Muna Al-Fuzai

I often meet people who tell me that although they understand English and can read it, they are unable to speak the language fluently or at least clearly and comprehensively, because they consider conversing in English as a problem. With the repetition of such situations, I felt I had to write about the subject.

First of all, I believe English is a universal language, along with many other languages. Many children can nowadays read and speak Asian languages such as Japanese and Korean, thanks to television series that they follow heavily on the Internet. Children are becoming multilingual since an early age because they can speak English, in addition to their mother tongue – whether Arabic or others – and are ready to learn new languages. English is not a problem for many youth, but those over 50 face a problem.

The question is why they are unable to speak English fluently. The answer for me is education. The educational process is a troika between the teacher, the student and the curriculum. If the teacher was weak in conversation and was able to climb the ladder of education because exams depend primarily on structural answers and not on conversation, their students will be weak in conversation as well. The teacher is the main pillar in the educational process. The teacher will either have a positive or negative role on the learning process.

Some teachers make success in tests the goal for students, regardless of the skills they acquire or how much they benefit from the language as an instrument they need in their lives forever. I believe that teaching aids such as language labs have a role in enhancing and upgrading the level of conversation among students, and if we don’t utilize this important tool, then we are missing out on a great opportunity.

I think weakness in English conversation is cumulative, where the student moves from one class to another and suffers from weakness, which is difficult to deal with in the advanced stages by conventional methods. Thus the student moves to the secondary and university levels with a big shift in quantity and quality of textbooks and materials.

Another issue here is spelling, which can be a serious problem for many students. This is the inability of the student to read the words properly and to learn the correct pronunciation of many words, because there is a close correlation between spelling and good pronunciation and the ability to speak fluent English. But language ends with the end of the lesson without a desire or goal by the students to use the language outside the classroom.

Also, many students consider English like other subjects and tend to forget what they studied in the previous year. Any language requires continuous and daily practice. I believe parents and family are important elements that contribute effectively to the educational process. This weakness may be the result of the ignorance of the parents and their weakness too.

Sadly, the form of tests has become familiar to students, and they are fully aware of the material that the test can cover and the distribution of questions and grades, which leads them to make no effort to memorize and review. I think there are psychological factors too that add some pressure – believing that English is a language that is difficult to understand. Here comes the role of the teacher to correct this misconception and help the students break the barrier of difficulty by facilitating the material through available educational methods.

I remember during my high school years that many teachers used to speak Arabic frequently in the classroom during English class. I believe this is wrong, because it contributed greatly to lowering the standard of students. I hope that the ministry of education will conduct training courses for students on conversation and I know that it is now forbidden for the teacher to speak Arabic in English class. But weaknesses indicate that there is a problem that was and still exists. English is the top language in the world. Maybe in the coming years, it will be replaced by new foreign languages, but this current weakness cannot be permitted.

By Muna Al-Fuzai

muna@kuwaittimes.net