Teaching and Learning of English in Saudi Arabia

Introduction

Learning language is a process that occurs when one interacts with other people (Vygotsky, 1978). According to Mattos (2000), second language acquisition is a process in which a learner interacts with people. Vygotsky (1978) reveals that language acquisition occurs through the construction of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). Nasaji & Swain (2000) further note that ZPD is made up of skills that the learner does with assistance with the core objective of enabling him to move to the next level of doing the skills without assistance.

Nassaji & Swain (2000) reveal that feedback is social in nature, noting that “in this framework, error correction is considered as a social activity involving joint participation and meaningful transactions between the learner and the teacher” ( p. 35). According to Reid (1995), several researchers have come up with various theories of corrective feedback in learning English as a Foreign Language (EFL). According to Chaudron (1988) corrective feedback is a certain response to a student’s error which can be manifested on different layers. Chaudron (1988) has pointed out that corrective feedback can refer to “any teacher behaviour following an error that minimally attempts to inform the learner of the fact of error” (p. 150). It can also refer to the situation when a teacher simply motivates a student to revise/correct his/her answer. Chaudron (1988) has also suggested that there is “the true” correction which presupposes overt instructions which help a learner to eliminate errors (p. 150).

It is necessary to point out that the Vygotskian perspectives on corrective feedback have gained much popularity over the years. Ellis (1991) explains that Vygotskian examines corrective feedback through socio-cultural theory. For example, Schulz (2001) adds that from a social cultural perspective, instructors, students and other social factors must be involved for the objectives of learning English as a foreign language to be realized. Such a view is also supported by Mitchel & Myles (1998) who found that the way in which instructors provide feedback to learners’ mistakes in teaching is a key area of concern in learning and teaching English as a foreign language. Recently the researchers have focused on two types of feedback, negotiated and random feedback, trying to identify which one is the most effective. Aljaafreh & Lantolf (1994) have suggested that negotiated feedback is more effective than random feedback. Negotiated feedback presupposes negotiation between the teacher and the learner concerning errors (Nassaji & Swain, 2000). This kind of feedback also presupposes taking into account the learner’s ZPD. On the other hand, random feedback is not connected with ZPD and is not based on negotiation. It is noteworthy, Aljaafreh & Lantolf (1994) have pointed out that the two types of feedback can be used in order to develop the process of learning as different learning situations require corresponding feedback.

Most researchers concur that corrective feedback has a role to play in learning a foreign language (Bley-Vroman, 1986; Carroll & Swain, 1993; Chaudron, 1988; Rutherford, 1987; White, 1991). However, Nasaji & Swain (2000) note that researchers differ on the type of corrective feedback that is most suitable to use. For instance, De Guerrero & Villamil (1994) have considered the use of negotiated and random feedback (identifying these types of feedback as negotiated and authoritative interventions) stating that during negotiation is the best technique for revision, whereas authoritative intervention can be helpful when drilling new material. Subsequently, as asserted by Williams & Burden (1997) corrective feedback must include the following elements:

If feedback actually provides information to learners that enable them to identify specific aspects of their performance that are acceptable and capable of improvement by some specified means, it should prove both motivating and helpful to them to move into the zone of the next development” (p.136).

However, there still exist some of the challenges associated with corrective feedback which include the inconsistency and ambiguity of teachers’ corrections ( Allwright, 1975; Chaudron, 1977; Long, 1996). Spolksy (1988) reveals that most teachers adopt random and unsystematic corrective feedback techniques in teaching English as a foreign language. Ohta (2001) further explains that this is mostly common in situations whereby a teacher is forced to ignore errors made by learners so as not to interfere with the communicative flow, only to correct the same errors later. Lyster & Mori (2006) have also identified this as a key problem of the random corrective feedback. According to Lyster & Ranta (1997) such problem occurred as a result of teacher’s correction on a wide range of learner error types which subsequently led to an overload in learners’ cognitive ability. It is worth mentioning that negotiated feedback is the most appropriate for peer reviewing which should be taken into account by the teacher. Thus, Tharp & Gallimore (1988) note that peer correction is the best method of corrective feedback. Higgins (1987) adds that learners correct each other while interacting in a safe environment, which in its turn increases the learners’ confidence and independence. It is also important to point out that peer correction is a very effective technique which helps learners to understand what they need to correct and how to do it (De Guerrero & Villamil, 1994).

Based on these previous studies, this research will explore the application of Vygotskian perspectives on corrective feedback in teaching English as a foreign language in Saudi Arabia.

Background of the study

Students in Saudi Arabia learn English as a foreign language. Since language teachers are responsible for instructing L2 learners, their views on learning the English language will greatly impact the choice of instructional methods in school settings. The instructional methods applied by teachers in teaching English can influence the acquisition of English language among learners in a positive or negative way.

