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Learning difficulties in English: Diagnosis and pedagogy in Saudi Arabia

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Teaching of English as a Foreign Language is always a challenging task. English in Saudi Arabia serves a very limited purpose. Yet, it is very important for social as well as technological development. Therefore, English language teaching in this country in particular catches attention of many researchers. Teaching of English in Saudi starts at the school level. Despite good overall planning, purposive curriculum, integrated textbooks, qualified teachers, achievement is below the expectations. Therefore, diagnostic studies should better be undertaken in different language areas and skills so that the teacher may know the types of the problems and the corresponding factors. Such attempts are expected to be helpful in possible evolution of some fruitful and compatible strategies in order to yield the maximum academic output. Pedagogues have different views regarding English Language Teaching which may occasionally involve translation from First language to the target language and vice versa. On the other hand, the idea of Communicative approach to Language Teaching (CALT) is also significant in order to focus the skills. However, Bilingual approach can also be used as an alternative strategy.
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Educational Research (ISSN: 2141-5161) Vol. 2(7) pp. 1248-1257 July 2011
Available online@ http://www.interesjournals.org/ER
Copyright © 2011 International Research Journals
Full Length Research paper
Learning difficulties in English: Diagnosis and
pedagogy in Saudi Arabia
Intakhab Alam Khan
King AbdulAziz University Community College, Jeddah-Saudi Arabia
E-mail: dr.intakhab@yahoo.com
Accepted 01 July, 2011
Teaching of English as a Foreign Language is always a challenging task. English in Saudi Arabia
serves a very limited purpose. Yet, it is very important for social as well as technological
development. Therefore, English language teaching in this country in particular catches attention of
many researchers. Teaching of English in Saudi starts at the school level. Despite good overall
planning, purposive curriculum, integrated textbooks, qualified teachers, achievement is below the
expectations. Therefore, diagnostic studies should better be undertaken in different language areas
and skills so that the teacher may know the types of the problems and the corresponding factors.
Such attempts are expected to be helpful in possible evolution of some fruitful and compatible
strategies in order to yield the maximum academic output. Pedagogues have different views
regarding English Language Teaching which may occasionally involve translation from First
language to the target language and vice versa. On the other hand, the idea of Communicative
approach to Language Teaching (CALT) is also significant in order to focus the skills. However,
Bilingual approach can also be used as an alternative strategy.
Keywords: EFL (English as a foreign language), ELT (English Language Teaching), diagnostic studies,
Pedagogues, CALT (Communicative Approach to Language Teaching), strategies.
INTRODUCTION
English is the 'Lingua Franca' of the world. With the
technological revolution and e-learning system English
Language has emerged as one of the world's most
important tools of formal communication in the present
cyber and digital age. A very important reason for
considering English as a global language is that the
world's knowledge is usually preserved in English. It is a
modern and fashionable language so most people use it.
Thus, English is the most preferred language even in the
regions where the local language is supposed to be as
important as the culture. But, when it comes to the link
language issue, it is English that deals with the issues of
cross cultural communication.
Teaching of English as a foreign language is always
difficult. When it comes to the places where English
serves a v ery limited purpose, it becomes more crucial
and painstaking to teach and learn. Teaching of English
language in the Gulf region in general and Saudi Arabia
in particular catches attention of many researchers and
scholars especially when the issue is particularly related
to the classroom situations.
Teaching of English at most technical colleges of
Saudi Arabia serves two purposes: first, it strengthens
the foundation of English and later lays the basis for
Specific English which will be used in the years of the
students' specialties such as business, health, computers
etc. English teaching is taught even at the school levels,
but it does not enjoy as much important part in the
curriculum as in many other developing countries.
Despite a sound planning, purposive curriculum,
suitable textbooks, qualified teachers and effective
administration, the teaching-learning process sometimes
seems to be ineffective especially the case of skill
development is not found as satisfactory as it should be.
