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Difficulties Facing Foreign English Teachers in ELI


At present, one of the detriments of teaching vocabulary in the English Learning Institutions (ELI) is the emergence of mixed-ability classes. As noted by Ansari (2013), a mixed-ability classroom environment is made up of different groups of learners with different learning interests, skills, and abilities. Over the years, EFL teachers have come to accept challenges that impede their ability to teach in such a classroom environment. According to Hinkel (2016), instructional delivery in a mixed-ability learning environment is a genuine issue that most of the foreign teachers face in teaching English vocabulary or any other language-based lesson. In order to go around potential challenges in a mixed-ability class, Patel and Vyas (2015) suggest that teachers should give attention to the objectives and instruction delivery modes to ensure that there is a balance in the variables such as cultural dynamics, English as a foreign language (EFL) acquisition challenges, and English as a second language (ESL) learning challenges.

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For instance, it would be easier to teach English vocabulary in a mixed-ability classroom consisting of ESL than EFL students (Jiang, 2016). Despite the fact that English language acquisition skills are unique to each learner, in terms of pace and variation in linguistic knowledge, there is an urgent need on the side of the instructor(s) to integrate appropriate instruction delivery methods that would ensure that each learner is proactively engaged. This is necessary since instructors are often caught in the dilemma of how and when to give attention to each learner (Patel & Vyas, 2015). For instance, a tutor will be in an impasse of whether to concentrate on advanced learners or the weaker learners. Such converses would disadvantage a section of the learners in terms of the ability to fully participate. Therefore, it is important to explore the actual challenges that foreign English teachers face in teaching vocabulary in the ELIs. Specifically, the study will review these challenges in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s classroom environment. This research study is necessary for creating potential counteractive measures or policies to ensure that the identified challenges do not affect the learning outcome or objectives.

Research Background

A mixed-ability classroom environment refers to learning institutions or classes consisting of students with an array of learning and achievement levels. Learners in such classes have different learning weaknesses, strengths, and approaches. English Learning Institutions (ELIs) are special learning environments that are constituted to offer English language learning services to different groups of learners. These institutions are established to assist the ESL and EFL students in their quest to acquire English vocabulary skills. Several past studies on challenges facing teachers in teaching vocabulary in the ELIs have been carried out by different researchers. For instance, Ansari (2013) established that mixed-ability classroom environment is more than just differences in learning competencies, but also learning style and preferences. This means that a mixed-ability class summarizes variations that learners have in terms of fluency, receptive, grammatical knowledge, and accuracy skills. The mixed-ability class also reveals the size of the vocabulary of each learner and his or her productive skills.

The aspects of self-discipline, attitude, and motivation vary from one learner to another in the ELIs or any other vocabulary classroom (Doman, 2014). This is an impediment for instructors in effectively planning for lessons that are created on the principle of inclusivity and proactive participation. Specifically, this challenge is very distinct from English language instructors who do not have the necessary teaching methods and skills to handle a mixed-ability class (Ansari, 2013). According to Al-Subaiei (2017), most of the English learning institutions have endeavored to address the above challenge through the creation of mixed-ability classes for different learning levels, ages, and current language skills. However, such classes remain multi-leveled because individual vocabulary learning abilities are ignored. Several studies have indicated that random grouping may not internalize the skill attainment and ability levels for each learner (Kamal, 2012). As a result, vocabulary instructors may face many challenges in trying to offer similar and equal learning opportunities to different categories of students.

Vocabulary instructors in the ELIs are also faced with the challenge of inappropriate or inadequate strategies and training programs that are necessary for preparing them to handle different situations in the mixed-ability classes. According to Goldratt and Cox (2016), limited problem handling strategies are detrimental to the outcome of a lesson, especially when it is disjoint between the instructor training module and implementation approaches. In order to create a successful instruction delivery approach, there is a need to ensure that the strategies and training programs are ideal in handling situations that might arise in a multicultural classroom environment (Carnie, 2013). Factually, most vocabulary instructors in the ELIs do not have the necessary planning and professional development capacities, which enables a teacher to remain consistent in proactive instructional delivery (Green, 2014). This means that vocabulary instructors in the ELIs should be subjected to continuous and appropriate training on the best approaches to applying in managing learning inadequacies among diverse learners.

