FROM MSA to CA: A Beginner's Guide to Transitioning to Colloquial Arabic
Lina Gomaa, Portland State University
Copyright Year: 2015
ISBN 13: 9781329996694
Publisher: Portland State University Library
Conditions of Use
This book review addresses the ‘diglossiac’ situation of teaching Arabic for non-natives whether targeting the richly formal dialect Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) or the spoken dialect that suffers from lack from a genuine grammar description in... read more
This book review addresses the ‘diglossiac’ situation of teaching Arabic for non-natives whether targeting the richly formal dialect Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) or the spoken dialect that suffers from lack from a genuine grammar description in institutions. The review presents the author’s perspective in establishing a practical culturally-oriented book that aims at upgrading the student’s level from Novice Mid to Low Intermediate (following ACTFL standards). The book's comprehensibility is partially clear as far as the data needs to be more organizable to the reader with more drilling exercises to ensure the comprehensibility of the learner of certain area in the book before moving to the next area of target.
The book is unbiased and objective. Language is comprehensible and accurate. However, the mode of language must be level down when explaining complex grammatical properties such as verb inflection and phonotactics. Nevertheless, dialogues are simple and clear and the vocabulary is more or less organized.
The book follows a typical organization of Arabic books aiming at incorporating Arab dialect along the presence of the strong dialect MSA. The lessons start with a table of vocabulary followed by a simple dialogue that is inclusive of the words learned in that table. Some audio tasks and incomplete fillers are adopted as to cover the various skills of learning plus a minor section of a cultural insight of some manner in the Arab world (e.g. ending an Arabic conversation). For instance, the following table has three lists of the dialect, MSA, and the English translation. Therefore, the learner is expected to acquire both and build a line of linguistic similarity between the two variants in each table throughout the book. Based on of the tables, the learner ends up with three forms for the English meaning ‘how are you’: ازّيك (Egyptian Arabic; EA), شو أخبارَك (Jordanian Arabic; JA), and كيفك (MSA & dialects, but with different phonologies). As it seems, following the strategy of learning through multiple systems of diglossiac dialects raises multiple lexical items, forms and structures. The learner is not adapting himself/herself to a specific system of language, but rather exposed to different linguistic systems. By way of illustration, the EA expression ازيك has different derivational consequences from the JA expression شو أخبارك or the MSA expression كيفك . The language learner is ought to learn the derivation of a certain system to improve his/her understandability of the exposed vocabulary. For instance, the EA expressions consists of ازايّ + ك meaning how + the addressed pronoun where ازايّ is a key interrogative (similar to the English how) used elsewhere in the language. The JA expression شو أخبارك consists of شو + أخبار + ك meaning what + news + addressed pronoun, so the literal translation is ‘what is your news?’, which stands as the English equivalent ‘How are you?’. However, the same word أخبار in JA is used as to refer to ordinary meaning of news, newspaper, etc. This homonymy of the meaning of news in JA is absent (or at least less obvious) in EA as well in MSA. Therefore, the lexical derivation of the semantic system of expressions through homonymy, synonymy, metonymy, and others seem to be distinct, though some overlapping might exist across those dialects.
The procedure of learning is not controlled and the learner is exposed to multiple forms of surface similarity without deep guidance toward merging within a specified well-oriented system of one dialect. The author seems to try to build a ceiling of Intermediate-Low for Novice-Mid students by providing idiomatic expressions, collocations, and some catchy verbal phrases in order to build an easy-going dialogue for the student. However, Novice-Mid students require language support in terms of sentence building while such process is hardly achieved alone through short dialogues manifested with a list of words & expressions. Sentence requires continuous drilling exercises of nominal sentences, verb forms (more focus on the present tense), gender forms, noun-adjective pairs, and preliminary paragraphing. Those grammatical properties must be the core target for beginners, so they can be accustomed to the formation of the dialect in general. I agree with the author that dialogues are significant in the learning process, but only in case they are consistent with higher properties as drilling formation, grammaticality, and building phrases. All of those properties must be specific in belonging to certain system. Since idiomaticity of expressions seems to be prevail the theme of the lessons, presenting multiple systems (EA, LA, MSA, etc.) might appear to be justifiable based on the cultural similarity. On the contrary, the student might be able to follow the dialogue and its items through miscellaneous date of different dialects, s/he is still not adhering to a specific drilling of pronunciation and structure
During the book, the author aims at the literal translation of expressions like السلام عليكم , إن شاء الله , ما فيش تَعَب ولا حاجَة , ربنا معاك , and many others. For instance, ما فيش تَعَب ولا حاجَة means literally “there is no tiredness nor need” while the idiomatic translation would be something like ‘there is no trouble at all’. The discrepancy between literal (LM) and the intended (IM) is successfully described throughout the book; nevertheless, the employment of such expressions must be more identified semantically in a sided section. The author sees that it is important to incorporate those expressions throughout the dialogue as long as the student would be able to use them conversationally. The same exact expressions should not be left out to dialogues only. They need more definite categorization for the learners by using the proper terminology such as idioms, collocations, proverbs, metaphors, and expressions. The terminology helps out to systemize the make-up of a certain dialect and formalize its data to the learner. Furthermore, those expressions are highly situational and must be related to a relevant lesson in a consistent way.
