Female Arab Learners’ English Speaking Problems


The English language has increasingly become important throughout the world today particularly in the Arab world. This is why educators and parents in Saudi Arabia have become concerned about their children’s limited level in English especially in oral communication. English is a major problem in Saudi especially among the female English major graduate who have developed limited oral communication skills and that is why educators are looking for a solution to this problem.

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Generally, the Saudi English major graduates are only good at writing but are weal when it comes to oral skills; they have limited communication strategies such as paraphrasing and literal translation. English is an international language of commerce, science, communication, tourism and technology and that is why it is crucial that a solution is found to help the Saudi students to develop better oral skills that can help them in the outside world (Tarone 2002). The problem of oral communication experienced by English major graduates in the Arab world is because of a lack of direct contact with communities that speak English.

The native language in Saudi Arabia is Arabic and this means that the English language is foreign to them. However, despite the cause of the problem, a solution must be found that will enable students in the Arab world to develop good oral communication skills. Teaching communication strategies in schools is one way that Arab students can develop good oral communication skills. This paper presents reasons why Arab learners encounter communication problems in English and it also presents solutions to the problems in regards to the importance of developing strategic competence that will lead to language learning among the Arab learners.

Reasons why Saudi Female English major graduates have limited oral communication

Arab students encounter problems in their English study because of a lack of direct contact with English speaking communities. Despite that many Saudi Arabians have regular contact with immigrant neighbors, tourists and relatives abroad who speak English, only a few people are in direct contact with these kinds of people. This means that the English language is foreign to Arab students.

Actually it is the third language being studied in school after Arabic and Hebrew which is linguistically related to Arabic because it has similar morphology and phonology with many cognate words. Few adults in the Arab community know English and there are few English native/ speaking teachers. These conditions make it hard for students in Saudi Arabia to know English because there is a lack of exposure to English. The students are confined within a community whereby the people they can communicate with are Arabs who speak Arabic.

The only place that Saudi Arabian students practice to speak English is in the classroom setting where their instructors are Arabic native speakers (Tarone 2002). There are many outcries about the continuous deterioration of English standards and proficiency of students among university instructors who are mainly concerned with English language teaching. This is why you find that most Saudi English major students commit serious lexical errors when they are communicating in English. Most Arabs live in rural communities and villages. The students have little opportunity to get to learn English through interaction.

Lack of relevant information in graduate schools when students join the universities to major in the English language is also another reason why students have poor oral communication skills. The graduate schools or the universities lack the target language environment and therefore the learners lack the motivation to develop better communication skills (Tarone 2002). There is also a lack of fundamental curriculum standards designed to test students on oral communication skills and productive skills.

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Inadequate learning/teaching strategies at the university levels based on the fact that the students had a poor English background in high schools have also contributed to the poor communication skills among female English major graduate students. When a number of Arab universities were examined especially the English departments, they found that the curricula of the departments were heavily dominated by components of literature (Suleiman 1983). This means that the instructors/ lecturers did not major in teaching the student’s communication strategies and that is why they had poor communication skills. The students, therefore, lack the necessary vocabulary that is authentic in communicative situations.

Due to lack of knowledge, the students in Saudi Arabia universities have continued to make basic errors in pronunciation, syntax and morphology. When dealing with academic topics most students are not able to convey themselves proficiently in English. These difficulties arise from the fact that the students are not able to appropriately and correctly use English in and out of the classroom when required. The students fail to communicate well in English due to a lack of competence. Most students mainly want to obtain communicative goals when using the English language.

They do not use English for self-expression outside the classroom setting despite the fact that they major in the English language. Most Arab students including those in Saudi Arabia always find it hard to get jobs; most business managers or principals of private schools normally feel embarrassed to hire them because most of them do not know how to express themselves in English. This means that if something is not done concerning the communication skills of students in the Arabic world, then most of them will be left out in the international job market. The curriculum in schools and universities in Saudi Arabia should be balanced to promote English and improve communication skills among the students (Suleiman 1983). In fact, all courses at the university should be taught in English except the Arabic languages. This will help improve the major linguistic ability in students in turn it will improve their competence in communication.

The solution to the problems

Speaking is the most important language skill among the four language skills which include writing, speaking, listening and reading. Speaking is one of the major ways in which people communicate. It involves the construction of meaningful words that involves processing, producing and receiving information. Speaking English requires more than just producing specific points such as pronunciation, vocabulary or grammar, it requires an understanding of why, when and in what ways to produce language. This is what is termed as sociolinguistic competence.

Teaching communication strategies can help develop competence strategy among Saudi Arabian female students who major in the English language. It will also raise train or raise learners’ consciousness since communication strategies will solve communication problems that they encounter during the process of communication (Willems 2005). Strategic competence will be achieved if communication strategies are taught in universities and schools in Saudi Arabia. The students will be able to use different strategies like circumlocution, lexical approximation, paraphrase, mime and literal translation (Suleiman 1983). Strategic competence includes the ability to effectively select the means of performing acts of communication.

The degree of effectiveness or success is what is used to gauge strategic competence. A student should be able to effectively interpret transmitted information. Curriculum designers have set new standards that are extremely flexible and offer teachers and school the freedom to choose appropriate methodology in teaching communication strategies. It has been suggested that a new curriculum should be taught according to different domains rather than skills. Social interaction, appreciation, presentation and information access are four domains that were suggested (Tarone 2002).

Social interaction enables students to effectively interact in English both orally and in writing with people from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Students should use complex syntactic structures and rich vocabulary while communicating. The human brain is well programmed to learn the language faster through speech and sound and that is why it is important to teach speaking skills (Willems 2005).

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Instructors should encourage their students to express themselves in English and they should also encourage individual answers to be able to identify those students with difficulties in oral communication. Instructors should take into account the use of English fluency and clarity each time a student gives out an answer. Actually, in the Instructors guide books, there are no specific speaking techniques noted down; this means that it their role to make sure that students learn speaking skills in their own appropriate way and methods.

In conclusion, Arab learner’s especially Saudi female English major students face many major problems in language skills mainly oral communication skills. Lack of direct contact with English speaking communities and lack of relevant information in graduate schools are some of the reasons why Arab students lack oral communication skills. However, communication strategies have been formulated by teachers to help solve the oral communication problem among Saudi female English major students. The students have been asked by teachers to perform different tasks that require them to put in use communication skills. Learners and teachers should bear in mind that successful learning of the English language does not only entails developing semantic, sociolinguistic and grammatical competence but strategic competence which involves communication strategy used to successfully transmit comprehensible information.


Suleiman, S. (1983) Teaching English to Arab students at the university level. Jordan: Jordan University Press.

Tarone, G. (2002). Focus on Language Learner. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Willems, G. (2005). Communication strategies and their significance in foreign language teaching System. London: Strategies in Interlanguage Communication.

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