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Karen Hughes Meeting With Students Morocco

Meeting With Students and Alumni at the English Access Microscholarship

Karen Hughes, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs

Casablanca, Morocco
June 4, 2006

[Joined in Progress]

John Scacco, Regional English Language Officer (RELO): And in the last group (of students) we have those who are currently in the Access Program, here at the American Language Center, which is the site where the Access Program was born; over here we have David Neuses, who is the Director of this American Language Center, and next to him is Joe Phillips, who is the AMIDEAST Country Director. AMIDEAST has been the provider for the Access program for the previous two years. (cut) Our first speaker is Abdelfatah Al-Idrissi, who was a student in the first year of the 'real' Access program and he's going to tell you about his experience. . .

Under Secretary Hughes: If you don't mind, I like to take notes. I'm a former reporter, and the way I remember things is I take notes, but also my husband recently gave me a little fortune from a fortune cookie and it said 'He who takes notes listens well'. (students laugh) My job is listening, I do try to really listen and take notes when I hear things I think other people might need to hear about.

Abdelfatah Al-Idrissi: Well, basically I'd like to say welcome to Morocco. My name is Abdelfatah Al-Idrissi and I'm going to speak on behalf of all of the former Access students. For English, for learning English from native speakers, is something we'll really be grateful for. Because of English, because of the Access program, I went to the U.S., I participated in an American movie, and now I've got a job, which is very, very important to me . . . we are living in poor neighborhoods, well, because of English these days we've got, I've got, a job and I don't think without this opportunity I would have a job now.

Under Secretary Hughes: Do your friends who don't speak English, who grew up in your same neighborhood, have more trouble than you would in getting a job?

Al-Idrissi: Yes. Yes, but basically, we've a problem in Morocco about jobs and English now is more important to have jobs, because, you know, English is a very, you could say, international language, so we're more open to the world.

Under Secretary Hughes: Let me ask you, do you have any suggestions for what we could do to make the program better? What was most effective in terms of teaching you English. You said 'native speaker' . . .

Al-Idrissi: Native speakers, additional activities, the activities we got . . . now we know more about the American culture, because, you know, basically before, we hated Americans, because we didn't know them. We just know them through the media, but now we know them better, we know that American people are nice people you were right, because in the U.S., American people are very nice. Activities, keeping in touch, such as the ex-students who were in the program and making like activities and helping the new students to know what the program is about.

Under Secretary Hughes: How do you practice your English? Do you speak it at work?

Al-Idrissi: Yes. I'm working in a call center, so I need my English.

Under Secretary Hughes: The reason I ask is, I was in Brazil, and we have a Youth Ambassadors program there where young people, we've brought them from Brazil to America, and they said a couple of interesting things: they learned English, and they also learned from each other, because Brazil is a very big country, in fact it's bigger than the continental United States, and so they said one of the most interesting things about coming to the United States was a chance to meet other young people from around Brazil, too. In fact, one of them said she came back and her mother was laughing about her accent. She said 'Where'd you learn to have that Portuguese accent?' because of another friend from Brazil, but they also said it was a real challenge when they came back to practice their English and they were thinking about forming a club or, they were kind of spread around the country, but I was just wondering what you do to practice. Do you keep in touch with some of your other friends who you went through the program with?

Al-Idrissi: Yes, the alumni association that we have now . . .

Under Secretary Hughes: You do have an active alumni association?

Al-Idrissi: Yes, sometimes, we can rent movies and stuff, but another example that helps me to use my English, is that some volunteers from America, from the Salaam Program [an NGO providing educational opportunities for underprivileged youth], and from other countries, come to Morocco and all these trainees speak English. We had a problem before, because nobody speaks English in the association. There was a lack of communication, you know. And now, even people can say just 'Hi, how are you?' This is a communication, now they can understand something from each other. Thank you.

Under Secretary Hughes: You can connect. Thank you. Your English was great. Thank you.

RELO Scacco: And Abdelfatah was in the U.S. last summer on the MEPI Summer Study of the U.S. Program

Under Secretary Hughes: Abdelfatah, when you started the program, you didn't speak any English?

Al-Idrissi: When I started the program? Right, I spoke English. I was studying English in high school, but just saying, you know, 'Hi, how are you?

Under Secretary Hughes: Right, not much.