In this connection, an investigation may be proved to be
quite helpful towards finding out the actual causes, and
evolution of some fruitful and compatible strategies of
teaching English as a foreign language. It is usually
believed that the poor result in English is mainly due to
the traditional approach to teaching of English right from
the school level. In this situation, the concept of Hybrid
teaching can be proved to be at least of some help
especially when all the attempts to improve the situation
of English turn futile or ineffective.
As mentioned above, English has been embraced by
almost all nationalities and it is not limited any more to
the nations like the UK and the USA because the number
of the people who use English as a means of
communication exceeds much more than the number of
the people who speak it as their mother tongue. The case
of India is the right example. There are many other
nations in which English is going to play immensely
important role in the overall development of the country.
Saudi Arabia is one of them.
Pedagogues and language masters have different
views regarding the teaching/learning of English. Some of
them are of the opinion that teaching of English can be
done only if we translate the target language into the
mother-tongue, while the other group states that the
teaching should be done the way first language is taught
so that the skills may be focused. Some teachers say that
the teaching of the aspects like words, meaning,
structure, grammar etc. are more important than the
skills: listening, reading, writing and speaking. However,
outcome based education should always be in focus.
Language teachers being the followers of different
learning theories of psychology, have chosen few
objectives, and suggested various
approaches/methods/strategies such as oral approach,
situational teaching, audio-lingual method, com-
municative approach, bilingual approach, the Neutral
approach etc. for the achievement of language
objectives. Most modern teachers support the idea of
situational approach while there are still a few who teach
following grammar-translation method.
English Language Teaching Methods
There are many teaching methods which are used by a
language teacher within the class in order to achieve the
learning objectives that are the most important aspect of
a unit lesson plan. The relevance of grammar-
translation/direct method/audio-lingual approach/bilingual
approach/communicative approach to language teaching
or computer assisted English teaching depends on the
objectives and the situation. Sometimes one
method/approach can yield result, but in a different
situation, it may completely fail. Therefore, it is sole
responsibility of the English language teacher to opt for
the most appropriate one, and f needed evolve a
compatible strategy to teach effectively.
The Research Context
Literature pertaining to English language teaching in
general is available in bulk, but studies on the present
research are quite rare. However, studies that are directly
Khan 1249
or indirectly related to the proposed project have been
reviewed in order to arrive at a place to conceive
research hypotheses and design of the studies. The
present review is a summary of some of the studies that
frame the basis for the research and its various aspects:
Arab learners of English encounter problems in both
speaking and writing. This fact has been clearly stated by
many researchers, e.g. Abdul Haq (1982) and Harrison et
al (1975). The students in Jordan, for example, learn
English in their native country, where the native language
is Arabic. Foreign language teachers have long been
perplexed by a continuum of abundant psycho-linguistic
theories. One approach is the traditional method to
Second /foreign language teaching and learning. This
embodied the grammar translation method which
developed at the end of the eighteenth century in
Germany, but later used in the rest of the bilingual world.
The Second approach is the direct method that
developed in the late nineteenth century as an alternative
methodology when the grammar-translation method
received a lot of criticism.
While reviewing the related studies/literature, it has
been noticed that some work, mostly dissertation, have
dealt with the Saudi acquisition of specific linguistic
features of L2, such as Morpheme acquisition Order (Al-
Afaleg,1991), Temporal Conjunctions (Noor,
1993), English Derivational Morphology (Al-Qadi, 1992),
Tense and Aspect (Farraj, 1995) and Second
language Relative Clauses (Maghrabi, 1997), and
Studies on the psycho-linguistic theories of
language acquisition, specifically in relation to the Saudi
learner of English do not seem to exist.
There are a lot of problems that confront Arab students
in their course of studying the English language. In Saudi
Arabia, since Saudis speak their native language at home
and during their interaction with their friends, peers, and
classmates, there is a bleak chance to learn English
through day-to-day interaction. In one study conducted by
Abdul Haq (1982), it was concluded that most Arab
students usually fumble in their writing skills.
