My students in Saudi Arabia face some truly unique problems in learning english
. First, Saudi society is strictly segregated by sex, so I teach only female students in an all-female university. An all-female learning environment creates unique problems, and maybe one or two advantages.
My students have little to no interaction with males outside their immediate families. This results in a blissful innocence, a palpable frustration, and a unique lack of competitive drive or ambition to achieve, such as we might expect in western students who are accustomed to competing with males. My students know little of the real world, other than what they see in Western media. They don't dare aspire to the rights and freedoms that usually come with a college degree
It's hard to know what motivates them to achieve, and yet some are obviously very motivated. Approximately 12% are excellent students, with very high standards and excellent english
skills. If you ask them, about 80% of the achievers will tell you that they learned their english
from television, rather than in an educational institution, but there are a few exceptions.
The second unique problem they face is funding. I don't mean a lack of, but rather, a glut of funding. First, their college education is free. If they want to pursue post-graduate qualifications, that's free too, and if they have the grades, their King will gladly send them and a chaperone to America, or the UK, and foot the entire bill. They are also paid a monthly stipend for attending.
So what's the problem? We westerners would think this was a great opportunity. After all, we might spend our entire adult working lives trying to finance our children
's higher education while paying off our own college loans. In fact, it's a huge problem.
These girls have absolutely no idea what a college education is worth. They completely take it for granted. People don't value what they haven't had to earn. Many of the girls don't actually want to attend class or learn english
. They just want to be marked present and then leave, so they can get their stipend. It took me a few months to figure out that you're better off just letting them leave. Then you can focus on the approximately 12% who appreciate the value of an english
education, without the constant distractions of those who don't.
The next unique problem my students face is corruption, bribery, and self-serving greed. Teaching english
is big business
here, and we're all on the gravy train. The english
prep year program is now mandatory, and most programs are staffed by recruiting companies whose sole concern is securing the contract ($$$). Servicing the contract, much less serving the students educational needs, is completely irrelevant. That's why typical class sizes are anywhere from 35 to 70 students, the majority of whom are incapable of working at the required level. There is no level testing, no possibility of reassignment, and no flexibility within the curriculum. The only thing most of these students are learning is to hate english
. Nobody seems to care, as long as they are being well-paid to ignore the problem. Welcome to Saudi.
The next unique problem my students face is cultural. They have been raised in a primitive, highly authoritarian society, which crushes individual initiative. Education in general, and female education in particular, is dominated by the Saudi Wahabi/Salafi clergy. The bulk of their schooling consists of Islamic studies, which by Western standards, is little more than brainwashing. Critical thinking or analysis are both strongly discouraged, while parroting back exactly what you have been told because it is the absolute, unquestionable truth, is the ideal. There is no freedom of speech, religion, or conscience, and any deviation from the norm is punished. The emphasis is on appearing exactly like everyone else, and doing exactly as you are told at exactly the same time as everyone else. Or else.
Consequently, the students show little desire to know or express themselves, and have no experience with the concept of thinking for themselves. They are afraid of sharing personal thoughts or opinions, or of making any kind of mistake in public. At the same time, there is a certain mindless rebellion, persisting well beyond its typical adolescent phase. The two extremes go hand-in-hand, and inhibit my students' ability to get anywhere in english
All of the reasons above contribute to my passion for reaching and teaching these girls. The 12% make it more than worthwhile, but it's the other 88% that really drive me to keep whittling away at their numbers. Saudi is changing fast, and I know that when I go to work every day, I am doing something important, something that changes lives, and changes the world for the better. english
is not just a language. It is a culture, and the genie is out of the bottle here. Inshallah, I shall be teaching these girls for many years to come, and this tefl certification
course has equipped me to do a much better job of it.
Learning difficulties in english
: Diagnosis and pedagogy in Saudi Arabia By Intakhab Alam Khan
as Second Language (esl
) Learners in Saudi Arabia - A Case Study
Froilan Vincent Bersamina
-learners-saudi-arabia-2899149.html?cat=4 Pronunciation Problems among Saudi Learners:
A Case Study at the Preparatory Year Program, Najran University Saudi Ara by Jalal Ahma http://www.languageinindia.com/july2011/jalalsaudilearnersfinalpaid.pdf
Inside the Saudi Preparatory Year english
Programme: The Future and Beyondhttp://www.taibahu.edu.sa/app_content/FCKeditorUpload/contrip/isduser02/file/enewsletter.pdf