Teaching English in Saudi Arabia Essay Example

Nowadays, English teachers are in a high demand in Saudi Arabia. In the modern globalized world, English is the language of international communication, business and even education so English has become Saudi’s second language. The importance of English in obtaining scholarships or employment in the world countries including Saudi Arabia is growing. Consequently, employment numbers for teachers are expected to increase in the following years. Many people from different countries come to teach English in Saudi Arabia. Some of them are professionally trained and have degrees, others are members of TESOL. Many teachers from countries like the USA teach English in Saudi Arabia because they want to experience another culture. Others do it to help Saudis get a better education. On the other hand, many Saudis choose to get education in the USA and then come back to their native countries and share their knowledge. Either way, different teachers bring their own, unique perspectives and expectations to Saudi Arabia (Teaching English, n.d.; Sharifian, 2009; McKay, 2002; North & Tripp, 2012). It is great if teachers meet the expectations of the English language learners. When it happens, more students become English speakers and receive more opportunities in life. When teachers fail, students fail, as well.

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This research paper is aimed at unveiling and discussing problems and solutions of teaching English as a second language in Saudi Arabia. The research is conducted by selecting and studying relevant, trustworthy, up-to-date sources like books, articles in specialized journals and reports. I chose this topic because I think there are many problems in the sphere of English language teaching both for teachers and students. Here are some examples of the problems faced by Saudi Arabian educational bodies. One is that students start learning English as a school subject from the fourth grade, whereas they need to start studying the foreign language from the first one. The other problem is curricula which are too much for teachers to cover and too much for students to handle. The third problem is that the courses need to end with evaluation instead of examination because the latter focuses simply on grades and passing the exam, whereas the former evaluates the actual knowledge of students and their language proficiency. The list of problems goes on. After the collection of information and analysis are done, I will try to provide solutions for the problems in order to develop and enhance the practice and tradition of teaching English in the Kingdom.

In order to understand what needs to be done in the sphere of English language teaching in Saudi Arabia, one must study the background information on this issue and consider the contemporary realities and problems. It would be logical to start with the environment in which teachers find themselves when they come to the country. The ways in which Saudi Arabia attracts teachers are numerous. In general, teachers are hired directly by educational entities such as universities or colleges, more often they are hired through special recruitment agencies. They are assigned to work in different locations ranging from private elementary and secondary schools to public universities. Some of the educational institutions are situated in large metropolitan areas, such as Jeddah or Riyadh, but others may be located in remote, ultra-conservative towns or even villages (Teaching English, n.d.). Naturally, the attitudes to the English language and willingness to learn it vary.

The status of the English language in Saudi Arabia is ambiguous. Not so long time ago, little importance was given to learning and teaching of English in the Saudi education system. English was a compulsory subject from the seventh grade, and neither teachers nor students considered it seriously as a subject worth of studying. Instead, they thought about it as of a language to pass in the examination. During the last few years, the situation has changed dramatically. Nowadays, due to the global demand, English is one of the major subjects in the education system of Saudi Arabia compulsory from class six to the university level. The Ministry of Education of Saudi Arabia states the objectives of teaching English in the kingdom. Some of the objectives are the following: (1) to enable students to acquire basic language skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing); (2) to develop students’ awareness of the importance of English as a means of international communication; (3) to develop students’ positive attitudes towards learning the English language, and (4) to enable students to benefit linguistically from English speaking nations so that they enhance the concepts of international co-operation that would promote understanding and respect of cultural differences between nations (Rahman & Alhaisoni, 2013, p. 114). However, despite this breakthrough, there are still many gaps in the process and nature of English language teaching. Some of them are the results of old habits and traditional attitudes, some exist because of the lack of new and effective approaches to teaching and studying English in the country (Rahman & Alhaisoni, 2013; Smith & Abouammoh, 2013).