In his study, Abdul Haq (1982) also revealed that most
English instructors and University officials complained
about the continuous deterioration of the mastery in the
English language among the students. Another study
conducted by Zughoul (1984) confirmed the findings of
Abdul Haq, and revealed that most Jordanian students
enrolled in EFL classes have poor oral communication
skills, as they usually commit gross lexical errors.
Similar problems were also reported in Sudan, as most
students enrolled in English classes usually commit
serious syntactic errors in the composition of English
passages. Kambal (1980) noted that most students were
weak in the following areas: tenses, verb structure, and
subject-verb agreement. Several problems were also
observed in the students’ use of tenses, like tense
substitution, tense sequence, tense marker, and
uncertainty of perfect tenses (Kambal, 1980).
1250 Educ. Res.
In an wide-scale study about the problems being faced
by Arab students, Mukattash (1983) observed that these
problems are categorized into two: First, most errors
committed concerned with the gracious pronunciation,
morphology, knowledge of the use of syntax, and
spelling; Second, most Arab students have difficulty
expressing themselves contentedly and competently
either when faced with scholarly subjects or usual
everyday issues.
Most studies conducted by Mukattash (1983), Suleiman
(1983), Zughoul (1983,1984, 1987), and Ibrahim (1983)
noted that Arab students’ problems in learning English
usually spring from the following reasons: a) school
graduates have lack of information regarding the
university or college they enrolled in; b) there is
deficiency in the English language curricula offered by
some schools and universities; c) dreadful teaching
methodology; d) problems with proper language
environments; and e) lack of personal impetus on the part
of the students.
Because of the general problems encountered mostly
by Arab students in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, among
others, Suleiman (1983) contended that the pervading
displeasure with the overall output of Arab learners in
English subjects was to due poor essential principles in
curriculum conception and design, insufficient in-
classroom approaches, slow development in the
students’ communication skills, among many others.
One crucial reason why Arab students have difficulty
learning the English language is the fact that English
subjects are only studied in school, and that too in a very
unprofessional manner as perceived by most
educationalists. The focus on English is put when some
sharp students get enrolled in the colleges and
universities.
In Saudi Arabia, English teachers (at school levels)are
usually Arabs, perhaps this is an advantage since they
may be able to convey better their techniques in teaching
since they can communicate with their students in their
native Arabic language. The teacher usually gives
instructions in written make instead of directly conveying
them to their students (Al-Hazmi and Scholfield 2007). In
assigning topics to students, the teacher demands that
they be completed either inside their classroom or at
home. As part of the teaching method in most Arab
schools, teachers do not really necessitate their students
to revise or modify their works.
The students are usually left alone in revising or
making drafts of their own works without any guidelines
(Al-Hazmi and Scholfield, 2007). This confirms most
observations of researchers that teachers usually count
on the personal interests of their students to learn. In
some cases this practice might work as this could
inculcate in the minds of the students the value of
independence or self-reliance, but in most cases it would
hamper the academic development of the students.
One of the observations is that teachers do not usually
follow up the works of their students, to check whether
they have improved or not. There is also a common
understanding or practice that giving remarks or
comments on students’ works is best reserved for pupils
in lower ESL levels but not to those in higher levels
(Asiri,1996). Such remarks are mostly limited to
mechanics, grammar, and vocabulary.
As worthy as possible, teachers who may be invited to
teach in Saudi Arabia should be native English speakers
or L1. But being a native English speaker is not always a
guarantee that one is qualified to teach in the oil-rich
kingdom. Most academicians voiced out their worries
regarding the unsystematic techniques being applied by
most schools and universities in looking at the
qualifications of applicants (Alosaimi, 2007). They warned
that there are teachers who may be fluent in English but
they lack the qualifications to teach ESL students.
