As the Excellence Center knows, there are many reasons Palestinians want to learn English. For many, these reasons are very tangible – they want better job prospects and better education opportunities. For others though, the reasons are not as immediate as that – they simply want to be able to learn more about the world and, through English, increase the opportunities they have to engage with a broader audience.
Education is perhaps one of the major reasons Palestinians learn English. English is taught in Palestinian schools, and through the classes at The Excellence Center, these course are complimented through conversations with native speakers. For Palestinians the opportunity to go to university, both in Palestine but also overseas, is a selling point in their decision to advance their English skills. At the center, many students have wanted to go on to further study in engineering, medicine and law. Learning English gives them the opportunity to not only learn from Arabic sources, but also to learn through English sources, giving them greater access to information for their research, something that only broadens their knowledge and understanding (a benefit for all people who speak more than one language).
Closely related to education are the benefits that come in regards to finding employment. Obviously English is a major language spoken throughout the world – it is one of the working languages of the United Nations – and so speaking it opens many doors. For Palestinians, this does not necessarily mean travelling abroad as many NGOs and international bodies set up in the region and being able to speak English increases there employability. Of course, with English, they can also look for work abroad, and given the Palestinian economy, this can become a necessity for many, especially those that take up university studies. As many of the students explain, wanting to work overseas is a strong lure, not only to simply make money, but like many Western students, simply to do so as a means to experience other parts of the world. Others also have more professional reasons – one particular student works as a legal supervisor in Palestine but was planning a career change into the diplomatic field, and so, was taking classes to brush up on his conversational skills.
Outside these very tangible reasons, learning English gives Palestinians a chance to connect to an outside world that exists beyond the occupation. Increasing the platforms with which they can communicate and express themselves gives them a means to see and participate in a world on their terms, and not one dictated by the political reality with which they live. This can be as simple as exchanging emails, chatting on Facebook, for others, participating in civil society activities in any number of fields, or simply learning about things that are not commonly found in Palestine.
As one volunteer experienced, after discussing his anthropology university research with some of the students, as they explained, courses like anthropology were not offered in Palestinian universities, however the study of people and cultures was of interest to these students. As he therefore did, he endeavoured to give them some basic texts on the topic so they could learn and encouraged them to continue English so if they wanted to pursue the field they could then apply for university positions overseas. It was a simple conversation between two cultures, but one that resulted in potentially a new interest for these students.
It is obviously very common around the world for communities to want to learn English. The benefits though are very real – as any English speaker knows, learning another language opens so many doors whether that be in regards to looking for jobs or in regards to something as simple as being able to read the literature of another culture and exposing oneself to new ways of thinking and seeing the world. As the world comes closer together, these exchanges are becoming the fabric of our society, and language exchanges are the vital component in ensuring these exchanges are capitalised on for the benefit of all.