I met them for the first time beside the pool of their condo. There was a group of niqabis sipping Saudi coffee, eating sweets dripping with honey and chatting about the things that all women chat about. ‘Oh look, there’s Umm Abdullah’s American English teacher. She teaches Umm Abdullah’s boys for only two hours a day. Surely she’s got time for us to. She’s Muslim so we can have her come to our house and give us private lessons.’
Do you really think that niqabi women have different language needs from any other learner? Could a piece of cloth really be as powerful as that? When it comes to teaching them a language, from the perspective of the Muslim female teacher, the niqab is just that, a piece of cloth. In fact it is removed during the lesson so it is no longer a factor. From the perspective of male and non-Muslim female teachers, the veil can pose as an impediment since it can affect one’s ability to analyse pronunciation fully. However in terms of needs analysis, the niqabi student’s socioeconomic status is much more significant than her attire. Does she work, study, have kids, or have a maid? What does she need to use English for?
From my experience, needs analysis for a woman who wears a face veil will yield the same results as that of any other woman who dresses modestly. The veil does not necessarily signify a particular language need as far as I can see. Even under the veil you find a myriad of personalities, levels of faith, and educational goals. What determines the language need is her lifestyle, and language proficiency. Her previous language learning experiences come into play as do her current study habits, but in determining her needs, one needs to look beyond the veil.
Needs analysis is described by one dictionary of language teaching as “the process of determining the needs for which a learner or group of learners requires a language and arranging the needs according to priorities.” In addition, it states that needs analysis involves the examination of objective and subjective information. This assessment can be achieved through various means such as placement tests, surveys, interviews and observations.
My action plan:
- Ask them what they need to use English for now. (Listen to how she uses the present tense)
- Ask them how they would like to use it in the future (note how she uses future forms)
- Show them the table of contents of a course book and ask them to tell me which items would be most useful and of most interest (Is she able to use conditional forms)
- All along, I sit taking notes, but not just about what they say they want to do.
Want to know what’s under the veil?
In the case of those two ladies it was :
- An aspiring professor of Arabic Language and Poetry, whose husband is very supportive of her efforts to improve her English.
- A mother who wants to study Human Science, then become a social worker that helps to improve the lives of the women in her country.
- Two women who want to
- make conversations with non-Arabic speaking people
- order food in a restaurant
- make sure their hairdresser doesn’t cut to much off
- buy a book in a bookstore or borrow one from a library
- tell the doctor what’s ailing her
- get good service in the airport
- and very importantly, communicate with the maid
Another thing I might add: One of the niqabi women I once taught said that some (Saudi) people don’t want to learn English because they fear it will force them to lose their culture and be unduly influenced by western culture. I think that this issue deserves a separate blogpost, but I bring it up here to make the point that her concern should have an effect on what materials are chosen for the course. As with all types of students, an effort must be made to be culturally sensitive, thus making her feel that English is for everyone and she can express her complete self through the language of English.