Antonio Giménez Fri 7 Jul 2017 10:38AM

Welcome to this thread.


Rasha Soliman Mon 10 Jul 2017 1:14PM

Dear Antonio, thank you for creating this. Would you like me to invite others to this discussion group?


Antonio Giménez Mon 10 Jul 2017 5:27PM

Yes, please. You can invite whoever you want. My university supports an open academic environment, OAE, which I think it's still a rather limited tool but we can try it as well:



wahran Thu 13 Jul 2017 8:17AM

Dear Rasha
شكرا جزيلا for your email and invitation to join this discussion group, and Muchas Gracias, dear Antonio for providing this online space that will facilitate what I am sure is going to be a thriving discussion on CEFR for Arabic teaching. Saadia


Antonio Giménez Thu 13 Jul 2017 2:25PM

Hi, Saadia and all of our new members. I will start by introducing myself: my name is Antonio Giménez and I've been a lecturer in Arabic at the University of Murcia (southeastern Spain) since 2006. As every other language teacher working for a public institution in my country, I'm supposed (and try as hard as I can) to adhere to CEFR.

This discussion group originates in a somewhat wicked tweet I posted after reading Rasha Soliman's forthcoming contribution to the Handbook for Arabic Language Teaching Professionals in the 21st Century, Volume II.


Rasha Soliman Tue 18 Jul 2017 9:19PM

Thank you all for joining. I think Antonio's idea of introducing ourselves is great. I'll start: My name is Rasha Soliman and I am a Lecturer of Arabic Language at the University of Leeds.


Rasha Soliman Tue 18 Jul 2017 9:25PM

So let's start.... Again it was Antonio who instigated a question about the application of CEFR to the teaching of Arabic. The question as I recall:

If we are to use the framework, do we make the content we teach conform to the content/skills suggested by the CEFR for each of the six levels or do we amend the CEFR itself to accommodate the specifications of the Arabic language?


Antonio Giménez Wed 19 Jul 2017 12:56PM

"The Common European Framework", reads the CEFR itself, "provides a common basis for the elaboration of language syllabuses, curriculum guidelines, examinations, textbooks, etc." (p. 1).

The thing is: have we already tried to elaborate those language syllabuses and curriculum guidelines for Arabic? If yes, has the CEFR proved to be inadequate? And if yes again, why exactly?

My answer to the first question is yes and to the second one is no, which is why I would like to know where this alleged inadequacy exactly lies.


Rasha Soliman Thu 20 Jul 2017 7:37PM

Thanks Antonio! The way I see the CEFR is that it's a set of principles more than a syllabus or a list of learning outcomes. In the introduction of the CEFR document (the notes for the user section), it emphasizes that a CEFR scale can be compiled to suit different needs/languages/settings as long as it fulfills the CEFR principles of transparency, comprehensiveness and coherence. In the same section p.5 it says:

"Given these fundamental aims, the Council encourages all those concerned with the organisation of language learning to base their work on the needs, motivations, characteristics and resources of learners. This means answering questions such as:
• What will l earners need to do with the language?
• What do they need to learn in order to be able to use the language to achieve those ends?
• What makes them want to learn?
• What sort of people are they (age, sex, social and educational background, etc.)
• What knowledge, skills and experiences do their teachers possess?
• What access do they have to course books, works of reference (dictionaries, grammars, etc.),
audio-visual aids, computer hard - and software, etc.?
• How much time can they afford (or are willing, or able) to spend?"

The document later on in chapter 3 presents the detailed scale that was developed by the Swiss National Science Research Council project for the teaching of European languages as a rigorous example of how the CEFR's principles can be applied. This is the scale that has been widely and successfully applied to the teaching of European languages and indeed it is a very useful and detailed set of descriptors that ought to be referred to when teaching non-European languages too.

So to sum up, what I want to say here is that the detailed scale that was developed by the Swiss National Science Research Council and which is usually the one that is referred to as the CEFR scale is extremely useful to apply to the teaching of Arabic but at the same time, in order to fulfill the CEFR principles, it's crucial to consider the linguistic and the sociolinguistic aspects of Arabic which differ from European languages and to try and integrate these differences into a CEFR proficiency scale that meets the learning needs and the nature of Arabic. So, I believe it should go both ways.


Nadim Mahjoub Thu 20 Jul 2017 10:34AM

Hello! My name is Nadim نديم and I teach Arabic at LSE and International House London.