Language teaching practice often assumes that most of
the difficulties that learners face in the study
of English are a consequence of the degree to which their
native language differs from English (a contrastive
analysis approach). It has been noticed that most
English Language learners often commit linguistic
mistakes of syntax and pronunciation as an effect of the
interference of their L1.This is popularly known as L1
transfer or ‘inter lingual error’(Dulay et al, 1982). In this
connection, Lado (1957) observed, “…those elements
that are similar to his native language will be simpler for
him and those elements that are different will be difficult.”
Weinreich (1953) after an extensive study concluded
about the mechanism of bilingual interference, “… are
those instances of deviation from the norms of either
language which occur in the speech of bilinguals as a
result of their familiarity with more than one language.”
Bista (2010) carried a survey and quoted, ‘The fact that
every one of the students from a variety of different
countries spoke with accents created a degree of non
intelligibility and made them laugh at one another. One
student said, “I speak English but my Korean friend does
not understand me because of my accent. I also do not
understand Chinese spoken with an accent. I ask my
Saudi friend before I reply to my professor. If we talk in
Arabic first, and answer my professor, he says, ‘very
good,’
The following studies support the idea of mother-
tongue interferences in different language aspects and
skills: Ali (1969), Nair (1966), Singh and Srivastava
(1986), Alam (1983), Chanchi (1972), Dulay et al (1982),
Lee (1981), Wilkins (1972), Mark (1970), Kachru (1980),
Bernstein (1974), Gardener (1960), Golding (1965) Khan
(1995a, 1995b, 1997a, 1997b, 1999, 2003a, 2003b,
2005a, 2005b, 2009,2011).
To throw light on the problems of Arab learners of
English, the following are examples taken from different
countries. In Jordan, for example, many studies have
been conducted to investigate lexical, syntactical and
phonological errors committed by Jordanian school
learners of English (Abdul Haq, 1982; Zughoul and
Taminian, 1984). Abdul Haq (1982) states that “One of
the linguistic areas in which students in the secondary
cycle commit errors is the writing skill”. He adds “There
are general outcries about the continuous deterioration of
the standards of English proficiency of students among
school teachers, university instructors and all who are
concerned with English language teaching”. In support of
A. Haq’s view, Zughoul and Taminian (1984) found that
“Jordanian EFL students commit serious lexical errors
while communicating in English”.
Kambal (1980) reported on three main types of error in
the verb phrase: verb formation, tense, and subject-verb
agreement. He discussed errors in tense under five
categories: tense sequence, tense substitution, tense
marker, deletion, and confusion of perfect tenses. With
regard to subject-verb agreement, three types of error
were identified. These involved the third-person singular
marker used redundantly, and the incorrect form of the
verb to be.
Like other Arabs, Egyptian learners of English also face
problems. Some of these problems are summarised by
Wahba (1998). Egyptian students face certain problems
related to pronunciation. Some of these problems are
related to stress, others are related to intonation.
However, most of these problems can be attributed to the
differences in pronunciation between English and Arabic.
In Yemen and Saudi Arabia, the situation is even worse
because children start learning English in grade 7 (first
preparatory class). Abbad (1988) admits the weakness of
Yemen Arab learners of English: “in spite of the low
proficiency level in English of most applicants, they are
accepted into the department”. This is what happens in
most of the universities in Arab world countries. English
language departments accept high school graduates
without taking into consideration their proficiency level
and whether or not they will be able to manage.
The weakness of English language learners in general
has been attributed to various factors: lack of knowledge
on the part of school graduates when they join the
university, school and English language department
curricula, teaching methodology, lack of the target
language environment and the learners’ motivation
(Suleiman, 1983; Mukattash, 1983; Zughoul, 1983, 1984,
1987; Ibrahim, 1983).
Motivation also plays an important part in improving
and developing the learners’ communicative ability.
