English language is considered a foreign language in the Kingdom of Saud Arabia (KSA). Learners are introduced to the English language using EFL teaching materials at the sixth grade in public schools and at kindergarten to students who attend private schools.
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Teaching materials for EFL in the KSA are developed by the ministry of education. These materials are then distributed to schools and bookshops. According to Shawer (2010), inequity in EFL materials in the KSA is that teachers and learners are not involved in the development of learning materials.
Curriculum developers are employees of the government who are solely involved in all the development stages of learning materials, namely textbooks, radio programmes, and television programmes. Lack of inclusion of teachers and learners in the development of EFL teaching materials in the KSA has resulted in poor relations between teachers and the materials. Teachers cannot completely internalise the materials or fully integrate them into their teaching.
Shawer (2010) recommends that it is important to evaluate EFL teaching materials before adapting them into the teaching and learning system. To begin with, EFL teaching materials are developed without the input of the teachers and the learners who are the main consumers. As such, materials that are presented by the ministry of education lack inclusivity.
It is also important to note that most of the teachers are not first speakers of English. The materials used by such teachers as guides and textbooks should be easily understandable. Secondly, most of the learners in the KSA take English as a second language. Such learners may have difficulties in reading and appreciating these textbooks.
Therefore, evaluation will ensure that EFL textbooks appeal to their language levels. Based on this background information concerning EFL in the KSA, this paper uses ‘Traveler 1 Student’s Book’ by Malkogianni to gauge its suitability as the first English textbook to the KSA learners.
Critical Review of Literature
Educational Policy for Teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL)
Educational policy for Teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL) in the Kingdom of Saud Arabia ensures regulation at all levels where EFL is taught. In 1925 the Saudi ministry of education first introduced EFL as a subject. Shawer (2010) confirms that the ministry of education has the power to dictate that EFL be taught from grade six through to the university.
Most of the subjects in the KSA schools are also taught in English language, thus making it an important language of instruction and evaluation. In addition, several immigrants from western and other countries of the world use English in their communication. This observation makes it important for learners to understand the English language. Interaction between the KSA and other nations in diplomacy, peace, trade, aviation, and research also makes English important.
The Curriculum of Teaching English at the Secondary Level
The ministry of education develops the current curriculum for TEFL in conjunction with the directorate of curriculum. The current TEFL curriculum was developed in 1999. As a policy, TEFL was aimed at meeting the need for language skills in speaking, listening, reading, and writing in the KSA.
Learners of EFL were then supposed to communicate in English with all speakers of the language. The foundation of TEFL in Saudi Arabia was on two-policy documents, namely teaching English in Saudi Arabia 1408H of 1989 and 1421H of 2000. The Saudi Policy of Education is responsible for enforcement of curriculum for TEFL. Teaching of foreign languages such as English in Saud Arabia is engraved in this policy document under Article No. 50.
Under this article, one of the functions of education is to “furnish students with at least one of the living languages, in addition to their original language, to enable them acquire knowledge and sciences from other communities and to participate in the service of Islam and humanity” (Al-Hajailan, 2003, p. 23). This function implies that TEFL is an objective and policy that is undertaken by the government.
Therefore, learners appreciate English as a language for interaction and cultural exchange both at the national and international level. The policy is also aimed at achieving national goals of transfer and acquisition of scientific, technological, and cultural knowledge under the spirit of Islam. The EFL curriculum adapts an excellent instructional design assessment (WIDA) in evaluating learner’s skills in listening, speaking, writing, and reading.
The EFL curriculum also dictates new students joining the system to take a compulsory test that indicates whether they need ESL and if so the level of their conception. Learners also take WIDA-ACCESS test at the end of every year as an indication of their suitability for the next level.
According to Al-Kharabsheh, Al-Azzam, and Obeidat (2009), at level I, English as a second language begins by emphasising the basics of language and its structures. Learners are also taught the basic tenses and vocabularies at this level. This plan enables learners to write simple English statements and paragraphs. Learners should also be taught how to write a topic sentence and support it using simple details.
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Teachers also emphasise the capitalisation and use of punctuation marks. Learners are also introduced to simple discussions to aid in their listening and speaking skills. At this level, the curriculum directs that EFL have two lessons per day.
At level II, learners of English as a second language are introduced to fiction and real stories. This content aids to gauge their ability to understand and discuss stories in English. Learners are also introduced to visual cues, references, inferences, and prediction in reading. Properly written and punctuated sentences are also taught at this level.