I will be posing a more fundamental question: We have been teaching MSA more or less according to CEFR. The question is that it is a waste of time teaching topics of functional Arabic in MSA. Most institutions have been doing that a nd students have been learning standard grammar, but they are not able to manage a real situation and when they try they find themselves in an embarrassing situation because they have used MSA.

There is an urgent to need to overhaul the teaching-learning approach to Arabic in Europe. In the US, esp. in places where Al-Kitaab is used, is much better, for they they are following the integrated approach (IA).

At LSE we are experimenting with the IA this year, hopefully.

So the issue is not about CEFR, but it is about teaching CEFR syllabus, in a major dialect.


Antonio Giménez Thu 20 Jul 2017 6:52PM

Hi, Nadim.

In my opinion, there is no way to teach Arabic according to CEFR without teaching a dialect, then MSA, from the very beginning, so that a basic user (A1) "can understand everyday expressions aimed at the satisfaction of simple needs" as well as "write a short simple postcard"; and no better way to do this than following the integrated approach, which Al-Kitaab, as far as I know, does not do, however much spoken varieties it may include. Actually, at least in its first editions, students are taught to talk about the same subjects first in MSA, then in Egyptian Arabic, as if they were interchangeable, when they are supposed to complement, not duplicate, each other, as Munther Younes has pointed out (The Integrated Approach to Arabic Instruction, 2015, p. 55).

So yes, I couldn't agree more: it is not CEFR what is at issue, but whether we are willing and able to get over "the MSA fiction", as a colleague of mine has called it, in order to conform to the framework and, what is more, to better serve our students.


Rasha Soliman Thu 20 Jul 2017 9:26PM

Ahlan ya Nadim, تشرفنا

I think it will be very good to try the integrated Approach in teaching in the new academic year, reflect on its use and share with us your thoughts.

One of the things that I really admire about the IA is its courage in exposing the learners to the reality of variation in Arabic from the beginning. This is a reality that the traditional approaches have not been honest about or neglected for various reasons. The limitation that I see in the IA - and I could be wrong in this - is its limitation to one spoken dialect.

Nadim, I still teach mostly MSA only (but that's not my decision though). I used to feel that same sense of guiltiness that you mentioned, but i don't feel it as much now since I started incorporating elements of cross-dialectal exposure into my teaching of level 1 (A1 and part of A2). Meaning that I frequently tell and expose the students to the dialectal variation that exists in the urban regions of the Arab world. E.g. when we do the basic question and answer of "How are you?" "I'm fine". I introduce different ways of saying it including the artificial formal MSA "Kayfa Haaluka" and also refer to the phonological differences across varieties in diphthongs of "ay" in "kayfa" that becomes "ai" or "ee" some spoken varieties. I also ask them to research and find out themselves how certain linguistic elements differ across the varieties and come back to class to feedback and share their findings with everyone. I'm trying to use a variationist approach and get the learners of Arabic used to this aspect of variation from the very beginning. By doing this - yet with caution not to overload their learning - we can really achieve some of the skills that Antonio mentioned such as "the ability to understand everyday expressions aimed at the satisfaction of simple needs". Whatever they say themselves, especially at the A1/2 levels, whether in MSA or in any spoken varieties, will be understood by the "sympathetic interlocutor" that is referred to in the CEFR framework. A good student who has been exposed to variations would also make the effort to amend his speaking according to the setting.

In order to develop a variationist approach, there should be a strand in the CEFR scale that lists the elements of variations that the students should be aware of by the end of each level. This could start with the simplest elements of phonological and lexical variations and progress to the more complex syntactic and morphological differences. This is when I feel that it's not enough to apply the CEFR to Arabic but to add/amend the current CEFR scale for European languages to suit the nature of Arabic and its use.

Another factor that makes me feel that the current scale needs amendments to suit Arabic is the cultural differences between European languages speaking communities and the Arabic speaking communities. For instance, the example that Antonio mentions of the "ability to write a postcard" is not a common task in the Arabic culture and even if it existed in the past, it's probably disappearing totally now with the new tech methods of communications. Therefore, I think such a cultural differences must be taken account of when designing a scale for Arabic teaching.

By the way, I'm really enjoying this conversation :)


Nadim Mahjoub Thu 20 Jul 2017 11:31PM

Hi Antonio

Al-Kitaab incorporated Egyptian in its 2004 edition then incorporated both Agyptian and Shāmī in its 2011 edition. The way it is structured says it is using the IA. Mamoud Albatal has written a book on the subject to be published in December.


