Investigation of students’ responses to Arabic and English used by EFL teachers depending on their L1 background in a Saudi Arabian university
Bukhari, Shams Mahdi Amin
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This thesis focused on students’ cognitive and affective responses to Arabic (L1) and English (L2) used by English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teachers who come from different L1 backgrounds in English (L2) classrooms in an English institute at a university in Saudi Arabia. Consideration of students’ responses to teachers’ use of English was crucial in this study as it helped to shed light on students’ cognitive and affective responses to the Arabic used by teachers. In addition, students’ preferences for EFL teachers in respect of their L1 background (native Arabic speaker teacher, native English speaker teacher and non-native English/Arabic speaker teacher) were examined. In order to be able to investigate the students’ responses and preferences, it was nessesary, firstly, to develop a deeper understanding of what they were responding to, namely the extent to which, and the conditions under which, teachers employ Arabic in the L2 classrooms. In addition, the extent to which teachers’ use of Arabic varies according to their students’ level of proficiency was also explored. Teachers' views on their own use of Arabic were also identified in order to establish the extent to which their views coincided with that of their students. This study adopted a qualitative approach and data were gathered through classroom observations, semi- structured interviews (in form of stimulated recall interviews), and open-ended questionnaires. Classroom observations were used to identify the extent, as well as the functions, of teachers’ L1 use and to examine whether the degree of teachers’ Arabic use varied according to their students’ level of proficiency. In addition, stimulated recall interviews were employed to explore students’ cognitive and affective responses to their teachers’ L1 and L2 use and students’ preferences for their teachers’ L1 background. The open-ended questionnaires were used to understand whether teachers’ and students’ views on the use of L1 by teachers coincided. The findings suggest that the way that Arabic is used by teachers in the Saudi EFL classroom varies according to the teachers’ L1 background in terms of the consistency, frequency, and the functions of the Arabic used by those teachers. Regarding students’ preferences for their EFL teachers, more than one third of the students (37%), the largest group regarding this aspect, preferred to be taught by a competent English teacher irrespective of their nationality or background; this clearly indicates that some students put emphasis on the pedagogy and professional skills of teachers rather than on their native status. The findings also suggest that a number of common cognitive responses are employed by students, mainly comparing English and Arabic grammatical rules, memorising new words, and making connections between Arabic and English. Furthermore, the results indicate that for most students (21 out of 30) Arabic helped to keep the affective filter low, making them feel more comfortable, happy and less anxious, whereas Arabic made the other students uncomfortable and more anxious. Moreover, it was found that the most frequently used strategies when students responded to teachers’ English use were mental translation, use of dictionaries and requesting clarification, while the least frequently used strategies were finding alternative English synonyms or avoidance. Finally, the findings indicate that teachers’ views generally coincide with students’ views about teachers’ use of Arabic. The findings from this study may benefit language teachers and programme designers to help them develop training programmes for teachers that take into account learner preferences regarding the background of their EFL teachers, particularly in the field of teaching EFL in the Saudi context. More importantly, the study suggests that learners should be trained how to use L1 as a successful learning strategy and that teachers should raise students’ awareness, especially those students with low proficiency in English, that Arabic can be used as a cognitive strategy, for example, to compare the similarities and differences between L1 and L2.