A Novel Approach to Teaching a Foreign Language

Image of the cover of the book, "Write Arabic Now!"

When Barbara Romaine, Arabic Instructor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Department of Global Interdisciplinary Studies, noticed some of her students struggling to master the challenging Arabic writing system, she searched for educational support materials.

Unable to find what she needed, she created packets with words pre-written in Arabic, and pieces of tracing paper fixed over top of the words. As the students listened to an audio recording of the language, Romaine instructed them to trace the words at the same time, a crucial teaching method that connects what students are hearing and learning to pronounce, with the Arabic script they are making on paper and what they are learning to read and interpret.

“After using this makeshift approach for a few years, it occurred to me that perhaps what my idea amounted to was a potential textbook in and of itself,” said Romaine.

A dedicated teacher, Romaine was determined to create an Arabic writing workbook. Seeking support for her project, Romaine applied for Villanova Institute for Teaching and Learning’s (VITAL) Instructional Mini-Grant Program, an initiative that provides funding to full-time Villanova faculty members to develop new teaching and learning approaches, at both the undergraduate and graduate level.

“One of Villanova’s enduring commitments is to foster academic excellence,” said Gabriele Bauer, PhD, Director, VITAL. “The Mini-Grant Program is one of many VITAL initiatives that supports faculty by providing resources to help them foster their students’ learning, a purposeful and direct contribution to the University’s teaching-centered mission.”

Mini-Grant applications are reviewed by a peer faculty committee comprised of representatives from each college and are awarded to between 10 and 13 faculty annually. Grant amounts vary depending on the scope of the work.

Once awarded her Mini-Grant in spring 2015, Romaine began to produce the Arabic workbook, piloting it with her fall 2015 students. After using the workbook, students’ confidence with the language increased and performance on homework and quizzes markedly improved. The potential impact of Romaine’s workbook is significant as it can be easily replicated for students learning other languages that utilize non-alphabetical writing systems, such as Japanese.

Today, Romaine’s innovative idea is helping Arabic students beyond Villanova. Romaine’s “Write Arabic Now!”—created with the help of handwriting samples from fellow Arabic instructor, Lana Iskandarani—was published in April 2018 by Georgetown University Press.


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