Nadim Mahjoub Fri 21 Jul 2017 11:04AM

تشرفنا بحضرتك يا رشا

شكرا على الإضافة والتعليق.

أظن أنه لا توجد مشكلة فيما تصيفينه بمحدودية المنهجية المندمجة لأنها تدمج لهجة واحدة. يمكن دمج وتعليم أكثر من لهجة والكتاب مثلا يقوم بذلك. المسألت تتوقف على أهداف الدروس وما يلبي رغبات المتعلم الحياتية أو الأكاديمية .

أنا مع تعليم اللهجة المصرية (القاهرية) والشامية (أو اختيار واحدة من فروعها: الدمشقية مثلا). فيما يتقلق بالمواقف اليومية ولأنها لجهات واسعة النتشار نسبيا. أما إذا كان الفصل أو الطالب يحتاج إلى "الخليجية" أو النغربية فهذا أمر ثان.

المهم الآن هو القيام بمحاولات تدريس العربية المعاصرة مع لهجة أو لهجتين واستخلاص النتائج من ذلك.


Antonio Giménez Fri 21 Jul 2017 11:11AM

Yes, I know. Al-Batal is the editor of Arabic as One Language. Integrating Dialect in the Arabic Language Curriculum and in the 3rd (2011) edition of Al-Kitaab he and his colleagues acknowledge that "following the highly successful testing of a new approach", they "have decided to introduce the story in dialect before working with it in formal Arabic". Those of us who are familiar with the 2nd edition, the authors say, "will notice the order of presentation of the formal and spoken versions of the story within each lesson has changed" (p. xv). But you still have versions of the same story, القصة بالعامية and القصة بالفصحى, and changing the order of the operands does not change the result, as the commutative property tells us, does it?

The question remains whether this parallel presentation leads to complementation or duplication. Should students write a short biography for Maha in "formal Arabic" very soon after they have listened to her speaking about herself in Egyptian, as required in lesson 1? Furthermore, should they listen to her telling her story in both Egyptian and MSA, everything in the space of a few pages?

This said, I wouldn't like to get off the subject. We might agree that Al-Kitaab last edition can be somehow exploited in an integrative setting, but we might still have to discuss whether it would suit a CEFR-based curriculum or not.


Antonio Giménez Fri 21 Jul 2017 11:41AM

وما الهدف يا ترى من تعليم الطلاب أكثر من لهجة؟ كنا في الماضي القريب وحتى الآن لا نعلمهم أي واحدة وأصبحنا نعلمهم لهجتين بين ليلة وضحاها؟!‏

هل جميع أبناء اللغة يتكلمون لهجتين؟

أما رجوعاً إلى الكتاب فهو لا يقوم ولا ينصح بذلك على الاطلاق:‏

"Al-Kitaab Part One introduces two varieties of spoken Arabic in addition to a formal register. The goal here, however, is not for all three varieties to be learned. Rather, the goal is for the class to choose one variety of spoken Arabic and learn it along with the formal Arabic" (2011, p. xvi).


Nadim Mahjoub Fri 21 Jul 2017 3:43PM

Personally, I have not suggested a particular book. I merely pointed out to what it exists. After all, Alkitaab is designed for the academic courses. Thus it doesn't contain enough functional Arabic. I would say it contains little of it.

I was referring to the IA in Alkitaab.

As an example, I think initially speaking about the family, friends, etc should be in a major dialect. Writing a biography should be in both. Why? Stuents learns the grammar which can use later to write a biograpgy about Ibn Khadun, for example. I think it depends on how you as a teacher prepare and construct your mateial and course.


Nadim Mahjoub Fri 21 Jul 2017 3:50PM

لا، لم أقصد فرض تعليم اللهجتين حين استعملت الواو في جملتي. . ما أقصده هو أن تكون اللهجتان في البرنامج الدراسي


Rasha Soliman Fri 21 Jul 2017 4:42PM

صحيح! فكرة تعليم الطالب أن يتحدث بلهجتين هدف غير واقعي وغير مطلوب ولكن المطلوب هو أن يكون الطالب على دراية بالاختلافات اللغوية بين اللهجات تماماً كدراية متحدثي العربية بالاختلافات بين لهجاتهم. فأنا أتكلم المصرية ولا أتكلم أي لهجة أخرى بطلاقة ولكن مقدرتي على فهم اللهجات الأخرى تفوق قدرتي على تكلمها بمراحل


