Is English a big deal in the Middle East?
In my last blog I talked about my first impression of the culture in the Middle East and how different it is than I expected. Another aspect of my experience in this part of the world was to learn about the role of the English language. When I tell somebody about my trip they usually ask me, "Do they speak English?" The answer is, "Many of the people speak some English, but I was surprised at how important the English language has become."
For instance, in one of the countries I visited, English as Second Language (ESL) programs are booming because they recognize that English is the language of the business world. In fact, professional job interviews are done in English and not in Arabic, so the better you speak English the better chance you have of getting a higher level position. In some of the other places I visited, English is also important because their economy relies on tourists from Europe and the West and so its obviously important that they know English.
There are many ministries in this part of the that world that use ESL training as a great tool to build relationships with the Arabic speaking people. As I had an opportunity to sit in and observe a few of these programs, I realized it would be very easy for a guy like me who is a native speaker in only one language (English) to teach ESL and yet also build relationships with Arabs and just show them the love of Christ in my own language. I had this experience as I sat down in a coffee shop after an ESL class and just started talking to two Arabic men. We talked for an hour about all kinds of things and they asked me all kinds of questions. They got to have a conversation in English and I got to build new relationships in my own language.
I should also say I appreciated the integrity of the ESL programs that I visited. They do not teach ESL as a way to slip in teaching about Jesus or as a way to manipulate people. They truly provide excellent ESL programs that are focused on teaching English. They have developed reputations in the community as programs that provide excellent ESL training with teachers who really care about their students. What an excellent way to be salt and light!