October's Author of the Month goes to acclaimed author of several Routledge titles Munther Younes! He is Reis Senior Lecturer of Arabic Language and Linguistics and Director of the Arabic Program in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Cornell University, USA. In a recent interview with Routledge Language Learning, Munther Younes talked about his most recent publication, The Integrated Approach to Arabic Instruction, coming out this month. He also discusses his career and his fascination with Arabic.
Tell us about your academic career, and what spurred you to teach Arabic.
I’ve always liked languages. In college I majored in English, and after graduation worked as an English teacher. Then I obtained a graduate degree in linguistics. I would’ve been happy teaching and doing research in linguistics, but I was offered a job teaching Arabic in the US. I found teaching Arabic more interesting and more challenging because there are several issues that have for some time been the subject of heated debate in the profession. No comparable issues exist in the English or linguistics teaching professions.
What is it about Arabic you find so fascinating?
I find Arabic grammar, and Semitic grammar in general, to be fascinating. These languages have a system of roots and patterns that functions with a high degree of regularity. Aside from a limited number of foreign borrowings, the hundreds of thousands of Arabic words are derived from a few thousand roots, probably around five thousand, and under fifty commonly used patterns or word forms. Students of Arabic can make sound predictions about the pronunciation and meaning of words they had never seen before once they have recognized their roots and patterns.
I also find fascinating the fact that my students learn to function well in Arabic very early in their study of the language because, unlike the majority of other Arabic as-a-foreign-language (AFL) programs, my program uses a methodology and a set of instructional materials that match the students’ needs with the realities of the Arabic socio-linguistic situation well.
What do you think is the future of languages at university level?
I think Arabic is gradually assuming a more prominent role among the world’s major languages. There are of course economic, political, and religious reasons for this. One contributing factor to making it even more prominent is the adoption of more effective ways of introducing it to foreign learners. I hope my book will serve as a significant step in that direction.
Why did you decide to write this book?
A heated debate has been raging for the past thirty years about which variety of Arabic to introduce to the foreign learner because of the diglossic situation in the Arab world. Briefly stated, there are two versions of the language used side by side by native speakers, one, known as Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), is used for reading, writing and scripted speech, and another, known as colloquial Arabic, consists of the various regional dialects used for daily conversation. Traditionally, AFL programs have introduced MSA as the main course of instruction with some programs introducing a regional colloquial such as Levantine or Egyptian on the side. This “privileging” of MSA worked in the past when the majority of students were interested in studying Arabic in order to read old texts, but proved to be a serious handicap for the majority of modern college students studying Arabic with the goal of interacting with Arabs in their own language.
In 1990 I started an “integrated” Arabic program at Cornell University which introduced the foreign learner to both forms of Arabic, a colloquial variety (Levantine Arabic) and MSA in the same course of instruction. Integration is reflected both in the instructional materials, which were developed into the ‘Arabiyyat al-Naas series, and classroom practices. Since that time more and more teachers and program directors have been following the integrated approach. I am naturally gratified that the approach which I started is being accepted as the logical solution to the problem of Arabic diglossia by the majority of practitioners in the field. There is still some dispute about how it should be applied and at what stage. There are also a number of misunderstandings of the approach on the part of some of these practitioners. The Integrated Approach to Arabic Instruction traces the history of the integrated approach, how it is applied, challenges facing it and objections raised against it.
What’s the one thing you hope readers take away from your book?
A clear understanding of what “integration” in Arabic instruction really means and how to implement it successfully.
What’s a common misconception about this topic that you’d like to clear up?
The main misconception is the belief among some teachers and program directors that introducing MSA and a colloquial variety in two separate tracks, whether simultaneously or consecutively, is sufficient to prepare students for the realities of modern Arabic. Integration means one textbook and one classroom for both varieties and the simultaneous introduction of both in a way that truly reflects native speaker practice.
For a full list of Muther Younes' Routledge works, click here.
The Integrated Approach to Arabic Instruction introduces teachers to the features of an integrated Arabic program—one that simultaneously teaches the two varieties of the language, Modern Standard Written Arabic and the dialect, in a way that reflects the authentic practice of native Arabic speakers. This pedagogy, Younes argues, is the most logical, effective and economical method of instruction as it prepares students fully for the realities of the Arabic diglossic situation.
More information about this title can be found here.