Solutions Instruction In Saudi Arabia


The use of English language as a medium of instruction has been a topic of debate among researchers in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia for years now. The Saudi Ministry of Education requires the use of English as a medium of instruction in all universities in Saudi Arabia. However, it is important to note that the Saudi school system at all levels up to secondary education is based on the Arabic language only, as it is the only official language and the only dominant language in the kingdom and the region. However, introducing English as a medium of instruction at undergraduate level has its own negatives, as the shift of language creates some issues in the overall understanding of the subject requirements and creates some sort of barriers between the teachers and the students.

Furthermore, to fix this issue all universities in the kingdom contain an English language learning Centre with extra courses in English in the first year of the undergraduate program. This is called the preparatory year. The focus of the preparatory year is to basically train and improve the main skills needed for the undergraduate program such as English skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking in addition to academic skills and research methods. Moreover, previous studies have shown evidence of a dramatic gap in teaching and learning, as well as a gap in the understanding of the subjects and the overall knowledge gained when using English as the medium of instruction. Nevertheless, Arabization may not be the solution to this issue. This paper aims at investigating and identifying the issues related to the use of English as a medium of instruction and will consider previous studies on EMI in Saudi Arabia. The main issues that will be investigated are ownership of English in Saudi Arabia that has led to it being used as an instruction language, English as a standard for communicative success in international interactions, factors influencing the development of English as a global language and English as a lingua franca.


Literature Review

Many nations perform instruction in the English language, some have a positive outcome other may have been less benefit. For this reason, researchers have controversial views towards English as a medium of instruction around the world.

Several educational systems and especially educational systems of countries that were once under British rule, have embraced English as the medium of instruction. Resultantly, in the post-independence period of these countries, the legacy of English has remained. Despite that, the use of English as a medium of instruction (EMI) has grown in the past few decades even more (Onsman, 2012). As countries attempt to globalize, English language becomes more important due to reasons such as communication, knowledge that is preserved in English as well as modern scientific and technological knowledge.

Some of the major reasons behind and/or consequences of the rise of English include history and trade have been influential elements in the rising of English. After developing for almost a millennium on the British Isles it was taken around by sailors, soldiers, traders and also missionaries of the British Empire before anything resembling a language was established. Moreover, in Saudi Arabia, some parts like the eastern and western provinces were colonized by the English and old Turkish government (Graddol, 2006). Therefore, settling in these parts by British Empire personnel introduced the language to the people in these provinces. Moreover, adoption of globalization and modernization policies has been influential increase use of English in the country.

According to Marsh (2006), a number of institutions worldwide have had interest in approving English as a mean of instruction, this was mainly between 1995 and 2005, however, in Saudi Arabia, and the approval is still underway. This tendency is ongoing because the number of educational institutions around the worlds that use English as the medium of instruction is increasing in a number of different courses because it is evident that new courses such as economics and geology are being taught in English in Saudi Arabia. This has significant consequences that may last for a long period. It increases the number of second language speakers around the world which empowers the English language even more (Crystal, 2012). This shift, in the use of English as a medium of instruction, seems to have worked in some regions around the world creating a substantial impact but has not yet had such impact in Saudi Arabia.

The continued attempts to use English as the instructional language in institutions had introduced the challenge of language barrier between teachers and students in Saudi Arabia and in other regions of Arab countries. This quick shift to the use of English language as a language of instruction in some fields has had a tremendously positive effect on the number of second language speakers who may not have learned English without applying it as the medium of instruction. This is because Arabic is the only language of instruction in all educational levels prior to the undergraduate course. In the past, English was not introduced to students until the level of secondary school, however, this past trend has been changed so that English is introduced before secondary school to improve the language skills of students (Albakrawi, 2012). This step was taken after a clear need to provide learners a better understanding of the English language as the medium of instruction.

The acceptance and implementation of English as a medium of instruction in Saudi Arabia had a dramatic up-rise at the beginning of 2005 as the kingdom established 17 universities and colleges in just five years. Due to a large number of universities established in a short period of time the educational institutions of Saudi needed to fill the shortage of lecturers, therefore, they employed many Arabic and non-Arabic speakers which reflected in the need to approve English as a medium of instruction (Hobrom, 1996). It was a big step taken by the ministry of education, however, the outcome is considered to be on the downside as a number of students felt frustrated, worried and threatened by the unknown future of their progress in the program that they are studying in another language at their country in addition to others who were totally puzzled by translating.

