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iTTi South Africa Student Articles: Prominent Challenges in Teaching EFL in the Arab World by Mr Aiyedh Muflih Saif Alqahtani

Trained through our 120-Hour TESOL course, alumni Mr Aiyedh Muflih Saif Alqahtani has many years of teaching experience and serves in Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education []. He wrote the following article from his expert perspective, which provides significant insight into EFL learning barriers in the Arab world. 

English is the most widely used language in the globe and therefore teaching and learning it has become a vital demand due to its preponderance. Therefore, Arab countries encourage their students to learn and use it. 

My experience in teaching English as a foreign language in Saudi  Arabia and Bahrain has led me to believe that Arab learners of English face some common challenges that hinder them from acquiring and using the language adequately. My belief is supported by the tremendous complaints made about the weakness in English of high school graduates who join the universities for tertiary education whether they are studying English as their major or as a supplementary course in colleges that use English as a medium of instruction (EMI) to teach their curriculums like medicine, nursing, computer science, engineering, etc. At this point, students find themselves unable to complete their studies because the language will be an obstacle for them. Then, they have two options: resign and quit studying or really learn the language. 

Thus, we can attribute the low level of the Arab learners of English as a foreign language (EFL) to three main categories: reasons related to the teachers themselves, reasons related to the students themselves, and reasons related to the curriculum. 

First: Reasons Related to the Teachers

1- Teachers are not properly trained before being a teacher.

2- The teaching methods that the teachers use are outmoded. Most of the teachers rely on the Grammar-Translation method which does not provide the students with real language use. By using this method, you will get a student who knows how to pass an exam,  but not one who can speak a language and has the ability to use it in different real situations. 

3- Neglecting students’ interests and attitudes when teaching will not attract students’ attention. A good teacher should start with students’ needs.

Second: Reasons Related to the Students

1- Some students and their parents show a kind of resistance to learning a foreign language because they may see it as an agent of cultural dilution.

2- Some students find it difficult when practising English due to myriad problems such as interference with the mother tongue, some grammatical structures that do not exist in the Arabic language, the difficulty of some English utterances, etc.

3- Having a huge number of students in one class deprives them of interacting with each other or practising the language.

Third: Reasons Related to the Curriculum

1- The textbook is prescribed by the ministry of education and, unfortunately, teachers and students are not allowed to deviate from it. Teachers’ initiatives are not accepted in trying to modify the course to cope with students’ level and capabilities of the language. Also, they are not permitted to add some topics in relation to the lives and the interests of the students or even the community they are living in.

2- The main skills in the coursebook are reading and writing and neglects speaking and listening, which leads to countless problems such as anxiety and lack of self-confidence. As a result, students tend to be reserved and unwilling to speak or interact via verbal communication fearing making mistakes and be the laughingstock of the class.

3- Students are not encouraged to practice speaking to each other in  English inside and outside the classroom. Their ultimate goal is to finish the coursebook before the exam starts. The core of the teaching process of teaching is mere academic not to use the language lively in authentic situations.