The Role of Language Ideology in English Teaching

Abstract

The current paper dwells on the underlying factors that impact the perception of English language and its ideology by Saudi teachers and students. The researcher uses Saudi Arabia as an example due to its unique approach to cultural identification and the Saudi’s attitude towards linguistic behaviour. In order to identify these essential aspects, the researcher conducted a literature review and investigated the nature of Saudi language ideology by studying the variety of implicit educational and perceptive issues. This dissertation outlines and describes the major components of Saudi language ideology and determines the scope for future research.

The findings of the study suggested that there is a robust connection between language ideology and learning process. The researcher explored the issue of teaching English as a second language in Saudi Arabia and was able to find that cultural identity and language ideology were interconnected. One of the most important aspects that were investigated by the researcher was a set of issues connected to the effectiveness of English teaching practices. The author of the dissertation also explored the key limitations that are inherent in teaching English as a second language in Saudi Arabia and provided an in-depth explanation of each of the limitations.

Introduction

Language ideology is a particular notion related to the process of the conceptualisation of language speakers, languages, and conversational practices. It is not a secret that language ideologies are majorly affected by moral and political benefits (just like any other type of ideology), and cultural setting plays one of the key roles in the development of a language ideology. Exploring the concept of language ideologies means investigating the complex relationship between culture, politics, and language. Moreover, we should pay close attention to the individual interpretations of the role of the language within the sociocultural context and assess its connection to social values.

The interpretations mentioned above may also include the ways in which individuals perceive the language and the ways in which these individuals understand and speak it. Therefore, it is logical to assume that there are numerous language ideologies available to the public due to the fact that they are contingent on an array of personal factors. The views and perspectives are different, and they commonly ensure the variations in discursive practices.

The problem with any given language ideology consists in the fact that it cannot be objective. Thus, one of the limitations of a language ideology is that all possible views cannot be included. This partiality also influences the ways in which humans engage in social actions. It is also important to understand that despite the difference in the titles (the ideology of language, linguistic ideology, language ideology, and much more), the whole concept of this particular area of linguistics is described in the same way by all the authors who dwelled on this topic.

When discussing a language ideology, we should realise that anthropological approaches to the concept of language ideology also differ but manage to intersect with research projects even in other disciplines. Not to mention that anthropology is closely related to the critical discourse analysis. The latter is commonly associated with anthropology and the approaches that stand at the origin of linguistics. Therefore, the connections between linguistic ideologies and socio-political ideologies will become evident if we assess this subject as a bigger concept. Despite the productivity of language ideology discussions, there are numerous limitations which may transpire due to the interdisciplinary nature of this concept.

Language ideology researchers tend to struggle when it comes to analysing a language because of the unclear focus of this subject. Consequently, language ideology may be stuck between the social issues and the focus on the language discursive practices. To approach the issue of language ideology, we should perceive it on a bigger scale and connect the linguistic and ethnographic concepts to the previous research in language anthropology. In order to be able to do that, it is necessary to explore the linguistic field in Saudi Arabia, identify the most prevalent issues, and assess the role of language ideology in the process of English language teaching.

Research Problem

The research problem of the current study is the exploration of language ideology in English language teaching on the example of Saudi Arabia.

Research Questions

  • What are the key issues inherent in the existing English language teaching practices in Saudi Arabia?
  • Does language ideology influence the process of English as a second language teaching? In what ways?
  • Does the relationship between the language ideology and educational research exist?
  • What is the role of language ideology in English classrooms in Saudi Arabia?
  • Are there any issues related to linguistic behaviour that impact the process of learning English in Saudi Arabia?

Thesis Statement

English language teaching in Saudi Arabia is heavily influenced by the concepts of language ideology and these ideas have to be investigated further in order to identify the patterns in the process of teaching English as a second language.

Literature Review

English in Saudi Arabia

The work by Mahboob and Elyas discussed the history of teaching English in Saudi Arabia (129). This discussion involved a number of political aspects as well because the concept of learning cannot be perceived without the reference to the Saudi government. Moreover, the authors of the study investigated further the concept of English language in Saudi Arabia and discussed the issues that were inherent in the teaching practices.

