English Teaching Difficulties in the Arab World

Al-Nasser has outlined five major challenges facing English teachers in Saudi Arabia. The first problem relates to the influence of the mother tongue on English acquisition. According to Al-Nasser (2015), the Arabic language, which is significantly different from English, affects the way Saudi students learn English. This problem does not affect Saudi Arabia alone, but it also affects other parts of the world where English is not the first language. However, it has a great effect in Saudi Arabia because the Arabic language is quite different from English. The second problem that Al-Nasser identifies relates to cultural preservation in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Al-Nasser establishes that inasmuch as English is taught in Saudi schools as a second language, teachers face a natural resistance because English is seen as a threat to the Islamic philosophy and traditions: “Albeit with the aim of culture preservation, the education system (policy, curriculum, and course-syllabi) is deeply anchored in Islamic values, propagation of Islamic concepts and living according to Islamic precepts” (Al-Nasser, 2015, p. 1612).

Although the government has tried to eliminate this resistance, the challenge has not been addressed fully. The third problem that Al-Nasser identifies relates to the training background of English teachers (Al-Nasser, 2015). Al-Nasser establishes that the majority of the teachers that teach English throughout the kingdom lack linguistics-related knowledge and skills: “The teachers of English are generally not trained in linguistics” (Al-Nasser, 2015, p. 1613). Accordingly, the focus of the majority of these teachers is to help students pass exams rather than to help the students acquire English. The fourth challenge that Al-Nasser identifies relates to the English curriculum and syllabus. Al-Nasser claims that most of the curriculums and syllabuses are not up to date. Thereby, they do not address real issues in English. The fifth challenge that Al-Nasser identifies is related to the methods of teaching and especially the evaluation of students’ progress used in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: “Outmoded assessment methods are still in vogue” (Al-Nasser, 2015, p. 1613). Overall, Al-Nasser found that Saudi students face many challenges as they acquire English.

Fareh (2010) also studied a number of challenges that face English acquisition in the Arab world. He established that insufficient training among English teachers is a major challenge in the Arab world. According to his findings, although the majority of English teachers in secondary schools are BA degree holders, the majority of them lack teaching experience and have no proof of their competence: “Although many of these teachers are BA degree holders, most of them have no teaching certificates that qualify them for teaching” (Fareh, 2010, p. 3602). This affects the training methods that the majority of these teachers utilize to teach English. The same problem is also replicated in lower grades, where the necessary learning skills are developed. Fareh also states that the majority of teaching exercises in English classes tend to be teacher-centered rather than student-centered: “Teachers talk most of the class time and they rarely give students a chance to speak or ask questions” (Fareh, 2010, p. 3602).

Of particular concern is that majority of English teachers are unable to develop the right teaching skills for slow learners. As a result, the majority of the students are left out; thus, they develop poor English learning skills. Fareh further claims that the majority of students do not have the necessary level of command in English: “School and university teachers often complain of the low proficiency of their students” (Fareh, 2010, p. 3602). Largely, the lack of English-speaking skills among young learners is attributed to the Arabic language they use most of the time. Other challenges include minimal exposure to English, inadequate assessment methods, and the teaching materials that alienate learners and, thus, prevent them from developing the motivation to study English: “Teaching materials are, in general, culturally inappropriate and this may alienate learners and instigate them to develop negative attitudes towards learning this foreign language” (Fareh, 2010, p. 3603). Fareh (2010) found that English teachers in the Arab world do not offer English as expected because they lack adequate training, students lack the motivation to learn English, and assessment techniques used in the Arab world are inadequate.

Al-Seghayer (2014), on his part, identifies four common constraints that affect English teachers. The first constraint that he identifies is the belief constraint. He establishes that majority of Saudi students have a negative attitude towards English. The negative attitude, in this case, emanates from both internal and external factors. Al-Seghayer (2014) claims that the majority of the students have a negative attitude towards English because English as a subject is not among their first priorities in schools. As a result, students take English lessons for granted and do not try to study: “Their efforts are devoted to acquiring the minimal competency needed to pass to the next grade level and pay no attention to other aspects of learning” (Al-Seghayer, 2014, p. 18). In practice, such an attitude affects the learning process. It also affects the teaching process, as well. The second constraint that Al-Seghayer identifies is the curriculum constraint. The main challenges in this constraint include limited time for teaching English, limited learning and teaching materials, teaching and learning standards as well as knowledge factors.