A quick shift like this may affect the performance of students negatively and may cause some students to drop out of courses regardless of the full year of intensive English language courses. Student find is difficult to understand which results in the loss of attention and lack of connection between the teacher and the students. From previous observation, it is also noticeable that when students are totally focused in the lecture, and they misunderstand something and would like more explanation however they see language as a barrier in communication, they tend to speak in Arabic if the instructor is able to do so (Fishman, 2006).

The University standard as key to communicative success in international interactions

With a word range of between 250,000 and 1,000,000 words, English has been identified as the most nuanced language in the world. As a result, it is foreseen that in future it might be a monolingual future at the international level where the relevance of other language has been of less importance (Graddol 2006). Moreover, out of the world's approximately 7.5 inhabitants, about 20% of this population use English as their first language, which is a better percentage compared to the other languages used in the world like French and Spanish. In 2017 Ethnologue 20th edition, English was ranked first with around 743.5 million people followed by Chinese at a distance with 198.3 million people.

Relating to the recent history, English has dramatically emerged as a well-spoken language not only in Europe but also in most African and Arabian countries. However with the changes happening in the world in the political, social and economic sector's power is shifting, and so is the position of English in the world (Rogerson-Revell, 2007). This position has been outstanding from the late 20th century as a result of the role played by history and practicalities of trade towards its growth.

In the university, level diversification is crucial due to the different origin for different students. Therefore, communication becomes a challenge as a result of the language barrier from the individuals in the university since some are from other countries hence their mode of interaction is different (Firth, 2009). Breaking through this barrier is the main dilemma in ensuring success is achieved in these learning institutions. Universities have created an accessible web platform in which students can get in touch out of the class and also into the classroom initiative in which real-time captioning and text to speech services are presented (Jenkins, 2006). Therefore with this routine, the students practically learn English and are able to interact freely. Besides English university offers a platform for students to learn a variety of languages hence ensuring communicative success at the international level.

Language is a crucial skill which allows people to communicate. As it is seen in the development of a child, they create a certain form of communication so as to connect with other people while they try and learn the form in which they relate to one another. Therefore, in the same case, a child is determined to learn their native language so are older people. Some of the factors which influence the interest to learn global language include;

Motivation – educational achievement has linked to intrinsic motivation for students who enjoy learning languages. Moreover, students who have been given support from the parents or teacher tend to fair batter compared to the ones who haven’t. Personality – extrovert individuals are more will to take the challenge since they are not worried about making mistakes rather they are interested in learning from them. Access to native speakers –when one gets an opportunity to interact with native speakers in classrooms or even outside they will be persuaded to provide the appropriate feedback hence gain interest to go the extra mile and gain the same knowledge. Experiences – students or individuals who have lived in different countries have a general experience and are in a better position to pursue the new language at their current location (Graddol 2006).

With almost 1bn of the inhabitants on earth having embraced English as a lingua franca, it will take a will before another language takes over as the global language since Chinese which comes in second place is only known by less than 200m inhabitants (Penbek, Yurdakul Şahin and Cerit, 2012).

The Choice of Language in Instruction Arabic vs. English

English is used as the medium of instruction in many countries and in many fields as well. This is because English is the preferred language of instruction in Business, Medicine, Science Computer and Engineering. While on the other side Arabic is the language of instruction in fields such as Islamic studies, courses of education, History, and geography (Al-Hazmi, 2006). A sample of students from King Saud University tested by Al-Jarf (2008) showed that most of the books used in the courses of computer science, pharmacy, and medicine are in English with English being the medium of instruction.

In the 1980's and 1990's, controversial views such as the risk of forgetting native Arabic, on the use of English as the medium of instruction in universities across the Arab world have arisen. This competition lasted for years, a lot of universities accepted English as the medium of instruction in scientific, engineering and medical fields. In a study by Al-Jarallah and Al-Ansari (1998) more than half of the medical students questioned at King Saud University said that they prefer to use Arabic instead of English, and 8.7% did not believe it makes any difference. In 1992, 77% of students preferred to answer questions in the native language Arabic which shows that there was a visible resistance to the Idea of English as a medium of instruction.

