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Focus on the Learner Essay

Muftah, married with four children, is a pleasant student who is struggling in class. Muftah did not receive any English in secondary school or university. He worked as a Physical Education teacher for two years, and then was employed with the Ministry of Youth and Sports for twenty years. In his years of employment, Muftah never needed to speak or write in English until about two years ago, when he started attending International House. He says that he is now learning English because he has a lot of time on his hands. Muftah prefers to study at home, not with friends. He says that he does not focus on reading or writing; but, he enjoys practicing his speaking skills with his fourteen year old son because that’s where he feels he needs improvement. Muftah sees this as an opportunity to bond with, and encourage, his son because Muftah never got this chance when he was younger. When asked if he is interested in working in a company in the future to maintain his English, he said that he will think about it.

Muftah joined International House around two years ago and has had no previous official English education. He studies English for fun and to bond with his children who are now studying English in school; so, he regards English as a social tool rather than one to grow career wise.

Muftah is very cooperative in class and participates from time to time. He enjoys group work but prefers to work in pairs because he feels he learns more than when he is with a group of people.

Muftah’s strengths are in reading and comprehension. In a scanning activity, he responded accurately when asked to read a letter for one minute and reply to three questions: who sent it, where was it sent from, whom was it sent to. In controlled practice of a reading text, he answers fairly accurately when working on column matching or multiple choice exercises. However, when reading longer texts, (e.g. a newspaper article on eating healthy) he finds difficulty in responding accurately and correctly, yet he seems to put things into context and tell briefly what the piece is about. His teacher says that he sometimes leans towards looking for the answer in Arabic from peers and is the least confident in class; so, he may need to be told to engage fully in English. In addition to his less obvious weakness in skimming texts, Muftah displayed mistakes which were typical to those of an Arab learner in pronunciation and grammar.

When conducting a pronunciation exercise, his vowels were incorrectly placed most of the time; this may be due to interference from his L1 because Arabic has a different number of vowel sounds from English. Wednesday: /wenɪzde/ – scholastic: /skɒlstɪk/ – sporadic: /spɒrdɪk/ Thursday: /teresde/ – Shirt: /ʃeɪrt/ – socks: /sʌks/ – clothes: /klɒdɪs/ Department: /dɪpærtəmɪnt/ – Management: /mænɪʒmɪnt/ – January: /ʒænu:wərɪ/ Also sounds such as /v/, /p/ and /ʤ/ were not accurate on the first attempt and replaced with a /f/ and /b/ and /ʒ/ respectively; this is due to the absence of these sounds in the Libyan dialect. In grammar, his auxiliary verbs are either lacking or placed incorrectly, for example: ‘Where you live?’ and ‘What you doing?’; however, if he is asked to repeat, he will acknowledge his mistake and self-correct it. Again, this is due to not having auxiliary verbs in Arabic, just question words.

In an attempt to strengthen his skimming skills, Muftah may buy an English newspaper on his way to work (or borrow a magazine from the school library), pick an article, and try to summarize it with his son. At the end of the week, he may hand it to his teacher for homework to check, and attach a list of new vocabulary he learned from the article. That way he can develop his repertoire of vocabulary, and, at the same time, improve his reading and writing skills. If he hands in the homework three weeks in a row, he can have a break the fourth week to celebrate his accomplishment with his son. Another area I would focus on strengthening is forming the interrogative with auxiliary verbs. Divide a poster board into four (or more) categories: sports, music, animals, and history.

Each category is colour-coded and should have four to five envelopes under it. In each envelope there is either a name of a personality, an important event, etc. On each envelope there is the number of points to be won, if participant answers correctly, e.g. 100, 200, 300, etc. To play the game, you will need three persons, player A, player B and a referee. The referee stands by the poster board to take out the card that the players choose. The player will then start to ask 5 questions (yes/no questions or wh- questions) to guess what is on the card. For example, in the Sports category, the card may hold Tiger Woods’ name (or another regionally familiar athlete), so player A will ask the referee: Is it a man or a woman? What game does he play? Where is he from? Does he still pay? If he guesses correctly, he gets the points if not; then, a chance is given to player B to gain the points. If neither player guesses correctly, no points are given and they can try again later.

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