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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Online Arabic Language Learning: What Happens After?

  • Author(s): Blake, Robert J.
  • Shiri, Sonia
  • et al.

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Learning Arabic, a category IV less commonly taught language, can be a daunting task even with the luxury of a five-day per week schedule, good teachers, office hours, and solid learning materials.  This study reports on the successes and challenges of teaching Arabic within a distance-learning environment.  With a grant from the Fund for Improvement of Post Secondary Education (FIPSE), the authors developed Arabic Without Walls (AWW) as a first-year online Arabic course supported by Web materials (e.g. text, graphics, sounds, short human-interest videos, and self-correcting Java-scripted exercises).  The AWW course was delivered in a Moodle wrapper with weekly chat (voice and text) sessions.  AWW was taught for two years at the University of California, Berkeley (2007--2009) under the direction of Sonia Shiri and then for two more years at the University of California, Irvine (2009--2011) by Maha Alsaffar.  The AWW course was designed to prepare students to seamlessly enter second-year Arabic with competence equal to that of those students studying Arabic in a face-to-face format.  The present study focuses on student outcomes and their reflections during and after this two-semester course.  Results showed that the main goals were achieved from both the teachers' and students' perspective.  In many cases, the small-group computer-mediated communication (CMC) sessions with sound and text gave students more personal attention than would have been possible in the classroom setting.  The overall student impression of this online learning experience suggests that AWW was a credible alternative for students who would otherwise had no access to Arabic instruction at their home institution or for those who had sought a more flexible learning environment due to their own schedules and life circumstances.


Keywords:  Online language learning, Arabic language, CMC chat

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