Saudi Arabian

As future English as a Second Language teachers, we believe in the importance of meaningful teaching, which according to Freire is an exchange between the teacher and the students which, in his words “is a relationship that involves the questions of teaching, of the knowing-teaching-learning process, of authority, of freedom, of reading, of writing, of the virtues of the educator, and the cultural identity of the learners and the respect we must pay to it” (Freire, 2005, p.97). We think that we should keep into account our students’ backgrounds in order to include them in our lessons, enriching the educational process for all the students that are part of it. Just like Nieto states “How students benefit from schooling or not is influenced by many things including the particular individual personalities of students and the values of the cultural context in which they have been raised” (Nieto, 2005,  p. 10). For these reasons, we will dedicate the following section to explain some of the main aspects of the history of Saudi Arabia, including the reasons that motivate its members to come to the United States.

To begin with, we will explain a little bit of the history of the country and its political organization. Saudi Arabia’s history is about three hundred years old, but we would like to focus on the period of unification that took place in 1932 when King Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman Al Saud brought the Saudi family back from exile declaring the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia the country of Islam. All the following kings have been descendents of King Abdulaziz who are very loved and respected. In terms of Saudi Arabia’s laws, they are based on the sacred Muslim book, the Koran, which is the constitution, and on the Sharia, that represents the earthly laws and deals with more specific situations.

Another very important point to mention is the fact that Saudi Arabia is the main oil exporter of the world, which was discovered in 1932, with the further creation of the Arabian American Oil Company. This is a key point in the Saudi Arabian history, since sets the beginning of their relations with the United States. In this sense, both countries had a close relationship, with a few political differences. However, their relations became a little distant after the World Trade Center attack in September 11, 2000. From that point on, repeated violent actions have been carried out by some extremist Islamic groups. Nevertheless, we believe in the importance of destroying the stereotypes and the possible single story many people in America have about Saudi Arabian people.

We would like to share some helpful online resources for further information:

We know that the world is becoming more and more globalized, and what limited us and separated us, is no longer an issue. At the same time, we know that the cultural and political context of a country can force its member to look for better ways of living outside their society. In the case of Saudi Arabia, and according to our research, the number of immigrants of that country living in the United States is

It is important to mention an interesting concept that we encountered during our research, which is the concept of Saudi Americans, who are Americans of total or partial Saudi descent.  The number of Saudi Americans that live in the United States is of about 110.000 people, where 96.783 were born in here. These numbers reflect how a small number of people from Saudi Arabia moves to the U.S to start a new life, this is due to the fact that their country provides them with better welfare benefits which decreases the need to move to a developed country. Other reasons are their religious beliefs that makes it a little difficult to maintain their muslim lifestyle in the U.S. Additionally, to live abroad they need an exit visa that can only be issued if they present a reason to move out. And finally, the number of marriages between Saudi Arabians and Americans is so little, that doesn’t not affect the number of immigrants in this country.  Finally, the region with the most significant population of Saudis, is the state of California, seconded by Washington D.C.

In contrast, and based on our interviews, all of our interviewees from Saudi Arabia shared with us that they come to the United States for very specific reasons, whereas it can be for work offers, or also for work training and superior studies. From our interviews we have also extracted that their Saudi pride and love for their families motivates them to stay there. Additionally, three of our interviewees are here pursuing a Master’s degree in Education and intend to go back to Saudi Arabia because they love it so much. And our other two interviewees are here studying English language. Furthermore, they have all expressed that they really are really enjoying their time in this country and feel comfortable here, but that they are here momentarily and plan on going back eventually.

According to CNN online “Almost 60,000 Saudi Arabian students enrolled at U.S. universities last year. That makes them the fourth biggest group of foreign students in the U.S., behind students from China, India and South Korea, according to the Institute of International Education”, which shows how a large number of Saudis choose America to pursue their higher education.

In general terms and according to our research, the educational system of Saudi Arabia follows the 6+3+3 policy. Which means that children will study at elementary for 6 years, when they are around 6 years old, and they are able to study at middle school for 3 years as long as they pass the final examination at the end of sixth grade. Then they will study at secondary school for three years which is the final stage of general education in the country. In the following paragraphs we will explain in detail how each educational stage works in Saudi Arabia.

In first place, primary education has a duration of six years, and its curriculum is mainly based on Arabic, arts, geography, history, home economy for girls, mathematics, physical education for boys, religious studies and sciences.

In second place, Intermediate or Middle School has a  duration of three years, and the curriculum is basically the same as in primary school.

