Learning English inSaudi Arabia: An OverviewEnglishlanguage learning became part of the education system in Saudi Arabia in late 1937 (Ahmar & Elyas, 2014).
At that time,learning English was not a priority for Saudi citizens. In fact, during thatperiod, Saudi citizens believed that foreign languages posed a serious dangerto their mother tongue and a threat to their identity, religion and customs (Alshahrani, 2016).According to some religious scholars at that time, learning a foreign language wasforbidden.
For example, one of the most famous Saudi scholars.1 of Islam, Ibin Othaimain, said that’teaching English for children is a real danger to their identity’ (IbinOthaimain, 2001). He believed that when children learned English at a young age,it would negatively affect their relationship with their mother tongue, which wasthe language of the Quran. Therefore, in the early twentieth century, learningEnglish was given little importance in Saudi society..2 The discovery of oil has been the biggestmotivator for English language education in Saudi Arabia. .
3 After the discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia in the early 1930s, the Englishlanguage gradually grew in importance as the world became more interested andinvolved in Saudi Arabia .4 (Zuhur, 2011). Frauk (2013) points out that the USA became more involved in SaudiArabia as a result of the oil industry, making English more important both economicallyandsocially. .5 .6 There was ashift in attitudes towards learning English as workers in the oil industry wereencouraged to acquire better English language skills to become more effectivein their jobs (Looney, 2004).
In many ways,English became necessary for job placement, as English was the language of theoil business (Al-Johani, 2009). After the discoveryof oil in the region, an Arabian-American oil company called Aramco was foundedin Saudi Arabia. In its initial years, the company had only American managers,so Saudi citizens could only work for this company if they had good Englishskills (Ahmar & Elyas, 2014). The company dominatesthe Saudi economy, giving it company significant influence in Saudi society (Ahmar & Elyas, 2014). This has resulted aradical societal change towards using and teaching English. Despitesome Saudi citizens’ attitude that English is a dangerous language, this wasnot reflected in official policy.
The government of Saudi Arabia saw English aseconomically valuable (Al-Braik, 2007), andtherefore established the first secondary school for Saudi citizens .7 in 1937 in Makka to prepare students to study abroad and earnscholarships. .
8 This school taught English for thefirst time (Ahmar & Elyas, 2014)..9 The school taught English for the students.
All thesubjects was based on Egyptian curriculum. All subjects was under the Egyptiancurriculum except the religious subjects which is controlled and managed bySaudi government. Egyptian teachers were hired to teach English. The mainreason behind this school is to travel abroad and adapted western educationsystem in order to apply this system in Saudi Arabia.
It is clear that thisschool is the bases of the modern school today (Ahmar & Elyas, 2014) In the 1950s,Saudi Arabia became a rich country.10 because of discover of Oil. This wealth was largely invested ineducation. For example, in 1957 a conference was held by the Ministry of Educationto find solutions to education problems.11 . Thatsame year, the Saudi government established the first university in the kingdom,King Saud University.
12 (Alqarni, 2015In 1958 theSaudi government started to implemented foreign language education for anew language (Ahmar & Elyas, 2014). Foreign languageeducation began with teaching English at the middle level (grade 7 to grade 9).English.13 did not last long in the Saudi educational system in middle school , beingremoved from the middle level in 1969 and remaining only at the secondary levelof grades 10 through 12 (Ahmar & Elyas, 2014). From that time,English gained more importance, resulting in the spread of English education tomore schools. English became important for job opportunities at the biggestcompanies in Saudi Arabia such as Saudi Arabia Telecom and Saudi Airlines. Evensmall and medium-sized companies required English-speaking employees (Ahmar & Elyas, 2014).14 .
