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Language teachers are said to be notorious “border-crossers,” where the work-life boundaries are blurred. Dr. Tammy Gregersen from the AUS Department of English explored whether the ways in which the interaction of professional and personal contexts strengthen or stifle a teacher’s wellbeing.
“Although some language teachers tend toward suffering recurrent stress and others to experiencing more frequent ‘uplifts,’ teacher emotion is dynamic for everyone,” said Dr. Gregersen. “Our main interest was to examine teacher stress and uplifts in professional and personal contexts, while performing work-related and/or life tasks. Does being in school in class, in school out of class, at home and working, at home not working or being out and about make a difference in teachers’ reported stress levels?”
Using an Experiential Sampling Methodology (ESM) study, Dr. Gregersen and her team of experienced and student researchers investigated a series of six case-study participants, drawn from a larger sample of 47 teachers worldwide. The participants had downloaded an app called EMoodie on their smartphones and, when prompted ten times a day for seven days, answered a questionnaire on how they were feeling in real time, whether positive or negative.
The participants also completed a Likert scale questionnaire on their individual personality traits, which would help modify the study. “We wanted to ascertain whether specific profiles could be drawn of those who experience certain stressors. We also reviewed data for those who flourish in their lives to observe the protective factors they utilize,” explained Dr. Gregersen. The study, which was published in the journal, System, found that both personality and stress correlate with teacher wellbeing, but that the same could not be said for the correlation between personality and stress.
Another paper by Dr. Gregersen on language learning from the learner’s perspective was published in Studies in Second Language Learning and Teaching (SSLLT). “Language anxiety (LA) is considered dynamic for a host of different reasons, and fluctuates on a moment-to-moment basis, with learners experiencing both LA and a sense of enjoyment simultaneously,” she pointed out.
Dr. Gregersen collaborated with Dr. Peter D. MacIntyre from Cape Breton University, Canada, and Sarah Mercer from the University of Graz, Austria, on the paper “Reflections on Researching Dynamics in Language Learning Psychology,” which has been accepted for publication in an anthology, Researching Complexity, being published by Multilingual Matters.
“There is a gap between theorizing complexity in second language acquisition or development and empirical research that investigates complex dynamic systems,” said Dr. Gregersen. “We drew upon our own experience as researchers who have struggled with the design, implementation, analysis and publication of research from a dynamic perspective.”
Critical feedback on a student’s writing skills is an important part of the writing process, especially for second language (L2) learners, and in the absence of a tutor 24 hours a day, students can turn to technology.
While Automated Writing Evaluation (AWE) is effective in tackling issues such as time constraints, it is challenged when providing feedback at both the holistic and local levels. To address these issues, Dr. Philip McCarthy from the AUS Department of English, along with a highly diverse team spanning multiple departments, developed the computational tool, Auto-Peer.
“Auto-Peer guides students towards improved writing skills through analysis and feedback, and gives their tutors insight into many difficulties they may be facing,” said Dr. McCarthy. “The software can identify a wide range of issues with the writing, giving students the opportunity of either modifying their text or justifying their writing choices. This means that students have free, on-demand peer-reviewing to help them achieve higher levels of writing skills.”
Dr. McCarthy felt that while other peer-reviewing technology focuses on error correction for surface linguistic features, such as grammar, spelling and mechanics at the word or sentence levels, he wanted a more holistic program that would identify potential writing issues. “Auto-Peer is designed to identify the issue and supply an explanation and examples for it, allowing students to understand the issue and modify their text.”
Auto-Peer was developed at AUS using both basic and sophisticated technology and approaches. Dr. McCarthy, along with his department colleague, Dr. Khawlah Ahmed, Dr. Rachel Buck from the Department of Writing Studies, and Dr. Nick Duran from the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Arizona State University, were assisted in their work by undergraduate students Ayah Al-Harthy (computer science and engineering major) and Sarah Tariq (biology major), and graduate students Anuja Thomas and Noor Kaddoura (Master of Arts in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages program).
The team incorporated solutions to a wide array of common student writing mistakes into the software, such as overly long sentences, misused deployment of transitionals and problematic topic sentence structure. Their more sophisticated solutions included counter-argument development, paragraph ending strategies and readability.
The professors realized that if an automated learning environment was to be used extensively and frequently, then simplicity was paramount. “We designed Auto-Peer as a user-friendly ‘paste and click’ system,” Dr. McCarthy explained. “For a user to receive a full review, nothing more is needed than to paste the paper to the open Auto-Peer text window and click the on-screen assessment button. This approach encourages student-writers to frequently review their papers and modify their writing where appropriate.”
