Queen Rania Foundation

Arabic Language Diglossia - A Systematic Review

Final Findings & Recommendations

Background: In 2020, QRF commissioned a research team based at Zayed University in the UAE to conduct a comprehensive systematic review that can address major questions related to diglossia and inform future directions. Such a project will allow academics and practitioners to rigorously and comprehensively understand the map of existing knowledge, analyze how the concept of Arabic diglossia is being framed and identify gaps in both research and practice in relation to diglossia.

Final Blog: This is the 4th and final blog that will be shared with you regarding this large study. In this blog, we will summarize the final findings of the systematic review and share with you the recommendations we put together based on those findings and on the needs of the Arabic teaching and learning field.

Final Findings: Based on a rigorous systematic review process, the following are the findings that have been presented and discussed in a policy report that is available on the QRF website.

Findings from a mixed-method; quantitative and qualitative assessment of156 studies  and conceptual papers reviewed revealed the following:

There are positive effects to incorporating teaching Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) using phonics which is in line with the latest research on the science of reading.

  1. The distance between MSA and various dialects was observed in several studies included in the review and more recently the effect of socio-economic factors on learning MSA has been cited in several studies as an important contributing factor to delays in learning MSA.
  2. A finding that was of interest was that the difficulty students found in learning MSA decreased the more they were exposed to MSA, the higher their proficiency became and as they moved up grades. Thus, several studies suggested that difficulty of learning MSA decreased around Grade 4.
  3. Various teaching and learning themes were found to emphasize the importance of bridging the gap between MSA and dialects through activities that build diglossic-awareness early on.
  4. Early exposure to MSA was one way of bridging the gap and easing its learning, in addition to engaging students in literacy activities and involving parents and the community.
  5. Some studies concluded that there is no effect for diglossia on student performance in school and that students sometimes came to school with some knowledge of MSA due to exposure to literacy-related activities at home.
  6. Several studies emphasized the importance of paying attention to teaching methodologies used with non-native Arabic speakers.
  7. The contradictory findings between research on Arabic diglossia reveal the inconclusively of the current body of evidence available and put it in the forefront the high importance and need for more research around those issues.

Recommendations: Recommendations are divided into recommendations for researchers, teachers and parents, policymakers and funders, and are summarized below as follows:

1. Recommendations for researchers:

a. More research is needed on the effect of diglossia on teaching and learning

b. More testing of teaching and learning interventions is needed

2. Recommendations for teachers and parents:

a. Early exposure to MSA at home is crucial (via reading to children, and exposing them to high-quality MSA cartoons, board games and music)

b. Having teachers read children’s literature to students daily in school

c. Integrating MSA into wholesome and fun activities in school

d. Ensuring that teachers are proficient in MSA and can use a simplified form with age-appropriate vocabulary with the children

e. Preparing and training teachers in best practices related to Arabic teaching and learning and the science of reading. It needs to be understood that the notion of diglossia is an inherent feature of Arabic language that should not be an excuse for poor teaching and learning practices

3. Recommendations for education policy makers:

a. Policies should underline that diglossia is an inherent feature of Arabic language that should not be an excuse for poor teaching and learning practices

b. Policies should be more focused on the quality of teaching and learning practices

c. Policies should embrace diglossia as an enriching feature in Arabic language rather than looking at MSA & SpA as competing and parallel concepts that do not meet

4. Recommendations for funders of research:

a. Need for research funding, grants and incentives to be directed at interventions to improve the teaching and learning of Arabic

b. Need for better evidence of the effectiveness of teaching and learning practices, which may mean establishing new institutions and research centers similar, for example, to the What Works Centers in the UK, which includes the Education Endowment Foundation