Problems of Arab Learners of EnglishBarraq Ali
Many researchers have established that Arab learners of English face particular problems in speaking and writing. It must be remembered that these learners rarely if ever come into contact with English as spoken naturally by native or native-like speakers. This lack of exposure does have a negative effect on their linguistic proficiency.
Research has also shown that Arab learners in Sudan, for example, commit various kinds of syntactical errors when they write in English. Some of these include verb formation, tense and subject-verb agreement as well as tense sequence, tense marker and perfect tenses. In Egypt, on the other hand, errors learners make are in pronouncing certain sounds, in placing stress and using intonation. A more general problem is the inability of Arab learners to orally communicate freely in English. This could be due to teaching methods used in schools where the emphasis is much more on grammar, reading and writing and much less on speaking. As a result, there are very few opportunities for learners to practice the spoken form. Another reason for this difficulty could be the very limited exposure to spoken English via TV and other similar channels. In addition, learners’ lack of adequate lexical repertoire or inability to use correctly words and phrases they have already learned could be reasons for communication difficulties.
Research has attributed the difficulties and problems outlined above to a host of factors: school curricula, teaching methods, absence of target language exposure and learners’ lack of motivation. In designing curricula for university level and secondary school courses there exists a glaring imbalance. This is caused by putting more emphasis on literature and linguistics and less on communicative skills of listening, speaking and writing.
In the majority of Arab schools and university, Arabic rather than English is the medium of instruction. Some researchers believe that this is a major reason for producing school and university graduates whose English language skills are generally weak. They also believe that the weakness of the four language skills of reading, reading, listening and speaking impede the smooth progress of Arab students at university level. EMI – English as Medium of Instruction – provides learners ample exposure to the target language, albeit through teaching non-linguistic content. However, the method is not without its problems and main among these is the difficulty of teaching complex concepts in language other than the learners’ mother tongue.
In conclusion, Arab learners of English – both at secondary and university levels – lack adequate communicative competence when speaking and writing English. This inability to communicate effectively is a serious problem. It has been suggested that increasing learners’ exposure to English and teaching them essential communicative strategies could remedy the situation. Another solution is the use of English as a medium of instruction both in schools and universities. However, this option is complex and wide-ranging enough to warrant lengthy investigations and deliberations before it is adopted as an educational policy.