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Teaching fellow offers Arabic classes at ALA campuses

Mr. Larbi Hachard ALA ArabicStudents at the Advanced Learning Academy had the opportunity to choose Arabic Language and Culture as an elective this year. 


The new course is taught by Larbi Hachard, a teaching fellow in the Teachers of Critical Languages Program. 


ALA is one of only 21 schools across the nation and three in Texas to host a teaching fellow in this year's program, which is sponsored by the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State.


Teachers of English in China, Egypt, Morocco, and Taiwan could apply to teach Arabic or Mandarin in U.S. schools for the one-year fellowship. 


Hachard is a middle school teacher of English in Ahfir City, Morocco. At ALA, “Mr. Larbi,” as the students here call him, teaches the Arabic Language and Culture class to grades 4-7 on the Fox Tech campus, and leads weekly cultural activities at the Euclid campus as well. 


Teaching Arabic to non-Arabic speakers takes a great deal of preparation, Hachard said. The Arabic alphabet takes three forms, so it is very complicated. Hachard says instead of focusing on the alphabet right away, he follows the natural way that children acquire language.


 “In the beginning, we just listen and speak. If they can listen and speak well, I can move to reading and writing. That is the natural order of the skills,” Hachard said. “By the end of the year, students will be able to speak basic Arabic, engage in a short, informal conversation, read and decipher a short Arabic text and write a short text about themselves.”


He teaches three sections of the middle-grades class. While there are not any native speakers in his class, he was impressed that several students came in already able to say some expressions in Arabic. 


“Some had some special classes in the summer with Culturingua,” Hachard said. “Others, when they heard they were going to have Arabic classes, went to YouTube and started searching for Arabic expressions, which is really great to me.”



He said he’s proud to be teaching a critical language, with more than 300 million people speaking Arabic worldwide. His students have quickly picked up on conversational phrases, greeting him in the hallways.


“Whenever I meet them or cross them in the stairs, they say ‘marhaba,’ the expression for ‘hello,” Hachard said. “Whenever I’m on duty at lunch and I hear ‘Marhaba!’ it makes me happy. Especially when I am tired or homesick, when I see kids do that it gives me energy.”


He is far from home. Morocco is a six-hour time difference, so he has to plan carefully when he can call home to talk to his wife and mother. 


But Texas, he said, has exceeded his expectations. He didn’t get to choose where he was placed, so before he arrived here in August, he expected to find the Texas Moroccans learned about in the movies.


“In Morocco they believe that Texas is distant, that the weather is harsh, it is a desert,” Harchard said. “But once I arrived here, I found that the weather is fine for me. There are green spaces like the River Walk, there are monuments, and what is most important is that the people are very sociable and approachable.”


When he returns to Morocco next summer, he said he looks forward to being an ambassador of Texas. In the meantime, he is an ambassador of Morocco here, filling his lessons at both campuses with cultural knowledge, and bringing cultural artifacts for his students to experience.


“What makes it more enjoyable is when you integrate culture into language,” Hachard said. “Just telling people is not enough. You need to bring them something they can experience. They will never forget that lesson.”


On a recent Friday activity at the Euclid campus, Hachard gave a lesson on Moroccan hospitality, treating the students to a traditional welcome into someone’s home: a plate of dates to eat and milk to drink. 


“This is how you promote mutual understanding when people experience your culture,” he said. “They can see it and touch it. They feel a kind of connection. They see what I am talking about is real.”


While Mr. Larbi is teaching his students, this program is designed to also be teaching him, improving his skills as a teacher of English by immersing him in that language as well. 


“It is going to help me grow professionally to improve my language because working every day with native people who speak English, it is an opportunity for me to learn how they pronounce some words, how they accent, some expressions they use in certain contexts, expressions I cannot find sometimes in books,” Hachard said. “It is a privilege. This will make me a kind of master teacher because I went to the United States and I taught here.”


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