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Teachable versus Unteachable Materials;
Two Examples of English for Military Purposes
by Neil McBeath
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The RSAF English Course

And that is exactly what the RSAF English Course attempts to do. The RSAF course is quintessential ESP. It is written for a single group of learners, working in a single institution – the School of English Language at the Technical Studies Insitute in Dhahran. It was designed to replace the American Language Course, which was culturally inappropriate (Al Ghamdi 1989), and it has done so very successfully. Lanteigne (2007; 141) reminds us that “Regional culture and target language needs cannot be ignored in language teaching”, and the RSAF course has been able to fuse the general Islamic culture of Saudi Arabia with the specific discourse needs of the Royal Saudi Air Force.

The writers of these materials work as a team, and they have broadly followed the practice outlined by Viney (2006). Many of them have had recent classroom experience, and they liaise closely with the English teachers in the TSI. The materials are trialled both independently, and in “whole book” form before being finalized. This is in accordance with best practice, as outlined by Richards (2005) and Al Mahrooqi (2007).

Feedback from teachers is encouraged, and while it has to be admitted that some teachers are frequently negative, trialling catches most of the typographical errors, mis-numberings and infelicities that can occur in the course of compiling any long work.

RAFO Target .

The RAFO course, Target, by contrast, claims to be “The Sultan’s Armed Forces General English Course”, immediately raising the question of whether it is possible to have a General English course for such a specific purpose.

Target is written by personnel working for the Royal Air Force of Oman, but it is taught in seven different centres, five of which are exclusive to the Royal Army of Oman. This raises a second contradiction.

Target was written to replace an increasingly dated in-house course called SAF English, which had itself replaced English Right from the Start (Hore and Hore; 1982) The SAF English course superficially resembled the current RSAF English course, in as much as it was obviously a local, in-house production. Target, by contrast, emulates the products of major publishing houses. It is drenched in colour, and printed on thick, glossy art paper.

The Target writers, moreover, are quite open in their ambitious claims for the course. Target is taught

“not only to the servicemen and women of the Sultan’s Armed Forces, but also to various members of the Royal Guard of Oman; the Sultan’s Special Forces; Internal Security Service; the Royal Yacht Squadron; the Royal Oman Police, and the Diwan of the Royal Court.

Target has three levels, bringing the learner up to the first level of the Royal Society of Arts/University of Cambridge Local Examination Syndicate (RSA/UCLES). This level is examined by the Key English Test or KET” (Student’s Book Level Three P. i)

This sounds very impressive, but much of it is window dressing. It is mere speculation that the Target course brings learners up to KET level. No Omani personnel have ever been entered for KET after finishing the current Target series, and I believe that the RAFO Directorate of Education and Military Culture might be wise not to make such an experiment. I feel the results might come as a very nasty surprise.

Certainly the reference to servicewomen of the Sultan’s Armed Forces overstates the case. In reality this means a small group of RAFO military policewomen, and the female flight attendants on the RAFO BAC 111s.

There is no reference in any of the Target coursebooks to either the Internal Security Service or the Diwan of the Royal Court.

The Royal Yacht Squadron only appears once (Level One Workbook P. 17) when students have to copy the letters “RYS” twice. The Royal Guard of Oman and the Sultan’s Special Forces only appear in a list of acronyms that have to be placed in alphabetical order (Level One Workbook P. 17).

One reason for this disparity between claim and reality is that there are only three Target writers, one of whom has absolutely no experience of teaching SAF personnel at any level. Neither of the others has taught since at least the year 2000.

Trialing of the materials is limited. Target Level One thanks, by name, the two teachers who trialed the material, but neither of them is now in the Sultanate. The first was critical of some of the material. He was then the victim of denigrating comments about his teaching ability, and he resigned after he was denied an internal promotion. The second teacher was dismissed.

I do not know how many people trialed Target Level Two, but in January 2005, Target Level Three was being trialed by one teacher who was working at the Sultan of Oman’s Armour. In April this year, the Omani English Language teacher who was serving with the Armour Brigade described Target Level Three as “unteachable”.

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