Globalization and Possibilities for Intercultural Awareness: Multimodal Arabic Culture Portfolios at a Catholic University

Globalization and Possibilities for Intercultural Awareness: Multimodal Arabic Culture Portfolios at a Catholic University

Sawsan Abbadi (Loyola University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0177-0.ch013


This case study explores the teaching and learning of Arabic at one Catholic university campus, with a focus upon the complex interactions between language and culture in a postmodern globalized context. Specifically, it examines the use of “multimodal culture portfolios” as a means to engage students both linguistically and culturally in classroom and community discourses. Through their interactions and co-construction of knowledge with other participants, these students are led to think about the multiple communicative contexts that are shaping and being shaped by them. Data collection was conducted through survey questionnaires and students' responses to the assigned culture portfolio. The participants were made up of students enrolled in first year Arabic courses during the 2012 spring semester. The purpose of this exploratory case is to attempt to understand students' investments in Arabic and their cultural knowledge of the Arab world pre and post their enrollment in the Arabic courses. It also seeks to understand their socialization into the culture assignment and the main challenges they faced in accessing, interacting with, and reflecting upon cultural aspects related to the Arab world. This study's findings are significant for enriching the general conversation on intercultural proficiency in classroom discourse, curricular decisions, roles and challenges of teachers, and the involvement in target language communities, particularly in less commonly taught languages such as Arabic.
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The multiplicity of communication channels brought about by multiculturalism, globalization, and multimodalism has profoundly affected both language education in general and world language education in particular. In what he called “domesticating the foreign,” Lo Bianco (2014) argues that “teachers of different languages need to make multilingual and multicultural realities…central notions in [the] curriculum” (p. 312), especially if they are to accommodate such communicative shifts. Furthermore, he questions the concept of “foreignness” (p. 313) in foreign or world language education, and claims that globalization has shattered the old order of nations, national languages, and “culturally authentic language” (p. 314). It is thus imperative to rethink how we prepare students to participate in this highly globalized and culturally pluralistic world.

Given the increase in globalization and the explosion of communication technologies, there have been many productive debates on the changes and challenges in language education (Cope & Kalantzis, 2010; Kramsch, 2007, 2005; and Kumaravadivelu, 2003). In critiquing national language education policy in the United States and its politically charged ideologies, Blake and Kramsch (2007) referred to the irony of calls to encourage learning world languages as part of the “internationalization” (p. 247) of higher education while the arguments clearly point to the politically charged relations between language learning and the government’s need to face “continual threats of terrorism” (p. 247). In the case of Arabic, Gerwin and Osborn (2005) argue against the dangers of aligning language education to such claimed threats:

Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor provides a compelling historical analogy for the September 11 attack itself…The war on terrorism…is open ended and murky on many scores, but the enemy does have a face. The enemy is Muslim, the enemy is Middle Eastern, the enemy is an Arab. (Gerwin & Osborn, 2005, p. 106)

Because of the political nature of language education, Arabic as a foreign language has inherited the pros and cons of attempts to interpret globalization’s impact on the fate of the field (Abbadi, 2014, 2013). As a result, a widespread enthusiasm for teaching and learning Arabic has been reinvigorated (Allen, 2007; Leeman & Martinez, 2007; Ryding, 2006; Kramsch, 2005; Allen, 2004; Byrnes et al., 2004; and Edwards, 2000). Thus, it has received more attention and experienced growth in reaction to wider global economic, social, and political events, “transform[ing] [it] from an exotic less commonly taught language into a mainstream one” (Abdallah & Al-Batal, 2011-12, p. 1). With the above ironies in mind, Arabic, along with other less commonly taught languages, has become “a formidable challenge” (Byrnes, 2009, p. 261), demanding a rejuvenated curriculum. As a result, an increase in the quantity and quality of trained teachers and a critical need to redesign the framework and infrastructure of language programs is necessary (Ryding, 2013; Wang, 2009; Al-Batal, 2007; and Allen, 2007).

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