October 01, 2014 05:00 UTC

English Teaching in the Arab World: Insights From Iraq and Libya

AA: I'm Avi Arditti and this week on Wordmaster: conversations with two English teachers who are in the United States for the first time. I met them last week in the northwestern city of Seattle at the annual convention of the group known as TESOL, Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. One of the first people I met was from Iraq. [His name is being withheld for his protection.]

IRAQI: "I'm a professor of English, teaching students to be teachers of English in the secondary schools of Iraq. It is the first time I participate in the TESOL convention, two thousand seven. Actually it is [an] amazing experience because here we see not a convention but a village."

AA: "Now I'm curious, when people you meet, when they see you're from Iraq, other English teachers here, what's their reaction?"

IRAQI: "Actually they are amazed, how to come from Iraq in such difficult circumstances to participate in the conference. They do not think that I'm coming from Iraq. They always ask, 'From Iran?' I say, 'No, from Iraq.'"

AA: "Well, tell me a little bit about English teaching programs in Iraq. At what grade do students start learning English?"

IRAQI: "Students start learning English at the fifth stage primary, at the age of eleven, up to the age of eighteen, the end of the secondary schooling. And then they study different programs of English according to their faculties. For instance, students of medicine study most of their courses in English. Other colleges teach for one year also, but the students of English also study four years of English."

AA: "Is English a required course in schools?"

IRAQI: "It is required. And now, especially after the fall of the regime, many people try to learn English because now Iraq is an open country. Many people try to travel, try to pursue their study, try to communicate in English, try to find a job also while learning English."

MILOOD AL-OMRANI: "My name is Milood Al-Omrani. I'm from Libya. I'm on a Fulbright scholarship here in the United States. I'm teaching Arabic language at Hawaii Pacific University. I'm also promoting Libyan culture, Muslim culture in general, sharing it with American students and American public in general."

AA: "How many students do you have, and what's their background?"

MILOOD AL-OMRANI: "I have three groups of five, six and three students. That was last semester, I'm sorry. This semester is three, five and two. And they come from different parts of the U.S. New York, Michigan, Boston. And most of them -- all of them are Americans, actually. I had some European and Asian students last semester. Japan and Sweden."

AA: "And what do they hope to do with their Arabic language training?"

MILOOD AL-OMRANI: "Well, many of them are interested in learning Arabic because they're doing political science, diplomacy, military programs. Some of them just want to go and explore the culture in the Middle East. They want to go and see what it's like there."

AA: "So now let's talk about English teaching in Libya. At what age do they start teaching English in Libya?"

MILOOD AL-OMRANI: "Now they started to teach English to children in third grade."

AA: "And what about influence of learning English through American television shows or movies -- has that been a big influence?"

MILOOD AL-OMRANI: "Well, this is interesting because most of the programs that we have in Libya are British English programs that are officially taught. However, Libyans show great interest in learning American English because most of the stuff in the programs you see on TV are -- or is, actually, in American English.

"The English they learn in class sounds different than the one they see on TV. So they always have these examples: 'Well, I heard this on TV and in class you're telling me this, so which one is correct?' And we keep on telling them, 'Well, English is spoken in many different varieties, so you have to realize that this is correct and this is correct. It's just that it's spoken this way here and spoken this way there.' But they definitely have a great interest in learning American English."

AA: "What about slang? What place does that have in English in Libya?"

MILOOD AL-OMRANI: "Well, teenagers who are learning English are interested in slang because most of them listen to music like rap music and hip-hop and, yeah, they like using it."

AA: That was Milood Al-Omrani, a Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant from Libya. And that's Wordmaster for this week -- in the weeks to come you'll hear from other teachers I met last week at the TESOL convention in Seattle. Our e-mail address is word@voanews.com and our segments are all archived at voanews.com/wordmaster. I'm Avi Arditti.

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