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Language policy in Saudi Arabia Coursework


Language acts as an important tool that makes sure there is effective communication. It is actually not easy to communicate without the spoken words. Language has its usefulness to human development as research has found. Actually it would be difficult for people to think and actually associate the things and concepts they come across.

The sharing of these ideas and concepts through language leads to the development of humans in general. Many countries therefore have their own crafted language policy, since language has been found to be crucial to society.

To achieve this, many countries have established their national languages, and even official languages which they would expect its citizens to use. Education policy of the country therefore should be crafted to cater for language as it plays a major role in the society.

In Saudi Arabia for instance, the national language is Arabic. This therefore means that most Saudis do communicate their thoughts using this language. However, in Saudi Arabia there are systems of education which teach English too, hence a crop of bilinguals in the country.

This paper will actually look at the bilingual language policy in Saudi Arabia. The paper will in essence give a brief to establish a partial immersion program. All the issues to do with bilingual education will critically be presented so as to provide a rich background to the brief.


Leaning of a second language has been viewed as a way of enhancing the cognitive development as to whether bilingualism, the ability to use two different languages, has any advantages. However, subsequent studies have shown an encouraging picture. In Saudi Arabia there are both private and public schools. Most private schools have embraced teaching of other languages.

Due to the current trends such as globalization and general advances in information technology there has been a drive for countries to encourage learning of English language. English language has been dubbed the language of information technology since most of its codes and systems are designed in that language.

This in effect has an impact on what the countries economic outlook will be since most of the trade is being done through the online markets with wider marketing of English speakers. Saudi Arabia being one of the market players in this globalised world is faced with the daunting task of making sure its citizenry is not left behind.

Bilingualism has therefore got several advantages for the country. For instance in one study carried out in the US it was established that Latinos who were able to speak English as well as Spanish were doing better economically as compared to the rest who were only able to speak one language Garcia ( 2009).

Cognitive development of the learner has been seen to develop rapidly when a learner is exposed to another language. In fact it has been found out that bilingualism will aid the development of the brain such that the leaner can easily learn other concepts faster than that learner who has only been exposed to one language. This is especially true of a situation where the languages are used simultaneously. Lee (1996).

A story is told of how a girl, Hildegard was subjected to two languages from her parents who spoke both German and English respectively. We are told that at the age of two years she could not differentiate between the two languages’ vocabulary but when she visited Germany, she was able to speak German very well and she was able to use more German vocabulary.

When it was time to go back to America she spoke English well and English was her most dominant language, since her father could speak with her in English. The best thing to be learnt here is that she did not confuse the vocabulary or the different linguistic elements of the two advantages.

It was from this observation that her father Leopold concluded that a child has an advantage if he or she is introduced to different languages at an early stage in life.

Bilingualism can also lead to people being accommodative to other people’s ways of life. When one learns a language he or she also learns about the culture and ways of that community hence appreciating that community.

Sometimes back the Saudi government did not want to yield to the introduction of other foreign languages but of late the Saudi leadership has allowed the teaching of English to fight intolerance of other among the learners and allow for a more open and accommodative society to the other cultures.

As the society moves towards global stage it is important for the citizens to freely communicate with the rest of the globe and the introduction of this bilingualism has had its advantages towards enhancing effective communication between members of different backgrounds.

Saudi Arabia occupies a notable position in world affairs and therefore there is need for language policy that may be useful for multilingual society that is out there.

This is seen in the diplomatic challenges that it faces. Ramirez (1985) argues that language is crucial for “the multilingual multicultural awareness in national security diplomacy and commerce”. Ramirez further observes that it is crucial for any society that provides product to have the language competence that will inform the cultural sensitivities around the globe.

English language has gained an almost universal use all over the world. Many global higher education providers use English as their medium of instruction Graber & Stoller (1997).What is more crucial, international events are held in this language; not forgetting the large networking sites that have gripped the communication scene in the whole world.

Saudi Arabia is not spared in this fast paced global onslaught. What is encouraging is that Saudi Arabia government has made a deliberate effort to move the education standards a notch higher. However there is need for a more results oriented program for the English language in the country.

There are however, encouraging signs as the government now funds schools and now most schools are now teaching English language as an independent subject.

The demand for English in Saudi Arabia is rising due to the advent of the information age. Parents on the other hand are willing to invest in it even organizing for private English language lessons for their children.

