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R.C. - Philippines said:
Motivating students The english language presents challenges to many new learners, however certain learners will have specific problems with english depending on their native language and culture. Problems that face native Arabic-speakers when learning english include (but are not limited to): learning the alphabet, counterintuitive text direction, identifying vowels and words correctly (focus on consonant structure), understanding the indefinite article, understanding the verb ‘be’, and expectations of gender roles. This paper will briefly discuss these problems in turn. One of the most obvious difficulties for Arabic-speakers when approaching english is the lack of familiarity with the english alphabet. In written form, a script of 28 letters or characters represents the Arabic language. Additional symbols can be used in conjunction with these characters to indicate particular vowel sounds. In contrast, the english alphabet contains 26 letters including vowels. There is no similarity or overlap between Arabic script and the english alphabet and the symbols themselves do not look similar. As a result, it can be difficult for Arabic-speakers to learn to identify and recognise english letters. Added to this, Arabic is written and read from right to left, while english is written and read from left to right. This can make it difficult for Arabic-speakers to develop proficiency in handwriting, and to become comfortable reading english. Arabic vowel sounds are not represented by characters in the alphabet. As a result, written Arabic words contain only consonants. The reader is able to determine the appropriate vowel sounds either due to additional symbols provided (usually only in simple texts designed for children or learners) or due to context and a familiarity with the language. Thus, a combination of consonants can make any number of words once the vowel sounds are added. For example, the word written M-D-R-S can form ‘MaDRaSa’ (meaning school) and ‘MuDaRiS’ (meaning teacher). As a result, Arabic-speakers can focus on the consonant structure of words in english, and fail to correctly identify or use the vowel sounds in words. This can lead to Arabic-speakers mixing up english words, for example ‘stupid’ and ‘stopped’, which share a similar consonant structure of S-T-P-D. Two grammatical issues that Arabic-speakers can struggle with in english are the indefinite article, and the verb ‘be’. The Arabic language lacks an indefinite article and an equivalent for the verb ‘be’ in present tense. Instead, these concepts are assumed or implied by the context of a statement. As a result, Arabic-speakers will often omit the indefinite article when using english, or incorrectly substitute the definite article in its place. Similarly, many Arabic-speakers will omit the verb ‘be’ when using english and will produce statements such as “I going to school”. Cultural differences can also cause problems for Arabic-speakers when learning Arabic. In many places where Arabic is spoken, the local culture clearly defines gender roles and separates the genders in daily life. As a result, boys and girls may be in separate classes for the duration of their schooling. When teaching in locations outside of these cultures, genders may be put into mixed classes. This can be uncomfortable and confronting for students and can create barriers to their learning. In addition, adult males in particular may have difficulty being taught by a female teacher. Due to the different expectations placed upon the genders in Arabic-speaking cultures, female students can face problems finding opportunities to complete homework or give attention to their english studies outside of class hours. Within a family context, females of all ages play a significant role in the running of the household and as such may have less free time than males to devote to studies. While not an exhaustive list, this paper introduces some key problems that can face native Arabic-speakers when attempting to learn english. When teaching english to Arabic-speakers, it is important for the teacher to be aware of these issues so they can tailor their lessons to assist students to overcome these barriers. Being prepared in this way allows the teacher to pre-empt and avoid problems in the classroom, and to provide the greatest opportunity for students to succeed in their studies. Bibliography ‘A description of Arabic’; accessed at: ‘Diagnosing the Target Learner Group’, Text-and-Talk Academy; accessed at: Packer S (2010) ‘Teaching english to Arabic Speakers’, York University english Language Institute; accessed at: Ryan A, and Meara P (1991) ‘The case of the invisible vowels: Arabic speakers reading english words’. Reading in a Foreign Language 7(2): 531-540. Wightwick J, and Gaafar M (2007) ‘Mastering Arabic 1 (2nd Ed.)’, Palgrave Macmillan, Hampshire UK.