Multidialectal Approaches and Social Justice Pedagogy

Toward Linguistically and Culturally Diversified Arabic Curricula for the Collegiate U.S. Arabic Classroom


  • Katrien Vanpee University of Minnesota


curriculum design, diversification, multidialectal approaches, social justice pedagogy, Arabic


As instruction in colloquial Arabic has increasingly become part of collegiate Arabic language programs, the primary colloquials taught have overwhelmingly been Egyptian and some form of Levantine Arabic. While these choices were to some extent informed by practical considerations, they reinforce imaginings of an Arab world in which cultural and political centers like Cairo and Damascus and their Arabic varieties are deemed the most valuable objects of study, consigning other areas of the region to the periphery. Those areas have remained relatively invisible in the curriculum, both linguistically and culturally. 

As such, while the “MSA+Egyptian/Levantine” model has contributed to improvements in students’ sociolinguistic competence, it inadvertently has sustained erasures. In the twenty-first century Arab world, increased intraregional flows of people and technologically mediated communication have rendered the linguistic and cultural diversity of the region more accessible to scholars and students, making curricula focused on the practices of a few “central” areas increasingly anachronistic. 

In recent years, some linguists of Arabic have emphasized the importance of developing receptive skills in multiple colloquials, and of fostering learners’ meta-linguistic awareness of the wide-ranging linguistic variation in Arabic (Soliman, in press; Trentman, 2022; Trentman & Shiri, 2020). In their discussions of multidialectal approaches to Arabic, the potential of such approaches to include more systemic engagement with the cultural diversity of the Arab world has not yet been foregrounded. As cultural practices vary based on the same factors that determine linguistic variety (Kubota, 2003), it follows that multidialectal approaches will be most impactful if the multicultural content of course materials in various colloquials receives equal attention as the comparative study of colloquial features. 

Social justice pedagogy, which has remained underexplored as a yardstick for Arabic curriculum design, equips us to “include marginalized voices not as an additive component, but as an integral part of the knowledge about the world with which we ask our students to engage” (Tarnawska Senel, 2020, p. 65). Its focus on the inclusion of marginalized groups and the interrogation of power dynamics is helpful to curriculum designers looking to destabilize instructional models focused on centers of power. Similarly, it creates space for those linguistic varieties that have, for one reason or another, enjoyed lower “linguistic legitimacy” (Reagan & Osborn, 2021, p. 43, 67).

This paper argues that pairing multidialectal approaches to the teaching of Arabic with the principles of social justice pedagogy can support Arabic curriculum designers in their efforts to diversify their curricula both linguistically and culturally. The author will review those principles of social justice pedagogy that may contribute to the successful design and implementation of linguistically and culturally diversified Arabic curricula. She will offer examples of curriculum design at various levels (Beginning, Intermediate, Advanced) that takes such principles as its starting point, and of ways in which existing, textbook-based curricula can be adapted toward greater linguistic and cultural inclusivity. Additionally, she will discuss the challenges involved in this process, and address misgivings Arabic language educators may have about the feasibility and desirability of a fundamentally diversified Arabic curriculum.

Author Biography

Katrien Vanpee, University of Minnesota

Katrien Vanpee is the Arabic Program Director at the University of Minnesota, where she teaches Arabic language and literature, and LCTL pedagogy. Her interests include language program direction and curriculum design; social justice pedagogy; multidialectal approaches to the teaching of Arabic; language teacher training; the development of reflective and lifelong learning skills; and modern Arabic poetry.