Teachers and Learners’ Attitudes towards the Use of Arabic in EFL Classrooms in Saudi Arabia


For so many years, the use of student’s native language was frowned up by many linguists and teachers. A new approach in teaching EFL emerged in the Saudi pedagogical context where teachers and learners have started to use Arabic in the classroom for several reasons.  This paper will define Attitudes towards languages in general,  will give examples of multiple different aspects of language attitudes,  will summarize the findings of studies done to emphasize the importance of using L1 in EFL classrooms for adults, in order to explore Saudi Arabian students’ attitudes towards using Arabic in EFL classrooms at schools in Saudi Arabia.

‘’Attitudes toward Language’’ Definition:

Language attitude is any behaviour, thought, opinion, any person can hold for or against any given language, accent, or dialect. It is the reaction – verbal, nonverbal, thought, or action – any of us perform when we hear any given or specific code (Ryan, 1982). It is affected by social status, economic status, or certain circumstances. Such as, likeability, colonialism or media or cultural influence.

Examples of Attitudes Towards Languages:

Educational Status:

Arabic speakers realise well that their language has a diglossic feature of High and Low variety in Arabic. A standardized and classical version of Arabic – being High – is used in formal situations, media, literature and schooling while the vernacular version of Arabic – being Low – with all its different dialects are used for everyday communication among people. Individuals who use vocabulary words and pronunciation from the High variety into their everyday life are looked at to be more and well educated and are thought of being highly successful. It is of course all because of the religious status attached to the High variety of Arabic (Wardhaugh, 2010).


Colonialism around the world caused both a negative and a positive attitude towards languages of the invaders. In some parts of the world, it is more prestigious to use and learn the language of the Colonials. In other parts, it is frowned upon and humiliating to communicate in the invader’s tongue (Walters, 2007).

A positive attitude towards French Language is of the Lebanese who were mandated by the French in the 1920s. Fatima Essielli writes in study English in Lebanon: Implications for national identity and language policy that Lebanese in general have a positive attitude about the use of French in their country along with other languages beside Arabic; ‘’The Lebanese attitudes toward using foreign languages in general and English in particular are highly favorable’’ (Essielle, 2011).

On the other hand, there is a negative attitude towards English in some countries because of the British Invasion. In the a researched paper entitled The Spread of English and its Appropriation, Daniel Spichtinger claims that in some Asian countries the English-educated Asians are portrayed as westernised Asians without appreciation to the Asian values and heritage. (Spichtinger, 2003).


TV series, commercials, video gaming, fashion and movies shape our perspective toward the world and people. Media stereotype nations and countries and sometimes individuals. A huge part is portraying how these people utter their speech. We learned that Arabs sound angry when they speak, German sounds like someone vomiting, BBC British English is educated, Southern American English is ignorant and slow. These are all attitude towards languages and they shape our views to certain people based on how they sound and what language they speak (Duck, Lalonde, & Weiss, 2003).

For example, when a Norwegian asked what he thinks of Danish, he said ‘’Danish is not a language, but a throat disease’’ (Holmes 2013).

To conclude this section, the attitude towards English Language in Saudi Arabia is generally positive. In a study done by Tamimi and Shuib, the findings indicated that most students believe that they would have better opportunities and success if they mastered English and that was their motivation to learn English as a second language (Tamimi & Shuib, 2009). I believe the attitude is acquired by multiple aspects of social and economical status and media as well.

The importance of facilitating L1 in Foreign Language classes:

Regardless of the positivity or negativity of the attitude adult students might have towards their foreign language acquisition, the use of the mother tongue in the process of teaching a foreign language can hinder the progress of acquisition if teachers used it as the main tool of communication in class. However, facilitating students’ first language and using it in a beneficial way can help them acquire their L2  faster through code switching and comparison between their L1 & L2, while the targeted language must remain to be the primary mean of communication in class (Meyer, 2008).

In a study done by Salah & Farrah (2012), under the title Examining the Use of Arabic in English Classes, in a school to observe the use of Arabic in classroom, and to investigate the reasons behind the use indicated that teachers switch to Arabic when they want to clarify certain terminologies or scientific concepts, or when they wanted to give and clarify instructions. The table below – taken from Salah’s study – shows the results of Salah’s method of class observation. (Farrah & Salah, 2012). This study concluded that facilitating L1 in classes can be somewhat helpful with the right amount of Arabic used, and English to be the main language of communication (Farrah & Salah, 2012).

In another study by Alnofai (2010), under the title The Attitudes of Teachers and Students Towards Using Arabic in EFL Classrooms in Saudi Public Schools, she states ‘’The results revealed that the attitudes of the teachers and the students about using Arabic were generally positive”. In her study, she selected an intermediate school in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Her sample consisted of a class of 30 Saudi students and 3 teachers. The class was taught by one teacher, but she selected two more for a better perspective and judgment. Her method of study consisted of a questionnaire, an interview and observation. Her findings revealed that both teachers and students systematically used Arabic for a number of reasons. For example, Students felt less stressful when they were given exam instruction in Arabic. They claimed they learned better when their teachers or peers explained grammar to them in Arabic while contrasting both languages’ grammar. Teachers stated that they use Arabic more often with underachieving students. However, they did not allow students to communicate that often in Arabic or ask questions in Arabic. They seemed to realise that they are almost the only source of English  students have access to (Alnofai, 2010). The table below taken from Alnofai study reveals data of some part of the method used in her study (The Questionnare) which proves what mentioned before (Alnofai, 2010). 

