Dr. Chantal Tetreault, MSU Department of Anthropology associate professor, received a Fulbright Scholarship to research Arabic language education and policy in Paris, France, for six months.
Dr. Tetreault’s academic background is linguistic and cultural anthropology, and her research focuses on the connection between language change and cultural change. In past research, she has focused on youth in France of Algerian or North African descent.
“Some of the basic kinds of principles that I work with regarding language practices have to do with social identity, notions about belonging, social exclusion, and particularly as they relate to gender and ethnicity,” she said.
Her Fulbright Scholarship began January 1, 2022 and ran through June 2022, encompassing the ethnographic phase of her research while in Paris.
“My current project has to do with language education, particularly Arabic language education in France,” she said. “Arabic is the second most widely spoken language in France, and France itself has more immigrants of Arab descent or Arab heritage than any other European country. And yet Arabic is not taught very often in public schools.”
Dr. Tetreault remarked that a similar scenario would be if the United States didn’t teach Spanish in public schools. In France, students are more likely to encounter the opportunity to learn Arabic through post-secondary education or through community institutions. Her first interest as a linguistic anthropologist is to understand why this is the case in France. She also hopes to contribute to the understanding of the social institutions where Arabic is taught currently in France such as local associations and religious institutions. Ultimately, she hopes her work will contribute to public discourse and policy decisions around increasing availability of Arabic in French public schools.
“I think there is increasingly a desire for more clarity and openness around the need to teach more Arabic, both from the perspective that we should teach more dialectal Arabic and also more written Arabic or Modern Standard Arabic,” she said. “There’s a kind of understanding that people need to come together to work toward better policies around language education regarding Arabic in France. So from my research, I hope that there can be some potential policy outcomes that bring together teachers of multiple varieties of Arabic (Darija and Fusha) in addition to some research products such as a book.”
Dr. Tetreault’s research involves interviewing policymakers, educators, students and administrators.
“One thing that’s just been so gratifying, humbling, and wonderful is that both educators who are teaching Arabic in after-school programs in France and also university students of Arabic are very excited to be interviewed,” she said. “I’ve had wonderful experiences with people being very enthusiastic about taking time out of their schedule, to make time for an interview. And I’m thrilled that there’s a willingness, but also an enthusiasm to share stories with me about their experiences, either learning Arabic, or teaching Arabic, or wanting to learn Arabic and not being able to in some cases.”
After she completes her interviews, Dr. Tetreault plans to publish several research articles and she hopes to write a book. Because every Fulbright Scholar needs a sponsor institution, Dr. Tetreault has been working with the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (INALCO) as her sponsor institution.
“It is just an incredibly wonderful place because so many different languages are being taught,” she said. “There’s a kind of richness and diversity of students from all over the world and also from all different kinds of backgrounds and heritages in France. And I’ve really connected with the faculty at INALCO who teach both kinds of Arabic: dialectal Arabic (Darija) and Modern Standard Arabic (Fusha).”
Dr. Tetreault would also like to encourage others to apply for a Fulbright Scholarship, which is available to undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, and also advanced researchers.
“It’s a wonderful way to create a situation for academic and scholarly exchange,” she said. “ I have really enjoyed an even deeper scholarly exchange than I expected.”