Antonio Giménez Fri 21 Jul 2017 5:16PM

المعذرة! لقد أسأت فهمك. مع ذلك فإن تعليم لهجتين قد يتطلب كذلك وضع برنامجين دراسيين مختلفين خصوصاً إذا كانت هاتان اللهجتان بعيدتين عن بعضهما.‏

هذا ولا أعتقد أن ما يقوم به الكتاب، مثلاً، من عرض المفردات المصرية والشامية جنباً إلى جنب (مما يعرقل تركيز الطالب) هو ناتج عن أي اعتبارات تعليمية.‏


Rasha Soliman Fri 21 Jul 2017 5:24PM

كيف تقوم يا أنتونيو بتدريس الفصحى والدارجة المغربية بشكل يختلف عن أسلوب الكتاب؟ ألا تطلب من الطلاب أيضا المقارنة بالمفردات المغربية والفصيحة؟


Antonio Giménez Fri 21 Jul 2017 7:21PM

أنا لا أقدم المفردات الدارجة والفصيحة بشكل مواز ومتزامن (يعني الطلاب لا يتعلمون كلمتي «صبّاط» و«حذاء»، مثلاً، في الوقت نفسه) وخصوصاً لا أقدم نفس المفردات بلهجة أخرى غير المغربية التي يتعلمها طلابي، في حين يقدم الكتاب كل مفرد جديد بكل من الفصحى والشامية والمصرية مما يعرّض الطالب لثلاثة ألفاظ (واحد منها بلهجة يفترض أنه لا يدرسها) وكأن اللفظ الفصيح ونظيره العامي متساويا الأهمية والإفادة دائماً بغض النظر عن السياق والمستوى.‏

سأعطيك مثالاً بسيطاً: إن طلابي لا يسمعون ولا يقرأون «لماذا» إلا بعد أن تدرّبوا باستمرار على استخدام الأداة المغربية للسؤال عن السبب، «علاش»، وتمكنوا منها.‏


Antonio Giménez Thu 20 Jul 2017 11:18PM

Of course, CEFR is not a syllabus. The thing, again, is whether we need "a CEFR proficiency scale that meets the learning needs and the nature of Arabic" or just a reference level description for Arabic, as there are for other languages, like Spanish: an RLD for Arabic that could serve as a base for developing different curricula and syllabuses.

It is people, to start with, not languages, who have "learning needs". But, again, where exactly does the CEFR, or its scales for that matter, fall short of meeting our needs or addressing the nature of Arabic?

Do we need to amend the current CEFR in order to develop a variationist approach? Why?

Most Spaniards do not write postcards anymore (except for Lourdes!), but I don't think this is a major issue: we do send emails, chat, etc. In any case, who has never wondered what's the point of teaching beginners how to say 'reindeer' in Arabic, as some translated resources propose?

What you are doing know, Rasha, is what I used to call "a committed approach to TAFL", before I myself started integrating Moroccan Arabic and MSA (or teaching Arabic "as spoken and written in Morocco"). Most Arabic speakers in the Region of Murcia, where I live and teach, and in the rest of Spain, come from Morocco. Should I teach my students to approach them by saying كيف حالك؟ or simply كي داير؟, for example? Which one are they supposed to hear the most as they start taking their first steps? In choosing to teach كيف حالك؟ first, or instead of كي داير؟, would I be faithful to them and the CEFR or to tradition?


Rasha Soliman Fri 21 Jul 2017 5:21PM

You're right Antonio, in the setting as in Murcia where the Arabic speaking community is mostly Moroccans, it's definitely the common sense to start with, integrate and focus on the darijah when it comes to productive skills (speaking and even writing when texting in darijah).

The setting in the UK is complex. First, as you mentioned the MSAfiction is a widely applied concept that is VERY difficult to change in the UK. I am personally flexible and I have taught the dialect to all levels before and I clearly see the point in using an IA for example but it's difficult to swim against the current.

Second, the Arabic speaking community here is very diverse with no single dialect for a majority. Third, our students are also very diverse in their backgrounds and needs. In the UK, we have heritage learners from allover the Arab world, we have a large number of Muslim Asian background and we have a large number of British and European non-heritage students. All come with their own baggage of motivations and backgrounds. In fact, it's this diversity that is used as one of the reasons by the pro MSA-only approach not to teach a dialect as they see the teaching of a certain dialect an imposition on the learners.

