Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs

Report on Academic Specialist Visit to Egypt: November 27 to December 11, 1998

By Dr. David E. Eskey,
University of Southern California
(with Dr. Eleanor Black)

About the Specialist

Dr. David E. Eskey is Professor of Education and Director of the American Language Institute at the University of Southern California. He earned his Ph.D. in English and MA in Linguistics at the University of Pittsburgh, his MA in English at Columbia University, and his BA in English at Pennsylvania State University. In the US he has taught at Carnegie-Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh; he has also taught extensively abroad at the American Institute of Languages in Baghdad, Iraq, the American University of Beirut in Lebanon, and Thammasat University in Bangkok, Thailand. He has served as a consultant to Educational Testing Service (ETS), USIA, USAID, ARAMCO, the Hariri Foundation, the Asia Foundation, and as a national consultant to the National Association for Foreign Student Affairs (NAFSA). He is both coeditor and co-author of Teaching Second Language Reading for Academic Purposes (Addison-Wesley, 1986) and Interactive Approaches to Second Language Reading (Cambridge, 1988).


Areas of Specialization

Second-language literacy; program and course design; the administration of ESL programs; ESL teacher education.


Trip Report

My partner, Dr. Eleanor Black, and I delivered five workshops on the teaching of second-language reading in Heliopolis, Suez, Assiut, Minya, and Alexandria to mixed groups of teachers, administrators, and university students. We offered a choice--teaching literary texts or expository texts--to each site: some chose the former, some the latter. We also distributed a substantial packet of materials to each group, including materials for teaching both kinds of texts. As a practitioner with extensive public school experience, Dr. Black provided invaluable expertise in the hands-on portion of the workshops. At the AUC conference, I delivered a plenary address on syllabus design and participated in various supplementary presentations and discussions. During all of these activities, we were accompanied by RELO Richard Boyum and FSN/ESL Senior Specialist Margo Abdel-Aziz (sometimes in tandem, sometimes singly) who provided us with outstanding services, support, and advice.

Although most of the sites we visited (mainly university campuses) were in reasonably good shape, English teaching in Egypt, like other kinds of education, clearly suffers from the usual list of third-world woes--overcrowded classrooms, inadequate resources, and underpaid teachers. English is nevertheless well established as the primary foreign language, and most people want to learn it and work hard at doing so. At every site we visited, there was great enthusiasm for improving their programs in the teaching of English by means of better teacher training and the development of better methods and materials for teachers to work with.

Despite the nation's strong commitment to English, however, the area in which Eleanor and I were working--reading (and, by extension, literacy)--constitutes a major problem for Egyptian teachers of English. Like most of the cultures of the Middle East, Egypt is primarily an oral culture in which people do not read extensively even in their native languages, let alone a foreign language like English. Having little access to native speakers of English, most Egyptian learners are thus deprived of the major source available to them-- written texts in English--of the input that they need to develop higher levels of proficiency in the language.

A second problem is pedagogical tradition. Most education in Egypt is based on a direct teaching model in which students spend large amounts of time in formal classes but little time in learning on their own. Since reading cannot really be taught in a classroom but requires many hours of solitary practice, most students simply do not read enough to become more proficient readers of English and therefore never learn to take advantage of the major language-learning opportunities that reading in a foreign language provides.

Given the current situation, I would therefore recommend that all of those involved in assisting English teaching in Egypt devote significant time and resources to improving the teaching of reading in that country. This would be time and money well spent if our ultimate goal is to raise the standard of proficiency among the millions of English language learners in Egypt.


Suggested Bibliography

The following might prove especially helpful to current and prospective teachers of ESL reading in Egypt:

  • Aebersold, J. & Field, M. (1997). From reader to reading Teacher. New York: Cambridge.

The latest how-to book. Very good, very user-friendly.

  • Carrell, P., Devine, J. & Eskey, D. (1988). Interactive approaches to second language reading. New York: Cambridge.

Still the best introduction for second language teachers to reading as a psycholinguistic process.

  • Carson, J. & Leki, I. (1993). Reading in the composition classroom. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

An excellent introduction to the reading-writing connection.

  • Day, R. (Ed.). (1993). New ways in teaching reading. Alexandria, Virginia: TESOL.

Many useful practical suggestions.

  • Day, R. & Bamford, J. (1998). Extensive reading in the second language classroom. New York: Cambridge.

Very important for Egyptian teachers, who tend to focus on intensive reading.

  • Silberstein, S. (1994). Techniques and resources in teaching reading. New York: Oxford.

Part of a series directed specifically to teachers. Once again, very practical and useful.


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