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An Arabic TOEFL?

Last week, I took part in a conference on the study of the Arab world in Western universities, organised by SOAS and ALECSO in London —actually, this is why I am writing this post in my poor and مكسر English. During the closing session, Dr Rita Awad, director of Culture at ALECSO, invited us all to submit to her any proposal likely to facilitate our work as specialists and scholars on the Arab world, either as part of our final papers or separately. When I heard her saying this, I couldn't help raising my hand to advance my proposal as soon as possible: wouldn't it be good to have ALECSO develop an Arabic language test like, say, the English TOEFL, the French DELF, etc? This would mean setting an Arab standard for assessing proficiency in Arabic, on which both Arab and non-Arab institutions could rely, and, if successful (i.e.; if this 'Arabic TOEFL', as Dr Rita Awad put it, managed to establish itself as a respected and sought-after reference), it could result in promoting among non-Arab scholars and students a deeper awareness of the importance of achieving communicative competence in this language —and having it officially assessed; which is something few of us can boast today.1

I wonder to what extent the ALECSO, or the Arab League for that matter, is in position to get involved in a project that might imply a certain acknowledgement of the status of the so-called 'dialectal Arabic' —unless we admit that one can fully communicate in pure literary Arabic, which is something quite unlikely to happen, at least in everyday life, as one of the lecturers remarked during the conference, much to everyone's amusement: he'd never met, he said, someone really speaking that tongue that some call Modern Standard Arabic.2 But, to be fair, I'm not well acquainted with ALECSO's late contributions to the field of TAFL, apart from their textbook, الكتاب الأساسي, now published by the AUC press.

Be that as it may, Dr Rita Awad agreed to pass on my proposal to her superiors at ALECSO and I am hopeful that it will be given some fair consideration.



  1. Actually, this is one of my major research concerns: why the average Western Arabic scholar does commonly show a (wilful?) lack of proficiency in any language skill other than reading/translating.
  2. On the complexity of Arabic testing, see, for example, Charles W. Stansfield and Dorry Mann Kenyon, "Issues and Answers in Extending the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines to the Less Commonly Taught Languages", Eric ED289344, pp. 6-9.