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    J OSEPHINE O’B RIEN   Chapter 21 Teaching English to Arab Learners: A case for a pedagogical grammar Abstract The chapter presents arguments for the development of a pedagogical grammar for Arab learners of English that involves consideration of elements of the target language (TL) that challenge all learners of English as a foreign language (EFL) and specific issues that arise  because of transfer from Arabic. Arabic speaking learners of English illustrate developmental patterns common to all EFL learners but also have been observed to use transfer and translation from Arabic as strategies when expressing English tense, aspect, definiteness, indef-initeness, comparison, modality and conditionality. It is contended that though learners have studied the general rules for such concepts they frequently revert to translation from Arabic in written texts. It is argued, therefore, that a pedagogical grammar that considers developmental and contrastive factors between the structure of Arabic and English in identified problematic areas would provide materials to help learners understand correct forms and in addition  provide them with a useful tool for editing and proof-reading their texts.  442  Josephine O’Brien   Introduction In recent decades, English language teaching has been influenced by communicative approaches to language teaching with emphasis on English only classrooms (Krashen, 1988). While this approach has  positive effects on students ’  communicative abilities, neglect of the local context particularly in education and language learning has given rise to a range of tensions (Barber, 1996) and has encouraged social theorists to focus on how to resolve tensions between cultural homogenization and heterogenization (Robertson, 1992). In the field of language teaching, references to the importance of considering local contexts when developing pedagogy for English language  programs can now be found. Kumaravadivelu (2006) advocates developing strategies to ‘ advance a context-sensitive, location specific pedagogy that is based on a true understanding of local linguistic, socio-cultural and political particularities ’  (p. 224) with teaching techniques, methods and materials that depend on where, when and to whom, one is teaching. The current paper argues for the development of a pedagogical grammar to help Arabic speaking learners who take their third level education through the medium of English. Theoretical Context The theoretical perspective guiding education for decades has been that of constructivism (Gergen, 1995) built on beliefs that children mentally construct knowledge for themselves if presented with right input. Learners are encouraged to make connections, infer meanings, and build up patterns, in other words, take control of their own learning. Piaget   (cited in Kitchener, 1986) pointed to the two  principles of assimilation and accommodation that guide how we  Teaching English to Arab Learners: A Case for Pedagogical Grammar    443   learn and teach. Learning is an active process in which learners discover and assimilate principles, concepts and facts for themselves and restructure prior knowledge to accommodate the new. Vygotsky (1978) believed that learning occurs through dialogue that takes place  between learners and teachers (intermental) and within learners through internal dialogue (intramental). Learners take an active part in structuring their own internal knowledge map and how well they do so depends on purpose and motivation. Learners need help in accommodating new knowledge, a process described as ‘scaffolding’   by Vygotsky who believed that learners should be guided in their tasks by a mentor who could provide the necessary support. The term ‘scaffolding’ was first introduced by Bruner (1960) to illustrate how children acquired language under parents’ guidance with suitable input. The scaffold metaphor has become part of educational theory in second language learning. The necessary support is given to complete tasks that learners cannot do on their own. Bruner believes that understanding the fundamentals of a subject provides learners with general principles that can be transferred and adapted to new situations through ‘ transfer of training ’  (Bruner, 1960, p. 17). According to Bruner ‘ this type of transfer is at the heart of the educational process  –   the continual  broadening and deepening of knowledge in terms of basic and general ideas ’  (p. 17). For Bruner, disconnected or unrelated sets of facts are not education and will not be remembered by the learners. The constructivist model encourages learner independence through guided tasks and expects learners to construct their own mental model of knowledge from comprehensible input they receive. In the context of teenagers and young adults learning a foreign language (L2), a mental model of a language and language learning already exists. An approach that focuses exclusively on the target language may fail to consider the knowledge that learners bring to the L2 learning experience (Frankenberg-Garcia, 2000). Therefore, L2 programs in EFL environments must consider the effect of prior knowledge on subsequent language learning, and the kind of scaffolding necessary to facilitate learning an L2. Learners are not  444  Josephine O’Brien    blank slates. As Jarvis (1987) points out ‘ learning is not just a  psychological process that happens in splendid isolation from the world in which the learner lives, but it is intimately related to that world and affected by it ’  (pp. 11-12). Learners have had years of language and language learning when they begin their university English language courses and we need to understand how they try to accommodate the new linguistic knowledge to what they already know. Practical Context The current paper argues for the development of a pedagogical grammar to provide support for Arabic speaking learners of English who need English for university education. These learners need to communicate in English so the focus is on meaning but accuracy is essential in an academic context. Therefore, learners need to acquire  both English function and form. Descriptive grammars are often used in Arab schools and universities and while they provide a generic analysis and description of language points, they do not always address the challenges faced  by Arab learners. The relevance of a pedagogical grammar with explanations and exercises designed to deal with the particular errors committed by Arab learners learning English is considered here. The contents of the grammar evolve from the practical needs of Arab learners, with language descriptions that are straightforward and accessible, and a range of focused exercises. The grammar seeks to  present not a definitive description of the L2 but rather items relevant to learners with explanations designed to help them overcome the  perceived difficulties they have with aspects of the L2 and forms part of a scaffolding process. An initial investigation was undertaken to examine tense and aspect in the interlanguage of Gulf Arab learners (O’Brien, 2010).  Teaching English to Arab Learners: A Case for Pedagogical Grammar    445   The study explored two hypotheses to help explain non-conventional verb forms found in the written texts of Arab learners of English. The study considered developmental and contrastive factors as influences on the errors committed by Arab learners of English; both factors were found to be relevant in the analysis of learner texts. Differences  between English and Arabic tense and aspect systems were con- cluded to account for some of the irregularities noticed in learners’ texts. These included problems with understanding the function of  present simple and progressive forms in English as a single verb form is used to perform a range of functions in standard Arabic, difficulties with the correct functional interpretation of the past progressive in English and the present perfect form. Data collection from Emirati learners using English as a medium of instruction at university has been ongoing and over the last three years, approximately 2,000 essays of 800-1000 words have been collected and analyzed as sources of learner errors. Examples of non-conventional forms over a range of areas have been recorded in an Excel spreadsheet. An approach developed by Corder (1974) and adapted by Brown (1994), and Ellis (1995) of data collection, description, classification and explanation has been adopted with the objective of uncovering forms and emerging patterns that would explain how Arab learners perceive form to function relationships in English. The final step in this process is the development of focused materials to help Arab learners overcome the observed errors. Linguistic Factors Three developments, contrastive analysis (CA), error analysis (EA) and interlanguage (IL), in foreign language learning analysis influence perceptions of learners ’  progress in acquiring foreign languages. The srcinal CA hypothesis (Lado, 1957) argued that L2 mistakes resulted from negative mother tongue (L1) interference that

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Apr 16, 2018
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