. Almost all of these languages use orthographic systems that differ considerably from that of English, share very few cognates, and open up sociocultural and pragmatic considerations that will be unfamiliar to many U. …

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