Records further show that the Saudi government has increased its general funding for education programs through even provision of scholarships. According to Shamary (2008) most of the students are given scholarships to study abroad, in most cases United States of America.

One can easily see the need for proper English teaching at elementary level. The Saudi government has therefore even gone further to adopt the English Proficiency test to monitor the quality of the English language. Cummins (1981)

However I propose that for better results there is need for a proper immersion program for at the school level.

It is well established that it is easier for a language to be acquired at a younger age than at a later day in life. That is why it is crucial for the program that is mandated to handle language to consider this. The advantages of learning while young are many. Firstly, it is easier for that learner to develop a native-like accent. Baker (2006).

Secondly, the learners usually need a shorter time of learning to be considered proficient in that language. Another advantage could be that it is easy for the learner to acquire other skills faster as it aids cognitive development.

Though an older learner can have the advantage of using the first language to draw from, it is not usually for such a learner to have a native-like accent. Actually, what the older learner may have may just be competence but not the performance.

The partial immersion project I would suggest will be based at school level. First of all there is need to know what immersion is. Immersion is a type of bilingual education in which the learners from the majority language speaking group are instructed through the second language and their first language simultaneously. Lyster (1987).

In this program I would suggest that several main subjects are taught using English (L2) and Arabic (L1). In this case the students will be taught predominantly in English, which is the language that the students will be in the process of acquiring.

The subjects could include Mathematics, Geography, History and all the science based subjects. But this will require a lot of cooperation. The program is unique as it will not only vouch for partial immersion, based on the background of Saudi Arabia.

Factors and Variables

There are several factors and variables that have to be considered in this program. Linguistic characteristics, coupled with how languages are interrelated play a major role in how fast learners can benefit from an immersion.

For example, according to Garcia (2009) “… Romance languages, such as Spanish and Italian, share characteristics, while Dutch, German, and Danish, as Germanic languages, have some things in common”. English and Arabic do not share these semblances; therefore there is need for an elaborate program to make this program a success.

Attitudes of the communities and students should be considered. If in cases where there has been some skepticism, there is need for some enlightening by the government. It is good that the Saudi government supports its citizens to know about other languages as well. This is motivated by the accrued rewards for bilingual speakers.

Economic factors that will go into implementing this program are to be considered. The good thing is that the government is funding students for this program, through grants and scholarships. There should be, however some challenges towards providing the relevant material.

According to Garcia, there is need to look into the opportunity cost of the whole program. That means it should not just be about monetary cost, but other social challenges.

Religious culture and ideology need to be considered. The Saudi set-up is that which epitomizes high Islamic devotion. The culture is equally conservative as compared to that of the British people. By this, the program should majorly touch on those aspects of culture that do not contravene or contradict the Saudi culture. But it should be crucial for the learners to be informed that there are different cultures. Garcia (2009).

There is also another major category known as the outcome factor. This involves linguistic factors and other social ones. But this program will focus on development of bilingual proficiency. This means that the goal here is to have two languages used.

Language Maintenance

This program will actually promote Arabic language maintenance, though English will be the target language. This is in line with the program as practiced in the Doha Academy in Qatar.

This will be in such a way that, as the children are immersed in English, they will at the same time be exposed to strong Islamic religious studies and also the Arabic language. In class for example, separation of boys from girls in class will be maintained. This will ensure that by the time the children mature they will be bilingual.

Since the Saudi Arabian context is a bit unique, I would suggest that the students are exposed to partial immersion in certain subjects this is due to the fact that it is important a most of the students may not have the chance to be exposed to the second language outside class. It is therefore crucial for them to be exposed to L2 as much as possible in class. However, the way the content is rendered should be accommodative.

That means that there should be a lot of illustration done by the teacher to ensure that the concepts are acquired by all the students, especially in cases where there is need for concept elaboration, the instructor should take time to illustrate using both languages.

It has been established that the Saudi Arabian students have a major problem at the phonological level. Oral proficiency has been the biggest challenge for the learners while using English for expression. To cater for this problem the program suggests that there is an early immersion, which means that at nine to ten years old, there should be an immersion program in place. This will handle the issue of phonological proficiency.

We know from researches that native-like accent can only be achieved at this age. This is because English and Arabic differ in spelling to sound correspondences. So the earlier the learners are subjected to this language the sooner they develop the strategies aimed at mastering the challenges of phonological variations. In fact Lesaux & Siegel (2003) feel that such phonological awareness does continue even as the learner grows.

