The Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Sydney has seen much change in the last six months. A new Professor and Chair is now leading this department and revamping the major and the curriculum. Professor Sahar Amer, a native from Egypt, is now the new Chair of the Department at Sydney. She brings to this key position a twenty year experience in teaching, research, and administration at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (USA). She also brings a new vision of teaching and community outreach. She hopes to build strong relations with the Arab communities in Sydney and to provide students with a first rate Arabic language and cultures program.
As an example of the new orientation of the Department, Professor Amer is introducing a new communicative-based approach to language teaching and is implementing the use of international standards of assessment to evaluate students’ learning. The new pedagogical principles that now govern Arabic language teaching at the University of Sydney are principles that have been developed by Professor Mahmoud al-Batal and Associate Professor Kristen Brustad (both from the University of Texas-Austin) in their textbook series Alif Ba and Al-Kitaab fii t`aallum al-Arabiyya (3 volumes, Georgetown University Press). Today, this textbook series is internationally recognized as one of the most effective methods of teaching Arabic to non-native speakers.
Professor Al-Batal and Associate Professor Brustad led a successful four-day Arabic pedagogy and teacher training workshop at the University of Sydney (22-25 July 2014). Sixteen established and aspiring teachers from the University of Sydney, Macquarie University, post graduate students and even some undergraduate students attended and participated in this exciting and energetic event. On the first day of the workshop, discussion focused on the philosophy behind Al-Kitaab textbook series and the revolutionary idea in the teaching of Arabic that communication is more important than grammar especially at the elementary and intermediate levels. Another refreshing idea that emerged during the workshop is that Arabic dialects are not to be shunned but should be taught as an integral part of teaching Modern Standard Arabic. The idea is that students need to learn Arabic as a living, dynamic, culturally-rich, and enjoyable language. Classes taught within this framework become more enjoyable to the students who learn more effectively and who enjoy interacting with other speakers of Arabic in diverse contexts.
The workshop is a promising new start and we look forward to hearing more about the continuing developments and invigorating changes taking place in the Arabic Department at the University of Sydney.