Anyway, I want to clarify that I have never been against the teaching of dialects. In fact, I have been attacked a number of times for my support to dialect teaching :| What I'm hoping to work on is a scale that can be flexible enough to accommodate the different needs and the different approaches yet delivers learning outcomes that provide for the wider learning needs. I believe that if the scale does address the learning needs and it's based on a combination of intuition, qualitative and quantitative methods, then it's a CEFR scale or an RLD if that's more appropriate.


Antonio Giménez Fri 21 Jul 2017 10:52PM

Complexity, of course, complicates everything! Yet I don't think it is much more difficult to challenge the "MSA fiction" there than it is here, where most teachers are non-native (non-)speakers of Arabic with an Orientalist background and traditionally little interest, if any, in teaching Arabic for communicative purposes; and where, in my very personal opinion, those few who seem to care about TAFL either are too afraid of upsetting "the tribal elders" or just want to whitewash the situation, trying to convince no other than Munther Younes himself, for example, that IA is OK, but, alas, not for Moroccan Arabic, in an attempt to "swim while keeping an eye on one's clothes", as we say in Spanish (i.e., to hedge their bets).

Younes, again, has addressed many of the objections commonly raised against IA (op cit, p. 46-56), such as the one you mention, so I won't enlarge upon that. Whatever dialect, I think, is always much better than no dialect, then no one seems to realize that teaching MSA only is an imposition as well.


Rasha Soliman Sat 22 Jul 2017 12:41PM

This is really insightful Antonio! You're right, teaching MSA only is an imposition as well and out of the two descriptions you gave above, I think I'm the former - too tired (not afraid) of upsetting the tribal elders :)

I have to confess also that as I have never had the chance to use the IA in teaching, I will never have 100% understanding of how it's applied even when I am not against it and totally believe in the rationale behind it .

I have a question for you as you have the experience of using the IA. What are the limitations or disadvantages (if any) of using the IA?


Antonio Giménez Sat 22 Jul 2017 6:29PM

I have written in my blog about the difficulties one may encounter in giving the Integrated Approach a try, just in case some of you can read Spanish: first, those arising from the academic environment and setting, then, the intrinsic ones: from curriculum and syllabus design to the teaching resources at hand. But once in the classroom, I haven't found any limitations or disadvantages in the approach itself since I started fully applying it in late January 2015. At most, and I have blogged about this too, you should expect some students not to appreciate being taught a dialect, either because they already speak one (heritage learners, especially those with some previous background in MSA) or because they deem it irrelevant for their careers (mainly armchair wannabe Arabists), yet this is not something we can blame on the IA. It is often colleagues who turn students against dialect learning.

All this said, please keep in mind that I only teach levels A1-A2. Higher levels might pose some problems I am unaware of.


Rasha Soliman Tue 1 Aug 2017 11:03PM

Thanks a lot Antonio for this and for the links to your blog. I am sorry also for not being much active as I'm on leave at the moment. I will be back online soon to continue our discussion and will remind other colleagues to log in and check the conversation.

Enjoy the summer time!


Antonio Giménez Wed 2 Aug 2017 8:41AM

Thank you, Rasha. I will be on leave, too, for a few weeks. I hope you and all the colleagues here enjoy this time, away from TAFL and CEFR!


Rasha Soliman Fri 21 Jul 2017 4:52PM

If we go back to the question of the possibility of amending the current detailed CEFR scale content/skills to suit the aims of teaching Arabic language, I personally think that we should make some amendments, such as the example we mentioned above of "writing postcards" which can easily be changed to "texting on social media" for example. Or to add to the skills of "the ability to understand basic questions such as how are you and where are you from" the phrase "in the major urban dialects".

I don't see such amendments to be negating the principles of the CEFR but actually, they are inline with them. and I wish that a group of us could spare the time and sit together to analyse each skill in the scale and reflect on how to Arabize it from a cultural and a sociolinguistic point of view.


Antonio Giménez Fri 21 Jul 2017 5:36PM

Those "amendments" (I would rather say improvements) can be easily introduced in an RDL for Arabic, where you can specify at which level a student is expected to understand basic questions (i.e., in the dialect he or she is learning, clearly at A1) and at which one he or she is expected to understand the same questions posed in some other well-known dialects.