Al-Idrissi: Yeah, and if someone told me 'How are you doing?', I understand nothing, because there is . . . I understand nothing.

Under Secretary Hughes: So you went through the program here and then you went to America? How long were you in America?

Al-Idrissi: Right. For a month and ten days.

Under Secretary Hughes: And was that long enough?

Al-Idrissi: It was, it was enough to know the American people and to practice the language and . . .

Under Secretary Hughes: And so about a six-week type program that you had done.

Al-Idrissi: Yeah, we were in Delaware, and we met Condoleezza Rice, and it was good.

Under Secretary Hughes: Super. Thank you.

(RELO Scacco introduces Ms. Asma'a Douik, an Access student who will be participating in ECA's Christopher Newport University program this summer)

Asma'a Douik: The Access program gives us a lot of benefits, such as, another benefit the Access program gives me the chance to go to the USA this summer for a month.

Under Secretary Hughes: For the Access program, let me make sure I understand, you all participate after school, you come on the weekends, is that right? It's in addition to your school. Is there anything that you could think of that we could do more, could we do, do you all have access to the Internet, most of you, any of you, do you go to Internet cafes?

Students: Yes.

Under Secretary Hughes: You do. Is that a good way to practice?

Students: Yes.

Under Secretary Hughes: Are there good programs to help you practice, are there English training language programs on the Internet? I'm just asking because I've been thinking about whether we ought to do some emphasis on that, whether we ought to take a look more at that. Do any of you get on the Internet to practice in English? You do?

Blind Access Student: We really try to learn English, and we use it. But we need teachers to give us a piece of advice, how to learn English, like a plan, this is what we need. Yeah. We go to the Internet, but the Internet, we don't improve our language, but when we are in the Access program like this, I think the teacher gives us opportunity, gives us the opportunity, how to use English when we want to use English. The English rules.

Under Secretary Hughes: Right, so maybe it's more of a practice after the fact, not the initial way to learn.

Blind Access Student: Thank you, we are needy people also, because we are blind and we benefit from the Access program, that thanks to the American people, thanks to you, thanks to all people who are responsible for this Access program, that's the worth of all needy people and blind people.

Under Secretary Hughes: Well, thank you. You know in America we believe that every person matters and every person has value and this program really says that. That it doesn't matter what neighborhood you were born in, or whether you were born blind, or whether you were born into a poor family, we believe your life has meaning and value, and we want to help provide opportunity . . . I'm a big advocate of, in fact, one of the first things I did as Under Secretary was put, allocate, more money into English language training programs, because I believe when we help young people like you learn English, we are giving you a skill that you want, and that helps you take advantage of it to have an opportunity to have a better life, and what we want to be about, and at the same time, we need more of your teachers to help train our young people to speak Arabic. We need, in America, for our young people to learn to speak Arabic. I, you know, I'm probably too old to learn, I'm almost fifty, so I'm very old (laughter) but we need our young people like you, who are still able to learn, and we've got a big program where we're bringing teachers, actually, from the Arab world this summer over to America to do some teaching in our different universities, for Arabic, and we're also sending some of our young people here and to other countries to be in the setting and to learn to speak Arabic because it's a critical language for the future and it's important for my country that we be able to speak your language and communicate with you. So I always feel a little humbled when I'm in a group of bright young people and you speak my language and I don't speak yours. So that's good for you, that's to your credit.

(garbled question from student about practicing on the Net, suggesting you can speak with a microphone now to improve your speaking skills)

Under Secretary Hughes: Right. To the problem of friends speaking it, somebody at our lunch today, I don't remember who, the mayor or the professor, I think maybe the professor, mentioned the idea of an English club. Do you think if there were something like that we sponsored, the English clubs, would that be popular? Would people want to do that? Would that be a good idea? It might be something we could try here.

Student: You know, if you wanted to speak English you could come to the club and you could . . .

Under Secretary Hughes: You'd have to do something a little more fun, too. But it might be an opportunity, you mentioned not speaking with your friends, I know from my own son, your friends are so important at this age of your life and it may be a way to bring people together around something.

Al-Idrissi: This, for the idea of a club, I think this club can be really helpful for us all, . . .

Under Secretary Hughes: For other people, exactly. Really, that's what I was thinking, and to share your experiences in America with other people, because you know, you can help because you've been there and you've seen for yourself what it's like. And so it would form a group that you could invite people to, where they could speak English and you would naturally talk about what you'd seen and what you'd experienced and the Americans you'd met. Some of your friends have probably never met an American. Most of them probably, yes.

