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Review of Formal Spoken Arabic FAST Course with MP3 Files
Date: Fri, 13 May 2005 10:19:33 +0100 From: Alex Bellem Subject: Formal Spoken Arabic: Fast Course with MP3 Files
AUTHOR: Ryding, Karin C.; Zaiback, Abdelnour TITLE: Formal Spoken Arabic SUBTITLE: Fast Course with MP3 Files SERIES: Georgetown Classics in Arabic Language and Linguistics PUBLISHER: Georgetown University Press YEAR: 2004
Alex Bellem, SOAS (University of London)
OVERVIEW This course is a book comprising one volume (215 pp. incl. glossaries and appendices) and a CD with 95 MP3 files. This reprinted version has been produced to provide updated formats of the audio material.
The course was developed from a 6-week intensive (FAST) course for US Foreign Service personnel, at whom it is primarily targeted. The choice of vocabulary taught and settings of dialogues largely reflects this. The course aims to teach what the authors term Formal Spoken Arabic, a 'hybrid' of Modern Standard Arabic and (Levantine) colloquial Arabic. The aim is to provide learners with enough Arabic to cope with communicating with educated Levantine speakers, taking the learner from a proficiency rating of 0 to at least 1+ (limited working proficiency). It is not so much a language course as a 'survival crash course' (the authors themselves state that it is 'not strictly a language course', but 'designed to make life more manageable in the host country').
The book aims to provide "realistic roleplay, listening comprehension, expansion drills, and the like" to develop linguistic creativity and build communicative competence in spoken Arabic. Throughout the book, a system of transliteration intended to be consistent and user-friendly is relied on, with only the sample dialogue of each lesson being given in Arabic script. Additionally, the authors aim to provide where appropriate "cultural notes on topics such as bartering and price haggling...or confronting a hostile authority".
CONTENTS There are 14 lessons in the course. They are preceded in the book by a useful list of the MP3 files on the CD, a four-page section of notes for the instructor, and notes and an introduction for students ('The Sounds of Arabic'), as well as a page with the letters of the Arabic script and their transliteration as used in the book. The core of the book is followed by four appendices ('Names of the Months of the Year' -- both Gregorian and Islamic; 'Arabic Names of Government Ministries'; 'Arab Countries and their Capital Cities'; 'Courtesy Expressions and Idioms of the Arab East') and by two glossaries, English-Arabic and Arabic-English.
The 14 lessons cover the following topics: 'Who are You?'; 'Taxi'; 'On the Phone'; 'I Need Help'; 'At the Gas Station'; 'At the Market Place'; 'At the Restaurant'; 'At an Arab Home'; 'Before the Party'; 'On the Phone (to the Maid)'; 'Around the House'; 'The Duty Officer'; 'Weather and Leisure Time'; 'Problems with the Police'.
Each lesson is made up as follows (components not included in all lessons are in brackets): 1. Sample dialogue (an Arab and an American interlocutor): first page in Arabic script, facing page in transliteration with English equivalent underneath. Dialogue is broken down into numbered sentences. (Some lessons have two sample dialogues.)
2. Vocabulary -- new vocabulary introduced in the dialogue (given in transliteration with English equivalent).
[3. Supplementary vocabulary -- related vocabulary, including alternative inflections of forms used in dialogue.]
4. Working with words and phrases -- practical exercises as follows: A. Matching English with Arabic -- list of English equivalents of Arabic words from dialogue to be matched with the Arabic list. B. Completion of Arabic dialogue -- transliteration of dialogue given again (without the English), with missing words to be filled in.
5. Working with sentences -- practical exercises as follows: A. Matching spoken Arabic with written English -- a listening exercise where some of the sentences from the dialogue are played, for the student to match with the English equivalents listed on the page. B. Scrambled Arabic dialogue -- each sentence of sample dialogue (minus numbers) given in random order for student to re-sequence. C. Matching English with Arabic -- English equivalents of some of the sentences from the sample dialogue to be matched with the Arabic counterparts. D. Matching written Arabic -- a selection of sentences from the dialogue are given in Arabic (transliteration) to be matched with the responses given (also in Arabic, from the dialogue). E. Translation into Arabic -- student translates the sentences from A into Arabic.