Another challenge facing vocabulary instructors is the size of a class. In the ELIs, many classes have crowded classrooms consisting of a large number of learners (Jiang, 2016). In such a situation, the vocabulary instructors are still expected to effectively deliver a lesson and control the learners. According to Inman, Iceberg, and McKeel (2014), the fact that an instructor has the mandate of managing the needs of every learner has made the process tedious and unsustainable. This makes it very challenging to effectively deliver on a lesson plan since each learner in the ELIs has a unique understanding level. For instance, explaining a vocabulary concept in such classes would be very demanding since the high-ability learner would feel disengaged or bored when the clarification is repeated several for the low and moderate-ability students (Hinkel, 2016).

In teaching the English language in the ELIs, this challenge becomes very open since the instructors are supposed to provide guidance to each learner according to his or her pace, irrespective of the ability variances (Patel & Vyas, 2015). When an instructor fails to address the needs of each learner, according to his or her speed, there is a likelihood of high-ability learners remaining active as the low-ability learners become more passive (Carrasquillo, 2013). Unfortunately, this is a nightmare for any vocabulary teacher since many moderate and low-ability learners will be left behind. In such a scenario, a vocabulary instructor may opt for average methods of teaching in trying to create a healthy learning environment. However, the instructor may not succeed since every learner has a unique learning ability or need.

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Several measures have been put forward in different past studies on the best strategies for handling challenges the vocabulary teachers face in the ELIs. The measures are designed to enable instructors to cope with the impediments they face in instructional delivery. For instance, differentiation is suggested by Pedersen and Kronborg (2014) as making the classroom dynamic and learner-oriented. Reflectively, this strategy is necessary because most instruction delivery strategies are recurring. For instance, a vocabulary instructor may create different sub-groupings in a classroom to integrate a series of instruction delivery methods that are student-centered to ensure that there is a general improvement in the study and level of participation in each learning method that is preferred (Penda, Bijelic, & Babic, 2017).

The main instructional delivery methods that are student-centered include dramatization, an in-class activity, homework, and game competition (Pedersen & Kronborg, 2014). These strategies should be integrated into other delivery frameworks such as self-access, contingency plan, open-ended activity, and personalized tasks among others. Thus, good management of each activity in the classroom and effective presentation would make the above strategies successful in addressing the challenges of teaching vocabulary in an ELI setting (Carrasquillo, 2013). In addition, the instructors should be proactive and consistent in acquiring new skills for managing different situations and demands in the dynamic mixed-ability language classes.

Despite the existence of many research studies on the difficulties facing foreign English teachers in teaching vocabulary in the English Learning Institutions (ELIs), none of the case studies have been carried out to reveal the actual phenomena within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). The proposed research will attempt to fill this research gap from the background research by examining the difficulties that foreign English teachers face that are unique to the KSA.

Research Questions

Since the study is dynamic and result-oriented, the following research questions were generated to answer the research objective.

  1. What are the difficulties faced by foreign English teachers in teaching vocabulary in the ELIs within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?
  2. How do the foreign English teachers deal with the difficulties they face in teaching vocabulary?
  3. Do the years of teaching experience influence the ease of dealing with these difficulties?

