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MSU's STARTALK aids Arabic teachers

July 28, 2010

Learning Arabic can be difficult for both native speakers and newcomers to the language.

But MSU’s Detroit Center hopes to give educators useful strategies for this task during a two-week STARTALK workshop.

The national program to improve the teaching of languages, including Chinese, Arabic and Hindi, began Monday and continues through Aug. 6. This year’s theme is “Teaching and Learning Arabic in Action,” she said.

The first week of the fourth annual program focuses on providing middle and high school Arabic teachers tips and tricks for teaching the language, said Wafa Hassan, the program’s director and outreach coordinator for MSU’s Arabic Language Instruction Flagship program.

The second week allows teachers to implement what they have learned with students in a classroom setting at Bridge Academy in Hamtramck, Mich.

“We are focusing this year on engaging the community and teaching the language,” Hassan said.

Hassan received a grant of about $90,000 from the National Foreign Language Center, or NFLC, at the University of Maryland to conduct the workshop.

Both heritage and new speakers of Arabic benefit from formal language instruction, Hassan said.

“Even though they are heritage speakers, they don’t know the language very well,” she said. “They learn the importance of the language, and it’s empowering for them.”

Students who speak Arabic with their families find learning the language easier than those who are new to it, said Hiba Safah, an Arabic teacher at Riverside Academy West in Dearborn, Mich., who is attending the classes.

Different levels of knowledge and experience warrant the use of many teaching styles and strategies, Safah said.

“I use the book and a lot of technological resources, also listening and speaking with visual aides,” she said. “We don’t use English in the class.”

Students have various reasons to learn Arabic, Safah said.

“I’m trying to use both the formal and informal way of speaking the language,” she said. “They want to use it for traveling or other things.”

Many employment opportunities require language familiarity or fluency, and students want to prepare for their futures, Hassan said.

“National agencies, state agencies, corporations and language services providers report shortages in qualified personnel,” said Catherine Ingold, director of the NFLC and a STARTALK principal investigator, in an e-mail.

Detroit has a large number of Arabic speakers, and there is a lack of multi-year educational programs in non-European languages in the U.S., Ingold said. Funding programs such as STARTALK is vital.

“We need our workforce to have skills in a range of languages because the U.S. interacts with most of the world’s nations,” she said.

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