Challenges for EFL Students and Teachers in Saudi Arabia I have been teaching English as a

I have been teaching English as a Foreign Language in Saudi Arabia for the past three years. During this time I have noticed a number of challenges for both the students and the teachers. In light of the material I have studied as part of an EFL certificate course and from letters and research from fellows in the field, I would like to highlight some of the difficulties in hopes of gaining some insight into problems and how we may best address them.

To begin with, there is the challenge of the environment. Arabic is the main means of communication and has a different writing system as well as an extremely rich literary history. (Bello-'Teaching English in Saudi Arabia') This presents challenges in teaching the alphabet as well as practicing the language. Visuals are an effective way of teaching many objectives for many Asian students. (Zhenhui-'Matching Teaching Styles with Learning Styles in East Asian Contexts') This is also the case with Saudi students. However, here also, are more challenges. There are certain religious /socio-political dynamics which at times cause friction in the classroom. For example, many EFL texts and curricula contain topics which may be benign to many westerners, but are offensive to Saudis, or are censored by the Ministry of Education. For teachers, it is behooving to be in tune with Saudi society and to get to know Saudi culture and to know how to teach these topics, delete or alter them, and to find effective ways to teach using activities which are simultaneously effective and not offensive. Examples of such offensive topics which are common in many EFL materials are dating, drinking alcohol (especially in 'ordering food' or 'restaurant' communications sections), and music and dance. (Zimmerman-'Teaching English in Saudi Arabia') The public and private education in Saudi Arabia is segregated by gender, so photographs of females (in male classroom settings) and males (in female classroom settings) is likewise a touchy issue that is common in almost all EFL textbooks and lessons. Materials need to be revised heavily with this in mind or it will inevitably be brought up as an issue of conflict or debate. This presents challenges for teachers in the use of all visual materials. Another interesting dynamic in Saudi society is the mixture of cultures and languages. As noted above, Arabic is the basic means of daily communication and is a rich language connecting a vast expanse of poetry and history right up to the present context. However, there are around six million expatriate workers in all sectors of society who have little or no connection with this language. With this new situation, English is emerging as 'lingua franca' for communication between Saudis and this multi- ethnic/multi-lingual expatriate community. This at times is both a blessing and a curse. It provides some opportunity for practicing communication, yet simultaneously reinforces improper or 'pidgin' English. Moreover, the majority of these workers are not native speakers of English, and many hold menial jobs, so there exists a tendency to view them as less educated or to speak to them in not the most polite of manners. (Zimmerman-'Teaching English in Saudi Arabia') This poses challenges for teachers in that they often need to 'undo' something that has been practiced in public life and also raises the need to teach polite requests, intonation, and stress. (Zimmerman-'Teaching English in Saudi Arabia') The government has recognized the importance of English in the field of global communication and has made it a mandatory part of the curriculum. Herein, there is also some benefit and some detriment. It increases exposure to the language; however English language instruction is not begun until the 6th grade. There are also some serious shortcomings with the methodology. (Bello-'Teaching English in Saudi Arabia')

In conclusion, I think the following suggestions could offer hopes to match the challenges of EFL instruction in Saudi Arabia and help in producing a bright future for EFL in Saudi Arabia. Selection and compilation of materials must be carefully done in order to compile curriculum which is suitable for the needs and culture of Saudi students. Schools and programs should conduct a thorough needs analysis so that teachers and courses can match the needs, interests, and levels appropriate for students. Teachers should also 'dig deep' in order to understand the interests and challenges facing young Saudi students and make efforts to develop lessons which captivate their minds and interests. They should also tap into the factors that motivate Saudi students, and make efforts to capitalize their potential and help them to reach their goals. Teachers should discipline themselves, make efforts to maintain classrooms which are beacons for the students, and make efforts to maintain discipline in the classroom. The current reality is not without its challenges, and the future is not without a bright hope.


Bello, Umar. 'Letter from Umar Bello'. 'Teaching English in Saudi Arabia' from i Arabia.htm

Zhenhui, Rao. 'Matching Teaching Styles with Learning Styles in East Asian Contexts' from TeachingStyles.html

Zimmerman, Scott. 'Letter from Scott G. Zimmerman MA, DA'. 'Teaching English in Saudi Arabia' from i Arabia.htm