The weekly column
Article 105, July 2002
Approaches for Teaching English for Defense Military
By Christine Canning-Wilson
Abu Dhabi Men's College, Higher Colleges of Technology
Research reflecting educational assessment and teaching
within other cultures, especially the Gulf region, has been scant. Arabic
speakers in adult learning contexts are only recently being studied, with
little to no emphasis on the military learner, who may or may not have
a degree in his native language.
This paper focuses on motivating adult learners to improve
their English language skills, especially those enrolled in Defense Military
Programs and/or Intelligence Classes in the United Arab Emirates and Gulf
Region. Special considerations and adaptations often must be made in order
to meet the needs of the program, learner and UAE Military. Influences
such as cultural differences in terms of behavior, attendance, motivation
and learning can cause friction between the learner, the program and the
expatriate practitioner. Therefore, it is necessary for practitioners,
to often come up with new methods and approaches to materials and curriculum
used in the classroom, as well as to further develop and improve testing
practices in order to make learning/assessment more meaningful for the
2.0 Background of Military Students Involved in Cost Recovery
This paper describes our experience with a large-scale
military program with a foreign contractor (LSMP) in conjunction with
the Higher Colleges of Technology. It further includes teaching the students
both specialized and general English for both academic and military purposes.
In the Fall of 2001, 30 radar specialists were enrolled
in the LSM in conjunction with sub-contracted English courses with Abu
Dhabi Men's College (ADMC) at the Higher Colleges of Technology. 29 Candidates
successfully passed the program and were sent on to the United Kingdom
to further their studies in radar technology. The students will be labeled
as Defense Military Institute (DMI) candidates for the purposes of this
paper. The successful graduation of DMI students from Groups 3 & 4 was
a significant accomplishment for the UAE Military Forces.
The UAE Nationals involved in the program are described
in this paper as being from the Northern Emirates of Ras Al Khamiah and
Fujairah, who for various reasons work in Abu Dhabi for the UAE Armed
Forces. Their ages ranged between 20-40 years and most were supporting
families. For example, one student was supporting two wives and eleven
children, whilst taking on a full-time military position and furthering
his studies. Courses ran over thirty two-week period of time. Courses
consisted of an average of 25 hours a week of Intensive English with American
and Canadian teachers, plus specialized radar modules taught by ex- French
and British specialists flown in from Europe with expertise in various
aspects of radar defense.
It is important to examine the background of military
students as adult learners in the Gulf Region and especially in the United
Arab Emirates. As Canning-Wilson and Bornstein (2002) point out in the
United Arab Emirates prior schooling, age and economic status do not need
to always influence a national student's chances for furthering his or
her education as an adult learner. Many students in adult learning courses
may not have a high school degree or be completely literate in their own
language. They further state that UAE ministries are very generous to
their employees enrolled in adult education classes. Quite often they
release them for work-study related programs at full pay. When courses
are finished or degrees are granted, adult learners are often sent abroad,
promoted and/or given incentives for their academic progress. Moreover,
the employer in most cases picks up other fees and costs for the student
as not to burden them with further financial obligations. This holds true
for many Emirati learners employed by the UAE Armed Forces, who are given
specialized classes and language training at the government's expense.
English for Military Programs, like all other HCT based
programs, offer courses and modules that are academically credible, pedagogically
sound and theoretically based. CERT, ADMC and the HCT have rigorous standards
of educational qualifications that teachers must meet before being considered
for employment. Additionally, standards for the college are set by Academic
Council, which makes policies, procedures and expectations clear, concise
and helps the learners reach obtainable goals. Thus, because of the excellent
administrative guidelines and a cooperative team approach with LSM, teachers
want to teach and military students want to learn.
Quality assurance reporting is actively used for evaluating
learner progress in an adult education context. A learner's ability to
detect, demonstrate, describe and express the language through the construction
of various applications of evaluation practices allows the adult learner
to draw on work experience and life knowledge, thus benefiting military
learners with developing English skills. Therefore, assessment in military
cost recovery programs is an ongoing process aimed at understanding and
As Canning and Bornstein (2001) state, "In the Arab world
the approach design is aimed to help teachers find out what students are
learning/have learned. It involves making adult learning and contact course
expectations explicit and public". Furthermore, it includes setting appropriate
criteria and high level standards for learning quality; systematically
gathering, analyzing, and interpreting evidence to determine how well
performance matches those expectations and standards; and using the resulting
information to document, explain and improve performance for military
learners in cost recovery and language programs.
