Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Where were the Swiss Arabic Teachers?
In late autumn, Lady Love phoned around local language schools and did some web searching and we came up with a potential school.
Optimistically I arrived at the address in the centre of town and went upstairs. It was a residential style door and I was welcomed by a short shrewy, lady who ushered me in and gave me tea. She only spoke French and I was struggling, but she was fairly aggressively trying to get money out of me; that was for sure.
Lady was late. I was introduced to our teacher, a very smiley, young Tunisian guy. He was nice enough but he seemed a little inexperienced. His 'teacher voice', tone and mannerism were what were described as “talking to me like I am a child”. This was off putting and his approach was unclear and muddled, I didn’t know what was going on. There were no aims for our class. We weren’t asked in any detail by him about what we needed and why. We did our one lesson, an expensive hour, and never called them back.
It seems mean but neither of us were happy with the set up. I felt a responsibility as a fellow teacher to say something that could help develop this guy but I was cautious of the cost of getting dragged into a situation where I am paying to develop my own teacher, who was not really a teacher (by title and qualifications) but an American Studies student. I guess defining what a teacher is, is a part of this whole equation and I will talk about that later.
It was after this initial disappointment that things got a bit stressful. We came across lessons on you tube for example – learn Arabic with Maha have a look
Although this is great fun; she’s easy on the eye and gives a great insight into cultural aspects of modern Arabic speakers. I wanted a teacher-teacher, a real one, a professional who lived and breathed teaching, someone passionate about their job, reflective in their practice, someone who makes plans; adapts and makes materials for their classes based on their students’ needs and interests. We were getting nowhere.
Although we found intensive Arabic courses, these were in Geneva at unsuitable times. We were stymied.
I even stooped as low as to spam my MA coursemates. This was perhaps a little out of order but I went through the course list and wrote to anyone with what I thought was an 'Arabic' name or who was based in a possibly Arab speaking location, asking them if they knew someone who would teach us online over skype (my MA is in Educational Technology and TESOL). No one replied, and I am not sure if I would have answered to such a random message either.
The search continued, Lady Love’s former landlady’s ex-boyfriend, a Moroccan, recommended that we go to Lausanne’s’ mosque on Friday and ask around. We didn’t fancy that much. Perhaps it was the link between education and religion but it didn’t seem like how we wanted to proceed.
One final web search brought us to our current teacher who was suggested to Lady Love via a friend. He is a nice man, slightly older than me. He’s an Iraqi interpreter and has been in Switzerland for 15 years. We met and he explained his method, pointing to the book aliif baa (A, B in English), “this is my method” he said. I was a little reticent about this, knowing full well that a book is not a method. A book is a book.
I didn’t mention this but did mention that I am lacking in experience as a learner and that I am probably quite a difficult student in many respects =O). We agreed a fee, he kindly agreed to teach us on Saturday afternoons (which is regrettable now the six nations rugby has started) and we agreed on aims. These were that we would be able to read and write Arabic and say a few basic phrases by the time we left for Damascus. This was in early January. We are 2 weeks away from departure now and it looks like we are on track to meet this, surprisingly.
So we found a teacher, 6 weeks ago.
So just to recap it seems that choosing a teacher was heavily effected by contextual factors, time, location, the network available, the lack of schools for this purpose, the limits of our research. We both wanted someone live and alive, not to have asynchronous communication. It was also important that French English and Arabic were spoken by our teacher.