Youth still eager to learn new languages

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AMMAN — When Duaa Kiswani abandoned her background in accounting eight years ago, she did so because she saw a unique bubble of opportunity growing in Amman.اضافة اعلان

International conditions, specifically in the Middle East, have transformed Jordan into a leading linguistic hub for Arabic. “Because the students can no longer go to Syria or Iraq. The situation is also not very stable in Egypt. There was a need in the market,” she explains.

In the past five years, Jordan has seen a rapid and noticeable increase language institutions that cater to outside interest in Arabic. Four years ago, Duaa co-founded her own language centre, Deewan Institute, banking on the presence of foreign students to continue to increase. “We saw that there were many students, and we could take the risk and start this based on a small study that we did on the number of [language] students, we saw that we could survive.”

But once again, last year Jordan was the victim of outside circumstance. Most foreign students studying rapidly returned to their home countries last Spring. Deewan, like all other teaching centres around the world, turned to online classes to avoid shutting down. “So, we had in Jordan three months of lockdown, we were not able to work from the office for three months at all. For that time period, we switched everything to online, to Zoom and Skype classes... it’s like [in] the tourism sector as well.” 

However, online education proved to be an innovative blessing; it didn’t just help Deewan pull itself through 2020, it allowed them to re-imagine their business model. “We kept our teachers because of this. It was our way out of this Corona situation. So, we can’t complain about having Skype classes; it’s actually an advantage. So many institutes survived because of this. 

Increasing local interest in foreign languages

Kiswani hasn’t just seen the need to provide online courses for foreigners as a major change from COVID-19.

She’s seen an increase in Jordanians approaching her centre as well, many with the hope of leaving the country eventually. “We saw more students come to ask about different languages. English mainly, there’s a huge demand for English. And then actually German and French, it’s also increased. But it’s probably also that they want to work on themselves just to improve their skills for finding better opportunities,” she added. 

“Many of them explained to us that they’re willing to travel abroad to try to find better job opportunities, in Gulf countries or like to the [USA]. Depends which languages they are trying to learn [...] They’re mostly young, they’re mostly [no more than] 35 years old. Their backgrounds are between engineering and accountants and IT departments.”

This describes 28-year-old Bashier Al-Mamoda, a Jordanian who currently studies English at Deewan Institute, with the hopes of moving to the United States or Canada. Bashier has a background in computer engineering, and currently teaches computer technology at Al-Qimma School to around 300 students in total, ranging from first to eighth grade.

He enjoys teaching, but, true to Kiswani’s description, he doesn’t feel his skill set can be properly compensated in his country. “A software engineer, they are going to pay him yearly, almost $90,000. But here in Jordan, maybe, maybe, if he’s lucky, he could get JD10,000 yearly. There’s a huge gap.”

Ziad Gugazeh is the director of the language center at the University of Jordan. He’s been working at the University for 20 years, this past year he’s noticed the same shifts to online education as everyone else. But while it has become a place-holder for keeping language centers alive in the past year, he hopes this shift isn’t permanent. “Corona has changed all of our lives, and one of these areas that has been subjected to change is education. Education has been shifted to online, and actually students are less interested in education. [...] I think that the physical teaching is more effective.”

Gugazeh has also seen an increase in English focus in the language center, but he dates this shift back to well before COVID-19. In his eyes, the English department’s growth is a symptom of larger linguistic trends that have long taken root in Jordan. “All the world is witnessing a shift towards learning English. This is due to globalization; the English language is more important these days,” he explains. “This is actually an international demand. I teach in the department of European Languages, I teach Spanish at the University of Jordan. I’m not a professor of the English language. I’m witnessing a shifting from the testing and studying of European Languages to English. The English Language is acquiring, let us say, more soil.”

While this increase in English learning is indicative of young Jordanians seeking more job opportunities, the professor is hesitant to point to this as an indication of mass exodus for future generations of Jordanians. “I think because of the importance of the English language being an international language worldwide [...] I think the fundamental reason for that is finding an opportunity in the Jordanian market in the future.”

Duaa Kiswani is looking to expand Deewan outside of Jordan in the future. COVID-19 has not forced her to consider scaling back. While there are large institutional flaws that are affecting opportunities for Jordanians, she believes that success or failure cannot purely be blamed on one’s country. She knows the importance of personal adaptation, she had to make her own professional sacrifices to survive in Amman.