The needs of the UAE military and the Arab soldier require
learning organizations to place learning first and provide educational
experiences for learners anywhere, anytime, and anyplace. In order to
provide this kind of flexibility at the highest standard of quality, curricular
design and assessment must be synchronistic. In order to meet the ever-changing
needs of the knowledge economy, ADMC cost recovery programs ensure sound
instructional design, clear outcome development, and rigorous instructional
standards. Clients must be involved in some part of the course development
in order to make sure their needs and the students' needs are being met.
Outcomes must be mutually agreed upon and assessment strategies linked
to the outcomes defined for the military student and client.
The DMI candidates and their courses were evaluated through
a series of different weekly instruments created by a team of practitioners
measuring what has been learned from the curriculum. The assessments are
not limited to traditional paper/pencil exams in traditional classrooms,
adult learners must be assessed not only on their subject and discipline,
but on their ability to think creatively and critically, make decisions
and solve problems, communicate orally and in writing, as well as develop
leadership responsibilities, and increase their social responsibility
as protectors of their homeland, the United Arab Emirates. As no one evaluation
is considered a high stakes test, scores reflect a more rounded profile
of the military student.
3.0 Considerations for Teaching Defense Military Intelligence Classes
Before embarking on teaching, implementing and creating
defense military intelligence classes using English as a medium of instruction,
programs and practitioners must evaluate and carefully consider the following
- What materials will be used with the classes?
- Will these materials be suitable for the military
- Are these materials to be commercially or in-house
- Are the learners at the ability level to use the language
at the level required by the program and/or by the client?
- What prior instruction in English have students been
given? If the answer is none or very little, how will your program make
up the deficit in the time period allocated for study?
- What types of criteria are being used to select materials?
- Has a needs analysis been given to the students? Or
is the client dictating the materials to the program in order to meet
future needs? How do these choices affect the military learner both
in and out of the classroom?
- What type of syllabus is to be used?
- Can your teachers and program define and outline the
differences between the target performance objectives and the curriculum
- What types of language awareness and cultural sensitivities
need to be written into the curriculum in order to best suit the needs
of the military learner?
- How will your program evaluate itself?
- How will your program foster the military student
to become more autonomous? Or, will your program be used as a "baby
sitting service" for those in the military with nowhere else to go?
- How would an outside consultant with no prior knowledge
of teaching military students view your program, curriculum, materials,
and teaching methodologies? How would you work to improve these areas
for future courses?
- What is the purpose of your program? Are you actively
involved with the input of how the program is run? Or is the program
dictated to you by higher administration with little teacher input?
- What are the long-term goals and short-term goals
for the program enrolling the military programs?
- What is the purpose of your lessons to train the military
students using English on a whole? Do your daily lessons work towards
this goal? Do your teaching team assigned to the group share the same
vision on how to obtain the goal? If not, how can your program rectify
- What is the attitude of the client, the soldier, the
program and the teacher? As the teacher do you question why you are
teaching your subject? Is your vision clouded and attitude warped because
you lack direction from administration, because your students are or
are not motivated; and/or because you lack to put the effort into your
courses? If this is the case how do you plan to rectify the problem
for the betterment of the program and military language learner?
The LSM's success was related to the close relationship
maintained between the administration, client, teachers and students.
It was further developed by the dedication of the teaching staff and support
from administration to work with the client to help prepare them with
clear direction for their upcoming courses focusing on radar defense systems.
4.0 Recommendations and Suggestions for the Military Classroom
Creativity and originality are highly recommended for
keeping military students actively involved in lessons. Although passive
learning techniques are easier to maintain classroom management, it may
not always be in the best interest to the student as a language learner.
Military students must be made to think critically and to use both oral
and written forms of communication. Although more mature students can
learn from lecture formats, other students often don't have the same concentration
skills to sit for extended periods of time. Therefore, multi-tasking and
activities using the lessons and materials in a variety of formats and
approaches proved most useful.