This English requirement has even spread to companies that do notprimarily conduct business in English because it has become the sign of aqualified worker..15 In The 1970s there were big number of workersfrom abroad who work in Saudi Arabia to contribute of developing and buildingInfrastructure of Saudi Arabia such as roads and hospitals, almost 90% of theworkers are foreigners and the rest 10% are workers from Arabic countries butwith high level of English proficiency. The foreigners work in different typeof woke places large and small companies as well as public workplaces suchpublic hospitals. In that time the goal is to teach students English tocommunicate with those experts and foreigners. This has impact on teachingEnglish in Saudi Arabia, as it shows that there is a need to improve English asit important for Saudi economy (Ahmar & Elyas, 2014). In 1970 English begins to be taught at Middleschool and Secondary school level with is from the grade 7 to the grade 12.English has four lessons each week, and each lessen last for 45 minutes.
Syllabus controlled andcentralised by Ministry of Education of Saudi Arabia. The teachers expected tocover the textbooks within the frame time that provided in the textbooks thisremains until 2001. (Ahmar & Elyas, 2014). Starting inthe 1990s.16 , Saudi Arabia began to feel the pressures of globalisation. As aresult, English began to be spoken by more Saudis than ever before, as English wasthe only way to communicate with people in other parts of the world. As Englishincreasingly became the language of global communication, it became moreimportant to the people of Saudi Arabia. Learning English has become the way toget a better job in Saudi Arabia.
Most companies now require workers to haveEnglish language skills as one of their main requirements for employment. After the crises that happened in 9/11 in theUnited stated there was a huge pressured on Saudi Arabia. Because of most ofthe terrorists were mostly from Saudi Arabia. The blame was mostly on Educationalsystem and what the teaching produce the hate of others.
There were a lot ofcritique of not presenting of western culture habit such as drinking alcoholand dating. The main purpose of this change is that to see the differences withWestern as just different culture and to accept the others who are differentwith Saudi. The new decision to reformthe curriculum came from Saudi Authorities which is clearly came under thepressure of the United States of America. The new change has to teach Englishfor all the level of schools (ELYAS, 2008) TheEducational System There are threetypes of schools in Saudi Arabia: public schools, private schools and internationalschools. Public schools are funded by the government, and most of the studentsin these schools are from the middle and working classes. Private school primarilyserve students from the upper, more affluent classes. The curriculum in privateand public schools are the same, whereas international school which is the schools forstudents who are foreigners but live in Saudi Arabia. The .
17 curricula differ from one school to another, following diverse curriculafrom the UK, the US, Germany, India, and other nations. English is used as theinstructional language in all international schools. International schools are primarily forinternational students who live with their parents in Saudi Arabia and haveonly recently allowed Saudi students to enrol..18 The Englishlanguage curriculum in Saudi Arabia is part of the Saudi General Curriculum.19 , which is particularly focused on Islamic and Arabic identity.
In SaudiArabia, education is funded by the government. Therefore, it is free for all childrento attend all levels of education.20 . Education .21 in Saudi Arabia is divided into three levels: primary, elementary andsecondary. The school year, which runs from September until June, is dividedinto two semesters. School runs five days a week, from Sunday to Thursday, withFridays and Saturdays constituting the school weekend.
The firstlevel of education is the primary level, which is divided into six grades.Primary students range in age from 6 to 12 years old, and all parents in SaudiArabia must enrol their children in primary school at the age of six. Thesubjects taught at the primary level include Islam and religious identity, aswell as some basic subjects, such as mathematics, science and English. Thesecond level of education is the middle level, which is divided into threegrades. Middle level students range in age from 13 to 16 years old. At thislevel, students are taught Islamic themes as well as other subjects, such asmathematics, English, Arabic, science, national studies and computers. The thirdlevel is the secondary level, which is divided into three grades. Secondarystudents range in age from 17 to 19 years old.
English is taught beginning ingrade 4. There are two English .22 lessons each week from grades 4 to 6. There are 6 levels of English divided intoone level each semester. For example, each grade has two levels of English. Middleschool has 4 lessons a week and has a sixth level as well, one level to each semester..
23 Secondary school has 4 English lessons each week from grade 7 untilgrade 9. TheClassroom EnvironmentIn SaudiArabian schools, classes run from about 7:30 or 8:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.
m. Thisvaries by season (e.g. in summer, classes begin at 7:45 a.m., whereas inwinter, classes begin at 8:00 a.m.
