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Review of  Standard Arabic

Reviewer: Rachel Hayes
Book Title: Standard Arabic
Book Author: Günther Krahl Wolfgang Reuschel Eckehard Schulz
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
Subject Language(s): Arabic, Standard
Issue Number: 12.1580

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Schulz, Eckehard, Guenther Krahl, and Wolfgang Reuschel (2000).
Standard Arabic: An elementary-intermediate course. Cambridge
University Press. (Translated into English by E. Schulz). 641 pp.

Rachel Lee Hayes, University of Arizona

Standard Arabic: An elementary-intermediate course is designed for
beginners through intermediate learners of spoken and written Modern
Standard Arabic (MSA). This review will first summarize the
organization and structure of the textbook, followed by an evaluation
of the authors' success in achieving their pedagogical goals.

This textbook aims to teach MSA, the standardized form of Arabic that
unites most of the Arabic world. Each of the book's twenty-eight
lessons consists of two or three grammar points, a list of new
vocabulary, two practice texts, and exercises that review the lesson's
contents. The grammatical explanations are detailed and precise, and
assume sophisticated metalinguistic knowledge on the part of the
learner. Some of the exercises at the end of the lessons are purely
grammar-oriented (e.g., students are asked to fill blanks in sentences
with the appropriate prepositions), some are communicative (e.g.,
students are directed in role-plays), some are designed to practice
vocabulary (e.g., students form novel sentences using the lesson's new
vocabulary), and some reinforce rote memorization of set phrases (e.g.,
students repeat Arabic greetings after the teacher).

Throughout the lessons, the authors make frequent and explicit
reference to the language teaching philosophies they adopt in the
textbook, explaining the purpose of the exercises they suggest. Most of
the exercises assume that a teacher will be directing the student, but
learners who want to use the book for study without an instructor can
purchase accompanying audio cassettes.

By the end of the final lesson, learners have been introduced to the
basics of MSA grammar, a 2600-word vocabulary, and communicative
exercises designed to provide learners with the tools necessary in
basic Arabic conversation. In the introduction to the book, the authors
describe their goal as facilitating the acquisition of basic Arabic
reading, writing, and conversation. I will evaluate the textbook with
this goal in mind, and I will assume that the intended audience is
learners in high school and college. The effectiveness of the textbook
will be evaluated in consideration of the following five questions: (1)
Is the teaching philosophy adopted in the textbook conducive to the
most efficient language learning? (2) Does the textbook provide a
complete curriculum for teachers? (3) Does the textbook make learning
Arabic interesting and fun? (4) Can the textbook be used for reference
by students? and (5) Does the textbook give learners the tools
necessary to promote future, independent learning?

Is the teaching philosophy adopted in the textbook conducive to the
most efficient language learning? This textbook is organized formally,
around grammar lessons and vocabulary lists. An alternative, widely-
used organizing principle in language pedagogy is more functional; that
is, lessons are designed to lead students through real-life situations,
such as meeting new people and going to the grocery store. While both
methods have their pros and cons depending on the language learning
style of the students, the grammar lessons in this book assume an
unrealistically sophisticated understanding of grammatical terminology,
and lessons are almost exclusively organized around grammatical points;
as an example, lesson nineteen includes the following subsections: "The
Passive Voice," "About the Construction of Doubly Transitive Verbs,"
and "Some Characteristic Features of the Derived Forms," reminiscent of
the notorious grammar translation method of second language teaching.
Language learners at the high school and college level are generally
not sufficiently versed in the terminology necessary to understand the
detailed grammatical explanations in this book. However, for the
minority of students who can benefit from such specialized grammatical
explanations, the book should prove very useful.

Does the textbook provide a complete curriculum for teachers? This
textbook provides a comprehensive set of grammar goals for the teacher
of beginning Arabic, and it presents lessons complete with reading,
writing, and speaking exercises. The book additionally leaves
sufficient room for teachers to incorporate their own exercises in the
language learning classroom, a feature that is beneficial when teachers
are highly motivated and well-trained. Does the textbook make learning
Arabic interesting and fun? A drawback of this textbook is its failure
to entertain learners. As an example, there are no pictures in the
book; this requires that all vocabulary be taught via translation from
English (rather than via pictures). As learner motivation is one of the
most influential factors in second language learning success, I believe
that this book will be useful only to the most self-motivated and
dedicated learners.

Can the textbook be used for reference by students? This textbook is an
excellent reference book for learners of Arabic, as the explanations of
the grammar points are extremely clear and detailed. Also, the table of
contents clearly lists each lesson's grammar points, so learners can
quickly look to the textbook for reminders. Also, at the end of the
book there is a Arabic-English glossary, a set of tables summarizing
the verb and noun forms, and a subject index in Arabic and English.

Does the textbook give learners the tools necessary to promote future,
independent learning? Lesson one rightly begins with an introduction to
the Arabic orthography, and the textbook subsequently writes almost all
Arabic words in the Arabic script (and not in a romanized
approximation). Familiarity with the Arabic writing system is crucial
to future, independent learning, as students can leave their beginning
Arabic course with the ability to read and write. Also, although the
textbook primarily teaches MSA, many exercises make references to more
colloquial forms of Arabic, giving learners the flexibility to extend
the Arabic they learn in the classroom to accommodate the variations
that they are more likely to experience in real life situations.
Overall, this textbook very clearly lays out the basics of Arabic
grammar and vocabulary suitable to the beginning second language
learner, and is well-suited to the sophisticated and highly motivated
language student. However, it fails to entertain students, and would
therefore require much supplementary work on the part of the teacher,
and should not be used as the basis for any high-school or
undergraduate level Arabic language courses except as a reference
supplement to more interactive and stimulating curriculum.

Rachel Lee Hayes is working towards a Ph.D. in linguistics and
cognitive science at the University of Arizona, and holds a M.A. from
the University of South Carolina in linguistics with a specialization
in second language acquisition.