Mohammed Ani: The Trinity of Language Instruction

(ST) - Mohammed Ani, a well-known name in the Syrian English language mentoring society, is a real inspirational instructor. He clearly affirmed at the beginning of our interview “Anyone who speaks a foreign language at an advanced level must be talented!” Any person having the gift of language learning and being in the right language milieu will be able to fluently express himself in that foreign language because of the input he gets. However, if he is not in that environment, he is literary dispensed of that opportunity. So, as a matter of fact only proper education could facilitate his learning of the language.

Having been raised by a  dedicated Arabic teacher has played a central role in Mohammed Ani's career choice toward an educational profession in general, but not of English language teaching since it wasn’t the language of communication  at home nor at school.

However, his passion for English was instilled since early education, but his special gift hadn’t been revealed till 10th grade. At that turning point, he was working for a travel and tourism agency and  had some encounters with tourists; he discovered his ability to use practical English and to effortlessly communicate with others in  as such. Therefore, he made a decision to join the English Department at the Faculty of Letters at Damascus University. Furthermore, as a 12th grader he visited the English department at Damascus University, and clearly  remembers the lectures, subjects and instructors he met, particularly Dr. Mohamed Tawfiq Al-Bujairami, who was giving a poetry lecture. “I was able to understand almost the entire poem, although it was literary content. Subsequently, I knew it was where I belonged.” Ani reminisced. Thus, after passing the baccalaureate exam he enrolled in the English department.

Because of his father's influence chiefly, right after graduation, Mohammed headed for commencing his instruction career, teaching in a private school, then teaching English in language centers in Damascus. He also taught EFL at Damascus University, in diverse faculties like the Faculty of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, the Libraries and Information Department at the Faculty of Letters, the Nursing School; he taught as well in two private Universities.


Regarding the characteristics of a successful teacher in general and an English language teacher in particular, Mohammed Ani believes that serious continuous education comes in the first place of the teaching profession. “Since it is a life-long commitment, you have to be committed to incessantly educate yourself, in order to be able to teach well,” Ani said. The second distinctive trait of a great teacher is possessing a good understanding of people’s nature: a good teacher should be able to identify the educational and personal weaknesses and strengths of his learners, as building up a good rapport with them will make them instantly feel the difference and you as a teacher will reap the benefits of focusing on such aspect.

Another characteristic of a successful teacher, he adds, is being able to distinguish between different age groups appealing themes: kids are attracted to bright colors and joyful music, while adolescents like to talk about trendy clothes and celebrities.  Adult learners, in contrast, are more interested in workplace jargon and information in their field of specialization. A good English teacher is someone who can clearly tell the difference between the needs of different levels too; beginners want to feel they can use the basic language skills, while advanced learners want to deal with longer stretches of speech and written texts using sophisticated language. English language teaching should focus on language skills in a learner-centered environment, where the instructor speaks less in order to give the opportunity to learners to express themselves in English. 

Last but not least, a  high achiever in the profession is someone who  can develop a good understanding of learning modalities, and should know what materials would be tailored accordingly, having his own portfolio with his own tutorial materials developed within the years of teaching and with the ability to share experience with other teachers. Ani concluded the account of successful teacher attributes by “today’s successful teacher should be able to use modern technology  efficiently and sufficiently.”

With regard to Ani's  take on founding separated faculties for language teaching and language literature, such as those "ecoles" for teaching languages in Europe and the USA, he clarified that language teaching is  significantly different from mastering a language, “Native speakers of English here in Syria, couldn’t always make it!  Being a native speaker of a language is not a guarantee of success, because teaching a language in my view is a trinity of educational training, gift and language skills. Then for sure you will be a great teacher.” Ani affirmed.

Therefore, language teaching belongs in the domain of education and should be taught in the faculty of education, whereas in the faculty of letters, at the English department, there is not a single course to educate learner on teaching methods and more specifically second language acquisition methods.

 “I am a risk taker and I like quick decisions! Interpreting is all about making quick, sound decisions!  Interpreters are just like heart surgeons: they should make accurate, rapid decisions, and there is something in their personality that should acknowledge and accept that challenging career! ” Mohammed enthusiastically exclaimed; figuring out another side of his personality, he decided to  do an MA in interpreting in 2006. Through his path at the HITI (Higher Institute of translation and Interpreting), Mohammed learned a lot about interpreting, as it is ranked the second most difficult profession in the world. “I knew I was good enough, but it was clumsy at the beginning” he admitted; yet owing to the assistance of his professors and the good training in the MA second year, as soon as he graduated he worked as an interpreter in 2009.

Ani  pointed out that a good interpreter has to  possess exquisite language skills in at least two languages, in his case English and Arabic, giving details that not only English language skills are of great importance despite the fact  English  is not his mother tongue, but as well a good command of classical Arabic (Fooseha) in terms of lexical options and grammatical structures is indispensable; these are needed in order to render the message from the source language to the target language to the audience of native speakers or those who communicate in it to make sense of the message. Another important aspect  of becoming a good interpreter and  offering a high-quality service is preparation, reading and research, which helps with being aware of the area under discussion e.g. pharmacology,  epidemiology, political science  etc.  and helps interpreters make appropriate lexical list choices. Ani is specialized in medical interpreting, having been working with the WHO in Syria since 2013.

 Ani laid emphasis on the complex nature of all those interpreting-related mental processes - listening in the source language,- processing the message from source to target, verbally rendering it in the target language while listening to both yourself and the next part of speech in source language. All that course of actions should be synchronized - has to happen very fast. “Interpreting is a brain-toasting process!” he exclaimed.

Another trait of Mohammed Ani's personality is precision and his keenness on doing things accurately and taking the right choices; “translation is all about right choices” Ani affirmed. Thus, from the beginning of his university studies to the date, he has been working as a translator as well, despite the common belief in the translators’ community that translation is a thankless job –  not given sufficient reward  for the effort exerted. Yet successful translators should have a great deal of knowledge of various fields, which should be consistently updated. He added, having an understanding of emerging fields such as Artificial Intelligence, IT and medical breakthroughs and their terminology is required. “A bit of everything!” Ani said laughing.

A good translator should as well have the ability to read and evaluate others' translations, e.g. their lexical and structural choices and grammatical and linking selections, and ought to compare to check how they might be doing it differently. He should as well use advanced translating and language tools like electronic dictionaries as well as thesaurus, and collocation references. Ani suggested tapping into a YouTube channel called Youglish that provides vivid examples of words pronunciation in video format with various (American/ British/Australian English) accent choices. There is also a website called Reverso that provides translators with contextualized word options.

In conclusion, Ani informed Syriatimes about his new projects, stating that his main focus is on teaching communicating with learners on a daily basis. With the ongoing Syrian crisis in mind, he got closer to his students and noticed that there is a very clear dimension he has to focus on “people building their non-language skills” according to Ani. Throughout, 10 years of training, teaching and preparing different learner categories for international English language tests like IELTS, TOFEL, TOEIC and PTE, Mohammed Ani has recognized that learners who have excellent language skills but lack personal motivation, self-discipline and self-confidence might crack in the exam, "therefore my center of attention is on a bundle  of skills like  communication skills, goal setting, leadership, personal development, time management, and planning. All those skills and life coaching are well established and clearly defined in the English Language culture, so I am not only teaching, I am mentoring, tutoring, and exercising life coaching. I am working on practically helping in transferring those non-language skills into the Syrian society” Mohammed Ani concluded his interview with Syriatimes.


Interviewed and Edited by:  Lama Alhassanieh