However, these studies revealed mixed results which did not reflect empirical evidence of the issue of using Arabic versus English as the medium of instruction. Moreover, from previous conversations with students, many students point out the fact that students study science and mathematics in Arabic for a long period of time going through primary, middle school and secondary education. This leaves them with very limited knowledge of English, and then they are expected to be fluent in English as they enter the undergraduate program. One reason for this may be as Al-Jarf mentions that higher education might favour this in order for students to pursue their post-graduate studies (Al-Jarf, 2008).

Results that are worth considering are found by the Arabic Language Academy of Jordan which tested the percentage of failure in engineering and medical studies. Those experiments intend to find the progress of students in Arabic and English as the language of instruction. The results revealed that 30% of students failed the course when English is used as the medium of instruction while only 3% of students failed in the course with Arabic being the language of instruction. Furthermore, other issues were addressed, according to Al-Hajj Eissa and Al-Mutawa (1988), EMI introduced many issues for science students in Kuwait University. These issues can be summarized into the following, poor understanding of scientific concepts, students were highly de-motivated, issues with understanding English textbooks and lectures as well as poor English language skills. Although previous examples may seem negative, there are many beneficial factors such as a wider access to endless resources only provided in English, and thus learners become more open to recent studies and conducted research. Only 22% of students and 8% of medicine and engineering faculty said that there are sufficient textbooks in Arabic (Abu-Arafah, Attuhami, and Hassein, 1998).

One of the reasons behind the potential lack of the total use of Arabic is that it has some disadvantages when it comes to terminology, translating terminology by equivalent literal meaning may seem awkward and an explanation is necessary since some terms are hardly ever known and might not be understood easily. 93% of students believe that it is difficult to translate books of medicine, engineering, science, and technology (Al-Jarf 2008). This is because some terminology does not smoothly fit into the Arabic terminology due to the odd sound of the words when pronounced in context. According to Al-Jarf (2008), 96% of her participants believe that Arabic should not be implied as a language of teaching in fields such as computer science, engineering, and medicine. This is because of the substantial shortage of resources in these fields of research. Moreover, almost all primary references can be found in English, in addition, many of the research papers are published in English regardless of the author's first language. This can help in creating an easy link of communication between researchers around the world.

Some issues arise when Arabic is applied as the medium of instruction such as the finding the word equivalent to certain terms, according to Al-Jarf (2008), roughly 93% of her participants believe that there is no Arabic equivalent of a lot of English technical terminology. It is also believed that translating may be expensive and may also result in confusion since a high percentage of terms are first learned in English; it may be much easier and more effective to remain on English terminology.

Ownership of English in Saudi Arabia

In the united kingdom of Saudi Arabia, English is not a neutral language. It has been on the front side of the political, economic, social and religious overtone hence an intense debate. In addition, the high demand for English teachers remains to be a critical subject since this language is essential in obtaining of scholarship and for employment purposes (Schmidt, 1990). Legality in the details of the contract is used as a reference by Saudis authorities in case of any issues. English has become a commodity and led to English language teaching and testing industry. In 1970 the release of the inaugural ministry of education saw the establishment of the English language teaching syllabus and framework at the secondary level. The aim of the syllabus was to assist students to develop immensely in reading, writing, speaking and listening skills to enable them to understand the value of a foreign language in the political, social and economic aspects (Onsman, 2012). As a result students in secondary school have been provided with a window of opportunities to develop their critical thinking and a proficiency to enter the university and pursue their preferred courses.

Notably continuous drive for quality education in KSA resulted to launch of a project of comprehensive revision in 2000 by the ministry of education, to improve the teaching skills of the teachers and enhance the techniques used in teaching the curriculum. In addition, there was a release of the English curriculum for elementary, intermediate and secondary schools in 2013 (Zoccolotti, 2013). This coincided with the development if the document on the working relationship which resulted in the provision of customized English language teaching textbooks and supplementary materials via the Tawteer Company for educational services.

Consequently, Saudi Arabians who are English graduates are not required to sit for an internationally benchmarked English proficiency test so as to qualify as an English teacher. Despite this, they sit for a national English language test called STEP provided by Qiyas. Moreover through the Tawteer Company for education training programs or on their own, some teachers will sit for either IELTS or TOEFL (ur Rahman and Alhaisoni, 2013). From the test a result of above 60% of the teachers reporting to having attained an IELTS 6 or TOEFL equivalent or higher, reconsidered appropriate for the task.