Learners should write correct sentences while at the same time ensuring proper punctuation. Finally, learners at this level are taught how to write complex sentences and/or make paragraphs. Learners should also know how to differentiate general ideas from specific ideas.
At level III, complex ideas are introduced. Shawer (2010) asserts that learners are supposed to not only read and understand complex issues but also discuss them. Learners are also taught how to write complex essays. Such essays should have varying themes and structures.
Skills for research and complex writing are also introduced at this level. At level IV, the curriculum recommends teachers to emphasise learners’ skills in communicating in proper English. Teaching and assessment of advanced reading, listening, and writing are done at this level.
According to Al-Kharabsheh et al. (2009), the curriculum also recommends learners to be involved in journal writing where they should compose at least two journals every week. Such journals should have varying themes. Besides, they should portray comprehension of language and arguments. Development of vocabularies and observation of standards in English language are also emphasised and tested.
Evaluation of “Traveller 1”
Textbooks and course books for English language learners need to be evaluated because the suitability of the materials presented in the books, of teaching methods and activities is directly connected to the efficiency of the learning process. Such evaluation is based on several aspects of the books. Besides, the books have to answer to the environments the learners typically have, reflect their cultural background.
The main purpose of syllabus evaluation is to provide the educators with the ability to differentiate between the books available for them and to choose the most effective ones. Focusing on the review of “Traveller 1”, the textbook for secondary stage English language learners designed for Saudi Arabian students the following aspects of the book will be evaluated: layout and design, content of the book and teaching methods used in it.
Layout and Design
The book is conveniently divided into sections according to the topics. The sections include illustrations and photographs that are necessary for visual connection with the subject. The important parts, rules and notes and highlighted and made more visible. Various parts and tasks are separated, yet, the organisation of the pages is a bit confusing, too many tasks are crowded on the pages.
Too colourful schemes and overloaded pages can be confusing for the students. It is especially noticeable on the pages number ten and eleven. The former is too colourful, the latter is overcrowded. Moreover, the parts with new vocabulary for each section are missing.
Language Skills and Contents
The teaching methods used in the textbook are focused on the application of reading, writing, listening and speaking. Alshumaimeri (2011) studied various types of reading and their efficiency for the learners. “Traveller 1” does not seem to differentiate between these types in the assignments. This means that teachers are to make the decision and use oral reading more often as it is more effective for the learners.
One of the main goals for learning languages is their creative use in everyday life, is not fulfilled well enough. The majority of speaking tasks follows very strict schemes; in most cases students are just requited to repeat the lines from the book. Besides, there is a grammatical error on the page number six. The part that discusses classroom language contains a phrase “Speak in English. Don’t speak in…”, preposition “in” should not be used here.
The first pages of the sections contain main learning objectives and let the students know what the sections are about. The subjects are appropriate for the students as they feature other learners and their typical occupations such as sports, part-time jobs, entertainments, and interests. The book starts with general knowledge material and then focuses on such topics as employment and careers that are the most important for the students targeted for this book.
Overall, the activities vary a lot, the students are asked to complete sentences, fill in the gaps, match the words and pictures, answer the questions, and talk in pairs. This way, different skills are stimulated and different needs are addressed. The syllabus includes tasks for practicing requests, responses, refusals, so it can be evaluated as functional.
Association to Saudi Environment
Al-Subahi (2001) mentions that for decades the syllabus for English learners has been adopted from abroad and clashed with Saudi environment. Even though modern ESA curriculum is designed especially for Saudi students, it still contains overlooked aspects such as vague course objectives, poor selection of learning experiences that do not match the interests of students (Al-Subahi, 2001).
“Traveller 1” is integrated into the cultural context by means of pictures, names, and geographical places referred to in the texts. Besides, some sections mention football practice that is rather popular in Saudi Arabia. This way cultural shock and identity disorientation issues are addressed. The fact that such subjects as employment, job interviews and vacancies are involved answers the needs of the students that learn English to create better employment perspectives for themselves.
Recent Studies that Evaluate the Suitability of EFL Syllabus
Several recent studies have evaluated the suitableness of EFL syllabuses to learners in the KSA. Khafaji conducted one of such studies in 2004. Khafaji (2004) provided an evaluation of the materials for the English language learners that are used in secondary schools in Saudi Arabia. Under his evaluation, he explored the policies that guide TEFL in Saudi Arabia.
