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'Shifting Sands' of English Teaching Bring Changes to Schools in Middle East

AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster: international perspectives on teaching English.

RS: Recently we brought you interviews with English teachers from Afghanistan, Nepal and Morocco. Today we add Sudan and a country at the top of the news right now -- Lebanon.

AA: All of these interviews took place earlier this year at the TESOL convention in Florida. TESOL is the international association of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.

NADA WANNI: "My name is Nada Wanni. I teach at the University of Khartoum -- the Department of English there -- which is the oldest university in the country. I teach applied linguistics and sociolinguistics as well as literature courses."

AA: "This is your first visit to TESOL?"

NADA WANNI: "This is my first visit to the TESOL convention and we've just finished our first presentation. We had a panel session with some colleagues from the Middle East. Its title was 'the Shifting Sands of Teaching English and Linguistic Policies Concerning English Language in the Middle East.' We had a panel of some countries: Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq. So it was quite interesting."

AA: "So how are those sands shifting?"

NADA WANNI: "One of the most striking observations is that in this last year, the year before two thousand and six, there seems to be a realization, a strong realization by our governments in those countries of the need to start English at an earlier stage than a lot of our countries.

"We are starting at a preliminary or elementary, whatever you can call it, stages. At the society level there is this great and increasing need especially among the younger generation to master English for proficiency, either for young professionals or for students who want to do their postgraduates abroad.

"And these needs are certainly common to all of our countries. And the problems, of course, are more or less -- we are all suffering from issues of like what to do about teacher training, what to do about materials development, curriculum design. So ... "

AA: "And if you had one bit of advice to give to someone listening to this, an English teacher or an English learner, what would it be?"

NADA WANNI: "I would say issues of motivation is really important and realizing your own specific needs and experimenting -- really experimenting with your own situation on the ground. We can read a lot sometimes of theory of the best way to do things, what's the best way to approach second language teaching.

"But it's really you there, the teacher in the classroom, who can just really realize what needs to be done. And I suggest that they just take the initiative, experiment with different ways and methods. Find out what triggers the attention of their students, and just develop sometimes your own, own method, your own way, your own approach. Be yourself and you'll find out what works best for you and for your students."

GHINA AL-BADAWI: "My name is Ghina al-Badawi. I am a principal of one of the Makassed schools in Lebanon and I was previously the English coordinator at that school. And it's my first year as a principal."

AA: "What do you find to be the best motivator for teaching English to children?"

GHINA AL-BADAWI: "You know, different people learn in different ways, so you have to cater for their needs. And that's why I've made a special session once per week for integrating English, and they learn English through computer games, and we've started the clubs, like drama clubs and movie clubs, and all of them are in English. We had something like a morning message and the students would speak in front of the whole school about a certain topic.

"So you have to move from the old way of the teacher only lecturing and students only listening, because most people are not only auditory."

AA: "So far, as principal, what's been your biggest challenge?"

GHINA AL-BADAWI: "You know, I've changed the culture of the school. It was like a more traditional one and I wanted it to be more lively. And things take time. Sometimes you face teachers who wanted the old way. But in general everyone is happy. But it needs time, it needs money."

AA: That was Ghina al-Badawi, the principal of a primary school in Beirut, speaking to me earlier in the year, along with Professor Nada Wanni from the University of Khartoum.

RS: And that's Wordmaster for this week. Our e-mail address is And you can get English teaching ideas and hear from other teachers at With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.