The last study discussed is a study done by Magid and Mugaddam (2013), under the title Code Switching as an Interactive Tool in ESL Classrooms. In their study, Magid and Mugaddam used three instruments to collect data; a questionnaire, a tape-recording and a interviews. They selected three groups Basic Level, Secondary Schools and Tertiary Level. They were concerned with information such as: the level of confidence and comfort students feel with using L1 in L2 classes, teachers’ use of L1 to maintain class control, and the effectiveness in explaining complex grammar of L2 using L1. The tables in the study indicated a high percentage of agreeing to use Arabic to explain grammar or maintaining control and discipline by teachers. In addition to multiple findings, students felt more confident when they code switch to explain their ideas and communicate their opinions in Arabic when they lacked the L2 competence. An example of one of the many graphs in the study mentioned is attached below. It explained the significance of translation vocabulary items of L2 to L1 in order to understand texts and lessons (Magid & Mugaddam, 2013).

Conclusion; Recommendations:

After presenting all data above, this paper concludes that overall, students and teachers have positive attitude towards using their native language – Arabic – in their EFL classes. It is common sense that the use of the native language is inevitable among people who share the same native language. Therefore, this phenomena should be facilitated to help the ESL/EFL pedagogical process. For instance, it was shown through the previous studies discussed that both teachers and students prefer explaining complex grammar through comparing the syntax of both languages and facilitating differences and similarities in the learning process. Both Teachers and students agreed that instructing in Arabic help lower the anxiety level among students during exams. The multiple studies revealed that praising and encouraging done in Arabic were more effective and had a better impact for the reason that it is more authentic and more comprehensible. However, the excessive use of L1 in L2 classes can hinder the learning process, especially in higher levels, or if it is done most of the time with lower levels. Krashen believes Comprehensible language can lead to achieving better competence through implicit indirect input of L2 (Alnofai, 2010).

From a personal experience with the Education system in Saudi Arabia, and being taught EFL in Saudi Arabian context, it was rare to see a beneficial use of using Arabic in English Language classes. It was done excessively and did not follow a certain methodology. My opinion that it was applied to get students pass their exams and move on to the next grade. For the reason that, I have not seen any progress in the performance of many of my friends and colleagues who were studying in the same classrooms.

Neglecting and banning the use of L1 in Second Language Acquisition is a topic that has been debatable throughout history starting with Grammar-Translation Method in the 16th century. Europeans banned it, then came the Reform Movement then the contemporary the 19th through the 21st with all the different school of thoughts (Alnofai, 2010). After all, what has been studied so far is just theories that has not yet been proven as facts. It is clearly that the use of L1 in L2 classes depends on the environment with all its cultural aspects, level of students, purpose of learning and teaching methods that we apply what’s best for a classroom as teachers. It is known that the job of a teacher is to determine what  fits their classrooms. The issue is multifaceted, and the fact that there are a handful of Saudi Arabian teachers and students that disagreed with using L1 in the classroom makes it a fact that the use of Arabic in EFL classes does not appeal to everyone. I suggest further research in the area, using more developed and detailed instruments; like interview questions and questionnaires. I recommend testing a wider range to get more accurate results among different schools and institutes in Saudi Arabia. It definitely can be expand to richen a new approach of teaching ESL/EFL. After all, we do not expect for theories in ESL/EFL field to remain the same.     


Alnofai, H. (2010). THE ATTITUDES OF TEACHERS AND STUDENTS TOWARDS USING ARABIC IN EFL CLASSROOMS IN SAUDI PUBLIC SCHOOLS. Novitas ROYAL,4(1), 64-95. Retrieved April 18, 2014, from www.novitasroyal.org/Vol_4_1/al-nofaie.pdf‎ 

Altamimi, A., & Shuib, M. (2009). Motivation And Attitudes Towards Learning English: A Study Of Petroleum Engineering Undergraduates At Hadhramout University Of Sciences And Technology. GEMA Online Journal of Language Studies, 9(2), 5.

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Magid, M. E., & Mugaddam, A. H. (2013). Code Switching as an Interactive Tool in ESL Classrooms. English Linguistics Research, 2(2), 31-34. Retrieved April 10, 2014, from http://dx.doi.org/10.5430/elr.v2n2p31

Ryan, Giles. (1982) . Attitudes towards Language Variation. Edward Arnold. London.

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Schweers Jr., C. W. (1999). Using L1 in the L2 Classroom. English Teaching Forum,37(2), 6-13. Retrieved April 18, 2014, from http://dosfan.lib.uic.edu/usia/E-USIA/forum/acrobat/P6.pdf

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Walters, A. R. (2007). The English Language and Nigerian Prose Fiction. The English Language and Nigerian Prose Fiction. Retrieved May 7, 2014, from http://homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~cpercy/courses/eng6365-walters.htm

Wardhaugh, R. (2010). An introduction to sociolinguistics (6th ed.). Chichester, West Sussex, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell

Yough, M., & Fang, M. (2010). Keeping Native Languages in ESL Class: Accounting for the Role Beliefs Play Toward Mastery.Mid-Western Educational Researcher,23(2), 27-32. Retrieved April 5, 2014, from https://www.academia.edu/381709/Keeping_

Linah Sofi

🇺🇸 i teach | i paint | i blog - أُعَلِّم | أَرسم | أُدَوُّن 🇸🇦

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