Ask Away: 5 Questions for a Future Teacher of Arabic
We’re asking students, teachers, and counselors five questions on how languages play a role in shaping personal and professional success…
Meet Casey—a Hampshire College grad and heritage speaker of Korean, now earning her MA in Teaching Arabic as a Modern Foreign Language.
1. You graduated from Hampshire College with a degree in Arabic Language and Literature. Now you’re gearing up to study Teaching Arabic as a Modern Foreign Language at Boston University. What inspired you to study Arabic?
I was five years old and 30 miles away from New York City when the Twin Towers came crashing down. I knew no one who came from an Arabic-speaking country growing up, and I didn’t know anything about the culture or the language when I entered college. I think people have a social responsibility to learn about the “other,”—or what is most foreign to them—and I confronted my lack of knowledge of the Middle East and other Arabic-speaking countries by studying Arabic in college.
2. Having worked in the media department of several organizations, you have a lot of experience with social media. What roles do you believe social media and technology play in language learning?
If utilized well, technology can play a huge role in language learning. You can connect with native speakers, you can study vocabulary flashcards someone has already created, and you can clarify concepts that may be confusing. In terms of social media, I’ve seen students create Facebook groups for their classes, where they can ask questions, ask about the homework, and really create a community of language learners online.
However, if technology comes as an extension of the textbook, and is forced upon the students, the students won’t consider technology as an asset. These tools need to be integrated in such a way where students see the technological aids and the social media as an extension of what they are already doing, not as more “work” to be done.
3. You were immersed in another culture and language through study abroad. What’s the biggest lesson you took from your experience?
I actually took part in two immersion programs, the Arabic Persian Turkish Language Immersion Institute (APTLII) at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and then in Morocco through a summer program. My biggest lesson about language learning came from my time at APTLII. I realized that I knew none of the basics of Arabic—how to conjugate a verb, how to indicate the possessive, etc.,—and I dropped from the intermediate class to the beginners class, so I could take my time learning the foundations of the language, instead of being stressed out about a level of Arabic that was too advanced. A lot of that had to do with the way Arabic was taught (through Al-Kitaab, the ubiquitous Arabic textbook of choice for most colleges and universities in the USA), not from my teachers.
My biggest lesson from Morocco was more of a social one: As a Korean-American, I got a lot of racism. My experiences were profoundly different from those of my peers, even if we were in the same place at the same time. I have come to understand that the way to combat this is to be visible, be present, and my dream is to return to Morocco so I can share the diversity of America with native Moroccans.
4. You plan to become an Arabic language teacher. What motivates you to teach the next generation of Arabic speakers?
A lot of people have a really hard time learning Arabic. My undergraduate thesis at Hampshire College is literally a 50-page paper on why English speakers have such a hard time learning Arabic. Modern Standard Arabic (the formal Arabic that exists in written, not spoken form) is not difficult to learn. Arabic is a very logical language that makes a lot more grammatical sense than English.
The motivation for me to teach the next generation of Arabic speakers is primarily that Arabic isn’t difficult, but the way in which it is currently taught makes it difficult.
My dream is to teach Arabic at a high school through a self-designed curriculum that draws from all the resources I can find.
Just about all of my Arabic teachers I have had—both native and non-native speakers—have purposely made the class harder than it should be, so that the students feel lost in order to stay ahead. When I’ve confronted my teachers about this, they admit that they make the classes difficult. Learning a language should not be like that. My motivation to teach the next generation of Arabic speakers rests upon the idea that Arabic isn’t difficult, and it should not be made harder to learn by its teachers.
My life goal has and always will be to make the world a more peaceful place. If people learned Arabic, more people would be able to communicate with native speakers, know about the culture, and educate others about the history of the Middle East, North Africa, and other Arabic-speaking countries.
By way of Arabic education, and through individual conversations, it is my hope that the world will become more peaceful. Both this, and the fact that the entire Arabic education system needs a complete overhaul, are my two reigning motivations on why I’m choosing to teach Arabic!
5. If you could be proficient in any other language in the world, what would it be and why?
Maltese has always been on my to-learn list, because from what I’ve seen, Maltese is basically Arabic and other languages mixed together but written with English letters, and I find that to be the coolest thing. Also, as a heritage speaker of Korean, it would be awesome to one day be able to wake up and have perfect Korean!
Casey recently spoke about her undergraduate research and her personal journey with Arabic at the 3rd Annual Five College Student Language Symposium, “Building Bridges Through Languages,” held this year at Smith College. Watch her presentation above, and then check out other student talks about language immersion experiences in the full playlist!