). In general, students are taught 7 lessonseach day, with each lesson consisting of a different subject and lasting for 45minutes. There is a 30-minute break after the third lesson, as well as a breakfor prayers after the sixth lesson. Importantly,when a teacher enters the classroom, students are expected to show respect bybeing silent. Indeed, the teaching profession is very well respected in SaudiArabia, so students will usually show their teachers respect by not talkingwhile the teacher is talking. Furthermore, they are expected to remain silentuntil they are given permission to talk. (This expectation stems from the Saudicustom of showing respect by being silent.) Students must raise their hands andbe called upon to speak; otherwise, it is considered rude to speak, and studentsmay be punished for speaking out of turn.
Single-GenderEducation Educationin Saudi Arabia is segregated by gender. .24 Girls are always taught by female teachers, whereas boys are taught bymale teachers. Even though boys and girls are segregated in terms of theirlearning environments, they have the same educational supports, funding and curricula.
Generally, they learn the same subjects, except for in a few select cases (e.g.only boys are taught physical education, and only girls are taught homeeconomics).
Thesediscrepancies could be a result of Saudi Arabia’s Islamic identity. .25 Teaching English in Saudi ArabiaThe SaudiMinistry of Education first introduced English in the school syllabus in the 1950s(Al-Johani, 2009). In 1958, English classes wereimplemented in grades 7–9 in Saudi schools (Al-Abdulkader, 1978). Presently, theSaudi Ministry of Education implements English language classes for children startingin grade 4 (Alfahad, 2012).In recentyears, the Saudi Ministry of Education has invested significantly in improvingand developing the teaching of English in school classrooms. For instance, the SaudiArabian government has sent supervisors and teachers abroad, to places such asthe UK, so they can attend specific courses in teaching English as a foreignlanguage (TEFL) and thereby acquire the best methods for teaching English.
It has longbeen recognised that the quality of TEFL in Saudi Arabian schools needs to beimproved. For instance, in 2009, there was a project spearheaded by the SaudiArabian government that formed agreements with international companies to help developSaudis’ English language skills so that the Saudi workforce could better meet internationalcompanies’ needs. This new project mainly used communicative language teaching (CLT)techniques to provide a new and improved curriculum for learning and teachingEnglish in Saudi Arabian workplaces. The newcurriculum, like all curricula based on CLT, is intended to give students achance to learn English mainly through the practice of communication. This newcurriculum implements CLT through activities such as group work and games. Similarly,the Saudi Ministry of Education has recently changed its school curriculum to adaptnew methods that focus on reading, writing, listening and speaking, with somenew CLT-based ideas spread throughout the curriculum. However, in reality,English language teachers in Saudi Arabia are still using traditional methodsfor teaching English in their classrooms. However, they may have their ownreasons for doing that, which will be discussed below.
Despite theeffort and money that Saudi Arabia’s government has spent on improving English languageeducation, student outcomes are still below expectations. For instance, someworkplace supervisors have reported problems with students’ English languagelevels. They have complained that students’ writing is very poor, and also thatstudents have difficulty with listening comprehension. Some have even said thatstudents are not able to deliver basic sentences in English. .26 Challenges in Implementing CommunicativeLanguage Teaching in Saudi ArabiaAlthough CLThas been officially adapted by the Saudi Ministry of Education, there are stillsome issues with its implementation. The first is that its pedagogy does notmatch with its assessments in Saudi student settings. Incongruence between theapproach to teaching and the method of conducting student assessments cannegatively affect the results of the educational process for students.
As Abahussain(2016) states, ‘Examinations can affect three major aspects.27 : participation, process, and product’ (p. 197). Such differencescan be resolved by adjusting assessment methods to match pedagogical approaches.However, CLTwas implemented in Saudi Arabian curricula without also including effectiveassessment strategies. In fact, the English education system in Saudi Arabia isstill exam-oriented, and therefore both teachers and students are primarily concernedwith examinations. As a result, CLT has been difficult to fully implement because(1) there is no corresponding CLT assessment mechanism for the classroom, orelse (2) the CLT assessment mechanism is not aligned with what the teacher hasfocused on in class.