Dr. McCarthy is rolling out his software for his colleagues’ use in the Department of English, as well as to other departments in the university. “As we publish more papers on Auto-Peer, we’ll see how other universities might want to be involved. Arizona State University has expressed an interest in using the program, and I’m sure it will develop from there.”
The program can be downloaded for free: https://autopeer.wixsite.com/auto-peer
The village of Athwan of the Bani Malik tribe in the Faifaa mountains of Southern Saudi Arabia.
As a linguist, Dr. Ahmed Ali from the Department of Arabic and Translation Studies is receptive to nuances of language. It was while working at King Khalid University in Saudi Arabia that he heard snatches of conversation in a language akin to Arabic that led him to investigate further.
The university in Abha is close to the kingdom’s southern border with Yemen, a mountainous region home to numerous hill tribes. While Dr. Ali’s colleagues from the Faifaa Mountain area spoke Arabic, their conversation was peppered with phrases in their native tongue, Faifi. Fascinated by its provenance, Dr. Ali decided to investigate it further and try to learn its linguistic system and culture in order to document it.
“Faifi is an endangered language spoken only by the remaining descendants of the Himyaritic civilization in the Faifaa Mountains,” Dr. Ali explained. “Having no written form, it is passed on orally among the locals. However, as time goes on, Faifi is under threat of dying out with the last of its native speakers.”
Dr. Ali travelled to the region in 2019 and early 2020, and, with the help of a local guide and his friend as interpreter, met with the tribespeople. “Every tribe has a mountain named after it and there are some dialectal variations among them. The best approach for data collection was having a chat with them, to be more of a guest than an intruder.”
He is now in the process of dissecting his recordings and translating the speech into Arabic and English so that he can document it by transcribing it phonetically, with the aim of compiling a dictionary of some 5,000 words. The question is: is Faifi a dialect of Arabic or a language in its own right?
Jaber Athwani, Dr. Al Ali’s Faifi interpreter in his traditional dress.
“I am analyzing the speech to determine the relation between the Arabic of northern Arabia and that of this region, as well as exploring where the words were formed from, how the words are arranged in a sentence and their meaning,” he said. “It seems that Faifi is not a language that has evolved like Arabic, but it has Arabic characteristics. It may be a form of some old Arabic with borrowings from the old Kingdom of Himyar.”
Dr. Ali intends to study the history of the area to find out if the various ancient inhabitants shared a common linguistic history. He will also delve into the folklore, poetry and song shared by the local community and build an archive of their culture. The results of his research will be documented in a book on Faifi and the tribespeople who speak it.
“I have taken an interest in this subject as a result of my linguistics training in contrastive linguistics and comparative translation,” said Dr. Ali. “The languages and dialects of Southern Arabia are of immense significance and importance to the understanding of obscure areas of Arab history and to the wider field of Semitic/Jaziriyyah studies.”
Word mapping using Voyant
Teaching and studying English literature in a digital age has given rise to a dynamic new field of study being explored by Dr. Kristen Highland in the Department of Engl
Digital humanities (DH) is at the intersection of media studies, literary studies, history and computer science, and considers both the application of digital tools to humanities research and the larger implications of these tools and methods. “It’s a newer approach to learning and it’s more urgent now when young people are living in a digital world, especially for humanities subjects such as literature and history,” she said. “Digital humanities is about engaging more critically with technology and how we act, think and learn.”
Dr. Highland teaches students majoring in English language and literature, as well as Academic Writing as part of the General Education courses taken by all AUS students. She attended the Digital Humanities Summer Institute at the University of Victoria, Canada, in June 2018, a prominent annual training workshop on digital methods, including mapping and coding, as well as AI and electronic editions. “I wanted to learn more about computational text analysis tools and consider possible applications for the university’s literature and writing classes.” The computational analysis of texts includes word and style analytics and topic modelling, enabling students to explore writing, authorship and historical patterns in text.
Using specific digital applications and platforms, such as Voyant and Scalar, Dr. Highland has designed more effective and engaging classroom teaching strategies and assignments. Students use the tools to critique their own writing and enhance their research and organization strategies. They are also using the tools to collaborate on digital writing projects. “These tools are not used for answers but to ask new questions,” Dr. Highland added.
Institutions across the US and Europe have been developing digital humanities centers and initiatives in recent years. In the Middle East, the American International Consortium of Academic Libraries (AMICAL), of which AUS is a member, has secured a Mellon Foundation grant to support DH programs. Due to her research in DH, Dr. Highland was invited to organize a keynote panel on computational text analysis applications in undergraduate education at the AMICAL conference in Cairo in early 2019.
In addition to incorporating digital projects in her literature and writing courses, Dr. Highland is advising her faculty colleagues in the College of Arts and Sciences. “Digital approaches to texts offer new ways of engaging with and writing about literature; it’s a new way to teach traditional reading, analysis and writing skills and to expand these skills for the 21st century.”