But such a program should be carefully implemented. The schools will be expected to have enough resources for the implementation of the program. These resources will include both the teaching and learning resources. The government should therefore have enough funds for such a program so as effective L2 learning is achieved.

Another aspect of the program is that the language policy will be that which will require that a native-like proficiency is achieved. This should not be misconstrued to mean eventual abandoning of the culture of L1, but, language teaching should aim at oral proficiency in both languages which at the same time stressing the need for appreciating other cultures.

Class size

The class size should be a maximum of 40. For those that wish to create smaller classes have the freedom to do so. This will basically depend on the type of resources at hand. Traditionally classes in Saudi Arabia have always been smaller. This is good for teaching as it allows for an even higher teacher student ratio.

The purpose of the program is actually directed at the learners becoming a proficient bilingual, while at the same time being competent in other subject areas. The program is designed to provide an additional language to the L1 of the learners. Brown &Yule (1983). It is designed not to overshadow the Arabic language. Actually it is not intended to replace Arabic but it is in essence designed to also enhance L1 and L2 skills mutually.

The Saudi government supports Arabic language and therefore the partial immersion considers this. At some time there were fears from parents and some quotas that native culture is threatened by this.

This is not true considering the design of this program is that while promoting the local culture, it provides an opportunity for the learner to be taught about another culture, hence achieving one of the objectives of the program. To even assure that the two languages are treated equally assessment is done in both English and Arabic, though instruction at later stages is done in L2.


In this partial immersion in the school, there will be great emphasis on the content. Though content based learning will not be emphasized at elementary level, there is need for content based learning after year nine. Research has shown that content based instruction plays a major role in acquisition of other competencies.

First the students gain proficiency in language at a faster rate than those who use other non-immersion programs. Their performance in standardized exams has equally been noted. This is so because the concepts pertaining to the subjects are usually already familiar through their usual interaction in the language, not forgetting the role played by L2 in cognitive development as early observed.

For this program issues to do with vocabulary, syntax and even phonology should be given credence. Another inference drawn from such performance is that through content-based instruction not only does one learn about language, but also content.

They also experience increased motivation to learn as they are exposed to concepts using different medium. Also driven by increased chances of getting employment, many students usually have a heightened interest to excel in the second language and also other subjects in which the medium is used.

Graber and Stoller (1997) have observed that language acquisition occurs in context and therefore since there is content based instruction provides a context through which meaning can be inferred communication is usually effective hence effective learning.

This is unlike in situations where facts and notions are taught in isolation. The program will therefore provide material that is full of content to the learners. This will also provide the relevance needed for the learner to get meaning easily.


Another area that is of great use for the program has to do with the study material. Though this may pose a little challenge to the budget in the school, it is necessary that such is looked at seriously as it is critical to the success of this partial immersion program.

There will be need for the schools to provide computers for the online interaction to aid first in motivation. These will also act as a platform through which the learners will see the importance and even put to practice what is learnt.

For instance it could be instructive to ask the learners for instance to write and post their creative works online for the rest to enjoy. This will motivate many to develop that self drive to perfect their language.

Proper language environments like the language laboratory should be in place so that every aspect of language can easily be handled, for instance aspects to do with phonological challenges that most Saudi learners encounter. It is not easy for the learners to achieve an almost native-like accent unless they are exposed to the proper articulation of the phonemes of the second language.

The materials prepared for learning should cover different aspects. For example to cater for the cultural aspect it is crucial that the material used reflects the cultural attribute of the speaker of both languages. In most cased L2 culture should be taught since most of the students in Saudi Arabia only know of their culture.

The Saudi government on top of offering scholarship it is important for it to put in more effort on providing sufficient fund to obtain the relevant material necessary for effective teaching of English. These will go a long way towards providing right charts, models, books, audio-visual equipment and many others.


There should be clear assessment criteria in the program. One notable thing is that assessment should not be seen as a way of looking for mistakes, learners will first of all be informed as to the importance of assessment. The program will therefore adopt a flexible internal assessment.

For example in creative writing, it is not important for the teacher to correct mistakes so that learners can freely release their full creative potential, without fear of their mistakes being pointed out. In other areas there should be external assessment that will be used to show the progress.

