is shaping up to be a great year for Arabic teachers. There is a growing
awareness of the merits of introducing Arabic at school level, and many
schools have done so successfully. But two things have been holding it
back: the lack of suitable resources and the difficulty of the GCSE and
A-level. This year has seen a stream of arrivals on the textbook scene
which will go a long way to addressing the first of these issues.
The new edition of Mastering Arabic is particularly exciting. The first
edition has long been an oasis in a dry landscape. The quirky cartoons,
the straightforward explanations and the clear layout have been very good
reasons for teachers to go back to it continually as their textbook of
choice. The authors, Jane Wightwick and Mahmoud Gaafar, have dedicated
themselves for several years to producing learning materials that make
Arabic accessible and fun.
The best features of the original remain in the new edition. The alphabet
is introduced gradually, four or five letters at a time. The student is
made aware of printed and handwritten styles. The vocabulary is divided
clearly into topic areas. The grammar is presented systematically but in
light doses. The exercises are well thought-out and genuinely help the
student move forward rather than being there for their own sake. The
content is supported by a series of lively illustrations that enhance the
There are also some important additions. While the first edition focused
on reading and writing, there is now a greater balance between the four
skills, with new conversation sections and expanded listening exercises.
The grammar index will be a useful tool for students. The content has been
streamlined so that the trickier grammar points, some of which were
originally introduced early on, are now kept for the later chapters.
The main shortcoming is the book’s boxy A5 format. As a teacher, I would
have appreciated the wider, flatter, more classroom-friendly style of
textbooks like Tricolore or Sueños. The book is difficult to keep open on
a desk and, despite the attractive layout, the content of each page feels
rather cramped. The conventional textbook format would also provide more
breathing space for the material: there could be longer texts to develop
reading skills (the present format allows space for only a paragraph, even
in the later chapters); each chapter could contain more vocabulary from
previous ones to give the student a smoother sense of progression; and
there would be more room to expand upon each topic area.
All in all, this new edition has confirmed Mastering Arabic’s status as
the most suitable book for beginners. It is ideal for anyone who wants to
offer an enjoyable course that will take their students from zero to lower