They were able to debate on the topic of localisation of English language and its compliance with the local requirements and wishes (Mahboob and Elyas 129). Research on this subject allowed the authors of the study to analyse the textbooks utilised in Saudi Arabia and come to the conclusion that the grammatical norms and attribution to the rules of the English language were the same as in other countries. Regardless, the findings of the study suggested that there are certain differences in the grammar. These deviations were perceived as common due to the fact that they were inherent in other varieties of Englishes as well (Mahboob and Elyas 133).

The authors of the study were able to identify and discuss the peculiarities of Saudi English and its multimodal characteristics. They claimed that Saudi English was majorly influenced by local cultural values and its overall orientation could also be described as local. Mahboob and Elyas outlined the key concepts that related to the process of nativisation of English language in Saudi Arabia and discussed the sociocultural and religious values that influenced the beliefs regarding the English language and its acquisition (137).

In their study, Alrashidi and Phan dwelled on the process of English teaching and learning in Saudi Arabia. They conducted an in-depth review of the educational context and identified the main factors that subsidised to the development of teaching practices in the country (38). The paper was focused on the description of a variety of aspects that impacted the process of learning and teaching English in Saudi Arabia. These aspects included economic, social, political, and religious details characteristic of Saudi Arabia only. Moreover, Alrashidi and Phan analysed the key constituents of Saudi Arabia education system and briefly discussed the history of Saudi education (38).

They were focused on the role of government and its involvement in the processes of learning and teaching English. The authors of the study provided an extensive description of the organisation of education in Saudi Arabia (Alrashidi and Phan 38). In the end, the authors incorporated the data regarding public schools and universities located in Saudi Arabia and dwelled on the most prevalent issues experienced by Saudi students when learning English. Alrashidi and Phan (38) claimed that the process of English as a second language learning should be considered an integral part of Saudi Arabia educational practices.

Sociolinguistics

The discussion regarding language ideology surely affects the concept of sociolinguistics. The connection between these two aspects of teaching and learning a second language (in this case, it is English in Saudi Arabia) can be described by three major categories of investigative linguistic practice. The first category is interested in evaluating the correlations that exist between a variety of linguistic variables and takes into consideration such individual aspects as age, gender, and ethnicity (Eckert 90). Those macrosociological classes were constructed to draw lines between the different linguistic layers. The second category evaluates the local peculiarities of language learning by means of specific ethnographic approaches and connects them to a broader concept of English learning (Eckert 90).

Both these categories can be found to be impacted by the social groups to which they are linked. Eckert believed that it was reasonable to develop a novel concept that would take into consideration the third category related to sociolinguistics (90). The suppositions of the researcher were supported by the semiotic nature of the existing social system and the expected variation inherent in it. According to Eckert, this led to a situation where social concerns within any given community could be evaluated accurately (90).

Moreover, the author wanted to define the variables that were previously undeveloped and provide more contextual descriptions for language ideology. Ultimately, Eckert perceived those constructs as a way to apply the force of social change so as to develop the social meaning and novel language variations (93).

In his research project, Al-Seghayer discussed the importance of the development of an effective program intended for the preparation of English teachers (144). He concentrated the efforts on the identification of key factors that could subsidise to the successful development of such program. The first was the concurrent support and the second was the provision of professional opportunities. Al-Seghayer believed that skilled and well-informed English teachers should be developed in both pedagogical and linguistic terms in order to ensure their professional advancement (144).

Additionally, the author of this paper discussed the training courses that were available to the English teachers in Saudi Arabia and critically evaluated the evolution of the existing training programs. At the end of the paper, the researcher proposed a new model of an efficient teacher-development program intended to shape knowledgeable English as a foreign language teachers (Al-Seghayer 148). The program was evaluated against the key issues inherent in the process of English language teaching in Saudi Arabia to ensure its efficiency.

