Teaching English to an Arab Beginner

Updated on November 24, 2017
SakinaNasir53 profile image

Sakina is in her final year of an English Literature BA and has tutored Arab students too. She writes on pets, health, food, and life.


Teaching English isn't easy. Imagine teaching an Arab student starting from the letter 'A', when you yourself aren't fluent in Arabic! This was my case, being an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in the making (I haven't yet graduated from college). I am still teaching my student Bothyna, who is a smart, eight-year-old girl. She is in grade two now and can converse fluently in English like any other student of her age. So, let me rewind back two years and share my experience with you. Let us first look at the major challenges involved.

Teaching is a daunting task. Patience, effort and dedication are required to become a good teacher.
Teaching is a daunting task. Patience, effort and dedication are required to become a good teacher. | Source

1. Different Conversing Languages

I have been living in Kuwait for 14 years and have been born and brought up here. However, I can't speak fluently in the Arabic language. I know some basic words, sentences, and nouns. This proved to be difficult in teaching Bothyna, who didn't know even an alphabet in English.


  • Pick up an object and show it to the student, taking its name in English.
  • You can also draw, use facial expressions, hand gestures, or act to explain different things.
  • Remember to teach and talk in English only.

2. Different Writing Systems

Arabic is written from right to left, while English is written in the opposite way. So, students find English overwhelming and even difficult to look at. I remember how I stopped Bothyna countless times from writing the alphabets from the right side of her book.


  • It takes time for the student to understand the difference in writing systems.
  • Patience is required.
  • Never scold or discourage your student.

3. Differently Pronounced Words

People in the Gulf countries tend to replace the sound of the letter 'p' with 'b'. For example, the word 'pizza' might be pronounced as 'bizza'. 'Pencil' might be pronounced as 'bencil', etc. So, teaching the correct pronunciation might prove to be difficult in the beginning.


  • Pronounce different words starting from 'b' and 'p'.
  • Ask them to notice how your lips and tongue move according to the sound. Ask them to repeat words after you.
  • With time, they will be able to differentiate the sounds and speak without errors.


Top 3 Problems Faced While Teaching an Arab Student

Different conversing languages
Teacher and student cannot talk in a common language
Use facial expressions, hand gestures, draw or act to make student understand
Different writing systems
Arabic language is written from right to left, student may find English overwhelming to look at
Correct student's mistake of writing from the right side and be patient
Differently pronounced words
Students replace the sound of the letter 'p' with 'b'
Ask students to repeat different words starting from the letters 'b' and 'p' after you

Teaching the English Alphabet

It is advisable to begin teaching your student with basic English, that is, the alphabet.

Alphabets are the building blocks of English language.
Alphabets are the building blocks of English language. | Source
  • Take a whiteboard, blackboard or book to teach your student. Make sure you both are comfortable with it.
  • Start with both the letter 'A' and its smaller version 'a'. Do this till you reach the letter 'Z'. This saves time and your student will grasp everything quickly.
  • When you teach a letter, pronounce it loudly and draw a picture of any object which begins with that letter. For example, 'A for Apple'. Do this for all the letters and ask them to repeat it after you. This way, he/she will also learn new words.
  • Teach at a steady pace. Make sure your student is understanding and is aware of the new letters.
  • Repeat all the letters that you have taught everyday. If appropriate, sing the ABC song.

TeachingTip 1

Sometimes, students may get confused between the letters 'b' and 'd'. They may often misplace these in spellings. It is important to correct these mistakes.

Teaching Numbers

You can teach your students numbers while they are learning alphabets. But, make sure you teach one number with a new alphabet.You can teach more if wish to, but remember not to over burden the child.

Numbers are the basic building blocks of Maths.
Numbers are the basic building blocks of Maths. | Source
  • When you teach a number for the first time, say one, ensure that you have an object (one pencil) by your side. Or, you can draw any object in their book near to the number you are teaching. This helps in thorough understanding.
  • Ask your student to count on their hands while learning, or draw an object themselves.
  • To make learning fun, ask them to color the objects too.
  • This way teach until the number ten. After that, explain that the process (1-10) will repeat for two digits.
  • Make them understand that once a number's second digit is nine, the first digit will change to one greater than the previous (19 becomes 20, 29 becomes 30 and so on).

Teaching Tip 2

Sometimes, students may have difficulty remembering the number 100. When asked what comes after 99, they might answer it as 10 or 20. Make sure that you correct their mistake patiently.

Teaching Names of Colors

A child must know the names of different colors. Children love coloring. It is their favorite activity, which also releases stress and anxiety. You should try coloring with them too! It's fun!

Children love to color. It is important to familiarise them with different names of colors.
Children love to color. It is important to familiarise them with different names of colors. | Source
  • Draw an object, say an apple.
  • Ask the student to pick the color appropriate for this image.
  • When they choose the color, tell its name (red) with clarity.
  • You can then add 'An Apple is Red'. Do the same for different objects.
  • You can test them by asking to pass the colors to you, according to the name that you call out.

