Introducing young students to Arabic, Persian and Turkish

Introducing young students to Arabic, Persian and Turkish

The UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies is launching the “Listen to Learn” website to introduce American students to critical Middle Eastern languages.

International Institute, UCLA, Los Angeles, March 25, 2013—The UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies is launching the “Listen to Learn” website to introduce American students to critical Middle Eastern languages.

Against the background of budget cuts that threaten foreign-language programs in K–12 schools across the United States, Listen to Learn is freely available to any school and/or student with a computer and an Internet connection.

The module-based web learning program is designed to give primary, middle and high school students—and their teachers—an engaging, interactive introduction to Arabic, Persian and Turkish in a cultural context. It aims to pique student interest in these languages and develop a familiarity with their sounds.

“Our ultimate goal is to inspire pre-collegiate learners to continue the study of these languages in college,” says Susan Slyomovics, professor in the departments of Anthropology and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, CNES Director from 2007 to 2012, and the Principle Investigator on the Listen to Learn Project.

Considered critical languages by the U.S. Department of State, Arabic, Persian and Turkish are rarely taught in U.S. schools. “Listen to Learn,” notes Slyomovics, “helps lay the groundwork for educating Americans to become proficient in Middle Eastern languages.”

Broad diffusion of the program will hopefully lead to replication of the Listen to Learn website, offering a prospect for the sustainable teaching of critical languages in the future.

The language tutorials of Listen to Learn teach students basic greetings and phrases about family, common activities (“surfing the web”) and food dishes of different countries in the Middle East. The lessons also include common idiomatic expressions in the three languages (in English, “Snooze, you lose” is such a phrase).

Each of the seven language units—Persian, Turkish, modern standard Arabic and the Arabic dialects spoken in Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon and Morocco—introduces the structure of the language and allows students to learn two dozen phrases and several hundred words.

American high school students from Southern California who speak these languages at home bring the languages to life in a peer-to-peer learning experience. The interactive lessons include video clips, glossaries, click-and-drag exercises and simple quizzes.

Although not designed to be an intensive language study program, students who use Listen to Learn can nevertheless gain an excellent basic vocabulary in the three languages. In fact, some university language instructors are already integrating the modules into their first-year courses.

Listen to Learn is also designed to be incorporated into social studies curricula in K–12 classes: a teacher can give a human face to a country and language simply by clicking on a link and hearing young American students introduce themselves and their families in the languages of the Middle East.

“Middle and high school students can, for example, use this resource as they study the rise and spread of Islam across the Middle East,” says Slyomovics. Not only does it make learning a language fun, the tutorial program gives students a chance to engage with Middle Eastern culture far from the stereotypes of contemporary films and media images.

The project is based at the Center for Near Eastern Studies (CNES) on the campus of UCLA, which has a long history of teaching Middle Eastern languages and cultures and outreach training for K–12 instructors. Experts at a dozen other national sites also participated in the development and testing of Listen to Learn.

This isn’t the first time that CNES has developed an interactive, online instructional program. In 2007, the Center launched Turkish Tutor, Azeri Tutor, and Iraqi Arabic Tutor (see to promote listening comprehension and proficiency in Azeri, Turkish and Iraqi Arabic among college students and educators.

Both programs rely on the extensive participation of many UCLA faculty and graduate students in Middle East studies throughout the university. The programs draw especially on the support and knowledge of the faculty of Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, including Michael D. Cooperson, Professor of Arabic; Latifeh Hagigi, Lecturer in Persian; Guliz Kuruoglu, Lecturer in Turkish; Abeer Mohamed, Lecturer in Arabic; and Dris Soulaimani, Lecturer in Arabic.

Founded in 1957, the Gustav E. von Grunebaum Center for Near Eastern Studies at UCLA has been designated a National Resource Center for the geographic region of the Middle East. It is one of the oldest and largest such centers in the country. CNES supports instruction and research related to the Near East in the humanities and social sciences, business, law, medicine and the media, and in all languages essential to understanding the region.

The Center fosters public education programs and research projects of interest to the academic and professional communities, as well as the broader public, in metropolitan Los Angeles and throughout Southern California. It has also pioneered the study of the large and diverse Middle Eastern American communities in the United States. The “Listen to Learn” website and language training modules were made possible by a Title VI grant of the U.S. Department of Education.

Published: Friday, April 19, 2013