As we delve deeper into the area of educational sociolinguistics, I hope everyone is enjoying the variety of topics that we have surveyed thus far. Today, I am going to write about dialect incorporation in L2 learning settings/curriculum. I am sure most of you, if not all, have been in L2 (or L3) teaching-learning settings one way or another, i.e. as language learner (L2ers) or as language teachers. Typically, the goal of most L2ers is to become proficient in the target language (and culture) such that they actively and appropriately can participate in a range of communicative contexts and situations. Put differently, while it is vital that L2ers achieve a superb mastery of the grammar and phonology of the TL, it is pivotal that they be Sociolinguistically/interactionally competent. Part of this sociolinguistic competency, I argue, is to have a strong command of the TL dialect(s) and/or varieties; therefore, we as teachers should give them access to informal registers and dialects that are geographically and ethnically different, particularly in foreign language contexts. While textbooks and teaching materials should be designed with this goal in mind, almost all, unfortunately, however, lack this linguistic feature for a range of political and pedagogical reasons. What’s more, most language educators adhere to the prescribed curriculum. As L2 instructors, would you supplement the curriculum and consider integrating common dialectal expressions and use into your L2 activities/teaching? I know that this may be sensitive as some languages have multiple dialects, I am curious which dialect would you choose? Would you be eclectic? Or would you choose one or two dialects over others? Ultimately, we all want our students to use the language effectively and fittingly. For instance, L2ers of Arabic should be able to use and comprehend the language well whether they are in the streets of Sana’a, Damascus, or Cairo. Similarly, L2ers of French should be able to use it suitably whether they are in Quebec City or Paris, and the list goes on.
Allow me to recount my experience in this regard. During my teaching, albeit an EFL/ESL teacher, I have had the chance to teach my beautiful language, Arabic, as a foreign language in university settings to undergraduate students. I did this for over four years. At the outset, I was utterly against the very thought of teaching a dialect as it might hamper the acquisition process, I surmised. I was a huge proponent of teaching only Modern Standard Arabic—the form of Arabic that is used in educational settings, in the media, and in writing and is widely understood by all Arabs from Morocco and Mauritania in the west to Ahwaz, Oman, and Yemen in the east of Arab World. Swayed by the fact that recognizing L2ers’ needs is an essential pedagogical consideration for successful language learning, I gradually began to integrate some dialectal expressions into my teaching. However, as time went by it became more perplexing especially with respect to which dialect should be selected/focused on more and the extent to which it should be taught.
Dialects of Arabic vary greatly. Dialects of Maghreb, i.e. Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, are almost unintelligible to Eastern Arabs. Egyptian dialect is the most widely understood among Arabs given the population of Egypt and the popularity of Egyptian movies and TV series. For a similar reason, Laventine dialects, i.e. of Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan, are equally comprehensible to most Arabs. The Peninsular dialect, i.e. of Yemen and Gulf States, is arguably the closest to MSA, hence understandable to most Arabs. Given this huge disparity among these dialects, teachers of Arabic are in a difficult situation as to what dialect to choose or emphasize. Depending on which country they come from, they opt for their dialect over others which has created a lot of chaos in the field of teaching Arabic as a foreign language in most western universities, particularly in the US.
I think it is essential that dialect(s) be integrated in L2 classrooms to contribute to achieving sociolinguistic competence alluded to above. However, in the case of Arabic, I argue that it is more efficacious to teach Modern Standard Arabic initially. Once the students achieve a considerable competence in it, dialects could be taught separately by offering focused modules for each dialect. Besides the questions posed above, how would you go about integrating Arabic dialects into your teaching if you were a teacher of Arabic, given the account related above?