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One of the problems in the process of teaching English is the results from the place into which a teacher is assigned. Very often, a collision of cultures occurs. This conflict is milder or non-existent in metropolitan areas which are more open to the Western world and its influence, whereas villages, small towns and rural areas are hotbeds of national traditions and norms. These areas accept the foreign influence more carefully and more unwillingly. In other words, some areas of the country are very conservative. Thus, teachers should be advised and aware of the cultural barriers and social and educational climate of the areas to which they are assigned. If not, a barrier may become a dead wall through which no knowledge exchange may happen (Teaching English, n.d.; Ramady, 2012).

One of the most important problems is that Saudi Arabian students often have no or very little knowledge of even basic English. English is taught at schools, but the outcome is far from great. Either because school teachers are unable to give the knowledge to students in a comprehensive and easy manner, or because students lack necessary qualities, interest or attention while studying English, but the result is often a poor language proficiency (Ansari, 2012; Rahman & Alhaisoni, 2013; Ramady, 2012).

Another problem is bound to the problem discussed above and can be both a cause and a result of it. Unfortunately, many English teachers, both native and foreign, leave the assignment in the middle of their contract because they get disappointed with their students or with the legacy of teachers who worked with these students before them (Ansari, 2012; Rahman & Alhaisoni, 2013).
The next problem is the attitude towards studying English as if it is a formality. Both teachers and students can be careless about English. Students may be interested not in the language itself but in passing the exams and getting good marks. This negligent attitude makes students spend their school years with no use. Later, when they enroll to colleges or universities where they are required to study medical and computer science, engineering and other courses in English, poor language proficiency becomes a real problem (Ansari, 2012; Rahman & Alhaisoni, 2013).
One more problem occurs when appointing authority considers the teacher unprofessional or incompetent and fires him or her because students do not demonstrate the expected results or fail in learning or improving their linguistic knowledge. When a teacher is, indeed, poorly qualified, this decision is right. However, when the problem is not in the teacher but in his or her style of teaching, such a decision is not the right choice. Instead of firing a teacher, the authority must give him or her a chance to change the teaching style and/or methodology. Very often, a changed approach is what is needed to become a more effective teacher. Unfortunately, teachers get fired, and not many of them have a chance to stay even if they want to (Ansari, 2012; Rahman & Alhaisoni, 2013).

The so-called “mixed-code” teaching is one more issue. There is indecisiveness on whether the language of teaching should be Arabic or English. Scholars say that demanding from teachers and students to switch easily between the two languages is a too muchand impossible to fulfill. Many of them agree that teaching in English is a better alternative to the mixed-code. However, the debate still goes on (Smith & Abouammoh, 2013).

The lack of students’ exposure to the English language is also a big problem. Although there are English newspapers, TV programs, and expatriates in Saudi Arabia, students hardly have a chance to practice their English anywhere except for their language classroom. Exposure to language is important for better understanding, practice and memorizing of new words and sentence structures. The lack of exposure means less success and more difficulties for English language learners (Rahman & Alhaisoni, 2013).

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Another issue is the outdated learning materials. The textbooks should suit the modern concept of English language teaching. The materials should be well-planned and properly graded. The books and other teaching aids, such as video and audio recordings, should focus on teaching English for specific or academic purposes. If textbooks are outdated or contain materials which are too narrow or unnecessary in the future students’ professions, the main goal of teaching English to Saudis will fail (Rahman & Alhaisoni, 2013).

Among the main problems faced by students in the classroom in the process of learning the second/foreign language are the following. First of all, it is the cultural barrier and various socio-cultural problems. Students’ culture is absolutely different from the culture from which foreign languages originate. Thus, a student needs to know the basics of the culture at first, and then study its language. If teachers fail to help the student on this stage, the learning of the second language can become problematic and ineffective because all further understanding can be built only if there is a basic knowledge of the culture and the language overall. Second of all, there is a problem of students’ unfamiliarity with the subject. Third of all, different style of writing from the mother tongue may become a problem and a barrier for a student. Fourth of all, there may be a pronunciation problem. Naturally, the vocal apparatus of an individual is accustomed to producing the sounds of a well-known, native language. Thus, imitating foreign sounds may be problematic and even hurtful. However, pronunciation is a minor problem because having a poor pronunciation means simply having an accent which is overall tolerated and is not a big issue. The problem arises when an accent causes misunderstanding and does not allow an individual to express his or her thoughts clearly. Thus, a teacher of the foreign language needs to ensure that a student does not have serious flaws in pronunciation, whereas mild flows like accent can be left as they are. Last of all, students may seem passive because they have difficulty in expressing themselves in the foreign language and do not have sufficient vocabulary strengh. This problem can be solved by learning new words. The methodologies for enhancing vocabulary are numerous, and all of them can be effective if chosen wisely and in accordance with students’ skills and level of knowledge (Ansari, 2012). To conclude this section, I would say that students’ problems become teachers’ problems. Thus, the main burden of teaching English to Saudi students lies on the shoulders of a teacher because “the success or failure of any method or procedure depends mainly on the effectiveness of the teacher” (Khan, 2011, p. 112).

