LINGUIST List 28.383

Wed Jan 18 2017

Review: Arabic, Standard; English; Applied Ling; Lang Acquisition: Al-Mahrooqi, Denman (2015)

Editor for this issue: Clare Harshey <clarelinguistlist.org>


Date: 19-Aug-2016
From: Asmaa Shehata <asm.shehatagmail.com>
Subject: Issues in English Education in the Arab World
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/26/26-5584.html

EDITOR: Rahma Al-Mahrooqi
EDITOR: Christopher Denman
TITLE: Issues in English Education in the Arab World
PUBLISHER: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
YEAR: 2015

REVIEWER: Asmaa Shehata, University of Calgary

Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry

Summary

“Issues in English Education in the Arab World” is a collaborative volume compiled by Rahma Al-Mahrooqi and Christopher Denman that investigates a number of significant topics related to English education in the Arab Gulf. The chief objective of the book is to present the current situation of English language teaching in a number of gulf countries highlighting the current challenges and possible solutions. The book has an introduction and 15 other chapters. In the introductory chapter, Rahma Al-Mahrooqi and Christopher Denman start with a brief summary of the historical background of English language education in the Arab world in general and Gulf states in particular. The authors overview the empirical studies presented in the book summarizing their primary objectives, research questions, methodology, and main findings.

Chapter 1, ‘A Conflict of Desires: English as a Global Language and its Effects on Cultural Identity in the United Arab Emirates’ by Sarah Hopkyns, starts off with a very brief introduction to the history of English in the Arab Gulf region in general and the United Arab Emirates in particular highlighting the issue of cultural identity. In addition, Hopkyns reports a study that mainly explores the views of forty Emirati female students about their English learning experience and its influence on their cultural identity using open response questionnaires and an hour-long focus group interview. Results demonstrate the significance of English in the Emirati context where its use is restricted to the classroom setting and therefore students find it to be difficult to retain. The chapter concludes with a call for research that further examines the views of a wider range of students and teachers.

Chapter 2, ‘Unravelling Failure: Belief and Performance in English for Academic Purposes Programs in Oman’ by Thomas Roche and Yogesh Sinha, explored effective English for Academic purposes (EAP) practices by comparing Omani students’ perceptions (N=118) and their performances to the perspectives of 47 teachers at two Omani institutions. To this end, two main instruments are used: questionnaires and students’ end-of-the semester results. Findings indicate that teachers’ beliefs differ from their students’ beliefs regarding the best EAP practice. However, students’ low scores on the final exams are found to be related to students who have different opinions from those of the teachers. The chapter concludes with a recommendation to the pre-university EAP programs to orient Omani high school students to the programs’ policies and requirements.

In a similar vein, Chapter 3, ‘Adaptation and First-Year University Students in the Sultanate of Oman’, which is coauthored by Rahma Al-Mahrooqi and Christopher Denman, explores the chief factors that affect Omani first-year English foundation students’ level of adjustment to the instruction and requirements of the English language program. Using a three-part questionnaire, the researchers ask 60 freshmen at Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) about themes such as their self-esteem, social adjustment and difficulties they encountered. Students were asked to record their responses using a five-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (strongly agree) to 5 (strongly disagree). Findings show that students’ difficulties in adapting to the university life are mainly related to the absence of course information and students’ low self-esteem. The authors provide a ‘preventative program’ as a solution that can help students adjust in their transitional phase from high school to the university.

Along the same lines, Chapter 4, ‘Challenges of Teaching and learning English in the Albaha Region of Saudi Arabia: A Diagnostic Study’ by Abdelrazak Mohamed Elsagheer, uses a 4-point Likert scale to uncover students’ and teachers’ views about the challenges of teaching English in the region of Albaha in Saudi Arabia. The results indicate that both Saudi students and teachers encounter numerous difficulties in learning and teaching English, including difficulties with the teaching objectives, materials, and methodology. In this regard, the study ends with various recommendations for addressing these problems, such as providing teachers’ training, using language labs and jointly integrating the four language skills (i.e., reading, speaking, listening and writing) in the English as a foreign language (EFL) teaching.