Saudi Language Policy

The language policy in Saudi Arabia is rather converted bearing in mind that Arabic is the only official language of Saudi Arabia. It is necessary to acknowledge that the language policy in Saudi Arabia is somehow connected to the religion as the holy book of Islam is in Arabic. Therefore, the government of Saudi is trying to balance the use of English to a certain extent in order to preserve the heritage of culture and to keep the understanding of Arabic high for religious purposes, because it is believed that teaching in English for primary school students may affect preserving culture. In brief, language policy has a considerable effect on drawing an outline for making decisions on different educational policies (Phillipson and Skutnabb-Kangas, 1996). According to Badawi and Hawsawi, (2017), the language policy and planning in Saudi Arabia is believed to be imprecise due to its lack of definitive directions and incomprehensive. As a result, the importance of language as a skill has been greatly ignored. Language has a crucial role in the development of an economy due to its skills which are necessary in the international business world. Language is a communicative system of shared understanding through which international ambitions of an organization are met, due to the power it has to make people interact and interpret each other’s conversation in both the corporate and education sectors.

Notably, it has been clearly indicated that English is a language and should therefore not be treated as other subjects in school. Thus, it should not be examined but rather evaluated that is implementing it has a natural technique so as to get natural results like in art craft (Zoccolotti 2009). In the recent studies, the emotional state of a learner has been proven to be, either positive or negative, is reflected in the speed and quality of the learning process.

Crown prince HRH Mohammed bin Salman in 2016 announced an ambitiously major transformation plan known as Saudi vision 2030. The vision is based on three stakes, in which the second is the country’s willpower to be a driving force of international investment. Saudi

Arabia is rich in natural resources which include gold, uranium and natural oil. Consequently, in their attempt to attain vision 2030 Saudi Arabia have to embarrass the technological advancement which requires high skilled labourers to adapt to changes in the marketplace. As a result, these labourers must have adequate languages abilities to operate in the international economy (Sharifian 2009). Arguably, English remains to be the language of business, advertisement, academia and a number of other fields. Hence these language skills enable access to foreign resource innovation high-class education and openness to foreign markets which are easy to access through the internet.

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It has been difficult to decide whether Arabic or English should be used in instruction in Saudi Arabian educational system because of the strong controversial opinions on this matter including different views of students and instructors. Teachers have a large role to play in EMI, therefore, their views on this should be acknowledged and taken into consideration when making educational policies. However, it is as equal as important to see what students prefer since we live in a democratic educational system. From a personal perspective I would prefer Arabic to be used over English, However, this is not likely to happen due to the lack of linguistic capability of speakers. In brief, English as a medium of instruction may well be a suitable language of instruction in this time where globalization is a need.

Introduction of English in the early stages of the schools will be of great benefit since the teaching of the English language in Saudi Arabia is done from only the fourth grade while in advanced countries, it is taught from the lowest educational level. Therefore despite Arabic being their national language, Saudi should introduce it in the first grade when a child acquires language as a natural instinct to learn. Moreover, students should be motivated to learn the language as well as other subjects. In the elementary stage, it will be desirable if the teachers adapt to avoid the use of textbooks and rather make it a practically feasible subject. Teaching English should use real-life situations has examples and also ignite the students love for the language. Furthermore, the teachers should persuade students to open up and ask questions freely thus ensuring better learning.

Notably, the determination of Saudi Arabia to undergo a successful transformation from an industrial economy whose dependent is mostly on oil into a powerful knowledge-based economy has been seen over recent years. Therefore in order to gain this, Saudi Arabia must adopt those traits (including language) that have helped other nations to lead their economy in the world's market. However, despite the interest of some foreigners to take their companies to the international level the importance of language for the economy has not been given the attention it requires in Saudi Arabia. Therefore, to guarantee a certain percentage in achieving the goals of Vision 2030, it is essential to re-examine the role being played by English in Saudi Arabia’s economic development. Awareness of how other countries have used language to acquire powerful positions in new markets and how this drives the development of a knowledge-based economy will help Saudi Arabia achieve the successes proposed by Vision 2030. Thus a proposal to the educational policymakers to ensure that action is taken to guarantee language education is included in the Saudi Vision 2030 is vital.


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