Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Working with faculty from the Arab Open University / الجامعة العربية المفتوحة/

The Lebanon is one of a handful of countries that takes the definite article in English. The Congo, the US (although we don't usually write it). I was reminded of this by the teachers who I was working with there. We were discussing common Arab English 'mistakes' and over use of 'the' is one of them. The Britain, the Syria and the Lebanon. It is also the case for days of the week in Arabic, which are the Monday, the Tuesday etc...Anyway, I was reminded of this song by the human league. And, the accusatory / generalizing tone when people use the definite article before the nationality the English are...., the Lebanese are.... though I sometime fall into this trap I am consciously trying to avoid it!

On the plane from Riga I sat with two returning members of the vast Lebanese diaspora who told me that (the) Lebanon was the best country in the world. I have heard this kind of talk from a few Lebanese students too, Lebanese food is the best, Lebanese women the most beautiful (for more on Lebanese women by a Lebanese woman, see here). I retorted that no 'regular' English / British person would make such bold claims. That said, I am quite far removed from the UK and given the links between the English Defense League and that Norwegian Terrorist you never know. Just then I fell into a classic liberal trap which is associating patriotism and nationalism. Admittedly, it is difficult for me to disassociate the two, and I wish I could be a patriot. I probably am one secretly. The flight, via Riga, was fine, and I was fresh and ready on Monday to start the course.

I was well prepared but the teachers I worked with for the week were highly experience and well qualified teachers were more experienced and better qualified than me. They had MAs and PHDs coming out of their ears! However, they needed to learn about the IELTS exam as they are planning to introduce it to their university context as a minimum exit criteria, and it is something I have experience of from a variety of perspectives, mwah the power!!!

In many ways it was great to be back in the Levant. The weather was riotously good, the food good, the people still generally amenable (though Manchester folk seem very nice, more on this soon). I still have my reservations about the prevalent culture of 'maiding', amongst the wealthy. One guy I spoke to compared life in the states to life in Beirut: " here I can have two cars and two maids. In the States life is hard". Beirut Bill also wrote briefly on this here.

Having four participants in a workshop perhaps adds demands, and though I did set up some pair work we usually worked en-masse around a big board room style table. Each day was devoted to a skill with the Friday planned to be used for more general Academic English and professional development content. However, I must have eaten something bad during the week so had to bail out halfway through the last day which was really embarrassing, but i was very unwell...The participants were kind enough to drive me back to the hotel which was sweet, but god I was rough!

We had a few jokes through the week, mostly to do with my poor Arabic (Syrian Fus-ha) pronunciation. The 5 hours on teaching writing was a bit tough going, it could have been this or the fact that it was midweek, the volume of experience, it's unclear. Anyway, the participants did well considering some of them were working and attending the training, and others attending in their holidays. Thanks for all the effort.

For me I learnt, among other things:
  • not everyone with a role in language teaching speaks 'TEFL', some speak pedagogy or applied linguistics. The meaning of key terms to describe teaching and learning needs to be established and shared in order to make accurate distinctions between terms and actions.
  • the need to develop as a facilitator of discussions. I struggled at times to deal with the enthusiasm of the participants. Open prompts do this, I perhaps should record a session to analyse what went on and where I lost control. Did I need control at all?
  • giving academic articles to academics is a good idea that was well received. IELTS themselves commission alot of research and there are also many critical voices too.
Overall it was a positive week (until I got sick), I hope it was for the participants too. Drop me a line of feedback if you read this, it would be great to have your input into my development. I would also love to know how the IELTS project went a the AOU. Thanks for reading. More on my 'new' role in Manchester soon.