Chapter 5, ‘Mixed Ability Classes in English Language Teaching: Challenges and Opportunities’, by Shaker Ali Al-Mohammadi investigates the challenges of mixed ability classes by interviewing nine teachers of English as a foreign language (EFL) at two Omani Universities. In their interviews, EFL teachers report a number of problems including classroom management, teaching materials, and the learners’ different learning styles, backgrounds, and motivation. Although the researcher aims at understanding teachers’ cognition of this issue, the study also presents possible remedies for the problems as suggested by the interviewees. Then the chapter concludes with listing the study’ limitations and directions for future research.

Chapter 6, ‘From Small ‘R’ to Big ‘I’ the Impact of Classroom-Based Action Research in Pre-Service Teacher Education’, Kay Gallagher introduces an action research case study where an Emirati teacher-in-training teaches vocabulary to grade 2. The chapter describes her research explaining its effects at three different levels: personal, local and public levels. The limitations of the action research are presented as well.

Using empirical data, Chapter 7, ‘The Effect of Graphic Organizers on the Writing Performance and Attitudes of Oman Grade Eight EFL Students’ by Badria Adul-Aziz Al Bulushi, investigates whether using graphic organizers can enhance Omani students’ writing skills and how learners see their effectiveness. The results revealed that students’ performance significantly improved. Then Al Bulushi presents the pedagogical implications of the research , its limitations and some directions for future research.

Along the same lines, Shaikha Rashid Sa’eed Al Shabibi in Chapter 8, ‘Types of Questions Omani Teachers Use in Cycle One and Two Basic Education and Their Effectiveness on Communicative Language Use’, investigates whether Omani EFL teachers use different types of questions in two cycles of basic education and whether their choice affects the classroom interaction. Results show that EFL teachers use more display questions than referential questions at different levels of basic education; this triggers different types of language communication.

In Chapter 9, ‘An Evaluation of Alternative Assessment Tools Used in Grades 5-8 of Omani Basic Education Schools as Perceived by EFL Teachers’, Maimona Al Ruqeishi scrutinizes beliefs of EFL Omani teachers of a new version of assessment, i.e., alternative assessment that evaluates both the practice and outcome of student performance, and whether their views vary based on their gender, qualification and teaching experience. To this end, teachers complete a questionnaire that covers three chief dimensions regarding the alternative assessment tool: hitches, appropriateness and training. Findings indicate that despite experiencing difficulties with alternative assessment, teachers find it a satisfactory tool of assessment. Finally, the chapter concludes with a discussion of the results and their practical implications.

Chapter 10, ‘Integration of Language Skills and Culture in English Language Teaching: Rationale and Implications for Practice’ by Emira Derbel and Shaker Ali Al-Mohammadi, presents an empirical study that analyzes data from 10 EFL teachers from Buraimi University College who participate in two main tasks: semi-structured interviews and 10 classroom observations, to explore role of the integrated-skill approach in teaching the four basic English language skills. Results exhibit the effectiveness of the integrated-skill approach in English language teaching, emphasizing the significance of integrating the four language skills with the target language culture.

In Chapter 11 ‘Teachers’ Views on Learner Autonomy in the Omani Context’, Alina Rebecca Chirciu underscores the noteworthy role of learning autonomy in the English language teaching in the Sultanate of Oman by exploring the perceptions of nine EFL teachers of the usefulness of learner autonomy and the processes of disseminating it . Using both a questionnaire and semi-structured interviews, Chirciu found that teachers’ views regarding autonomy are shaped by two main dimensions: their cultural backgrounds and their amount of exposure to novel teaching approaches. Findings suggest that the concept of learner autonomy needs to be reconsidered.

Along the same lines, Chapter 12, ‘Looking Through the Crystal Ball: Exploring Learning Autonomy Within the Classroom Dynamic International Space’ by Alina Rebecca Chirciu and Tulika Mishra, explores teachers’ perceptions of their teaching autonomy, its effects on their learners’ autonomy and on student-centered learning. The two researchers interview five teachers and observe one class for each teacher. Results suggest an indirect relationship between teacher autonomy and learner autonomy. In addition, findings reveal several factors that affect the teacher-learner relationship like rapport and teacher reflection.

