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Nagah Alzaharani knows that she has a particular advantage as a Master of Education student in Curriculum Studies: her thesis research focuses on the most effective ways of teaching English as a Foreign Language, and she herself has seen both the best practices and some less effective examples—both as a teacher and a student in English language classes here in Canada, as well as at home in Saudi Arabia. And she plans to use those experiences to guide her research in the field.

Inspiring a love of the English language

Nagah was an English language teacher in Saudi Arabia. Her experience in English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classes was often frustrating and disappointing. She wanted to share her passion for the English language with her students, but the students themselves were often indifferent to both the lessons, and to their own performance in the class. Nagah knew that something had to change if teachers like her were to inspire a love of the language in their students. “My passion is to change these old EFL programs at home,” she says. She smiles, but it’s clear that she is determined.

Today, Nagah is researching her thesis for the Master of Arts in Education program. Most days, you can find her working in a quiet corner of the library, sifting through the data that she collected through countless interviews with English language students both here at the Mount and at Halifax’s English language schools. “It’s very challenging,” she admits. As a teacher, she noticed that students were not engaged in their studies, and she sometimes finds it difficult to recruit reliable research participants who are willing to share these experiences with her. Thankfully, she says, her fellow students here at the Mount have been faithful allies, both in participating in the research study, and in recruiting other participants. This experience has left Nagah with some simple advice for other graduate students who are struggling through the research phase of their thesis: “Just be patient!”

Throwing away the old books

When she first began her studies at the Mount, Nagah was enrolled in the University Bridging Program. Returning to the classroom as a student was an enlightening experience for Nagah. At home, she felt that students don’t warm to their studies because teachers are too strict. In Canada, she noticed that students from Saudi Arabia are not used to the much more laid-back teaching style. She wants to help EFL teachers to find a middle-ground that will help engage English language learners.

And it’s Nagah’s plan to develop a more effective EFL program, and to return home with her Master’s degree to implement this program. “I will create my own curriculum,” she promises. “I’ll throw away the old books!” In addition to a more open and accommodating classroom environment, EFL students in Saudi Arabia need a more immersive program, she explains—a program that provides students with a cultural background in English, as well as language lessons.

For now, Nagah is focused on the research that will allow her to develop that curriculum and to make important changes to her country’s EFL program. But even as a student, Nagah has a lesson to offer other graduate students: “Have a sounding board, or you’ll feel isolated,” she advises. “It’s always good to have someone to talk about your research with.”