According to Vygotskian’s sociocultural perspective, interaction with the environment results in learning a language. In the same way, interaction with fellow learners and teachers is of great importance in learning English as a foreign language for the Saudi Arabian students as it promotes the acquisition of the language.

Corrective feedback can be used for studying the way in which interaction accelerates language acquisition through the construction of a zone of proximal development (ZPD). According to Foley (1991), instructors, students and other social factors must be involved for the objectives of learning English as a foreign language to be realized in Saudi Arabia. Wells (1999) adds that the way in which instructors provide feedback on learners’ mistakes in teaching is a key area of concern in learning English as a foreign language.

According to Williams & Burden (1997) some of the challenges associated with corrective feedback in Saudi Arabia include the inconsistency and ambiguity of teachers’ corrections. This is because most teachers adopt random and unsystematic corrective feedback techniques when teaching English as a foreign language. This happens in situations whereby the teacher ignores errors at times for fear of interfering with the communicative flow and other times, they correct the same errors. At the same time, the random method of corrective feedback becomes complex at times. For instance, teacher’s correction on a wide range of learner error types may lead to an overload in learners’ cognitive ability. This also creates a very difficult situation for the English teachers in Saudi Arabia while trying to deliver random feedback that will not overload or hinder the cognitive abilities of learners.

The major challenge associated with negotiated feedback in Saudi Arabia is that although all learners may be participants in the learning, some learners may benefit or participate very little in the learning process. A study by John-Steiner (1988) explains that this is usually caused by low self esteem among the learners as they fear that the rest of the learners may undermine them.

In this research, learners will be used to investigate the type of corrective feedback that is most relevant and effective in the teaching and learning of English as a foreign language in Saudi Arabia. The learners will be grouped into two. One group will be the assisted group whereas the other group will be the unassisted group. It is important to note that these groups represent the random and negotiated feedback respectively. The learners will then be expected to complete an oral English task.

Statement of the problem

English in Saudi Arabia is taught as a foreign language (L2). English teachers in Saudi Arabia hold different views regarding the use of corrective feedback in teaching. Teachers in Saudi Arabia employ various methods of corrective feedback while teaching English as a foreign language in Saudi Arabia. Most of these teachers argue that negotiated feedback is more relevant in task-based grammar instruction than random feedback. It goes without saying that there is need to explore the best methods of teaching English as a foreign language, so as to recommend these methods for use by the teachers. This study seeks to explore the use of random versus negotiated feedback in second language teaching.

Proposed rationale for the research

Over the years, Vygotskian perspectives on learning and teaching English as a foreign language have gained popularity among many teachers (Aljaafreh & Lantolf, 1994; Donato & McCormick, 1994; Foley, 1991; John-Steiner, 1988; Lantolf, 2000; Lantolf & Appel, 1994; Schinke-Liano, 1993; Wells, 1999). English teachers in Saudi Arabia are no exception as English is taught as a foreign language in the country.

Notably, most researchers concur that corrective feedback has a role to play in learning English as a foreign language in Saudi Arabia (Bley-Vroman, 1986; Carroll & Swain, 1993; Chaudron, 1988; Rutherford, 1987; White, 1991). Feedback is generally used by teachers of Saudi Arabia in classrooms to assist learners in learning. However, there are still many issues concerning the most effective techniques of feedback. The views of English teachers in Saudi Arabia on modes of corrective feedback will greatly impact the choice of instructional methods in school settings. Thus, there is a need to identify the mode of corrective feedback that is most effective in teaching English as a foreign language in Saudi Arabia so as to recommend it for use by teachers.

Thence, the aim of this research is to investigate the type of corrective feedback that is more beneficial for learners (negotiated feedback vs random feedback).

Objective of the study

The objectives of this study are:

  • To examine the effect of random feedback in the learning of EFL grammar.
  • To find out the types of feedback that are used in task-based grammar instructions in Saudi Arabia.
  • To examine the effects of negotiated feedback on the learning of EFL grammar.
  • To find out to what extend random feedback/negotiated feedback assist learners in learning English.
  • To explore the attitude of the learners on random feedback.
  • To explore the attitude of the learners on negotiated feedback.

Hypothesis of the study

The hypothesis of the present research can be formulated as follows: negotiated feedback can be regarded as the most effective technique for peer correcting in learning English as a foreign language in Saudi Arabia.

Research questions

  • Which type of feedback is mostly used in task-based grammar instructions in Saudi Arabia?
  • What is the significance of random feedback in task-based grammar instructions in Saudi Arabia?
  • What is the significance of negotiated feedback in task-based grammar instructions in Saudi Arabia?
  • Which feedback (negotiated vs random) benefits the learners in learning? And to what extend it helps learners?
  • What is the attitude of the learners towards negotiated feedback?
  • What is the attitude of the learners towards random feedback?

Methodology of the study

Context

The research will be conducted in Saudi Arabia. The students of one university will take part in the research. Thus, the results of the research will not be distorted by different quality of education (different learning techniques used, etc.). The participants are the learners of English as a foreign language.