At the beginning of the book, the author addresses three methodologies of teaching Arabic that have been debatable in the filed of second language acquisition. The first methodology is teaching the spoken dialect after teaching MSA. I suppose that the idea behind this methodology is that since MSA is the formal language of books and writing, the student is supposed to capture the higher system of language, and then leaning toward the spoken/vernacular dialect. In principle, MSA is assumed to support the learning of the spoken variant. However, it has been shown that learners of Arabic perceive the two varieties differently. As mentioned earlier, the linguistic differences at the level of phonology, syntax, and lexicon render the learning of each variant although all variants stand in similar social setting of history, religion, and origin. However, there still must be a strong establishment of the language skills of the spoken variant with the proper documentation, so the dialect is sufficiently legitimate to be taught at the beginning of the process of learning. Once the ceiling for learning the dialect by explicating the proper material for its language skills, the educator would be able to direct the learning process to the native level of the language and guide the learner to the actual course of communication. At higher levels where writing, media, and newspapers are targeted, MSA is required to be taught since MSA embodies the language of formal education and target language for the learner to be involved to the diglossia of the Arab world. It is reasonable to approach from the communicative level (dialect) to the formal level (MSA). The second methodology is the one adopted in this book where MSA and the dialect ( or a group of dialects) are taught together. As discussed earlier, this type of learning seems quite confusing and hard to grasp among the students as long as they are exposed to different types of systems and they are not guided to a specific system of phonology, syntax, or semantics
It is always imperative to be consistent in presenting language material rather than presenting miscellaneous data, though might be related to each other, but renders the language processing less disciplined. The flexible option is where you teach MSA and the dialect separately. It sounds like a good move where the exposed material is specified to a certain linguistic system. Nevertheless, it is important to build up a functional connection between the two variants. Leading the learner into the linguistic system of dialect will guide him/her into social communication, popular culture, and social media settings.
The text has no major significant issues with support materials including images or tables. Still, the book should provide more purposeful images that might help the learner to go through the vocabulary of lessons. It is always advantageous to have supplementary images to support the theme of a certain dialogue. Tables have no caused no distortion per say; however, more effort into conducting table in stylistic always motivates the learner to study the material and induces encouragement. Colorful imaging is always is a useful tool in online textbook as well.
The book's grammaticality is good and translation is successful across idioms, expressions, and words. Explanations of grammatical properties is partially good as far as it does not turn too specified and too indulged in its terminology, so that the learner can accommodate the book's language to simple notions rather than complex ones.
The book handles a variety of Arab cultures objectively. Levantine dialects and Egyptian dialect are compared throughout the book culturally and linguistically. The comparative data implies good cultural awareness of dialectal variety in the Arab world. The author explicates language and culture as unbiased and purposeful.
Leading the learner into the linguistic system of dialect will guide him/her into social communication, popular culture, and social media settings. If the learner goes through the process of dialect learning successfully, the educator should begin upgrading the learning process to the level of Standard Arabic where literature, history, and writing comes into play. Therefore, employing the communicated dialect for lower levels to prepare the student to advanced levels of documentation of MSA. Level development is significant between the dialect and MSA; yet, both systems must be exploited thoroughly and at least separately for less advanced students, so they are linguistically familiarized with the logic of diglossia. Conclusion: Arabic diglossia as many diglossiac phenomena across languages raises serious questions regarding the proper learning methodologies and linguistic theory in general. The book reviewed is supposed to address English-speaking students learning Arabic. The methodology adopted emphasize the simultaneous learning of MSA and dialect providing vocabulary and dialogues. However, learning different linguistic systems have shown to be hard to grasp since the learner is not exposed to a specified system with linguistic consistency in respect to lexicon and syntax. The diglossiac gap is suggested to be rendered separately while combining the two system by level-course building and cultural development.