TeachingTip 3

Children tend to scribble at times. You can teach your student how to color neatly. Ask them to color inside the boundary of the drawing and not outside it. This way, they might get good grades in art!

Teaching Commands

Simple words like "Come Here", "Stand Up," "Read", "Write", and "Go" create commands. Kids must know these and it is up to you to make it fun for them to learn.

Children sometimes find learning monotonous. Make sure you make it fun for them at times, to prevent boredom.
Children sometimes find learning monotonous. Make sure you make it fun for them at times, to prevent boredom. | Source
  • Enact what you want to teach your student(s).
  • For example, if you want to teach them "Come Here," gesture with your hand for them to step forward.
  • Do the opposite for the command "Go."
  • You can also teach them action verbs by running, jumping, clapping, etc.
  • You can then take their rest by asking them to enact the action verbs. Children love this. Make sure to give it a try.

Teaching Manners

It doesn't hurt to teach manners to your student, even if they are already well behaved. It's always a good thing.

  • When you ask for something, always say "Please", so that they know it is a polite way of asking.
  • Always thank your student when they give you what you asked for.
  • It is never wrong to say "Sorry" to your student. It builds respect in their hearts.

Top 3 Tips for an ESL Teacher

Teaching is a Give-and-Take Profession

In my two years of experience with Bothyna, along with teaching her, I have learned so many different Arabic words from her in return. My Arabic has improved a lot and I can converse in it to a good extent.

  • While teaching alphabets with their respective objects, I got to learn the names of many objects. For example, the word apple is called 'tuffah," ball is called 'koora,' and cat is called "gatwa" in Arabic.
  • Similarly, I got to learn the numbers in Arabic. For example, one is called 'wahed', two is 'itnaine' and three is 'talata' and so on...
  • While teaching Bothyna the names of colors, I asked her what each color was called in Arabic. For example, blue is called 'azrak', green is called 'akhdar' and red is called 'ahmar', etc. She happily gave me the information and that made her feel so good about herself.

I strongly believe in this. What we teach students and what we get to learn from them, stays with us for a long, long time. Knowledge is not just for school, it is for life.
I strongly believe in this. What we teach students and what we get to learn from them, stays with us for a long, long time. Knowledge is not just for school, it is for life. | Source

Questions & Answers

  • We are an elementary school in Ohio and a 5th grade student from Palestine has arrived. He speaks no English. While we are using Google Translate and an English/Arabic dictionary, is there a computer based/online program that would help?

    I'm sorry but I am not aware of any online program. The best way would be to communicate in English every day.

  • Do I need someone to polish my teaching skills before registering with any tutoring company to teach English?

    No, if you're confident and have a Bachelor's degree, it's enough.

© 2017 Sakina Nasir


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    • SakinaNasir53 profile imageAUTHOR

      Sakina Nasir 

      11 months ago from Kuwait

      @mouhsinah Hi! :) Please use the same methods for adults like we use for children. There are many tips and techniques discussed above. I hope they are of help.

    • SakinaNasir53 profile imageAUTHOR

      Sakina Nasir 

      2 years ago from Kuwait

      Yep! :)

    • simplehappylife profile image


      2 years ago

      Sounds exactly like Parenting

    • SakinaNasir53 profile imageAUTHOR

      Sakina Nasir 

      2 years ago from Kuwait

      Hi SA Williams! :)

      Teaching is really a tough job, one where what you do and how you teach either makes or breaks your student's life. Patience, hard work, and enthusiasm are required to keep up with their curious minds. Thank you so much for reading and appreciating.

    • simplehappylife profile image


      2 years ago

      What a great topic Sakina! I suspect you will receive a lot of hits on this article in the future. English can be confusing, even for American's. There are so many contradictory items within the English language (probably due to countless words deriving from other languages). Kudos to you for doing the work you do! I know it can't be easy. You seem very kind and compassionate, I think you will be a Great Teacher (already are)! :)

    • Ashish Dadgaa profile image


      2 years ago


      You are welcome Sakina :)

      Keep writing and keep teaching :)

      You are the best :)

    • SakinaNasir53 profile imageAUTHOR

      Sakina Nasir 

      2 years ago from Kuwait

      Thank you so much Ashish for your kind comments on my hub. Teaching requires a lot of patience and dedication. I would be happy if someone benefits by reading my experience. Thank you for stopping by.

      God bless you too my dear friend. :)

    • Ashish Dadgaa profile image


      2 years ago


      Very nicely written Hub. I am sure this would be beneficial to not English speaking people and the one who is teaching them. This is very informative and knowledgeable hub. I loved it :)

      Very well done :)

      Bless you.


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