6. Working with the language -- points of grammar arising through the dialogue are explained (using the examples from the dialogue) and further exemplified. They are then drilled (pronunciation, understanding of forms given, then student's manipulation of the grammar to create new forms). Some lessons also contain 'review drills'.
7. Working with variants -- practical exercises: A. Translation into Arabic -- student translates some new sentences (topical to the subject matter of the lesson) into Arabic. B. Comprehension of spoken Arabic -- multiple choice: (new) sentences played from the CD, for student to pick correct English equivalent of three possibilities for each sentence.
8. Working with the situation -- this section is designed to aid 'communicative competence', and comprises the "cultural notes on topics...which are still vital for survival in Arabic society". There is a brief discussion of various issues raised through the subject matter of the lesson (e.g. bargaining, Arab hospitality, how to respond to hostile authorities or emergencies, etc), and suggestions made for questions to ask the teacher and situations to roleplay.
The CD is to be found inside the back cover of the book. There are 95 tracks, totalling just over 4 and a half hours listening time. For each lesson of the book there is a track for the following: * sample dialogue(s) * slowly read sample dialogue(s) * vocabulary [* supplementary vocabulary] * matching Arabic with English exercise [* grammar] *comprehension of spoken Arabic exercise
CRITICAL EVALUATION The book is clearly and intentionally aimed at US Foreign Service personnel posted to the Arab Middle East. It is noted in the foreword to this edition that post-9/11, "the acquisition of spoken Arabic has suddenly been thrust to the forefront of US national security". The course thus seems to answer some of the needs of "US diplomatic and government cadre in the field" in terms of basic communication, although it is my opinion that it does not seem to foster much interest in either the language, the people or the culture(s) of the Arab world. To encourage personnel to take up postings with the expectation that the only interaction required in Arabic is to facilitate American presence in the region seems indicative of an ethos which does not harbour respect for, or genuine understanding of, Arab culture or Arabic language and thus does not aim to foster genuine, harmonious or equal relations. This course is, in this way, purely functional, aiming to enable learners to deal with a limited number of situations from the perspective of a US government official. Thus, while clearly meeting these stated aims, I believe that the course is not entirely appropriate for other learners of Arabic. The promotional abstracts state that it is "easily adaptable for students in Middle East area studies", and that the "authors targeted the needs of...the Arabic learner population at large". There are, however, books and courses far more appropriate for other learners of Arabic, especially those with a genuine interest in the language and its speakers.
Caveat notwithstanding, the use of Formal Spoken Arabic (FSA) to maximise communicative potential is also functional ('logistical and practical'), but seems fairly successful in its aim of teaching "a form of Arabic lingua franca" as this is the "most efficient, flexible and useful brand of Arabic". The language used throughout the book is mostly a mixture of informal MSA and standardised colloquial Arabic, although where dialects diverge the default is Levantine (Syrian, Lebanese, Palestinian) Arabic. However, in this there are a few inconsistencies, although this is perhaps inevitable.
[In the following paragraphs, the following codes are used for certain phonological symbols: -- Eds.
Firstly, it is not noted that /q/ in many Levantine varieties (particularly important urban centres such as Damascus and Beirut) is realised as /?/ -- a fairly fundamental point in learning Levantine Arabic, and one that may cause misunderstanding. Secondly, some forms are used that will rarely be heard in some areas of the Levant. For example, the particles of negation taught are 'ma' and 'mish', although the negator 'mu', which is always heard in much of Syria (and Iraq, which one would expect to be highly relevant to the target audience), and the more formal verbal negator 'la' are not taught, although I feel they should at least be given as alternatives. Lastly, there are inconsistencies relating to register-switching, where colloquial forms such as 'aHibb', 'biddi' and 'ashuuf' are taught alongside 'a&rif' and 'aqdar' rather than 'baarif' and 'ba?dar'. These latter could at least have been noted as alternants, as well as the verbal prefix 'b-', as these are so commonly heard in the Levant. Also the use throughout of the verb 'talfan' for 'he telephoned' (which I have to say I've never actually heard said conversationally by Levantine speakers) rather than the more usual 'ittaSal (bi-talifoon)'. Yet we find the very colloquial 'bass' for 'only, just', and not the formal 'faqaT'. I think these issues highlight difficult choices to be made in teaching Arabic as a medium of communication due to the situation of diglossia, yet it seems that the resolution in this book is not entirely consistent. To be fair, there may well have been reasons behind the particular choices highlighted which (for obvious reasons) have not been laid down in the book itself.