Attitudinal studies conducted on Arab students, such as
those of Zughoul and Taminian (1984), Salih (1980) and
Harrison et al (1975) have consistently shown that Arab
students are instrumentally motivated to learn English
and that they are well aware of the utility of knowing
English (Zughoul, 1987). This means that the main
stimulus for learning English is instrumental, i.e. to
achieve a goal, e.g. a career. It is true that some learners
are interactively motivated, but they are in a minority. The
proposed research is also going to attempt to study the
Khan 1251
challenges due to many factors, and a possible solution
for the effective teaching/learning at JCC in particular.
Factors Affecting the Teaching of English
There are so many factors that affect the teaching-
learning process in KSA. The students face problems in
learning due to the reason that they don't study English in
early stages and don't use English as medium of
instruction except in certain higher education courses.
Further, environment and family background play vital
role in success of learning process. For example,
countries like Saudi, where majority of the people are not
well educated, have humble background in education.
Moreover, the income of majority of the families may not
be adequate. Hence, the parents are not interested in
giving good education background or educational
promotion to their children. In some cases, they are
willing to engage the children in some jobs in order to
earn money. This is the very basic reason and the
affecting factor in teaching. Secondly, the infrastructure,
viz. school buildings – class rooms, labs, etc. may not be
quite adequate.
There can be many other socio-linguistic or pedagogic
issues that can b found related to the teaching/learning of
English in Saudi in general.
Remedial measures
Having seen some of the very important factors and
issues that can be found directly or indirectly related to
the teaching/learning of English, the teacher can do
something needful in order to cope with the issues:
Diagnostic analysis
Diagnosis is not only important in medical profession. It is
equally important in teaching field as well especially when
the target group is not at home in the field of study.
Relevance of diagnosis of language problems
Obviously, every caring teacher wants to do a good job
for his or her students, which is why we talk about the
target learner groups.
A proper diagnosis is important in medical field. It is
done just to make an analogy, as a doctor will not
prescribe any medicine for a patient suffering from a
particular disease unless he makes proper diagnosis.
Thus, an effective treatment always needs diagnosis, and
trial and error may not be the right way. The next step
that a n equipped teacher is supposed to take is: the
evolution of certain strategies on the basis of the
1252 Educ. Res.
diagnosis. It will ensure the effectiveness of the treatment
that the teacher will provide as a remedy of the learning
difficulties.
Innovative Strategies
In the context of modern teaching, strategies based on
novel and sophisticated software or conceptual strategies
are always needed to deal with the day to day
teaching/learning situations in which the learners face
difficulties, and without some strategies they perhaps
can’t achieve the target.
Other Helpful Measures
There can be plenty other measures to face the problems
of EFL in Saudi Arabia. The following are a few of them:
Early start
It has been felt that the teaching of English language
should be started prior to the stage of teaching English in
Saudi Arabia.
Use of technology
It is my firm belief now that the language laboratory
(suitably equipped with computer assisted language
learning) must be looked upon only as an aid to the
mastery of certain specific language skills. This can
motivate the learners as they may enjoy the activity. This
can be ad added advantage if the teaching is improvised
by sophisticated tool and technology and proper
implementation of such principles.
Intensive Summer Courses
The students who are in need of remedial measures may
attend summer courses with in kingdom or even outside
especially the laces like the UK where there are many
institutes and centres are holding such short term
courses during the summer vacation. Apart from some of
the above measures, the other factor that seems to be
highly crucial in the process of teaching/learning is the
teacher factor. The teachers are expected to be update,
equipped and ready for some challenges while teaching.