In Chapter 13, ‘Checklist Analysis of Oman’s Basic Education EFL Textbooks Series’, Rahma Al-Mahrooqi and Christopher Denman present an evaluation of two main sets of EFL textbooks used in Oman across all 12 grades; the textbooks are judged by two evaluators, a professor of applied linguistics and an experienced English instructor, using a 15-item checklist and reviewers’ feedback. Data analysis shows that the two series are compatible with students’ needs and the prevailing communicative teaching methods but lack textbook authenticity.

Unlike previous studies that address issues related to the English language instruction in the Arab Gulf states, Chapter 14, ‘The Changing Status of English in Sudan: A Historical review’ by Hala Nur, thoroughly depicts the history of teaching English in Sudan. The author exhaustively underlines the different phases it has passed through, the prominent factors that affect English instruction and its current status in both North and South Sudan.

In Chapter 15, ‘Problems of Teaching language Acquisition in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’, Khadijah Bawazeer detects the primary challenges that Saudi learners face in learning the English language and examines them in light of the researcher’s extensive teaching experience with the goal of finding a substitute for the current language teaching approach; the study uses a mixed methodology: qualitative data including interviews with four English teachers and the researcher’s observations, and quantitative data drawn from a questionnaire distributed to 38 learners. Findings denote a number of factors that affect the acquisition of the English language such as assessment, and teacher training. The study calls for further research that examines the robustness of the findings on the one hand and teacher training on the other hand.

Evaluation

This edited volume is an extensive reference, and inspiration for foreign language instructors and researchers. The 15 studies cover a broad range of themes within English language education in EFL settings, including EFL teachers’ and students’ views, English textbook evaluations, action research and learner autonomy. Even though ten of the 15 contributions take place in the Sultanate of Oman, with two others centering on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and two others drawn from the United Arab Emirates, they are still applicable to other English language programs in the Arab Gulf region.

The book is quite well edited and its writing style is clear, effective and easily followed . Moreover, it raises a number of extremely important issues and/or topics for discussion such as mixed ability EFL classes, the challenge of teaching English in EFL settings, and classroom action research.

Nevertheless, there are a few limitations of this volume. First, the book title, ‘Issues in English Education in the Arab World’, is misleading. Whereas the title suggests that it covers issues in the entire region of the Arab world, which includes 22 Arabic speaking states in North Africa and the Middle East, the book mainly discusses topics related to three Gulf countries. It would have been better to narrow the scope of the title to the Gulf region. Secondly, the introductory chapter is missing important information like the purpose of the book and it does not give the book’s conclusions. Thirdly, the use of a questionnaire, mostly Likert-scale items, and/or an interview with a small number of participants (Chapter 5 and Chapter 12) is unlikely to provide the depth of insight required by most language teacher cognition studies. Fourthly, administering questionnaires without piloting (Chapter 1 and Chapter 11) is another major flaw as it will probably lead to untrustworthy or obscure data (Bartels, 2005; Wagner, 2010).

This book can be useful to researchers who are interested in a quick overview of English instruction in the Arab Gulf states in general and the Sultanate of Oman in particular. Since the papers are not detailed and are not technical, they could be useful to undergraduates. In conclusion, this book represents a source for educators interested in foreign language teaching and constitutes a starting point for future research on English education in other Arab states.


References

Bartels, N. (2005). Researching applied linguistics in language teacher education. In N. Bartels(Ed.), Applied linguistics and language teacher education (pp. 1-26). New York: Springer.

Wagner, E. (2010). Survey research. In B. Paltridge & A. Phakiti (Eds.), Continuum companion to research methods in applied linguistics (pp. 22-38). New York: Continuum.


ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Asmaa Shehata, is a faculty at the University of Calgary, Linguistics, Languages and Cultures Department. Her research interests include second language phonology with particular focus on cross-language speech perception and production.

Page Updated: 18-Jan-2017