The responsibility and challenges, however, should not scare a teacher. Along with the information on the problems, the research has also provided an insight into possible solutions which a teacher can suggest. I share Ansari’s (2012) belief that, “if the teacher has a little patience and is competent and intelligent, he will handle the situation easily and achieve the goal” (p. 519). I have learnt that English can be taught effectively if it is taught with patience, hard work and with the help of methodologies which each teacher can invent on his own. These methodologies should be adapted to the needs of a particular group of students in accordance with their level of the language proficiency and the need in this language. In order to develop such a methodology, a teacher needs to first and foremost study the background of the educational institution and its students in terms of English language teaching, to study the problems and difficulties which students faced in the past and face at the moment. As soon as the problems and gaps are defined, a teacher can proceed to developing a teaching strategy which would meet the students’ needs and close these gaps. Then, a teacher can frame curriculum suitable for his or her students, select appropriate reading materials for them and create a favorable environment for learning English in the classroom. A teacher must be cooperative and patient to save his or her students from despair and depression. When a teacher locates a problem, such as a cultural barrier, which is still not overcome, he or she needs to help students by teaching some basic facts about the foreign culture and its traditions, including language traditions. If the students’ problem is unfamiliarity with the subject, classroom practice should be used to help resolve this problem, as well (Ansari, 2012).

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In addition to methodology, teachers have their own style of teaching. Teachers should be free to choose and adopt any style of teaching they consider beneficiary for students and convenient for themselves. When the chosen style does not wok in a particular environment, a teacher needs to change it as soon as possible or develop a new one in order to be perceived well by the students. The only mandatory requirement is that the methodology and teaching style are efficient and not outdated (Ansari, 2012). Nevertheless, it is good when models of teaching language are based on time-proved elements. The basics of teaching can be expressed in a form of a few important steps. Teachers are free to combine or add self-invented methodologies, however, the basics of the content and sequence of teaching should remain.

When addressing the common problem of poor vocabulary, a teacher should encourage students to learn new words and their usage. A teacher can allow students to use foreign words in their native sentences. As far as I know, this method is proved to be very effective and simple. There are even bilingual poems where foreign words are written down into the body of the poem which is in the students’ mother tongue. By memorizing the poems, students memorize new words, and context of the poem helps them to understand the meaning of these words. If teachers are talented in this sphere, they can even write such poems on their own. A teacher must also teach students how to consult a dictionary because it only seems simple when, in fact, dictionaries are difficult to use. To be successful, students need to know the alphabet and the principle according to which words are organized in dictionaries, as well as understand various abbreviations. A teacher must teach students the parts of speech. It means that students must distinguish between verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs. Without recognizing the parts of speech, students will be unable to build or understand sentences. After that, students should be taught structural patterns to know which parts of speech should come first, second, so on and so forth.

