Said Hannouchi

2014-15 Research Report

Perceptions of Arab culture among first semester students and Moroccan native speakers of Arabic:

Imagined and desired norms for native and non-native speakers

My dissertation is motivated by current research on culture learning in the field of foreign language education and by my experiences in teaching Arabic as a foreign language. Foreign language (FL) pedagogy has shifted from an exclusive focus on the ability to communicate to a focus on developing a broader set of abilities that allow learners to interact effectively and appropriately with members of the target culture(s). Scholarly works that investigate and examine the process of intercultural competence development struggle with a multiplicity of terms that are more or less related including intercultural communicative competence (ICC), intercultural competence (IC), intercultural sensitivity, and  cultural awareness (CA). These terms focus on a set of abilities and skills that are helpful for successful intercultural experiences. 

Positioning language learning within a cultural context makes language learning meaningful and expands students’ vision beyond the classroom. Learners are motivated and engaged in the classroom when they are given the opportunity to investigate and explore native speakers’ perspectives, practices, and products—elements central to the National Standards for Foreign Language Education. At the same time, the cultural information that is conveyed to the learners often lacks a baseline, either representing the teacher’s subjective views or personal experience with the target culture or generalizing in inappropriate ways.

Against the backdrop of these observations, I ask the following questions:

  1. Does culture really refer to a set of established and shared perspectives, practices, and products among native speakers? If not, what culture are we to teach learners of a foreign language?
  2. According to what cultural conventions do learners need to behave in the target culture (TC)? and
  3. what types of cultural notions do learners take away from their classroom learning?

Addressing these questions, my dissertation investigates whether Moroccan native speakers of Arabic indeed share a common understanding of what perspectives, practices, and products characterize their culture. Obtaining native speakers’ perspectives helps determine in what ways foreign-language instruction may, in fact, refer to native speaker norms when measuring learners’ attainment of cultural awareness. Second, the study examines the developmental aspects of cultural awareness by comparing the cultural perceptions of students at the beginning and at the end of the same academic semester.

I am examining participants’ ratings of their attitudes and perceptions about everyday Arab cultural behaviors through ongoing analysis of data collected through questionnaires. My preliminary findings suggest that students’ self-projected likelihood to engage in certain cultural behaviors correlated significantly with their level of comfort to engage in the same behaviors, but that their likelihood to engage in certain cultural behaviors showed little relationship to what they expect native speakers to do in the same situations.

About the photograph
Each doorknocker represents a particular subculture within the broader Moroccan culture. The way an outsider may look at these doorknockers may focus only on their appearance, but the diversity of different knockers reflects a diversity of perspectives within the culture.