UO’s Arabic language program adopts new teaching model


A team of three UO faculty members and an undergraduate student create an innovative new curriculum for first year Arabic at UO.

The “flipped classroom” model invites students to complete educational modules as homework, where they will first learn vocabulary and grammar. In-person class time will then build on the information the students have studied and offer time to practice language skills. The new program will debut next year, with the current 2021-22 academic year serving as a transition period.

Thanks to a recent Open Oregon Resource grant of $ 36,700, co-principal investigators David Hollenberg, associate professor of Arabic and Islamic studies, and Hanan Elsherif, principal professor of Arabic, will lead the transition to the new program. The rest of the team includes Abdulrahman Eissa, professor of Arabic, and Benjamin Loy, currently a UO graduate in Linguistics and Religious Studies, who has achieved advanced fluency in Arabic and Chinese and is also self-taught in Turkish and Biblical Hebrew.

“I noticed that highly motivated Arab students were losing interest because classes weren’t going as fast as they would have liked, and at the same time we were losing students who just couldn’t take the course. pace of the course, ”Hollenberg said. “This new model will really allow flexibility in the learning capacity of each student.

The material for the new courses is developed by Hollenberg, Elsherif and the team and will consist of a minimum number of modules that each student must complete. Hollenberg said the new approach establishes a baseline for students to meet and allows different levels of motivated students to continue at their own pace.

Then, in class, students will be divided into groups according to their current skill level, which will allow them to put into practice what they have learned on their own. Students will be able to move freely from one group to another as their skill levels improve or stabilize.

“Our aim is to provide a space for students who do not yet know how much they want to study Arabic and to allow them to try,” Hollenberg said. “At the same time, students who are highly motivated to study the language will be challenged and their language skills will improve.”

Arabic culture will be a major focus of the first year course, and the curriculum will also evolve into dialect, or spoken Arabic, in the first year. Arabic is diglossic, which means that there is a standard written language and a spoken language which varies from region to region.

Hollenberg said they plan to focus on Egyptian Arabic, the language of the most populous Arab country and also a cultural center. Students will also receive a foundation in Standard Arabic which will serve them in the more advanced levels after the first year.

The Arabic program works in collaboration with the new School of Global and Language Studies which will launch this fall, and its new approach to language learning is a core value of the school. Global Studies, Journalism, and Linguistics students are the top three specialties that tend to study Arabic, with language program alumni working in the foreign service, international governments, non-profit organizations, and business. or to attend law school. Hollenberg said the program has placed many students in professions involving Arabic over the past decade.

“We really rely on motivating students to learn,” Hollenberg said. “The instructor becomes more of a coach than a disciplinarian. Instructors meet students where they are at and work with them to take them to the next level. Students are empowered to take responsibility for their own learning, with the understanding that everyone learns at a different pace. I really want to see how far highly motivated students can go in this new system.

—By Victoria Sanchez, College of Arts and Sciences