The Open University is the largest and the most diverse university in Israel. It has on its records 47 thousand registered students, and as a result of its accessibility it attracts many different students that wouldn’t be granted a chance to get a higher education otherwise. One thing that is required from all the students though is a moderate level of control in the English language, which puts a lot of responsibility on the English tutoring staff.
We had the opportunity to accompany the leading committee of the English studies at the university, in a one-day seminar dedicated to the challenges that arise while tutoring English to Arabic-speaking students. We wanted to explore the subject through both Pedagogic, cultural and social spectacles.
We’ve started the day with a visit to the high school of Baka El Garbia, where we met the school’s principal and the language tutoring staff. The Arab students in Israel are learning at least 3 different languages in school, in addition to their mother-tongue – Literary Arabic, Hebrew and finally English.
The first challenge that the teachers face is to choose which language they should speak in the classes – Should they use Literary Arabic in order to maintain an academic level, or perhaps it’s risking an annihilation of the students from the class? Does a combination of both Literary and Common Arabic is the best of both worlds or rather confusing and weird?
After that we continued towards Haifa, in order to expand the social and cultural perspectives of the pedagogic debate we had in the first part of the day. We searched for the Linguistic Landscape – How does language is represented and intertwined throughout, which languages is more prominent than others and where? Which languages aren’t represented at all, or enough?
The issue of language representation in the public space is an integral part of our ‘standard’ tours, however, the opportunity to discuss it with this group, that have a very special insight on the subject, were remarkable. We were especially impressed by the notes of Dr. Faisal Sawalha on the subject, as the only Arabic-speaker in the committee.
We’ve finished the day with a delicious meal at Robin Food (a Dumpster Diving restaurant in Haifa), and a meeting with Osama Jamol, an experienced moderator of ours, that tried to add to the discussion his own personal perspective on the challenges of Arabic-speaking students with the English language. He added some fascinating connections to the issue, including the social structure of the Arab society, age gaps, gender roles and some early birds that gives us an indication for changes that occur within the Israeli-Arab society.
It was truly a special experience to be a part of this day. A big thanks for it is due to Dr. Lior Cohen, that moderated the seminar, to Dr. Noya Regev that reached out to us, to Dr. Faisal Sawalha, to the staff at Baka El Garbia’s high school, to Osama Jamol, and to the English tutoring committee of the Open University. You’re the best!