Training and professional development
Teacher factor is the most important of all in the
educational setting. It is the teacher’s responsibility to
afresh his knowledge update his potential and equip
himself with the advancement of the society and use of
technology in general and educational environment in
particular. (Khan, 2005)
In order to justify the job of a teacher, he has to attend
trainings which are considered quite essential in this fast
changing society. Thus, in order o be update, modern
and sophisticated, on should attend in-service training or
professional development programs. It is always
appreciated if the teachers of English are research
oriented, but ironically speaking, most teachers in India
and Saudi are disinterested in any such program. They
think that this is an academic embarrassment to take part
in any training program. They innocently forget that every
teacher is not a born teacher. Instead some are made
good teachers. Professional development is always
needed for every teacher even if he is highly
knowledgeable, experienced and trained.
Problems of ESL Students: An Analysis
Problems confronting Arab students during the course of
learning English language exist in a large number. First of
all, Saudi students are not exposed to listening / speaking
activities in their daily life interaction not at home, nor at
school / college / university, nor in market or public
places. Such conditions dampen the spirit and stunt the
growth of the pupils. By virtue of their personal efforts
some students achieve a considerably good level of
fluency in spoken English. But they miserably lag behind
in other active skill that is writing. The study conducted by
Abdul Haq (1982) concludes that most Arab students
usually fumble in their writing skill. One may also quote
another study conducted by Zughoul and Taminian
(1984) to corroborate the findings of Haq. This study
reveals that most Jordanian students enrolled in EFL
classes have poor oral communication skill, as they
usually commit gross lexical errors. In his study, Abdul
Haq (1982) further reveals that most English instructors
and University officials complains about the continuous
deterioration of the mastery in English language among
the students.
Besides oral-aural problems they also face problems
because of the act of comparing and contrasting the
foreign language items with those of their mother-tongue.
As no two languages have one to one correspondence it
leads to commission of errors. The pattern of an Arabic
sentence widely differs from that of English. For example,
in most cases Arabic language does not take is, am and
are forms of verb “Be”. So when a student translates ana
waladun, he lapses into direct translation that reads “I
boy”. No doubt, translation may serve the purpose of
learning a second/foreign language but requires a lot of
time and long sustained practice. Moreover, every phrase
of the mother tongue can’t be translated. Noticeably,
sometimes translation sounds incongruous. The
Khan 1253
Table 1. Showing the learning difficulties on account of apparently looking
similar words
Target word
s
Written words
Notes
Park Bark /p/ sound missing in Arabic
Van Fan Confusion between /f/ and /v/ sound
Better Peter They write what they pronounce
Sheep Cheap /ch/ sound missing in Arabic
expression ‘Traffic jam’ was once translated as
‘murabbah al-maroor’ or muroor al-murabbah. The
translator took “jam” as “sweet soft food” rather than
“many people or vehicle”. By doing so, ‘Meanings’ may
be conveyed, but the chances of distortion or incongruity
are quite bright. Moreover interpreting and learning of
lexical items with the help mother-tongue leads to
collocationally wrong use of words in the target language.
For example, one may use ‘son and ‘’boy
interchangeably because in the mother-tongue there is
one lexical item to represent both the words. Thus, the
word walad in Arabic may be translated as both son and
boy.
Areas of Difficulties
Based on my long experience as an English teacher in
Saudi Arabia, and various tests (placement test,
diagnostic test, achievement test etc), there are many
language areas/aspects and skills in which the target
language learner face difficulties. The following are some
of them:
Pronunciation
Pronunciation or sound system is the first and the
foremost aspect of the target language in which the
learners face difficulties. The following are those specific
aspects in which Saudi learners face specific difficulties
in the process of learning.
It is important to remember that learning a second
language involves much more than learning the words
and the sounds of a language. Communication
breakdowns occur not only due to the more commonly
understood syntax and pronunciation difficulties but
because when we learn a language we also learn
a culture.
English does not have more
individual consonant sounds than most languages.
However, the interdentals, /θ/ and /ð/ (the sounds written
with th), which are common in English (thin, thing, etc.;
and the, this, that, etc.) are relatively rare in other
languages (e.g., English thousand = German tausend),
and these sounds are missing even in some English
dialects. Some learners substitute a [t] or [d] sound, while
others shift to [s] or [z], [f] or [v] and even [ts] or [dz]).
