English as a Second Language in Saudi Arabia.
General View of The Public Linguistic Fundamentals in Saudi Society and Education.
ESL in Schools
Since English is recognized as a “default” language in worldwide communication, Saudi Arabia has accepted, although with uncertainties, the need to include English as a subject in the schools’ curriculum (Alshammari, 366). There had been some struggle in doing this as the Saudi Arabians feared that the Islamic beliefs may be overtaken by the Judeo-Christian beliefs. To resolve this, the western beliefs were removed from the materials taught to students. Primary school students, beginning in Grade 4, are required to take English as one of the subjects (Alshammari, 365).
Alshammari (365) provided an assessment of the state of English teaching in Saudi Arabia. She indicated that the approach is characterized by the Anglo-American cultural and linguistic standards and principles. Moreover, the way of teaching is observed to have conflict with Islamic communications and standards. Also, the different classes of how English is spoken are still not being taught in the schools. This could be attributed to the observation that teachers in Saudi Arabia have little knowledge of English as an International Language (EIL) model (Alshammari, 366). Another reason is the lack of teaching materials as they are published mostly in the United States (Alshammari, 367). The textbooks were remarked to lack a reflection of the Islamic culture. Contrastingly, Alshammari (368) commented that one of the textbooks – English for Saudi Arabia – contained endorsements of Saudi nationalism and Islamization. For students, this limitation may have contributed to their lack of intercultural communicative abilities and to use English as means for international communication.
EIL as a model for teaching English is regarded to be in its infancy stage in Saudi Arabia (Alshammari, 368). The English language users in Saudi Arabia were mostly native speakers coming from the United States (Al-asmari & Khan, 317). Thus this should limit how the Saudi Arabian students can learn the various types of English. Meanwhile, schools also compete in hiring more native English speakers which is observed not just in Saudi Arabia but in the entire Middle Eastern region (Alshammari, 368). But then, the English native speaking teachers are rarely found in the public schools (Justlanded, par. 1; Alrashidi & Phan, 37). Most English teachers in the state schools are Saudis, whose qualifications just meet the minimum – a bachelor’s degree in English. They were hired without adequate training or experience (Alrashidi & Phan, 37). English teachers in Saudi Arabia were observed to have less flexibility since they have seek permission from their departments before implementing anything in their classrooms. Teaching English is classified to be rule-governed, that is, limited only to what the Ministry allows (Al-asmari & Khan, 318). Thus, little innovation in the teaching methods can be applied (Alshammari, 369; Naffee, par. 3).
In higher education, English is used as a medium of teaching in the scientific courses and Arabic for non-scientific courses (Alrashidi & Phan, 38; Al-asmari & Khan, 316). But, all students are required complete an English unit to obtain the degree (Alrashidi & Phan, 38). There were only two universities in Saudi Arabia which uses English only for its medium of instruction.
Since English is taught using the model –English as a Foreign Language (EFL) (Al-Asmari & Khan, 316), the Saudi Arabian’s attitudes over learning EIL were also seen as a challenge in adopting the EIL model since Saudi people prefer the “one-correct-answer approach” (Alshammari, 366).
ESL in Saudi Society
Inconsistencies are seen in the use of English inside and outside the classroom. Culture as presented in the English language in the classroom appeared far from the daily discourses of students. Alshammri (369) described a clash of civilizations occurring in the teaching and learning environment of students, especially at the college level. Some parents also recognize the insufficiency of learning English in the schools which was why they send their children to study the language at the English Institutes (Naffee, par. 5).
Meantime, English is mostly used in the travel and tourism industry businesses (Justlanded, par. 1). Students desiring to have jobs in these careers should be prepared enough to use English as a job competency.
English Language Curriculum
English is the only foreign language offered in the education of Saudi Arabians (Alrashidi & Phan, 37). The language is taught for nine years in the Saudi Arabian education (Alrashidi & Phan, 38). The quality of English language skills of the students were noted to be of poor level. This may be caused by the following conditions. First, the Ministry of Education in Saudi Arabia noted the errors in the English curriculum which as why a new curriculum was developed. In 2013, the following limitations were observed to justify the changes. Second, a gradual teaching approach is not followed based on the evaluations of expert English language teachers. The sequence of the lessons in the textbooks seemed too fast for the students to learn well (Naffee, par. 4). Third, students in Saudi Arabia learn English at 10 to 11 years old, the fourth grade level, which is already a late age for learning a new language. Before this, the English subject was taught in the fifth grade.
Textbooks for English also contained some errors. The words do not match the pictures according to English teachers in private schools (Naffee, par. 3). Also, the textbooks are used for both primary and secondary levels.
Methods for Teaching English in Saudi Arabia
Teachers of English realize that they could better teach English if they are allowed to use approaches outside of the Ministry of Education’s curriculum (Naffee, par. 5). Teachers are provided the time in which they should teach the contents of the book (Alrashidi & Phan, 37). Memorization is also observed to be the usual teaching approach in the primary level (Alrashidi & Phan, 38).
Although the teachers use three different materials for teaching English which included a teaching manual, a textbook and a workbook, the same textbook is also being used for all the grade levels (Alrashidi & Phan, 37). The textbook combines all the language skills.
There are also resources such as language laboratories, educational films and recorded devices but are in poor condition to be used (ALrashidi & Phan, 37). Also, teachers were observed to lack the training to use these properly.
Student’s Age Level in Learning English
Saudi Arabian students begin learning the English language in Grade 4 where they are already 10 or 11 years old. The offering of the subject was changed from Grade 5 to 4 in 2010. Each week the students should take two 45-minute sessions of English classes (Alrashidi & Phan, 37). But the sessions for grades 5 to 6 (intermediate level) and the secondary increased to four classes weekly, also with the same amount of time (Alrashidi & Phan, 37).
Difficulties in Learning English in Saudi Arabia
The general observation according to the study by Alrashidi and Phan (38) was that Saudi Arabian students have a low level of English competency in the primary up to the university levels. The use of memorization was remarked to be ineffective as an approach in teaching. Also, teachers use a teacher-centered approach and limit their teaching methodologies to the traditional style (Alrashidi & Pha, 38). Teachers talk more than the students do and in Arabic; thus, there is more difficulty in acquiring the language skill, particularly speaking, since classes are often quite.
Students were also observed to have low motivation as the teacher does not seem to provide this in teaching the English subject (Alrashidi & Phan, 38). Moreover, there is a perception that English is not practice in the real world which would be why students may be unmotivated. The general attitude is that English has little use in their school and social lives (Alrashidi & Phan, 38). Students are not provided the social environment in which they could practice speaking in English. More importantly, English is also perceived to affect the Saudi Arabian language, culture and beliefs. Fears are expressed in learning English since the Arabic culture might be overtaken. According to Al-asmari and Khan (320), the “nativization” of English in the country may be difficult to attain since there is a perceived attitude for practicing the language.
Other limitations include the control of publishing of the materials and the restriction to use only the linguistics approach (Al-asmari & Khan 321).