Linguistic Behaviour

Stabler conducted research regarding the fundamental constituents of linguistic structures and identified the key aspects that were connected to those constituents (317). The researcher also dwelled on the importance of grammar and claimed that it was the core of linguistic behaviour. This supposition is based on the fact that all the common linguistic structures are demarcated by grammar rules. Moreover, it is important to mention that the author of the study connected the aspect of linguistic behaviour to cognitive abilities of the learners. Stabler also mentioned that the computational models that take into account the peculiarity of linguistic structures have become much more complex since their first appearance in the 1970s (319).

The author of the research discussed a number of fundamental linguistic questions and outlined the process of development of linguistic structures over the time. He also evaluated the existing methods of computing those linguistic structures. Nonetheless, Stabler believed that it is crucial to conduct an in-depth revision of the connection between the grammatical concepts (and their structure) and cognitive abilities of the learners (320). In order to do that, the researcher proposed to construct a much more sophisticated system which would allow to assess the existing relationships and conduct effective empirical assessments.

In his research, Alshammari discussed the importance of reducing the presence of the mother tongue in the English as a foreign language classes (96). He dwelled on the controversy of this subject and the attitudes of teachers and learners in Saudi Arabia regarding this issue. The researcher also attempted to identify and evaluate the patterns of use of English language in several Saudi educational facilities (Alshammari 96). One of the key objectives of this study was to scrutinise the role of Arabic language in an English classroom and the purpose of an extended use of Arabic during the class. The researcher used a number of custom-designed questionnaires to collect the data (Alshammari 96).

The outcomes of the study showed that the use of the mother tongue was justified by the teachers as it was only utilised for elucidation purposes. He also found that cautious incorporation of Arabic in the English as a foreign language classrooms allowed the teachers to increase learners’ comprehension and improved the underlying processes of language learning.

Applied Linguistics

When it comes to the concept of applied linguistics, the majority of teachers (including English teachers) and other educational specialists converge in the opinion that this concept is one of the basic aspects of teaching (Khan 106). The times when it was enough to be knowledgeable in English language and literature in order to be an efficient teacher have sunk into oblivion. Nowadays, the educational process should be focused on applied linguistics (or merely linguistics) so as to help the teachers to prove their professionalism and efficiency (Khan 106). In Saudi Arabia, any given teacher of English should be able to perform an analysis of the most prevalent errors made by the students.

In perspective, this knowledge is necessary to develop a resourceful strategy intended to cover all the aspects of language (including the meaning, grammar, spelling, and many other aspects) (Khan 109). The author of this research attempted to explore the underlying processes of applied linguistics and their interconnection with the process of teaching and learning the English language.

Another study regarding the applied linguistics was conducted to comprehensively evaluate the mistakes that are typically made by Saudi females who study English as a foreign language. The research was focused on the article usage and applied the surface structure taxonomy to evaluate the findings of the study (Alhaysony 57). The researcher investigated the issue on the basis of the data collected from the University of Ha’il. So as to evaluate the knowledge of Saudi female students, Alhaysony proposed them to write a descriptive essay on the topic of culture and everyday life (58). One of the most thought-provoking findings of the study consisted in the fact that despite numerous other errors, the students tended to omit articles instead of substituting them with the wrong ones (Alhaysony 58).

Moreover, a detailed review of the results showed that the students omitted the majority of indefinite articles for an unknown reason. Contrarily, the least recurrent error was the omission of the indefinite article ‘an.’ It was quite expected that the majority of errors were connected to the use of the definite article ‘the.’ This finding supported the claim that definite articles were used more frequently among Arabic speakers when compared to the same sample of English speakers. The researcher highlighted the fact that English grammar may be considered to depend on its complex article system (Alhaysony 59).

It is a well-known fact that even the most knowledgeable learners may get stuck on the use of articles in a sentence as it is rather hard to acquire the knowledge regarding articles perfectly. Therefore, one of the conclusions made by the author of the article is that article errors should not be tolerated and treated more seriously by English as a foreign language teachers. What is even more fascinating, it was not only Arabic that interfered with the process of learning and generated numerous errors (Alhaysony 60).