Growing up in Baghdad, Dr. Sattar Izwaini enjoyed watching subtitled Western films, learning not only the English language but also about Western historical and cultural norms, such as the American Civil War and Thanksgiving. Now, as an associate professor in the Department of Arabic and Translation Studies at AUS, he is writing a textbook on Arabic audio-visual translation to help build a professional skill set.
Dr. Izwaini pointed out that Arabic translation was traditionally focused on literary and legal texts, but now other areas are coming to the fore, such as localization and audiovisual translation. “I’ve been teaching screen and audio-visual translation for the past 10 years at AUS as TV and film are integral aspects of our day-to-day lives. Moreover, it opens up more professional opportunities for our graduates,” he added.
The undergraduate course and the Master of Arts in English/Arabic/English Translation and Interpreting (MATI) program cover both theory in the analysis of TV, film and advertisement scripts, and the practicality of how to edit the words to fit the time limit on screen.
In putting his book together, Dr. Izwaini spent time in Barcelona writing a chapter on subtitling and, in between teaching, he will work on the chapter on dubbing. “I explain how the type of language used for these translations is quite different, as subtitling requires Modern Standard Arabic, which is understandable across Arabic-speaking countries, while dubbing uses more colloquial language, and each requires specific techniques,” he said. “More importantly, I explore the cultural elements of dubbing, giving insight into how audiovisual translation creates an understanding between the culture that produces the films and the culture that views them.”
Dr. Izwaini will spend 2020 on finalizing all the chapters for publication, including those on history, genres, voice-overs, surtitling and analysis. He also plans to visit post-production studios in Jordan and Lebanon to find out more about their policies on audiovisual translation in film, as well as take samples of scripts and film footage to use for research purposes and in the classroom.
While the book will be a rigorous textbook for students, it will also be accessible to professionals in the industry. “All the TV stations in the region, like Al-Arabiya and Al-Hurra, have professional translators but they have built up their expertise over years,” said Dr. Izwaini. “My book will encapsulate the theoretical and practical aspects of audiovisual translation and will give them insight into its technical, linguistic and cultural aspects.”
A stylish graphic of prepositions, designed by the AUS creative team.
Using prepositions can be a virtual minefield for a non-native speaker of any language; typical usage in one language may not necessarily be the case in another. So too, in the Arabic language.
Dr. Ronak Husni from the Department of Arabic and Translation Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences at American University of Sharjah (AUS) spent the Fall 2018 semester in pursuit of a preposition’s quintessential structure and function to further the understanding of these troublesome but, nevertheless, necessary language links.
Her four-month sabbatical took her on a journey from Cairo to the United Kingdom, where she worked on her forthcoming book, Working with Arabic Prepositions: Structures and Functions, with her co-author, Dr. A. Zaher from the University of Durham. Contracted by Routledge, the world’s leading academic publisher in the humanities and social sciences, they hope to submit the manuscript for publication this coming autumn.
Explaining the reasons for pursuing this specific research, Professor Husni said, “The usage of prepositions can be highly idiomatic and may not correspond to their English equivalents. This book will assist students, both native and non-native speakers to use prepositions correctly. It will also provide a clear guide on the uses of prepositions and the structures that involve them.
“With regard to the use of my current project in my teaching, I would hope that aspects of this research will be used in the department’s courses, such as Introduction to Translation and Teaching Arabic as a Foreign language (TAFL).”
Dr. Husni has previously co-authored four books in collaboration with Professor Daniel Newman of Durham University: Arabic-English-Arabic Translation: Issues and Strategies(Routledge, 2015); A to Z of Arabic-English-Arabic Translation (Saqi Books, 2013); Modern Arabic Short Stories: A Bilingual Reader–Twelve Stories by Contemporary Master from Morocco to Iraq (Saqi Books, 2008); and Muslim Women in Law and Society: Annotated translation of al-Tahir al-Haddad’s Imra ‘tuna fi ‘I-sharia wa ‘I-mujtama, with an introduction (Routledge, 2007). In 2008, Dr. Husni and Dr. Newman were joint winners of the World Award of the President of the Republic of Tunisia for Islamic Studies.
In 2013, Dr. Husni was invited by the Office of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the UAE’s Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, to work as a member of the International Committee to Modernize the Teaching of the Arabic Language, which made recommendations on improving Arabic language teaching in the Arab world, and led to the publishing of a handbook entitled Arabic: The Language of Life.
In addition to being a judge for the annual HH Mohammed Bin Rashid International Award for the Arabic Language, Dr. Husni continues to be an authority on the Arabic language and its pedagogy, and is frequently called upon to advise on issues related to teaching Arabic.