Student: You will practice, and you will teach people involuntarily. You can just speak it and someone who doesn't know anything about English, he wants, he wants to speak English in order to understand what they say and what the people speak about

Under Secretary Hughes: Right. You know, you mentioned volunteering to help other people learn, that they wouldn't have the opportunity. That's really interesting, that would be a wonderful thing for you all to share with your friends and your fellow young people, because when I was in Brazil, it was interesting, some of the groups that I was telling you about, the Youth Ambassadors, they went back to Brazil and one of them started a 'backpack' club for elementary school kids and once a week she gets together with the kids and they bring their backpacks and she tries to help teach them English, and so there are all kinds of things you can do, and really when you do that you're making a contribution to your own country, to your friends, and to your own future. That would be a wonderful thing.

Under Secretary Hughes: Did you say someone over here had a question? I have a few more questions, if that's ok.

Another blind student: Yes, please, . . . I learned by using a dictionary and learning new words every day, is that a good way?

Under Secretary Hughes: Are you asking, is that a good way to learn English? I defer to Mr. Scacco there, but my thought is that would be a hard way to learn a language. I don't think I'd be very good at learning Arabic by looking it up in a dictionary. Now, you could probably expand your vocabulary once you have a feel for the rhythm and you have a feel for the way it's spoken and how it sounds, but I would think it's a hard way to learn initially.

Second blind student: Well, let me tell you a little about my experience, about my hard work learning English, I used to work with a dictionary, I learned completely from Arabic. I found some difficulties, but the thing which helped me to get a good communication, what I want to say is listening, listening and writing, communication and the reading, because normally the blind, if they want to use the Internet, there's only listening, because they cannot see anything written. But normally reading can help us to know grammar, so if we read a lot, we won't make grammar mistakes, you know how to make sentences, you cannot respect grammatical mistakes. The best thing is reading because by reading we can get communication, if we read first, we can be able to learn and write everything. That's what I want to say.

Under Secretary Hughes: Well, thank you. You've obviously worked very hard and your English is beautiful. You've done a lot of listening and a lot of looking up words in the dictionary. Well, I just wanted to ask you all more generally, my job, I'm in charge of America's, the way I say this is "America's conversation with the world.' Trying to foster greater friendship and ties and greater understanding between Americans, and in this case, the people of Morocco, but people across the world, particularly young people, because you're the future, you're the ones who are going to be in twenty years, maybe sooner, making the decisions that affect my son's life, and by then, your children's lives. What kind of advice would you give me? What is the best way for me to reach out, in addition to this English program which you all agree is a great success, what would be meaningful to young people, to your friends in Morocco, what's the best thing I could do to reach out or to communicate with young people in Morocco. What other things? Are there popular shows that I should think about, things that give America a bad image, things like bad movies or bad shows that I should figure out what to do about? Do any of you all listen to Radio Sawa? (Yes) How's Radio Sawa, is it good? (Yes) And what's good about it? Do you like the music, do you like the news?

Student: There's not enough English on Radio Sawa.

Under Secretary Hughes: So you'd like to see Radio Sawa do more English instead of Arabic. OK.

Female student: I just want to add something, I write English poems, short stories, plays, . . .

Under Secretary Hughes: Your English club could sponsor a performance of your play. How about that? Are there any magazines in particular that young people really pay attention to here? Who's the most famous rock star or pop music star in Morocco?

Students: Cat Stevens, Jennifer Lopez, Kenny Rogers.

Under Secretary Hughes: Well, I'm committed to trying to expand this program and to try to make sure we help more young people, but I'll ask you to join me in that, because we can't teach everyone, and so you can help us teach others, so I want to encourage you to do that. I have one more person in the back of the room . . . Well, we think that people like you who have participated in our programs, obviously we have a special connection with, and we want to stay in touch with you, so we have actually just started, in the last year or two, a very aggressive program to identify our alumni and encourage them to keep together, so I'm glad to see that the seventeen of you who were part of the initial program have stayed in contact and stayed in touch. So that's great. Well, thank you all. This has been a real inspiration. It's really fun to meet you all. I feel like I'm seeing the future leaders of your country. Nice to meet you all.

Released on June 5, 2006

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