The distinction between [f] and [v] can cause difficulty
for native speakers of Spanish, Japanese, Saudis and
Koreans. Saudis in particular are not able to differentiate
between /sh/ and /ch/ as sheep and cheap respectively.
They are also sometimes confused in the uses of /s/ and
/c/.
Some examples
There are many other examples of difficulties in
discriminating the sounds of English words: possessions
- position, talk-take, take- tick, pool-pull, push-bush, my-
me, e-eye, fool-full etc.
Clusters of phonemes
Such features of English create problems for Saud
learners as are not available in the Arabic language. On
the other hand, doubling of sound doesn’t exist in
English, but it is quite a prominent feature in Arabic. For
example, the most common name in Arabic is
Mohammed. The doubling of sound /m/ is very important
in Arabic, but it is not used in English at all.
Transliteration of English words into Arabic
Some Saudi learners of English occasionally transliterate
an English word into Arabic, but they do not do so often.
And, they should not do so as the English alphabet is
easier than Arabic provided they learn to a considerable
extent.However, there are many phonemic features that
are specificically related to English, and can’t be applied
to any other languages for many reasons.
Grammar
Grammar of a second/foreign language is more important
than any other language aspect. In some countries, it is
believed, however wrongly, if you learn grammar you
learn a language. The importance of functional grammar
1254 Educ. Res.
Table 2. Showing the learning difficulties in structure of English
Responses Types of difficulties Expected Causes
two
lack of confidence/fear of error
I am two.
Intra lingual (L1 interference)
Me two
interlingual errors
I two
No verb lack of knowledge
I have brother two.
L1 intereference
I have brothers.
Grammar Brothers(understood as two)
I have two brothers.
Right answer(but rare)
can never be minimized.
Structure
The following is an example of the usual mistakes
committed by Saudi learners. If a teacher asks a question
such as ‘how many brothers do you have? The following
responses may come:
Doubling of subjects
The following example will explain the case:
1- My brother he is a bank manage.
2- My brother he is 30 years old.
Yet another interesting feature is usually found in regular
classroom situation. A student writes ‘he is name’ instead
of ‘his name’.
Tense
English has a relatively large number of tenses with some
quite subtle differences, such as the difference between
the simple past ‘I ate’ and the present perfect ‘I have
eaten.’ Other examples have been mentioned at other
places in the paper.
Articles
English has an appreciable number of articles, including
the definite article the and the indefinite articles a, an. At
times, English nouns are used without an article; this is
called the zero articles. Some of the differences between
definite, indefinite and zero article are very easy to learn,
but others are not, particularly since a learner's native
language may lack articles or use them in different ways
than English does.
Capitalization and punctuation
Most students don’t care about even names. Even if the
letter is in the beginning of a sentence they don’t care.
Some students try to write sometimes, yet the size is too
small to discriminate between the small and the capital
letter.
It is found that the students make excess use of ‘and’,
and ignore using full stops and commas.
In a piece of simple composition such as a paragraph
on a family, the students most often don’t use full stops
and commas until they come to an end.
Double prepositions
The following example is an indicative of the use of two
prepositions, however, this tendency is not found in even
Arabic.
1- I am from in Jeddah,
2- I watch TV from at 8 O’clock.
Confusion in number identification
The actual reason due to which Arab learners’ face this
type of problem is the difference in the pattern: in Arabic,
we start counting from the right while in English, as usual
reading or counting starts from the left. The “teens” and
“tens” of English tend to get reversed in their usages by
Arabic native speakers. To indicate why this happens, we
need only to look at the Arabic word for “thirteen”, which
is talatasher, meaning “3 and 10”, and then at the word
for “thirty”, which is talateen, showing the masculine
plural object/possessive een ending for “3 tens”.
Problems in the Learning of Vocabulary/Meaning
The following are the observation based on the author’s
teaching experience at Community college, Jeddah.