The team of teachers used a series of different teaching
techniques to keep student interest for up to 6 hours a day in English
Language Instruction. Because of the nature of the military, classes were
structured with weekly assessments; however, instruction varied based
upon the experience and personality of the teacher. Students were exposed
to a more eclectic approach of methods to enhance their language skills.
Some of the most successful methods and activities used
with military students were as follows:
- Dictations: Student pairs were asked to dictate material
to a partner who wrote down what was being said. Students were asked
to spell unclear words and to listen for sound patterns. Another form
of dictation that proved effective was running dictations. Although,
loud at times, students were sent down the hall to read a passage. They
were asked to remember as much of it as possible in English and to return
to their groups to report what they had read. These types of activities
kept students actively involved in lessons.
- Internet Based Sites: Students were often asked to
explore sites and current events involving military operations. Some
effective sites with either texts or pictures for students were:
- Encryption games: In one of the courses, military
students were asked to make as many English words out of the letters
provided with in a three minute period of time. In the first week, military
students produced basic and minimal word counts; however, by the end
of the course, soldiers were increasing their lists two-fold. This later
led to exploring sites such as http://www.infowar.com/. Students were
able to discuss how learning codes and encryptions could help protect
military secrets. Students were then asked to create encryptions and
to pass them to fellow soldiers in the class to solve using words in
English. Clever students enjoyed this activity; weaker students who
did not wish to expand their thought process found it more difficult
than their counterparts. This is not to say, they weren't able to decode.
Most students enjoyed the challenge of solving the puzzles in English.
- Problem solving tasks: Students were often given problems
to solve or pieces of information to a part of a puzzle to unravel.
For example, students upon entry to class might be given a card with
a word on it such as: battery, gsm card, mobile, lighter, petrol, can
of tuna, tent, knife, gun etc.... Students were asked to group themselves
into four based on the materials given to them in order to survive 3-5
days in the desert. The gsm card was worthless without the mobile, so
the two soldiers had to find each other and explain why other groups
should take them in. Usually there were two or three extra students
in the class, they had to infiltrate groups and get others removed by
selling themselves out to the enemy. This proved very interesting for
students because they had to speak and justify their existence in terms
- Students were asked to play games like to tell the
truth. If an enemy were to capture them, two would have to make up a
story and one person in the group would have to tell the truth. It was
up to the class to ask questions and determine which soldier was telling
them the correct information. Soldiers learned how to mislead their
enemies and how to detect people giving correct and substantial information.
- Students were often given military problems and asked
to create sentences showing an offensive, defensive and diplomatic result
in both oral and written communication.
- A popular activity I used was creative geography games.
Soldiers were given cards and told which countries they were invading
or protecting. Looking at maps and topography, they were asked to determine
and explain how they were to approach and deploy the situation using
English as a medium of instruction.
- Current events are commonplace in today's newspapers
and television news. Students were asked to look at events and to discuss
them by listening for key terms in English. Students learned how to
interpret reports and to listen to different viewpoints to discuss and
assess military situations.
- Students were given core vocabulary and readings associated
with their field of work to help familiarize them with the terms used
in radar technology. This concept can be specialized or generalized
depending on the type of soldier enrolled in the cost recovery program.
Perception and application of a lesson or activity in
the military classroom is essential to the execution of materials and
dissemination of information to soldiers in the Arab world studying the
English Language. It is suggested that practitioners guide away from general
English texts and center more on military related materials that are relevant
to the person's life and working environment. It is further recommended
that practitioners in programs share techniques and collect activities
to share with colleagues that help military students become even more
autonomous and active learners.
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and assessment strategies. Denver, CO: University of Denver.
- Canning-Wilson, C and Bornstein, L (2002) A Case Study:
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Troudi, S et al.(2002) EFL Challenges in the New Millenium, TESOL Arabia
Conference 2001 Proceedings. Pages 254.
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E Assessment: Aspects of Course Design for On-Line Web Based Courses
Used with EFL/ESL Learners. ERIC. Microfische: ED449788
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(Pp 189-204), TESOL Publication, Inc.: Virginia
- Kamali, T & J. Metzner (Eds.), Spin-offs from innovative
learning environments: Doing business in the knowledge economy (pp.
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