This is a major problem, for when teachers do not use appropriateassessment techniques to assess students’ language learning, the learners’performance will suffer. Notably, Saudiculture itself might be playing a leading role in hindering effective implementationof CLT in Saudi Arabia. For example, one of the cultural trends in Saudi Arabiais that students are used to being told what to do and following thoseinstructions. Therefore, students might not know what to do or how to interactduring a CLT-based language lesson. For instance, one of my colleagues told me thatwhen his students interact with each other, they become less controllable, which,in his view, is a negative effect of CLT-based interaction. Anothercultural consideration is that some Saudi students do not want to speak infront of their classmates in the target language because they are afraid of makingmistakes, even though the CLT approach leaves room for making mistakes. Duringmy own teaching experience, I have witnessed many teachers correcting nearlyevery mistake their students make, and even stopping students from trying tocommunicate their ideas because they were making small mistakes along the way.These teachers are focusing only on accuracy, which is not suitable for a communicativeteaching approach.
Indeed, at its core, CLT focuses on fluency more thanaccuracy. Therefore, even though some of these teachers probably assumed they werefollowing CLT, their classes were focused on drilling and memorising, which isnot in accordance with CLT at all. Indeed, Ifind there tends to be a gap between CLT and teachers’ actual practice in Saudiclassrooms.
Teachers’ roles in the CLT language classroom is not to correct students’errors and mistakes, but rather to provide an environment for students to usetheir language skills to communicate meaningfully in English. Many SaudiEnglish teachers tend to lecture students frequently and spend most of theclassroom time explaining grammar; even in a curriculum based on CLT, theseteachers want to remain at the centre of the class. This teacher-centredpractice might be due to many factors (e.g. the teachers themselves, thestudents, the system). However, the main idea behind CLT is not to haveteachers lecture students in proper English.
Rather, it is to help themcommunicate what it is they want to say. It is about helping students to usethe language meaningfully. Anotherproblem with the implementation of communicative language teaching in SaudiArabia is that this approach cannot be used effectively in certain classsituations.
Indeed, even though the Saudi Ministry of Education recentlyimplemented CLT in all English language curricula, it has not addressed theCLT-related problems that some teachers are facing. For instance, it takes alot of time to deliver a CLT lesson properly, especially when a large number ofstudents are in one class. Batawi (2011) references .
28 one study, stating that ‘in one of the government school groups, membersreported that having large classes that contain around 45 students makes itimpossible to use communicative language teaching’ 49.29 . Indeed, large classroom sizes make it more challenging for students tomeaningfully interact in English and for teachers to assess students.
Thus, theCLT approach might only be beneficial for small groups of students. Asmentioned above, some teachers find it difficult to use CLT in large classroomsin particular because they do not feel they can control the classes. However, Ellis(2008) that the interaction can be done not only between students-students butalso between teacher-students. For example, the teacher will be in the front ofthe class and use some activity such as information gap, which is one side haspart of the information whereas the other part of the information, they need toshare and communicate to get the information, it is like the teacher will handout a map and aske the student with a clear instruction to draw a road. , Ellis(2008) states that It is Also has an advantage which the teacher can involvethe input, the students will process the input to achieve the task.
In otherwords, it is possible to use CLT in the big number of students in the class ifthe teacher is a well class manager and his instruction is clear. However, itmight be difficult to assess students individually and give the feedback foreach students.Moreover, someteachers feel uncomfortable with the CLT teaching approach due to lack ofteacher training in this technique. For example, they find it difficult tohandle group chat situations, in which students should be speaking in thetarget language but often hold side conversations in their mother languages.Also, many Saudi English teachers have been trained to teach using thetraditional English translation methods.
Teachers may prefer the old method,which they may feel makes student assessment easier and clearer. This .30 reinforces the above argument that one of the main issues with teachingEnglish in Saudi schools using the CLT approach is that teachers do not knowhow to properly assess students using this method. Thus, bothteachers and students, as well as the Ministry of Education, need to shift awayfrom traditional exam-oriented thinking in order to properly assess students usingeffective CLT assessment techniques .
31 and allow communicative-based language learning to thrive in SaudiArabia.