How AUI Professors are Changing the Way Arabic is Learned

The Mohammed VI Library held its 48th Edition of Honoring AUI Authors on September 19, 2018, which featured Dr. Abdellah Chekayri (SHSS), Dr. Mohammed Bounejma (SHSS) and Dr. Violetta Cavalli-Sforza (SSE), all of whom are AUI Professors. All three professors gave a presentation centered around the theme of the event, "New Approaches to Teaching Reading in Arabic".

 

Dr. Chekayri recently released his latest publication, "تدريس القراءة باللغة العربية: مقاربات جديدة" called "Teaching Arabic Reading: New Approaches" in English, by Al Akhawayn University Press 2018 (in Arabic). The publication of this book coincides with the University's involvement and continuous support of the reform process in the education sector in Morocco, especially regarding reading in Arabic, which is a cornerstone of the learning process and the most important measure of evaluating the effectiveness of any educational system. The book seeks to provide educators and policymakers in the Arab world with a reference for the subject of reading in Arabic, while also offering the best practices for teaching in the early years of basic education and providing successful experiences in other countries.

 

The presentation of the book was preceded by a roundtable about “Reading and Literacy” with Dr. Bounajma presenting readings in the book chapters. Dr. Cavalli-Sforza, on the other hand, discussed the current state of the Arabic readability assessment. Her presentation focused on the importance of developing good reading skills at an early age which allows students to gain access to information and leads them to academic success.

 

In a literate society, readability assessment is concerned with determining whether a text is suitable for a specific reader or group of readers in terms of its complexity in relation to the skills and knowledge of the reader. Matching a text to a reader is important in order to avoid frustration and disengagement, and to allow learning to occur. Hand-crafted graded readers (text collections) have been in use for some time in school and in foreign language instruction to develop reading and language skills. Now, natural language processing technology enables analyzing a text and assigning it a certain difficulty level. Computerized readability assessment tools have been developed for English, with the most recent ones relying on psycholinguistic theories of text processing, as well as on significant investment in language resources, including corpora and databases of linguistic information. While Arabic has followed the path of English in its approach to assessing readability, significantly fewer resources have been put at its disposal, and Arabic has its own specificities as a language that complicates the process. For this reason, while we have seen some interesting research in readability for Arabic both as the first language and as second or foreign language, the results to date are not sufficiently reliable to be truly useful in evaluating texts and assigning them a grade level.  In reference to this topic, Dr. Cavalli-Sforza said, “More investment is needed in well-designed resources, and more attention should be paid to individual differences in learning. The case of Arabic readability assessment also deserves particular attention because children receiving schooling in Arabic do not speak the formal written Arabic they study in schools in their daily life, and may indeed not even speak Arabic at home”.