In the analysis of his study, Khafaji (2004) realised that inaccessibility of learning materials for EFL in the KSA was an impediment to successful and motivating academic content as recommended by the curriculum. Khafaji’s (2004) evaluation also realised that the use of audio-lingual method of teaching EFL was also a limitation to the teaching and learning of English language at this secondary school level.
Another study by Alamri (2008) focused on the quality of English language textbook at the entry level, namely the sixth grade. The focal point of this assessment was on the superiority of English learning resources in instructing boys’ schools since they were brought in 2004. According to Alamri (2008), one of the foundations of EFL textbooks that form the basis for English learning in the KSA was analysed.
The researcher deployed questionnaires to examine 93 English tongue tutors at the sixth grade and 11 administrators. This research was conducted in Riyadh Educational Zone in the KSA. In his findings, Alamri (2008) realised that teachers and supervisors favoured EFL textbooks, although they objected the adopted teaching methods. The study suggested the upgrading of such teaching materials.
Finally, Habtoor (2012) carried out an evaluation to ascertain the quality of content that was contained in textbooks that were used in teaching English for specific purposes. Habtoor (2012) evaluated the substance of the textbooks that were utilised in teaching sophomore learners who were studying archaeology and tourism. The researcher evaluated the opinions of EFL teachers on the content of the textbook and its efficacy in teaching English language.
According to Habtoor (2012), presentation of learning skills in relation to the learners’ needs and their study level was also evaluated. In this study, Habtoor (2012) realised that teachers recommended the textbook since it could meet the needs of the learners at that level.
‘Traveler 1 Student’s Book’ by Malkogianni is a must-read textbook that is used for teaching English as a second language in the KSA. Malkogianni presents the fundamentals of English language. As a first secondary English textbook, the book is written in a simple language with simple vocabulary and sentence structure.
The context of the English textbook for EFL is tailored towards the language level of the learners. O’Neill (2008) asserts that a textbook should have the basics of language and its structure. ‘Traveler 1 Student’s Book’ presents the readers with simple vocabularies that are commonly used in English.
Malkogianni includes the structure of English tenses. He goes further to show how they are used in simple sentences and paragraphs. The textbook has a content that will enable learners at this level to use a topic sentence to write a simple paragraph with supporting details.
In addition, the English textbook also introduces learners to punctuation, listening, and reading skills. These factors will meet the learners’ needs at this level. Students entering secondary schools in the KSA have very low comprehension of English language since it is introduced at a later age as a second language. Learners are not able to distinguish tenses, to punctuate sentences, and/or read well.
As such, ‘Traveler 1 Student’s Book’ has been set to cater for these fundamentals of English language. The content of the syllabus for first secondary school entrants is appropriate for the psychological characteristics of the learners. Learners at this level are not ready for complex language structures and comprehension. Therefore, the syllabus is tailored to meet the language needs of these learners.
The structure of the syllabus directs that learning at this level begin by being taught simple vocabularies, tenses, punctuation, and other basics of the English language. Teaching of the fundamentals first before introducing complex sentence structures ensures that learners are at home with the process for learning. Introduction of simple to complex language structure ensures a procedural approach to the mental comprehension of learners.
In addition, individual differences in abilities, interest, and level of intelligence are also catered for in the EFL syllabus at this level. Learners are required to take examinations and assessment tests that indicate their language level. For example, new learners are required to take a test to guide teachers on whether the learner is acceptable in the class.
In addition, at the end of every term, learners take examinations that indicate their learning ability. O’Neill (2008) confirms that through these examinations, learners are evaluated on their listening, reading, and writing skills. The teachers then use the results in addressing the language needs of individual students. The syllabus also takes care of learners’ language differences through recommending the use of group discussions.
Learners are supposed to form simple paragraphs, which they should discuss with their classmates. Teachers are also required to guide and direct the discussions. In doing so, teachers can spot any differences that exist between learners. Internal oral and written skills are also useful in addressing the language needs of individual learners. The purposes that are stated in this textbook meet the needs of the learners. The language needs of learners at this level include grasping basic language concepts.
Learners are taught basic vocabularies, tenses, and sentence structure. Learning of tenses enables learners to begin making correct English sentences. Basic vocabularies that are taught at this level prepare learners for the next stage where they can understand simple sentences.
Learners’ Age and Needs
The substance of the syllabus is appropriate upon bearing in mind the students’ psychological status and speech development. At this level, learners’ level of skills in English language is low. Therefore, it is important to address it in a strategic developmental approach. The syllabus recommends teaching of basic tenses.
