A command of the English language has turned into a basic requirement for a majority of professional job vacancies in Yemen. Those who lack either spoken or writing skills are reporting extreme difficulties in finding suitable employment.
This is a concern for Yemenis like Mohamed Ameen, a law school graduate from Sana’a University. Due to his lack of this desired skill set, he has largely remained unemployable.
“All the announced vacancies in the newspapers and magazines [only hire on the] condition of a good spoken and written command of English,” he said. “Thus, I spent six years searching for a job opportunity that didn’t require English. In fact, the English language has become a nightmare that I never dreamed of. To tackle this problem, I attempted to learn the language by means of tapes and books, yet I have not improved enough to meet the condition,” he said.
Many college graduates say they recognize the importance of learning English to increase their desirability in the job market, but it doesn't mean they like it.
Qosai Abdo, a student at the Language College at Sana’a University, said, “Nowadays, whoever wants to obtain a good job in Yemen must learn English in institutes or elsewhere. Otherwise, [all that is available] are unqualified businesses such as selling qat or tailoring.”
Many complain that standard education does not provide students with adequate resources to learn English, and therefore students are left to seek out skills on their own, creating a financial burden that many cannot afford.
Another Sana'a University graduate, Sarina Yaqoob reflected on this sentiment.
“The fees are [so] high [that it] manipulates the youth's needs to learn [another] language. If the Ministry of Education focused [on implementing] it in the school curricula, the students would not need to go to the [expensive] English language institutes,” she said.
Mohammed Al-Sabahi, an English language teacher, is also critical of current education policies.
“Our curriculum has not fulfilled the aspirations of students, and the majority of them are [educated] theoretically due to the large number of students and the shortage of the qualified teacher. Also, the inadequacy of the modern curriculum contributes to graduating students from schools without any other language [skills].”
However, despite the obstacles, Al-Sabahi still recommends that students go to language institutes before they enroll at university so as to stay ahead of the curve.
Yet, a third-year university student, Naseem Jamal's experience counters this advice.
“I suspended my studies at college for one full year, spending time going from one institute to another and from one course to the second. I could have missed my years of university study because of English. I possess many [English language] certificates, which I presented to employment offices, but it was in vain,” she said.
Many Yemeni youth have also complained about employers requiring candidates to speak English, but in actuality, they do not need the skill on the job.
Sumaia Al-Hobaishi, a private company employee, said she applied for a secretarial position at several businesses. She finally landed one, but they required a fluency in English.
“Of course, I’m not good at English, but when I applied for the job, I told the human resources’ official that I speak English fluently. He was convinced, so I got the job. Now I’m working, but I have never used English,” she said.
Despite many people's objections to the principle of the market dictating the need for a foreign language, it is hard to deny the role that learning English currently plays in today's global world. That is why Nasser Al-Bahri, the owner of the For You Institute, aims to convey to students the opportunities that are opened up by acquiring language skills.
“We are working to bridge the gap by encouraging the youth to study by means of using the latest curriculum and styles that make them enjoy learning. This helps spread English learning,” he said.
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