Research Methodology

Research Design

The research was carried out through a primary study survey involving four foreign English teachers handling different levels of English proficiency classes. The researcher created an interview form with open-ended questions that were administered to the respondents through a direct phone interview. In order to ensure that the question form framework is valid, the researcher followed the suggestions on the standards accepted by scientists such as relevancy, summary, and proper framing of the questions (Al-Shammakhi & Al-Humaidi, 2015). During data collection, the researcher approached the respondents and carried out a 10-minute phone interview to cover each question. The interview form was designed to capture as much information as possible on the difficulties faced in teaching vocabulary, strategies to handle these challenges, years of experience of each respondent, and proficiency levels the instructors have handled. Before carrying out the actual research, the questions were pre-tested for relevance and applicability. The final interview questions covered four important categories such as the aspect of motivation, learning, classroom management, and lesson delivery materials.

Research Procedure and Ethics

The researcher applied for approval from the case study ELI before commencing on the actual interviews. The researcher attached a copy of the consent form informing the respondents and the ELI on the scope, objective, and regulations of participating in the study.

Analysis of Data

The collected data were coded for ease of interpretation using the NVIVO software. In addition, cross-tabulation was used to aid in data summary and interpretation.

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What are the difficulties faced by foreign English teachers in teaching vocabulary in the ELIs within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?

The first primary item related to vocabulary teaching in the phone interview was constructed to quantify the actual challenges that each foreign English instructor faced in teaching vocabulary at the ELI. The question covered lesson delivery materials, motivation in the classroom, learning process, and instruction delivery levels. In practicality, the first question delved on the challenges within the actual classroom environment that relate to the teaching methods of each instructor and how the learner reacted. Apparently, the results examined the mean and standard deviation (SD) as related to lesson delivery materials, motivation in the classroom, learning process, and instruction delivery levels (as captured in table 1) as summarized below.

Table 1: Summary of the SD and the mean of the ELI instructor challenges. (Source: Self-generated).

Variable Category Mean of Instructors Standard deviation
Motivation in the classroom 2.24 0.31
Instruction delivery method 2.26 0.56
Instruction delivery levels 2.13 0.59
Learning process 2.17 0.53
Summation 2.18 0.49

Table 1 above indicates that foreign English language instructors face challenges in the ELIs. The overall mean of the variables is at 2.18 against a total value of five. Apparently, the instruction delivery method is the most common challenge that the foreign English tutors face as indicated in the mean score of 2.26. This is followed by learner motivation (2.24), learning process (2.17), and instruction delivery levels (2.13). These results indicate that the instructional delivery method and learner motivation challenges are frequently experienced by foreign teachers.

Apparently, foreign English teachers, who teach vocabulary at ELI in KSA, have or continue to experience a series of challenges in the classroom environment. These results conform to the previous case studies that have summarised the difficulties faced by tutors of ELI in other regions. Since foreign English teachers in the ELI struggle to fulfill the abilities of each learner, there is variance in the level of discipline, motivation, and attitude of the students. Thus, the instructors face challenges in the creation of a proactive lesson plan that can address the varying needs without leaving any learner behind. The inability to create an ideal lesson delivery plan can be associated with a limited set of skills to teach different levels of students in the ELIs. However, subjecting the foreign English teachers to continuous training may substantially lower some of these challenges (Wieler, 2012).

How do the foreign English teachers deal with the difficulties they face in teaching vocabulary?

The second question was created to review the current classroom management strategies that the foreign English teachers use to address or reduce the effect of the challenges when teaching vocabulary in the ELIs. The element of classroom management was broadened to give each respondent an opportunity to provide answers that dwell on different materials in instruction delivery and methods of lesson plan execution. As captured in table 2, the collected data were summarised and tabulated to address this aspect of the study.

Table 2: Summary of the SD and mean of the strategies for addressing challenges experienced by the ELI instructors. (Source: Self-generated).