This book is technically a rough guide and cannot be considered a textbook for teaching and learning. It starts where learners are in their main textbook after one year of learning Arabic. read more
This book is technically a rough guide and cannot be considered a textbook for teaching and learning. It starts where learners are in their main textbook after one year of learning Arabic.
The book lacks the reasonable sequence of theme presentation. The dialogues are improvised (not authentic) and they do follow a particular theme. they also contain linguistic errors. At some point, it seems overwhelming for the learner to comprehend all these codes in two dialects plus the standard form.
Perhaps limiting this book to one dialect only can be more effective. In its current shape, it can only be a guide and language refresher for learners.
Although the table of content and goal of the book is clear, the handling of these topics lacks clarity. In the introduction, the book claims pushing the proficiency level of students, but this is difficult to achieve unless we have a set of language functions.
It was hard to find a consistent framework for the concepts presented through the book.
It is quite challenging to use the book as in lesson plans because there is nothing much to do as practice. The book relies on presenting variants without actually creating teaching tasks to reinforce them. The best way to teach this would be to assign readings and then the teacher would come to class with his/her worksheets and conversation topics to hit on these varieties of spoken language.
The concepts presented in the book do not flow a certain sequence. The language component does not flow from simple to complex but rather fluctuated according to the topic.
The book is composed mainly of charts and tables and does not rely on visuals.
There is no much grammar in the book. It relies mainly on the assumption that learners are already competent in the standard Arabic grammar.
The cultural component in the book is good and can be useful for people who prepare to study abroad and get in contact with native speakers.
Generally a good effort that can encourage similar projects with a more focused vision and sequence with a teaching component.
The book covers provides good strategy to transitioning to Egyptian and Levantine. read more
The book covers provides good strategy to transitioning to Egyptian and Levantine.
The book is accurate and doesn't have errors in terms of grammar and culture components.
It's mentioned in the title that the book teaches the transitioning into Colloquial Arabic, with no specification. I was expecting more information about the less commonly taught Arabic slangs and dialects. such as, North African and Arabian Gulf dialects.
The book is very clear and very well organized. the author uses common and simple words & phrases which are appropriate to beginners to intermediate learners.
The introduction clarifies the content and the learning outcomes are mentioned clearly and simply to be understood by learners.
Excellent chapterization and the topics of each section are well chosen. However, the columns are not clearly identify whether the word(s) are written in Egyptian or shami.
The topics are very organized.
the text is absolutely free of interface issues.
In general, no major grammatical errors, however some minor mistakes are observed, such as the word " شوبرا" in page 42 which refers to a very famous neighborhood in Cairo and Egyptian commonly write it and read it شبرا with Damma not the long vowel و Though, the Arabic grammatical signs " Al Tashkeel" are used very well.
The book aims to to teach the most common spoken Arabic dialects, the Egyptian and shami but lack to introduce the cultural diversity in the other Arabian countries.
Overall the book is highly recommended if you are aiming to teach Egyptian dialect particularly and if your students completed some course of Standard Arabic. I think adding some audio exercises is a good idea to support the writing component and to enhance the listing skills as well, because the pronunciation of letters and sound in all the Arabic spoken dialects are mostly different from the FUSHA.
For a beginner’s level of Arabic, the book covers some limited issues related to transitioning from Arabic MSA to Egyptian CA. It covers well some basic Vocabulary words and Grammar rules in contextual cultural content. It provides a glossary and... read more
For a beginner’s level of Arabic, the book covers some limited issues related to transitioning from Arabic MSA to Egyptian CA. It covers well some basic Vocabulary words and Grammar rules in contextual cultural content. It provides a glossary and introduction clarifying its contents and outcomes.
The content is accurate. However, as its title indicates, I think the book may benefit more by being more inclusive to other CA Arabic not only the Egyptian CA, otherwise it should have been clarified in the title. On the other hand, I think there might have been more vocalization on some words to help in correct pronouncing. For example, page 61 the word ????
I think the book could be more supportive by including more interactive exercises and diverse cultural activities.
The text is clear, informative and accessible to students of beginner Arabic.
The text is internally consistent in terms of terminology and framework.
The four chapters of this book are clear and well organized. Each chapter can be downloaded as PDF which I think is helpful to learners. Adding more real life videos and images that can be downloaded would be more beneficial. I think there is a little educational benefit of most of the images found in the book.