Structures and schemes can be used to simplify this process for students and make the sentence structure patterns vivid and easy to memorize. The teacher should also explain to the students how to use the words in sentences. The sentences should be short, simple and of daily usage. A teacher should not discourage students if, at the beginning, they use translation method in framing sentences, that is, if they think in their mother tongue and then translate into English. However, as soon as the basics of knowledge on the parts of speech and sentence structure are learnt, a teacher must incline students to start thinking in English or otherwise students will develop a bad habit which might prevent them from knowing and using the foreign language freely and effectively. Reading is also essential. Students should read according to their capabilities and level of knowledge starting with reading (pronouncing) letters, then words and then sentences. The same is true for writing. When students are taught to listen, a teacher is the best speaker. Audio recordings are also good, but they are good only for advanced language learners because recordings may contain noises which would make it difficult for students to understand what they hear. Another problem for understanding is the fact that recordings are made by English native speakers. Hearing native and correct pronunciation is necessary, but it may be difficult for students who are not used to the foreign speech tempo, intonation and sounds. The percentage of understood words and meaning would be very low. Thus, listening should begin with a teacher and his live voice (Ansari, 2012).

I would say it is ideal when a teacher can combine old but not outdated models of teaching with revolutionary and effective innovations. Currently, English language teaching methodologies focus on giving students opportunities to communicate. Teachers need to find or develop new methodologies for classroom interaction. These methods should depend on techniques which will help students enjoy English language classes. As a result, students will be motivated to learn English and will be able to develop some self learning techniques. In addition to basics and innovations, a teacher needs to make students interested. A sincere interest will motivate students, which would be the best way to learn something fast and with minor effort. Motivation will help students in setting goals for learning English and self learning techniques. Even more importantly, motivation leads to an optimistic and challenging attitude. Thus, interested students become a favorable audience for a teacher and are much easier to teach compared to passive students who see no use in courses they take (Ansari, 2012; Rahman & Alhaisoni, 2013).

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There is one more thing which teachers and people who hire them forget. A teacher is a leader. Ansari says (2012), and many would agree that students look towards their teacher with hope and expectation. They see the teacher as a very competent person who can make them learn English very soon. According to a report of the Task Force on Teacher Leadership, “Teacher leadership is not about “teacher power.” Rather, it is about mobilizing the … attributes of teachers to strengthen student performance at ground level and working towards real collaboration” (Leadership for student learning, 2001, p. 4). One more good idea about “teacher-leaders” can be found in Merideth (2000). The book says, “Teacher-leaders place their students’ learning as their primary goal and work within their own classrooms to improve student achievement” (Merideth, 2000, p. 3). I can conclude that a good teacher would make a good leader. Leadership qualities, such as intelligence, empathy, dedication, team spirit, readiness to help and ability to communicate are important for such a profession (Merideth, 2000; Leadership for Student Learning, 2001). Teachers lead their students just like presidents, kings or shaikhs lead their nations. Educational leadership is as important as political leadership.

Reflecting on the conducted research, I can say that the situation with studying English in Saudi Arabia is getting better, although many issues are still unsolved. Despite this breakthrough, there are still many gaps in the process and nature of English language teaching. Some of them are results of old habits and traditional attitudes, some exist because of the lack of new and effective approaches. The main problems include collision of cultures, students having no or little knowledge of basic English, “mixed-code” teaching, teachers leaving the assignment in the middle of their contract because they get disappointed, common attitude towards teaching English as to a formality, teachers being fired unreasonably, the lack of students’ exposure to the English language outside the classroom, outdated learning materials. Luckily, all of these problems can be solved with the help of both old and new methodologies if a teacher is interested, dedicated, professional, intelligent, competent, supportive and patient.

I am planning to use all the background information and pieces of advice on how to solve the problems in my future practice. I am a proponent of new and/or self-invented methodologies like bilingual poems I have mentioned earlier. I also understand that a teacher is a leader who must possess and demonstrate the best leadership qualities in the process of teaching. Thus, I will try to be a good leader for the students and the educational institution and address major problems with progressive methods combined with good old teaching models. I also know that there cannot be a single, universal approach to all classes and students. Thus, I will have to develop a more specific action plan when I am assigned to a particular educational institution because in addition to common issues, there are also different local ones. I will have to study the history of teaching foreign languages at my institution and my class and the level of the English language proficiency of the students. Only after doing this and communicating with all the students, I will be able to come up with an effective plan of teaching and choose a proper teaching style which would benefit my students and help them reach their goals.