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News-based English language activities from the global newspaper

May 2009
Level ≥ Lower intermediate
Style ≥ Lesson plan
Welcome to the Guardian Weekly’s special news-based materials to support learners and teachers of English.
Each month, the Guardian Weekly newspaper selects topical news articles that can be used to practise English
language skills. The materials are graded for two levels: advanced and lower intermediate. These worksheets
can be downloaded free from guardianweekly.co.uk/learningenglish/. You can also find more advice for
teachers and learners on the site.

Language of Jesus finds new voice in Syria


Materials prepared by Janet Hardy-Gould

Instructions
Lesson focus: reading, finding synonyms, group discussion
Materials sheet: copies of the article
Time: 55 minutes

1 Tell students they are going to read an article about the e [ ] Reasons why the government wants to promote
world’s oldest living language – Aramaic. Write these Aramaic.
questions on the board. Pre-teach endangered, minority. f [ ] When Ilyana began her Aramaic course.
a What different languages are there in your country? g [ ] Number of teachers and pupils at the academy.
b Which language do you think is the oldest? h [ ] Languages that Ilyana’s parents speak.
c Are any of the languages endangered? Why? Answers a 4 b 1 c 8 d 5 e 7 f 2 g 6 h 3
d Do you speak or know any expressions from minority
languages in your country? 5 Tell students you are going to look at synonyms. Give
Students discuss questions in pairs. Class feedback. some examples of synonyms such as: frightened/afraid,
10 mins attempt/try. Put students in pairs to find synonyms in
the article for the words below. Paragraph numbers are in
2 As a class brainstorm a small number of simple ques-
brackets. The first pair to find them all wins. 8 mins
tions that students would like to ask about Aramaic. For a TV programme (1) b began (2) c inhabitants (2) d
example: Where do people speak Aramaic? How old is very old (3) e quickly (4) f area (4) g young people (4)
Aramaic? How many people speak Aramaic? Write the
h especially (6) i disappearing (8)
questions on the board. 7 mins Answers: a TV show b started c residents d ancient e
3 Give out the article. Students read and find the answers rapidly f region g youngsters h particularly i vanishing
to their questions. Class feedback. Were there any ques- 6 Ask students: Do you think Aramaic will survive? Look
tions they didn’t find the answers to? 8 mins back at the article and brainstorm arguments for and
against on the board. Then put students into small
4 Students read the article again and write down the para- groups to discuss the issue and decide if they think the
graph number where they can find the following infor- answer is “yes” or “no”. One student from each group
mation. 10 mins explains their answers. 12 mins
a [ ] Reasons why Aramaic has declined.
b [ ] Ilyana’s hobbies and interests.
c [ ] Plans for future Aramaic books.
d [ ] Number of Aramaic speakers.
News-based English language activities from the global newspaper

May 2009

Materials sheet Article: Language of Jesus


finds new voice in Syria
Student tasks 1 Ilyana Barqil lives in the mountains north of Damascus.
Before reading the article discuss these questions She likes TV quiz shows, American films and going swim-
a What different languages are there in your country? ming. But this modern Syrian teenager is also learning
b Which language do you think is the oldest? Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus.
c Are any of the languages endangered? Why?
d Do you speak or know any expressions from minority 2 Ilyana, 15, is part of a big effort to preserve the world’s old-
languages in your country? est living tongue. Last November she started classes at the
. new Aramaic Language Academy in the picturesque vil-
After reading the article add the number of the para- lage of Maaloula, where the residents speak more or less
graph in which you can find the following information the same language as the Galileans did 2,000 years ago.
a [ ] Reasons why Aramaic has declined.
b [ ] Ilyana’s hobbies and interests. 3 “My father speaks Aramaic but my mother doesn’t as she’s
c [ ] Plans for future Aramaic books. from Lebanon,” Ilyana said. “I want to be fluent. I don’t
d [ ] Number of Aramaic speakers. know too much about the Aramaic language but I do
e [ ] Reasons why the government wants to promote know it’s ancient.”
Aramaic.
f [ ] When Ilyana began her Aramaic course. 4 Aramaic is related to Hebrew and Arabic and was once the
g [ ] Number of teachers and pupils at the academy. language of parts of modern-day Syria and Israel. But it
h [ ] Languages that Ilyana’s parents speak. declined rapidly in the 1920s as the region opened up to
the outside world. More recently, television, the internet
With a partner find synonyms in the article for the and youngsters leaving to work elsewhere have reduced
words below (paragraph numbers are in brackets) the number of speakers.
a TV programme (1)
5 Aramaic is recognised by Unesco as a “definitely endan-
gered” language and it is now spoken by just 7,000 people
b began (2) in Maaloula, and about 8,000 more in two other nearby
villages.
c inhabitants (2) 6 But things are looking up, particularly since the Univer-
sity of Damascus opened the new language academy,
d very old (3) with government help. It has a teaching staff of six and 85
students.

e quickly (4) 7 “In Syria there are a lot of minority groups – so it’s a big
decision to allow the teaching of other languages in
government schools,” said Imad Reihan, a teacher at the
f area (4) Aramaic academy. “But the government is interested in
promoting the Aramaic language because it goes back so
deep into Syria’s history.”
g young people (4)
8 Reihan and his colleagues are now hoping for money
h especially (6) to allow them to put the vanishing Aramaic words into
dictionaries.

i disappearing (8)
Original article by Ian Black, rewritten by
Janet Hardy-Gould