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Variable Category Mean of Instructors Standard deviation
Motivation in the classroom 3.69 0.37
Instruction delivery method 3.21 0.72
Instruction delivery levels 3.14 0.64
Learning process 3.16 0.59
Summation 3.34 0.57

The result from table 2 above is a clear indication that the foreign English tutors tend to use learner motivational strategies more often (mean of 3.69) in addressing classroom challenges. This strategy is followed by the instruction delivery method, learning process, and instruction levels as indicated by their mean scores of 3.21, 3.16, and 3.14, respectively. Apparently, the above findings indicate that continuous instructor training is necessary to ensure that the teachers are equipped with the necessary skills for proficiency in the lesson plan delivery. Specifically, the training programs should be modeled around the needs of each learner to ensure that they remain relevant, proactive, and practical in directly engaging the student. In addition, the training strategy should concentrate more on instructional delivery methods and learner motivation.

Do the years of teaching experience influence the ease of dealing with these difficulties?

The third research question was designed to provide an impetus to a possible link between the years of experience as an ELI teacher and the ability to identify the challenges and solve them proactively. Specifically, the question aimed at revealing the most appropriate strategies that an experienced foreign English language teacher may roll out in addressing the different challenges during the process of lesson planning and actual execution (Hearst, 2012). As captured in table 3, the findings summarised the years of experience, number of respondents, standard deviation, and mean.

Table 3: Summary of the years of experience and ability to solve different challenges. (Source: Self-generated).

Variable Category Years of experience Number of respondents Mean Standard deviation
Motivation in the classroom 0-5 1 1.34 0.32
5-10 2 1.35 0.31
10+ 1 1.37 0.27
Instruction delivery method 0-5 1 1.28 0.61
5-10 2 2.16 0.46
10+ 1 2.21 0.39
Instruction delivery levels 0-5 1 3.16 0.57
5-10 2 2.16 0.46
10+ 1 2.14 0.58
Learning process 0-5 1 3.76 0.45
5-10 2 2.16 0.16
10+ 1 2.14 0.45

The results summarised in table 3 above is a clear indication that there is no relationship between the ability to solve difficulties experienced by the foreign English tutors and years of experience as a teacher. In all instances, the data gathered suggested that the correlation between the years of practice and problem-solving is insignificant. This is an indication that the success of different classroom management strategies in place is not related to the number of years a teacher has spent teaching vocabulary. This means that the foreign English instructors teaching vocabulary in the ELI would reap maximum benefits when the differentiation method is used in lesson planning and delivery to learners (Heinat, 2013). As a result, the teachers will be in a position to select the most effective teaching method that works best in different classroom environments.


Apparently, the findings of the study have indicated that mixed-ability learners exist in different classroom environment settings. The mixed-ability classrooms such as in the English Learning Institutions (ELIs) have presented vocabulary teachers with an array of challenges, which make the process of lesson planning and actual execution ineffective. The literature review has indicated that tutors in such environments may also develop a feeling of disconnect with the learner when their response is passive or negative.

For instance, a lack of self-discipline in the class may become an impediment to free and proactive interaction between an instructor and the learners. This study involved four foreign English teachers who are currently teaching vocabulary in ELIs in KSA. The feedback of each instructor was obtained through direct phone interviews. The questions in the interview form covered the aspects of lesson delivery materials, instruction delivery levels, learning process, and motivation in the classroom. The results suggested that the frequency of challenges was high and cannot be ignored. The main difficulties identified as affecting the foreign English ELI instructors within the KSA are the inability to use effective lesson delivery materials, motivation in the classroom, learning process, and instruction delivery levels.

From the findings, it is apparent that the use of appropriate lesson delivery methods and student motivation are the most common difficulties faced by foreign ELI instructors. Interestingly, the results suggested the inexistence of any significant relationship between the years of experience in teaching at ELI and the ability to identify or solve the classroom difficulties. In order to address the challenges highlighted in the study, there is a need for continuous training of the teacher besides the differentiation of the various teaching methods to conform to the dynamics in each classroom environment. For instance, within the KSA’s ELIs, the lesson delivery methods should be modified to fit within every level of vocabulary skills. It would be prudent to create a lesson plan delivery mode that conforms to different English language knowledge levels.


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