This progress is crucial to the teacher as s/he will be able to identify some of the problem areas that need spinning. Saudi Arabian government has for example embraced an external language proficiency test too, which helps in benchmarking the standards with those of other nations in English language.


The role of the teacher in this partial immersion program is quite important. Given the situation in Saudi Arabia, one can easily tell that for effective English language teaching, there is need for the teaching needs to be looked at in great detail.

First of all there is need for teacher re-training so that most may become familiar with the needs of the program’s demands. This training could range from content handling, teaching methods, material preparation, lesson preparation and many others. Other areas that are of great concern have to do with handling the demands of L2 in school.

Actually, the need for proper professional development should be a priority. This could be done through benchmarking with other models. In such cases the teachers could be exposed to how things are done in other model immersion programs abroad. Boutin (1993).

The teachers may in turn come and induct the rest for the success of the program. The curriculum documents used should be specific and should reflect immersion program’s objectives.

To curb a situation where the teachers may have reservations to bilingualism, there is need for in-service induction training that emphasize the need for bilingualism.

There has been a situation where sometimes the school administrators and other staff may not be aware of the benefits of bilingualism. They may in the process fail to contribute the desired output to the language acquisition.

For instance content taught by the science teachers can be backed by provision of an English language dictionary so that the students may equally get the vocabulary of the concept being taught in English too.

Campaigns to enlighten the parents and the wider communication on the benefits of bilingualism should be carried out so that the program does not meet any form of resistance. When this is achieved, then learning will be smooth and learners will be motivated to learn the language and the culture of its native speakers.

Lesson plans and materials relevant for the partial immersion program are supposed to be carefully crafted. That is why the teachers engaged in the program will be provided with ample release time to prepare lesson plans and arrange the other material necessary for lesson execution.

The type of learning needs at various stages do vary with proper induction; the teachers handling the program should be equipped with the correct skills to master what is required at the different levels.

For instance, learning usually varies from teacher centered approach at program inception and implementation to student centered as the students advance in the learning stages or classes. The level of language activities also varies with this stage development.


This program will greatly aid second/foreign language acquisition since it considers the various aspects that are typical of the Saudi environment.

First of all, the program as we are told, takes an integrated approach to learning. This means that no particular way dominates. The program did not consider total immersion approach. This is because the writing systems in English and Arabic are quite different.

This would be disadvantageous in the long run, but the program has averted this and this is why it takes multi-stage approach. In the program only learners are introduced to content and outcomes that go along with that particular stage. What the program aims at is actually acquisition of linguistic skills that will guarantee achievement in the higher grades.

The hybrid program also ensures that learners are exposed to the relevant material necessary for language acquisition. By this, the learners will for instance, know how to interact effectively online in the second language through exposure to the various aspects of culture of native English speakers.

Cognitive development is also enhanced when one is introduced to second language Macnamara (1966). Through this development, the learners will excel in both languages as they will discover that there is another medium which is worth exploring.

With the government’s support for English language learning, enough resources that are needed for its acquisition will be greatly funded. These could be the teachers, books, rooms, computers etc. the program clearly vouches for a situation where the right resources are availed for proper language teaching.

To achieve a native-like accent and proficiency, this hybrid program proposes that language be taught at different levels of complexity. This program, based on research carried out earlier, advocates for early exposure of the learners to the English language specifically this should be at the elementary school.

Another major area that will provide effective acquisition has to do with content. The program has gone to a greater detail in elaborating the content areas that will be given credence. It has for example singled out the areas such as vocabulary acquisition, phonological aspects and even the syntactic aspects that need serious attention.

This conclusion is based on several findings that had established that these were the problem areas by Saudi learners. To add on content is the content-based instruction. This approach will assist learners to develop concrete meanings derived from concrete experiences that they are subjected to. It has long been established for learners to conceive meaning from abstract concepts.

But in content-based approach, the learners are able to get the ‘form’ of what is being talked about, and by this, it will be easy for them to remember the concepts that are learnt. Perhaps the vocabulary aspects in this situation usually are the greatest beneficiary.

This is so because the learning activities may include the teacher preparing the learners to the vocabulary that may be encountered in the lesson, and this will aid in comprehension of the concept while at the same time enhancing language acquisition.

In practice, the program has put a lot of emphasis on the teaching needs of the program. It has been long established that Saudi government has had its share of staffing problems. First of all, this has been occasioned due to the high demand for English by students, thereby stretching the available number of teachers. Boutin (1993).

