Title Mastering Arabic
Author Jane Wightwick and Mahmoud Gaafar
Publisher Palgrave Macmillan, 2007
ISBN 140394685X
Reviewer Haroon Shirwani

2007 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 learning process.

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 intermediate level.