The topics are generally presented in a clear and logical manner. It is suitable for the beginner’s transition from MSA to Egyptian CA. However, the presentation lacks coherence and flow between the chapters.
No significant interface issues.
The grammar presented is at the beginner level. No noticeable grammar errors.
While the book makes clear in its introduction that it will present cultural insights related to the main topics presented in the chapters which help the students become more familiar with acceptable behaviors in an Arab country, I think the topics of the book offer more cultural insights than the ones presented.
Overall, this book is useful for students learning Arabic. It is needed as a transitioning aid from Arabic MSA to Egyptian CA. Thank you for the effort and time in producing this book. However, given the lack of activities and diversity regarding another Arabic CA, such as Levantine, Gulf etc. I would recommend updating the book and develop material to fill this gap to become relevant to larger number of students learning Arabic.
The text reads easily and it is written with a simple, clear and understood language. The book is divided into four major chapters and each chapter deals with one of the aspects of the overall content. read more
The text reads easily and it is written with a simple, clear and understood language. The book is divided into four major chapters and each chapter deals with one of the aspects of the overall content.
The content is relatively accurate when it comes to talking about the Egyptian Colloquial. While the author refers to other CA in the region, she failed to mention various other colloquials spoken in North Africa, Yemen, Oman, Sudan, etc...
The text might be relevant to the Arabic program at Portland State Universty, but not to all Arabic institutions in the nation. It is especially designed to serve the need of a small community of second language learners. The text needs to be integrated within the context of the ongoing debate about the "Integrated Approcah" championed by Younes Munther fron the University of Cornell. Lina Gomaa's theoretical approach is very limited.
The text is clear, easy to read and uses a very simple jargon accessible to both students, teachers, etc...The author's use of second language acquisition terminology is limited.
Yes, there is consistency in the organization and in the flow of ideas in the book. The author structures her narrative around a well defined content organized by chapters.
The division of the book into four chapters helps readers to approach it at ease and to use it when needed and according to the subject matter discussed in class. Each section of the narrative touches either on language varieties in Arabic or on cultural aspects of the Arab world.
The author organized the book according to subjects related to transitioning second language learners from Mid Novice to Low Intermediate when learning Egyptian Colloquial. each section introduces new vocabulary, dialogues and discussions in both MSA and CA with translations into English. The division of the book into sections helps the learner to navigate through its different parts.
The visual/interface dimension is clear and does not distract the reader from using the book. There are charts with columns that are easy to navigate.
The text is written with a simple language accessible to different groups of the readers.
The text is devoted to the study of Arabic as a second language, so its cultural component are only related to the Arab world. There is no reference to other nations, ethnicities, races, etc.
The book can be a useful additional reading for students interested in learning both MSA and CA either in High Schools or Colleges. It has its own shortcomings, but it could be revised and revamped.
Table of Contents
- A: Transitioning to CA:Final voweling and greeting terms in MSA and CA
- B: Greetings and ending conversations
- C: Cultural insight: Ending a conversation in a culturally acceptable manner
- A: Transitioning to CA: WH Question words in MSA and CA
- B: Requests
- C: Cultural insights: Giving directions
- A: Transitioning to CA: Verb tenses
- B: Dialogues
- C: Cultural insights: Phone conversations and communicating among different age groups in the Arab world
- A: Transitioning to CA: Negation in MSA vs CA
- B: Accepting and rejecting invitations
- C: Cultural insights: Tips on dealing with culturally sensitive situations
About the Book
This book is for students who have studied Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) for one year or more and would like to learn colloquial Arabic basics using their knowledge of MSA. It aims at transitioning learners from Novice Mid level to Intermediate Low through presenting situations useful for living in an Arab country. The book has several features including hyperlinks, practice dialogues with open answers, cultural tips, and more.
About the Contributors
Lina Gomaa received an MA in Arabic/English Translation and Interpreting from University of Salford, UK. At Beloit College, USA, she obtained her BA in Creative Writing, with a minor in Journalism. Also at Beloit College, she obtained a certificate in Teaching English as a Second Language. In Egypt, Miss Gomaa obtained a BA in Arabic/English Translation and English Literature from the Faculty of Languages, Alsun, Ain Shams University. At the American University in Cairo, she received the Certificate of Teaching Arabic for non-native speakers. Miss Gomaa has taught Arabic and English to non-nativespeakers at several universities in Egypt and the USA. She is a fully certified oral proficiency interviewer by ACTFL. Miss Gomaa’s research interests are second language acquisition and translation including holy texts, focusing on the Holy Quran translations into English.