Almost 60% of the errors occurred due to interlingua factors (meaning that the native language of the learners was involved) that may be justly considered one of the most common error categories. Approximately 40% of the errors were connected to article errors. The interference of the mother tongue impacts the process of learning and its excessive use during English as a second language classes may have a negative connotation (Alhaysony 64). This means that the differences between Arabic and English languages should be highlighted by the teachers so as to help the students to realise the difference between these two linguistic systems.

The Role of Language Ideology in English Teaching

In their research project, DordiNejad and Bakhshi discussed in-depth the perception of language ideology and its importance for the process of teaching English (2). The authors of the study defined the language ideology and discussed numerous areas related to it (including the background of this multifaceted concept and historical figures associated with linguistic ideology). Moreover, DordiNejad and Bakhshi dwelled on the teacher’s attitudes towards the learning process and the learner’s identity within English as a foreign language class (4).

The researchers connected the notion of language ideology and practical studies on the topics of vocabulary and grammar teaching. They also noted that phonological instructions have to be taken into consideration during the process of development of English as a second language lesson plans. According to DordiNejad and Bakhshi, the teaching process in multicultural classes should be supported by specific linguistic examples (7). The authors of the study also managed to evaluate the role of textbooks during the processes of language acquisition and development of language ideology. Overall, it was stated that English teacher’s perception of the idea of fostering language ideology is one of the key aspects that impact English learning.

In his research, Tollefson investigated the issue of defining the mediating language within English language teaching environment and indicated that there were two primary problems justifying the occurrence of that issue (26). First, he highlighted the variety of the classroom (including both teachers and students). Second, he emphasised the critical importance of the learners’ target language (Tollefson 26). It is pivotal to remember that both these problems are of a pedagogical nature.

Within the framework of this discussion, Tollefson addressed the questions regarding the learners’ didactic requirements and critically reviewed the existing policies for English teachers (28). On a bigger scale, the researcher was able to investigate the ideological orientation of English as a second language teaching practices and outline possible directions for the future research. The author of the article synthesised the existing information regarding the controversy associated with language ideology and teaching practices (Tollefson 30). Therefore, the author concludes by stating that learning environment and particular language groups depend on certain socioeconomic and political benefits.

The notion of language ideology was also thoroughly investigated by Wortham who provided the readers with its definition and dwelled on the productive ways in which linguistic anthropology influences the learning process (254). According to the researcher, there are two key dimensions of studying language ideology. The first dimension relates to the beliefs of the members of a learning group that are in line with the ideology of the whole group. For example, certain complex ideas may not be conveyed by means of a certain dialect due to the fact that the latter lacks grammar or any other pivotal constituent (Wortham 255).

The researcher also points out that it is important to continue research on the topic of language ideology because it has a major impact on nationalism, bilingualism, and language standardisation (Wortham 257).

Discussion

Based on the obtained information, a number of critical statements can be made. First, there is a necessity to explore the concept of language ideology further. This supposition is based on the fact that the process of English as a second language teaching in Saudi Arabia is majorly influenced by language ideology and personal perceptions of the students and their teachers. Second, the focus on the problem of language ideology in Saudi Arabia is supported by its close relationship with educational research.

On a bigger scale, it can be stated that the existing language ideology should be expanded in theoretical terms as it lacks scalability at the moment. Third, it was found that one of the most prevalent issues inherent in language ideologies all over the world exists in Saudi Arabia as well. This issue relates to the teaching practices and implicit expectations of the teachers and their students within the sociocultural and political environments. Fourth, the synthesis of the obtained information allows the author of this dissertation to conclude that our professional and personal (in some cases) experiences are directly impacted by the ways in which we view English language (on a bigger scale, this relates to any other foreign/ second language as well) and our personal beliefs regarding the conversational practices.