Theoretically, Lexicon and Semantics are two separate
parts of applied linguistics, however interrelated and
dependant on each other. Most of the time, while
teaching new words, an instructor initially teaches
meaning. And, in order to realize the goal he uses the
following as aids to the teaching of a word:
Synonyms
If two or more than two words communicate nearly similar
meanings, they may not be the exact synonyms, however
considered by many.
Uses of Synonyms
The second/foreign language learners face problems
while discriminating the synonyms, however, there are
same features available in the learner’s mother-tongue:
Arabic.
For example
Handsome: John is a handsome man. (‘handsome’ is
used for the charm and external quality),
Beautiful: Maria is quite beautiful. (‘beautiful’ is feminine
in nature)
Pretty: Barbie is my pretty doll.
The following are the some aspects in which Saudi
students also face problems due to many reasons:
One word different uses
- The doctor asked me to apply the ointment twice daily.
(as an infinitive),
- I applied for a job in a company two weeks ago. (simple
past),
- I have already applied for the same job.( past
participle),
- I studied mathematics and applied physics in the
university. (adjective)
Prefixes
-inefficient, immoral, illegal, irregular, Disregard, -non-
Arab, -misconduct etc.
In Arabic, there are two patterns of making opposites:
There is another opposite word with a new root, (taweel
- qaseer)
The feature is available in English also. (Example:
good-bad, tall-short),
2- Prefix ghair (that means non or not) is used in Arabic
as mother-tongue.
Khan 1255
Suffixes (Some Examples in English)
-able Honorable
-age package
-al vocal
-ality punctuality
-atory laboratory
-ery machinery
-ful powerful
Spelling (English is quite un-phonetic)
The spelling system of English is quite un phonetic. It is
not like Hind, Urdu or Arabic. Hindi is hundred percent
phonetic. There is no case of silent letters. While in Urdu
and Arabic, there is a case of silent letter in Haroof
shamsi like As Shams.
In the learning of spelling system in English, the
following three characteristics pose greater difficulties in
the process:
Silent letters (Examples of Silent letters)
- Edge, Half, Though, Know etc.
One letter different sounds (Examples)
/a/ in
Apple, Bat, Bathe, Talk etc.
Different letters-one sound
The following groups produce the same sound: /ce/ in
ocean, /sh/ in fashion, /ti/ in patient, /ss/ in Russia, and /s/
Sugar.
One group different sounds
Rough ( gh = /f/) and Though ( /gh/ is silent)
Writing guides speaking
Sometimes, spelling guides writing and speaking, but in
some cases, speaking guides writing as well:
Other Factors
There are many other factors affecting learning, but can’t
be described and explained due to the want of space,
however, a brief mention is needed: life style, discipline,
1256 Educ. Res.
Table 3. Showing the difficulties in
writing/speaking the target words
Target words
Spoken/written
First
Fre
st
Turn
Tern
Biscuit
Bscout
Footbal
l
Futboll
punctuality, motivation, future aim, family pressure, social
status, lack of guidance, excessive freedom etc. The
tendency of self study is completely missing among the
students.
CONCLUSION
Teaching of English is as crucial in Saudia as the entire
system of higher education. Being the medium of
instruction, and an important tool of communication,
English seems to be very important in a developing
country like Saudi Arabia.
There are varieties of factors that affect the learning of
English. The issues which are directly related to
pedagogy are of more importance than any other factors.
Among others, teacher factor is always considered as
very important as he is the one who is considered as the
instrument of change.
In order to face with the pedagogic issues, the teacher
has to be well equipped, and make diagnostic study in
order to analyse linguistically the nature and type of
difficulties that the Saudi learners face during the course
of study. By doing so, it is expected that the teachers
may be able to evolve some fruitful strategies for the
teaching of English that will be able to minimize the
difficulty level and yield better and maximum results.
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