Research on Arabic Education

Multilingual and multidialectal approaches in the Arabic language classroom


Research In progress

A longitudinal, qualitative study of Arabic classes at a local high school and at the University of New Mexico addressing the challenges in implementing multilingual and multi-dialectical approaches in classrooms.

Principal Investigator: Dr. Emma Trentman, Associate Professor of Arabic, Foreign Languages and Literatures, University of New Mexico

Materials Developer: Heather Sweetser, Senior Lecturer in Arabic , University of New Mexico.  The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages named her the 2022 National Language Teacher of the Year.

About the researchers: Dr. Trentman’s research has focused on Arabic language learning in study abroad, virtual exchange, and classroom contexts, and over the last decade she has published 15 peer-reviewed journal articles or book chapters in this area. She has also been teaching Arabic for fifteen years, starting as a teaching assistant at Georgetown University and Michigan State University during graduate school, working at intensive summer programs for Concordia Language Villages, Middlebury Arabic school, and the University of Texas at Austin, and as director of the Arabic program at the University of New Mexico (UNM) since 2012. As a teacher, Dr. Trentman has worked with her colleagues to move beyond the MSA-only model that was common when she began learning Arabic. Drawing from genre-based and multilingual approaches to language learning, she has slowly shifted from using textbooks to her our own materials, and in 2020 she launched the culmination of these efforts, the open access We Can Learn Arabic website,

Abstract:  This research creates a research-practice cycle to describe, analyze, and develop pedagogical materials for multilingual and multidialectal approaches in the Arabic language classroom. Multilingual and multidialectal approaches emphasize drawing from students’ full linguistic repertoires to expand them to include varieties of Arabic. While multilingual and multidialectal approaches are appealing from a theoretical perspective, they are often challenging for teachers and students to implement in the classroom. This study addresses this obstacle by creating a research-practice cycle where research on the challenges and successes of multilingual and multidialectal approaches informs the development of pedagogical materials, and teachers’ and students’ experiences with the implementation of the materials influences and refines the research questions in subsequent years of the study. This study will conduct a longitudinal, qualitative study of Arabic classes at the University of New Mexico and at a local high school. The university cohorts are expected to include 1-2 students who studied Arabic at the high school level, which will help examine the ‘speedbump’ between secondary school and university.

Why QFI is funding this research? Much of the research on the integrative approach, or using dialects and MSA when teaching Arabic, are found at the university level. Yet QFI’s work takes place in primary and secondary classrooms. This study is a unique cross-section that looks at both thresholds of teaching and allows the researcher to look at the learner and their progression across secondary school and in a university setting. By working in a university setting with a school partner, it provides a lab-like environment for the research where materials can be tested real time. The study will also triangulate data – drawing from classroom observations, background interviews with teachers and students, student and teacher self-reflections, and assessments. This rich data set will inform the development pedagogical materials that can be implemented in secondary school contexts and such explicit materials will be helpful to teachers who want to teach in multidialectal and multilingual ways but do not necessarily know how.