Participants

The participants will be nine Saudi Arabian students aged between 18-22 years and one senior student. All the participants will be learners in their first year taking Oral English course at university level. Hence, none of the learners has a perfect command of English. The senior student will be a grade higher than the rest.

Methodology

The study will be based on the modified methodology used by Aljaafreh & Lantolf (1994). For the purpose of this study, two kinds of groups will be formed. One group will be the assisted group while the other group will be the unassisted group. The unassisted group will be composed of peers in the same class level while the assisted group will be composed of peers in the same class level but with one peer in an advanced class level, i.e. senior student. Each group will have five members. The study will take place in the natural setting of a classroom. The study will be carried out during the normal class time.

Both qualitative and quantitative research methods will be employed in this study. The research will use audio recordings and interviews as methods of data collection. The obtained data will then be cross analyzed so as to attain a clear understanding of the effect of random versus negotiated help in task-based grammar instruction which in turn will result in a concrete solution. Descriptive statistics will also be used to see students’ progress.

The unit under research

Learners in the assigned unit will be expected to practice written English by fulfilling a task on the topic “how to be successful”. During the class students will carry out cloze text exercises. During the class the students will focus on tenses.

Data Collection

Data collection process will follow all the ethical procedures. Each student will be expected to wear a microphone on the collar so as to record all the discussion that will take place in the group. All utterances will be recorded in group sessions as an utterance is an indicator of interpersonal sharing. According to Bley-Vroman (1986) “Speech is always cast in the form of an utterance belonging to a particular speaking subject and outside this form, it cannot exist”(p.1).

Thus, the students will need to complete the task in the beginning of the session and then discuss their variants in the following way: one student reads out several sentences and the rest students correct mistakes if any.

As far as the assisted group is concerned the senior student will be asked to join it and assist students in learning English. The student will receive prior training. Therefore, the senior student will be able to use the technique of negotiated feedback to assist the rest of the group. The student will be introduced to the rest of the group members and will be allowed to have informal talks with them. During the discussion the senior student will direct the learner’s attention to an error (Aljaafreh & Lantolf, 1994).

On the other hand, learners in the unassisted group will interact among themselves so as to complete the assigned English task. They are expected to take different roles in the group so as to accomplish the task. In this group there will be no instructor and all errors will be corrected in accordance with students’ discussion.

The classroom teacher in this study is expected to be experienced in teaching English as a foreign language. However, the teacher will not have any active role in the study and will not be expected to make any prior preparation in regard to conducting the study.

All the group sessions will be recorded. By the end of the study, it is expected that twenty group sessions will have been recorded: ten for the assisted peers and ten for the unassisted peers. One session will last one hour: 15 minutes to complete the tasks and 45 minutes for the discussion. As has been mentioned earlier the focus of task is the use of tenses. The learners will also be expected to answer guided interview questions at the end of each group session.

In the end of the research it is expected to obtain data concerning the types of feedback used during the discussion and their effectiveness; the role of instructor in the correction process; outcome of the presence of instructor; outcomes of peer correction only. The level of acquired knowledge will also be taken into account when analyzing results of the research. The participants’ attitude towards the used technique will also be analyzed.

The core objective of this research will be to examine corrective feedback in task-based grammar instruction while teaching English as a foreign language in Saudi Arabia so as to make recommendations on the same.

Conclusion

Peers work differently depending on the context of the group. The collected data will be used to determine whether learners benefit from group work with a senior peer or not. The social cultural theory is usually against strict control of teachers over learners. Instead, it embraces social constructivism. From this research, we shall see whether the interaction and collaboration of peer groups with the senior learner aids in studying English as a foreign language in Saudi Arabia as social interaction is considered as an opportunity to produce the target language.

According to the social cultural theory, learners should be aware of the processes involved in classroom management. Among these processes include the recognition of the more knowledgeable person as the instructor. If this is the case then, learners will be able to easily accommodate the senior student who will have certain training which will enable them to use techniques of corrective feedback. The senior student will be expected to give explanations, prompt the learners and ensure that the task will be distributed fairly among the learners. This research will help us find out whether both the learners and the senior students in Saudi Arabia have the perception of a classroom as an environment in which the most informed is the leader. All this will be a reflection of how learning and teaching processes are represented culturally.

Although both groups are expected to succeed in practicing English, it is also expected that they will achieve this in different ways because the components and designed structures for completing the tasks in the groups are expected to be different. As for the assisted peer group, they will have to contribute ideas spontaneously as they perform the language tasks while for the assisted group the task will be controlled by the senior student.

This research will be important for English teachers in Saudi Arabia who teach English as a foreign language as it will clearly demonstrate how both random and negotiated corrective feedback impact learners. From this research, English teachers in Saudi Arabia will be able to identify the most effective mode of corrective feedback in teaching and learning English as a foreign language.

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