There is also another problem where some of the expatriate teachers who are taken as mentors are not trained teachers. Another challenge has been that even the teachers who are trained, may lack the requisite knowledge to handle this partial immersion program.

This program has noted this plus many other challenges and vouched to teacher re-training/induction to handle the peculiar challenge that the English language requires, under this partial immersion program.

Another crucial milestone that the program has put is that of assessment. We are told that at times to put assessment in all aspects of language learning may at times hinder advancement. This is true in the creative writing. By leaving out assessment in such may encourage the students to expose their creative prowess, thereby develop the motivation and the competence to acquire the language.

Due to the revolution in technology, the program has embraced learning that encourages the interaction of the students with technology. This could be through posts on the internet networking sites and generally, exposure to the potential that the language exposes one to. It can take the learner beyond the national boundaries. Armed with this awareness, the learner develops the impetus to master the language even more.

The class size has a big impact on the language acquisition. A larger class is detrimental to learning as it diminishes individual attention. The program guarantees that a class of no more than thirty five is permitted.

Reasons for the content areas to be taught

The content areas that have been selected in this program are varied. One major reason is the level of the learner. The learner is given tasks that s/she can manage according to the level. Another reason is that phonological aspects have been found to be a major problem with Saudi students. Since Arabic, which most students speak, has a quite different phonological system as compared to English.

It is this radical variation that gives the students a lot of trouble when they learn English. Syntactic aspects have also been given credence in the study. The reason as to why that is so is because many Saudi learners, research has established have a lot of trouble with verb agreement. This could be perhaps due to the diverse sentence structure between Arabic and English, the target language.


This partial immersion program is set up with very ambitious English language fluency goals. It is for this reason that it advances the notion of early exposure to language aimed at enhancing a native-like fluency. Fluency in language has been known to be achieved only if the learner is exposed to language at a tender age.

The program has set up proper mechanisms through which learners are motivated to learn the English language without any external inhibitions and interference. That is why it propagates for adequate provision of learning and teaching resources.

The program has not also forgotten to reflect the benefits of proficiency, keeping in mind the technological, social and even economical global trends that are currently taking shape.

Ultimately, the program shows that to increase the numbers of the learners who are proficient in English, there is need for careful attention to the policy of English of the Saudi government. There is need for total revamping of the whole education policy regarding language since second language proficiency has benefits that are unfathomable both to the learner and the nation at large.

Reference List

Baker, C., (2006). Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. New York: Multilingual Matters.

Boutin, F., (1993). A Study of Early French Immersion Teachers as Generators of Knowledge. Foreign language Annuals, 26, (4), 511-525.

Brown, G., &Yule, G., (1983) Teaching the Spoken Language. New York. Cambridge University press.

Cummins, J., (1981). The Role of Primary Language In Promoting Educational Success For Language Minority Students. In California in State Department of Education. Schooling and Language minority students: A theoretical framework. (PP3-49). Los Angeles: California State University, Evaluation, Dissemination, and Assessment Center.

Garcia, O., (2009). Bilingual Education in the 21st Century: A Global Perspective. New York: Wiley- Blackwell

Grabe, W., & Stoller F., L., (1997). Content Based Instruction: Research Foundations. New Jersey: Cengage

Hakuta, K., (1986). Mirror of Language. The Debate on Bilingualism. New York: Basic Books

Lee, P., (2006). Cognitive Development in Bilingual Children: A Case for Bilingual Instruction in Early Childhood Education. The bilingual Research Journal, 20 (3&4) 499-522

Lesaux, K., N., and Siegel, S., L., (2003). The Development of Reading in Children Who Speak English as a Second Language.

Lyster, R., (1987). Speaking Immersion. The Canadian Modern Language Review, 43, (4), pp. 701-717.

Macnamara, J., (1966). Bilingualism and Primary Education. New Jersey: Cengage

Ramirez, G., A., (1985). Bilingualism through Schooling: Cross Cultural Education for Minority and Majority Students. New York: SUNNY PRESS

Shemary, A., (2008). Saudi Arabia: US Preferred Destination for Students, Ashraq, Alowsat.

Snow M., A., & Brinton, D., M., (Eds). The Content-Based Classroom: Perspectives on Integrating Language and Content (PP5-21). New York: Longman.

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