Regardless of the roles of teachers and students in Saudi Arabia foreign language classrooms, we can also claim that the identities of the latter tend not to comply with the attitudes of the former. The issue of language ideology is currently one of the most complex in Saudi Arabia, and it should be addressed immediately. The existing literature review also allows the author of the dissertation to draw a conclusion regarding the eminence of second language education in Saudi Arabia.

It is evident that an archetypal language ideology is critically influencing the process of English language teaching in the country. A thorough discussion on the concept of anthropology was conducted to identify the particular concepts of linguistics that are characteristic of Saudi Arabia. These concepts included the transformation of the teachers’ and students’ identities under the influence of interactional concepts and the impact of educational policies on the process of English as a second language teaching and student behaviour within any given teaching space. Regardless of the limitations inherent in the teaching practices of Saudi Arabia teachers, it is obvious that educational practices of this country are inextricably linked to semiotic concepts of language teaching and ritualisation of educational practices.

Also, the dissertation answers the question regarding the impact of error correction on the process of learning English as a second language and discusses the achievements of Saudi Arabia students and teachers in terms of approaching the English language.

The findings of this study support the idea that the existing learning environment is one of the critical barriers to the development of efficient foreign language teaching practices. Language ideology in Saudi Arabia should be studied further due to the presence of multiple factors that hold back the effectiveness of English teaching practices. The researcher was able to identify these factors as they included teachers’ and students’ beliefs, curriculum issues, and inefficient quality standards. First of all, the teaching-learning procedures are critically affected by beliefs about English as a foreign language.

This means that the students’ perceptions of English language majorly impact their attitude towards the English class. This particular factor contributes to the success of students as learners. In Saudi Arabia, English as a second language is contingent on a series of contextual factors which include a low level of enthusiasm and unwillingness to learn reflected in the students’ poor attitude towards the learning process. The problem, in this case, consists in the fact that students’ perceptions and experiences connected to the process of learning English as a second language usually do not coincide with their expectations.

The problem with curriculum, at the same time, revolves around the idea that the lack of involvement in different unrestrained activities adversely impacts the quality of teaching-learning procedures. English as a second language skills cannot be developed within the existing environment because the current curriculum makes it impossible to study all the necessary material in good time. Moreover, the teachers are limited in their resources. This adversely affects Saudi teachers and does not let the latter make the best use of appropriate teaching techniques. The findings of the study also showed that Saudi schools are exposed to the problem of the absence of necessary resources.

Yet, one of the biggest problems is connected to an inadequate usage of quality standards among the English as a second language teachers. This factor negatively influences the process of educational policy development as it does not let the teachers evaluate their qualification in an efficient manner and follow the worldwide standards of teaching. In Saudi Arabia, the problem consists in the fact that anyone with a Bachelor’s Degree in English language teaching may become an English teacher even if they do not have the necessary experience or capability to communicate the core concepts of the subject to their students.

Conclusion

The current paper provided an extensive discussion regarding the linguistic ideology and used Saudi Arabia as an example. The findings of this dissertation support the claim that the influence of cultural, political, religious, and social aspects on the process of English learning and teaching exists.

The author of the current dissertation was able to answer all the research questions posed at the beginning of the paper and associate the contemporary Saudi issues inherent in the process of English language teaching with the language ideology of Saudi teachers and students. The findings of the study suggest that there is a strong connection between Saudi language ideology and teachers’ and students’ attitudes towards the teaching-learning process. The researcher was able to identify that a number of factors such as student/ teacher beliefs, quality standards, and curriculum issues all adversely impacted the English as a second language learning process.

In case if Saudi Arabia does not approach the issues mentioned in this paper, the role of language ideology will be disregarded, and the English proficiency level will not change. The researcher may conclude that it is necessary to review the learning environment in all educational institutions and put more effort into the development of new teaching programs that will take into account the cultural identity of both teachers and students and emphasise the importance of language ideology. Therefore, it is critical to revise the existing curriculum so as to implement a new quality control scheme for English teachers. In perspective, it is expected to influence Saudi student proficiency and teacher competency in a positive way.

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