Nevertheless, overall I applaud the use of FSA as extremely practical, and providing a good foundation for learning either/both any colloquial variety of Levantine Arabic and/or more formal MSA. The use of transliteration also strikes me as practical *for the target audience* (although for most other learners I think it not entirely appropriate). It is of course limiting, but, as already noted, the book is consciously so anyway. The sample dialogues are presented in Arabic script, so the onus is on the teacher to choose whether or not to familiarise learners with the script, and to make use of other resources to do so. However, I do think the book would have benefited from at least some formal familiarisation, at least in terms of enabling the learner to decipher signs and, especially, numbers, as it is quite a handicap not to be able to do so.
The transliteration scheme itself, although consistent (except for typos as discussed presently), has the small problem of not allowing distinction between certain phonemes and consonant clusters, a fundamental problem for the beginner. For example, using 'sh' to transliterate [s'] means that the learner cannot differentiate this phoneme from the cluster [sh], as in 'ishaal' [sh] vs. 'ishaara' [s']. The same problem is found for 'th' (which represents both [th] and [t']). Thus, the learner cannot differentiate 'th' in 'uxtha' [th] from 'th' in 'akthar' [t'].The same problems exist with the transliterations 'dh', 'DH' and 'gh'. Aside from this, the transliteration is user-friendly for non-linguists, although in the absence of stress and intonation being notated, it may have been helpful to have a note on stress placement, or to see a section practising this.
In terms of the layout of each lesson, the book is certainly designed as the primary resource for a course rather than as a traditional grammar. Each lesson is designed around a situation that may be encountered. The situation is introduced through a sample dialogue (both spoken and transliterated), which means that vocabulary and grammar are encountered in context. The vocabulary and grammar are then highlighted and fully drilled (pronunciation, understanding, usage and creation of new forms), with lots of practical exercises. This, the core of the course, is highly effective, thorough and learner-centred. Moreover, the layout of the grammar sections and the inclusion of two glossaries mean that the book may be used for reference after finishing the course (although it would have been helpful to have an index of grammar topics covered, as I found myself spending time leafing through the book several times to find topics again). The only criticism I have of the teaching method relates to presentation. I think any teacher using this book would need to do an awful lot of supplementing.
The presentation of the dialogues, vocabulary and exercises was rather dry, with no variation, no pictures, and nothing to really engage the learner. Although there are lots of effective exercises to drill and practise, they are all exactly the same in each lesson. Moreover, bearing in mind that this is intended to be used in a classroom, there was nothing to encourage the students to interact with each other, only with the teacher. It would have been highly useful to have developed a resource pack to accompany the book, containing group activities such as roleplays and games, a more diverse range of exercises, etc. Although the course is aimed at FS personnel, who of course don't want to be treated like primary-school kids, any teacher knows that the first rule of the classroom is to engage the students, to get them to interact with each other, and to get them to learn by being able to enjoy the subject (dare I say it, by having fun). I have to say that had I begun learning Arabic through such a book, I think I would have been rather turned off by the presentation. Even though the target learners need to acquire a basic command of Arabic for fairly specific survival needs, surely it would help to do so by fostering an interest in the language and the culture and presenting it in an enjoyable and less dispassionate way.