As far as teaching time is concerned, English teachers have only four weekly teaching sessions: “With only 4 periods of 45 minutes each available to them per week, teachers must cover one lesson per day in order to get through the entire book in one semester” (Al-Seghayer, 2014 p. 19). For this reason, if teachers do not utilize their time well, they might not cover their syllabuses. This has a significant effect on the teaching methods that the majority of the teachers utilize to teach English and cover their syllabuses. The insufficient time for teaching English affects the time that students have to practice to communicate in English. It also affects the grammar part as well because students do not have ample time to learn grammatical rules. Besides the fact that there is limited time for teaching English, the teaching and learning materials are also limited.

Basically, most of the schools lack teaching aids. In addition, they lack e-learning materials, among other important teaching resources. Al-Seghayer (2014) claims that the teaching materials that are available in some of the schools need to be replaced with new and improved ones: “The resources that are supplied, such as posters and audio cassettes, are either in poor condition, of low quality or are outdated and match those in the current textbook” (Al-Seghayer, 2014, p. 20). In terms of impact, the unavailability of the teaching resources means that majority of English teachers do not use teaching aids. It also means that teachers rely heavily on textbooks and, in most cases, read comprehensions to students. At other times, teachers design their own teaching aids. These practices affect English acquisition in Saudi Arabia.

The third constraint that Al-Seghayer mentions is of a pedagogical nature: “Besides components of curriculum constraints, there is another set of pedagogical constraints that contain demoralizing factors in the teaching-learning process of English in Saudi Arabia” (Al-Seghayer, 2014, p. 21). This constraint is concerned with the teaching methods and teaching preparation programs. As far as the teaching preparation programs are concerned, English teachers have to go through intensive training before they start teaching English. However, over the years, some colleges that offer training to English teachers do not adhere to the rules and guidelines provided by the ministry of education. As a result, there have been a number of English teachers that do not go through the recommended training. To some extent, this poses challenges to some English teachers. On the other hand, the teaching methods utilized in Saudi Arabia also pose challenges to English teachers: “They offered English teaching-methods courses represent no more than 10% of the total courses offered by English departments in colleges and universities” (Al-Seghayer, 2014, p. 21). Most of these methods are audio-lingual and, to a less extent, focused on translating English grammar (Al-Seghayer, 2014).

The fourth constraint that Al-Seghayer identifies is the administrative constraint. This constraint is concerned with administrative work. The most common challenge with this constraint is the centralization of the system of teaching. Inasmuch as centralization of the teaching system is good; it limits the capacity of English teachers. This aspect mostly affects public schools that have specific teaching methods and objectives. The other challenge relating to administrative constraint is the lack of partnership between local training centers and overseas training centers. The other administrative challenge that Al-Seghayer identifies is linked to the inadequacy of the teaching materials: “Most Saudi English teachers do not use teaching aids and authentic supplementary materials in the English classroom” (Al-Seghayer, 2014, p. 22). All these challenges affect English teachers in one way or the other. In conclusion, Al-Seghayer (2014) has established that unless the above constraints are dealt with, it will not be possible to improve English proficiency in Saudi Arabia.


Al-Nasser, S. (2015). Challenges of teaching English in the Arab world: Why can’t EFL programs deliver as expected? Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2(2), 3600–3604.

Al-Seghayer, K. (2014). The four most common constraints affecting English teaching in Saudi Arabia. International Journal of English Linguistics, 4(5), 17-26.

Fareh, A. S. A. (2010). Problems of English language acquisition in Saudi Arabia: An exploratory-cum-remedial study. Theory and Practice in Language Studies, 5(8), 1612-1619.