According to Shawer (2010), learning of basic tenses at this level enables learners to comprehend change in time and actions that are expressed in basic sentences. The syllabus also recommends teaching of basic sentence structures to enable learners to piece up simple words together in making basic sentences.
Teaching of basic listening and reading skills also ensures that students can read ‘Basic English’ statements and/or listen to ‘Basic English’ audio materials. This step forms an important foundation for the next levels where more advanced structures are taught. The syllabus also addresses language development procedure. For example, it takes care of listening, reading, writing, and speaking skills. These basics form the basis for comprehending a new language.
EFL Goals and Context
The content of the textbook is also tailored to meet the Saudi EFL goals and purposes because English is taught and used in KSA as a second language. Since English language is introduced at the sixth grade in most public schools, there is a need to form a foundation as learners get into secondary schools.
Shawer (2010) affirms that Saudi EFL goals include the development of English language for use in the academic development of learners. Examinations and teaching of students at all levels from the sixth grade is done in English. Therefore, learning of English language prepares learners for academics.
Trade and international relations in the KSA is also done in English. Teaching of writing and listening skills is important for this goal. Moreover, many Saudi citizens communicate with foreigners by means of English language. Therefore, learning of listening, reading, and speaking skills meets this goal.
The social and religious needs of the KSA people are taken care of in the EFL syllabus. Having been developed by the ministry of education in conjunction with the department of curriculum development, Zarei and Khalessi (2011) confirm that the syllabus incorporates religious and social needs of the people. For example, in the introduction, the importance of learning the English language is stated for the people of Saud Arabia.
For example, the language will enable the people who learn it to interact better with those of other communities in an effort to spread their ideologies. Therefore, the English language will enable learners to socialise with the international community. For example, English language is used in international diplomacy.
According to Zarei and Khalessi (2011), Islamic religious goals of the Kingdom of Saud Arabia are also taken care of in the EFL syllabus. Learning of the English language will also enable learners to read religious writings if they are written in English. The syllabus promotes the Islamic religious values.
Learning of speaking and listening skills in English will enable students to socialise with other Islam believers in other parts of the world. Better comprehension of other people’s religions and culture will also be promoted by the learning of English language, which is spoken in many countries.
Zarei and Khalessi (2011) say that the cultural environment of the Kingdom of Saud Arabia is also reflected in the EFL syllabus. The need for scientific and technological acquisition and exchange is enshrined in the goals of the EFL syllabus. Therefore, learning of the English language will ensure that people of the KSA can easily interact with the international community.
Issues such as reading and understanding scientific materials are imperative in the acquisition and exchange of information. English language will enable students at the upper levels of learning to carry out research and/or interact with others across the world. Those who understand the English language can also spread the culture of people of the KSA easily to other English speakers across the world.
Essential Elements in the Modern Syllabus
The modern EFL syllabus is based on several foundations that are based on modern life situation. For example, in terms of teaching tenses, the syllabus recommends the use of placards that indicate drawings of activities. Discussions of simple stories are also based on modern life and situations that happen in the day-by-day life of the student.
For example, learners are told to make simple sentences in the application of the learned subject. In teaching listening and speaking skills in English, the use of audio materials is recommended by the syllabus. The stories and examples that are used in such materials are from the real-life situations in the KSA. For example, when teaching students on new vocabularies, the teacher uses words in the context of what students do in their daily life.
According to O’Neill (2008), pictures and illustrations on the EFL textbooks are customised to the KSA environment. Such materials also enhance learners’ autonomy in thinking. Learners can learn by themselves from the environment. The use of simple language structure and illustrations that relate to their personal lives also motivates them to learn by themselves.
Evaluation of first secondary English textbook in the KSA indicates that both the syllabus and the textbook are appropriate. The textbook is organised to meet the learning needs of national and cultural goals. The structure of the curriculum is also procedural to enable leaders to build on skills that they have acquired from lower levels. Assessments at different levels also ensure continuity of language competence development.
This evaluation recommends the department of curriculum development to take in the opinion of teachers in developing the curriculum since they (teachers) are the direct end users.
Secondly, the ministry of education should consider the needs of the learners when developing the curriculum.
Thirdly, there should be a comprehensive training of English language teachers before they are posted to teach in the various KSA schools. Finally, there should be an inclusion of more integrative methods of TEFL in the syllabus.
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