Moreover, even though the content is presented in a rather dry manner, presumably to avoid causing the learners to feel patronised, there were several comments which actually were patronising to the learner, and there was too much metalanguage. For example, the exercises were accompanied by instructions on where to write the answers on the page, e.g. p. 11: "Listen to the Arabic sentences on the cassette and determine which of the following English sentences corresponds in meaning to one of the recorded Arabic sentences. Write the identification for the Arabic to the left of the English equivalent below." I would also feel rather patronised if I were confronted on a language course with assertions like "Speaking on the phone in a foreign language is a special but necessary skill for anyone in a foreign country" (p. 39), or "Americans sometimes find commonplace actions by nationals of other countries puzzling" (p. 105), or "When buying fresh food in the Arab world, you may have to deal with merchants who do not speak English" (p. 69).
The cultural notes included at the end of each lesson mostly highlight an issue from the dialogue, and refer the learner to the teacher with suggestions of questions to ask and issues to roleplay with the teacher. This is useful, although not for homestudy. There are also useful strategical notes for communication with limited competence in the language.
The audio materials are invaluable for any language learner and are used consistently throughout the book. There are some errors which should have been ironed out in the editorial process, however. Notably, throughout the book the text refers to "the cassette" (e.g. p. 13: "Listen carefully to Cassette 1 (side 2)"). It would be useful for each dialogue or listening exercise to refer to the relevant CD track. There are also occasions where a word spoken is not the same as that written in the book (e.g. p. 143 'yaqDiru' on the CD, 'yaSrifu' in the book; p. 143 'aw' on the CD, 'wa' in the book, etc.). I think that in a reprinted edition, errors such as these should have been edited out, particularly as these could potentially confuse the beginner.
Unfortunately, there are also other typos and editorial inconsistencies present, and although one may expect a few errors to have crept in in a book using transliteration in conjunction with audio materials and some Arabic script, one would expect that an updated edition would also have updated any such problems, particularly as they could be problematic for the target audience: the learner of Arabic with little or no previous knowledge of it. For instance, on p. 158, the Arabic script has 'al-madina' where the CD and transliteration have 'al-manTiqa'; the title of the dialogue on p. 132 in Arabic script has 'il-muwaDHDHaf il-mas'uul', where both the CD and the transliteration have 'il- muwaDHDHaf il-munaawib'. There are also some remaining typos in the transliteration, such as p. 157 'taqaar' instead of 'taqdar'; p. 123 '-t- tanaajir wa -s-sawaani' should be '-T-Tanaajir wa -S-Sawaani'; p. 134 'qunsul' should read 'qunSul'; p. 52 'fiit' 'here is, there are' should read 'fii' 'there is, there are', among others.
Moreover, the Arabic script also needs a little editing, as it is not consistent in the use of dots under the 'yaa' or 'hamzat al-qaT&' over the 'alif', which may be confusing for learners who do choose to learn Arabic script, and therefore defeats the purpose of including it.
In summary, then, the book is deliberately of limited scope. It is useful as a teaching resource for US Foreign Service personnel being posted to eastern Mediterranean Arab countries, although to be really effective, I think the teacher would need to supplement with other material. Thus it could be considered as the backbone of a course. For any other learners of Arabic, I think there are several courses around which are far more appropriate. However, the actual teaching of vocabulary and grammar is done entirely through context and employs ample effective drilling, which is much the best way of enabling students to communicate, and shows awareness and application of proven teaching methodology. The situations chosen for the sample dialogues seem appropriate for US employees on postings who need some limited communicative competence in Arabic. However, it does mean that this book does not really succeed in being easily adaptable for Arabic-language learners of any other background or those intending to travel to Arab countries for other reasons (as it claims to be). As a non-American I felt somewhat alienated by the book, which does not really embrace a non-American audience.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Alex Bellem is a PhD candidate and tutor in the Department of Linguistics at the School of Oriental and African Studies (London). The PhD thesis she's working on focuses on the phonology of the emphatic 'family' (Semitic emphatics and non-Semitic pharyngealisation). Her research interests include: phonological theory (particularly Government Phonology, mental representations, the phonetics-phonology interface); phonology of Semitic languages (especially Arabic -- Eastern dialects); Arabic linguistics. She has also taught both ESOL and Arabic and worked as an editor on academic texts in the fields of Middle Eastern Studies and Linguistics.