EFL/ESL for Arabic Speakers

The Arabic language is almost entirely different to that of the Latin based languages (LBL): its script is cursive, and there is no distinction between upper and lower case letters; it is written and read from right to left, and the front of an Arabic book is considered to be the back by LBL speakers. Although there are many dialects, only one form of Arabic (Modern Standard Arabic – MSA) is universally used throughout the Arab world.

So, what should you, as a novice EFL teacher, be aware of when teaching Arabic speaking students? Here are just a few useful grammar tips worth remembering.

As it concern verbs, Arabic has neither the verb ‘to be’ in the present tense (this phenomenon also occurs in Russian) nor the auxiliary verb ‘do’: this results in the student writing sentences such as ‘He very clever’, ‘Where you live?’ etc. Furthermore, there is a complete absence of modal verbs.

In the case of the tenses, Arabic students have difficulty in dealing with the use of present simple vis-à-vis the present continuous. Additionally, the perfect tenses also cause problems: leading to incorrect sentences such as ‘He finished his work’, ‘I live here for 3 years’ etc.

All these problems can be addressed by drilling the student in the conjugation of verbs and use of the tenses: modal verbs should be dealt with individually; this particular aspect will be quite demanding for the student.

Here are 4 other peculiarities of Arabic worth noting:

1. Arabic does not effectively have a definite article. This leads to sentences such as ‘I have book’, ‘He hit ball’ etc.
2. Arabic students have problems with the genitive case: the student might wrongly write ‘Cat the girl’ instead of ‘The girl’s cat’.
3. As in Spanish, the adjective follows the noun.
4. The pronoun is retained in the relative clause. In this case, the student might write sentences such as ‘Where is the money which she gave it to you this morning?’ Peter, who he is a good friend, lives in London’ etc.

Although it may sound old fashioned, drilling is an effective way of reinforcing difficult concepts: this is especially true as it concerns the use of the tenses and the conjugation of verbs.

Because of these difficulties and other fundamental differences between Arabic and English, Arabic students will normally require more time to master English. Insha’Allah, your students will succeed!