Teaching English in Syria: For Some, a Job Is a Matter of Karma
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AA: I'm Avi Arditti and this week on WORDMASTER: meet Safwan Abdulsalam Kadoora. He's the director of the English department at Karma. That's an English and French language center that opened in Damascus, Syria, in two thousand six.
SAFWAN KADOORA: "We are basically teaching adults and during the summer we are teaching young learners. So this means adults over eighteen years old and young learners are normally six to twelve years old."
AA: "Give me an overview of English teaching in Syria."
SAFWAN KADOORA: "Well, English teaching in Syria has dramatically improved during the last few years, I would say. So people started knowing the importance of learning English at an early age, so now most schools teach English at an early age, just like four or five years old -- yeah, even kindergarten. Of course, there might be a little bit of difference between people, but anyway, all people learn English at an early age, like six years old maximum."
AA: "And so they start at about six years old and they go on. Through all the grades is there English instruction?"
SAFWAN KADOORA: "Yeah, sure, just till high school. And then even during university you have to study English, as well."
AA: "And what about other languages, besides English? Are there other languages that are also promoted in the schools?"
SAFWAN KADOORA: "Basically there is the French language, and in our school we have curriculums for English and for French. But of course I would say English is the dominant one."
AA: "And between British English and American English, has there been a shift in recent years?"
SAFWAN KADOORA: "Ah, that's a good question. I would say that some centers really focus on American accent, while some centers like the British Council focus on a British accent. I would say that the American accent is much more popular in the country. And the point is, even students are more interested in the American accent, and it happens that students might come to us and say 'Well, we want a course,' and then some teachers are having a British accent, and then they say 'Excuse us, we just want to go.'"
AA: "So what kinds of materials do the teachers use then in teaching, let's say, American pronunciation."
SAFWAN KADOORA: "Basically we focus on audio materials, some pronunciation programs, American-accent movies and something special. The good point is, some of our teachers have been to the United States or at least they've got their American friends. And sometimes we might have authentic materials, but this time they are not materials, they are real people. So they come to our classes and they speak and then we say 'You see, that's how we say that in America' and so on."
AA: "Now as I've read, there's been an increase recently in American visitors to Syria."
SAFWAN KADOORA: "For study, basically."
AA: "I'm just curious, what are Americans studying when they go to Syria?"
SAFWAN KADOORA: "Most of them actually study Arabic language, and that's why I've gone through many interviews, I've had to make many interviews with Americans who are studying Arabic language in Syria, and then they are searching for a job. Anyway, in our center, it's not that simple to get a job because accent is not number one. We focus on other things, just like personality skills, which is an American way, and leadership skills, communication skills, presentation skills and so many things related to methodology."
AA: "So you're saying when the Americans are done studying Arabic, they want to get jobs as English teachers in Syria and they have trouble finding jobs because accent isn't the only [qualification] -- they have to be trained teachers."
SAFWAN KADOORA: "Well, mainly they don't have troubles, but they might have trouble in our center, just because I'm CELTA-certified, so I know about methodology."
AA: "And CELTA is?"
SAFWAN KADOORA: "The Certificate of English Language Teaching for Adults."
Safwan Abdulsalam Kadoora is a director at the Karma Language Center in Damascus, and he's preparing for additional training in the United States. I met him earlier this month on his first visit here. He was in New York for the annual convention of the association known as TESOL, Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.
And that's WORDMASTER for this week. Our segments are online at voanews.com/wordmaster. I'm Avi Arditti.