In third place,from the research that we did, we learned that the secondary education is a little bit different from general norms. There are three types of secondary schools in Saudi Arabia. First one is general secondary school. Students will have common curriculum during the first year in general secondary school, and in the following two years are divided into scientific and literary streams. Students can choose one of these two streams as long as their scores of all subjects are higher than 60 percent during the first year. However, students who scoring lower than 60 percent can only choose literary stream. Second one is religious secondary school, curriculum of this kind of secondary school is mainly about Arabic language and literature, English, general culture, geography, history, and of course religious studies. The last option of secondary school is technical secondary school. Students will major in vocational, commercial, or agriculture content in technical secondary school. However, studying at kindergartens is not necessary. In other words, kindergartens or pre-primary education is not part of the official education in Saudi Arabia. We learn that Saudi education is noted for its religious content based on the Internet research. Islamic education practices and trains Saudi boys to become members of the religious clergy. There are an average of nine periods a week at the elementary school dedicated to religious study. In addition, the religious secondary school not only has the curriculum of the general academic, but also focuses mainly on the Islamic and Arabic studies. Our research shows that students who study at university also need to study religion, and the religion is studied alongside other academic subjects, and is compulsory for all students.

Therefore, religious study influences their education a lot. Based on our research, education in Saudi Arabia is separated by sex. There are three administrating systems of Education in Saudi Arabia. They are general education for male students, general education for female students, and traditional Islamic education. And the third one is only for boys. Both of male students and female students follow the same curriculum and take the same annual examinations.

In addition to our research, we asked someone who from Saudi Arabia or someone who are teaching Saudi students to make interviews. Firstly, we found two ESL students who are from Saudi Arabia as our interviewees. They are Sara and Abdun. Then we interviewed our classmate Mohammed since he is a Saudi Arabian English teacher. It could be very helpful for us. Furthermore, we asked some questions to an ELA teacher Terri who is teaching Saudi students here. In this part we will summarize what we took from them and some notification for TESOL teachers based on our interview information.

Mohammad talked more about university education during our interview. He said it is really different from the regular college. Students in these schools are following the teaching all the time. It depends on the teacher all the time. That means teacher will give students shortened curriculum at the end of every semester and students have to memorize all of the content of shortened curriculum, because teachers will tell you that all about they give you in terms of shortened curriculum are related to the final examination. Students will pass the final exam as long as they memorize the shortened curriculum that teachers give them before. It relies on the memorization of students to finish college life. Mohammad also told us this is also the reason why they hate about their education. In addition, he said they respect their teachers so much. For example, students are never allowed to ask questions when teachers are talking and speaking. If they have questions, students will go to the offices during the office time.We learned about, from Sara’s interview, that teachers talk all the time in Saudi Arabia. That means, Saudi students are more like listening in a whole class. We also got the information that students in Saudi Arabia respect their teacher so much. What’s more, Sara said she has traveled a lot around the world and she is able to accept some different education applications and approaches. For example, she said she does not feel so embarrassed when she was having class with Abdun who is the other Saudi guy we interviewed from ESL. However, she said they seldom talked with each other after class and they never hang out together because of the religion. Another phenomenon that we observed is these two students always be late for their class. That is to say the sense of time for Saudi students is not so good in college.

We want to give some suggestions and implications for future TESOL teachers who are going to teach Saudi students based on our interview information from Mohammad and TESOL professor Terri of the ELA center. First of all, the female teachers need to pay more attention to that please be cautious to wear short skirt in the Saudi students class, and do not show your legs to them at all, because those students who are from Saudi Arabia might be distracted because of your manners. In addition, female teachers need to notice that you probably is their first female teacher that they have seen in class ever for Saudi boys. That means Saudi male students probably have never seen female teachers in their class before. In contrast, you might be their first male teachers for female Saudi students. Second, we heard from professor Terri that the boss of Miss Terri told her that tying up her hair as long as there are Saudi students in her class and never show your shoulder and arms to Saudi students because of their religion instead of wearing your coat to cover your arm a shoulder. Last but not the least, Mohammad told us we’d better not put or arrange a Saudi girl and a Saudi boy in a group talking all the time, because it probably makes them feel embarrassed to do that.

Language characteristics
In Saudi Arabia, people speak Arabic as their official language. Arabic is from the Semitic language family, so its grammar and character is really different from English. Since there are three consonant root as its basis in terms of Arabic, there is a big potential for errors of interference when Arab learners produce written or spoken English. In this following part, we are going to introduce some features of Arabic and the differences between Arabic and English. Besides, we will provide some pronunciation and written tips for Arabic speakers who are going to study English as their second language.

Arabic has 28 consonants or letters and 8 vowels. Very short vowels are not quite important in Arabic, and indeed do not appear in writing. Another important tips for Arabic is that rules for punctuation are much looser than English. As we know that punctuation in English is so important that there are even specific rubrics for punctuation so long as English writers are writing. Therefore, we need to know this kind of writing tips as TESOL teachers who are teaching Saudi Arabia students. We suggest that giving them time to accept the importance of punctuation in English for Saudi students. There is no no verb to be in the present tense, and no auxiliary “do” in Arabic. Furthermore, there is a single present tense in Arabic, as compared to English, which has the simple and continuous forms. Therefore, these differences lead to errors such as “when you come to San Diego?” if Saudi English learner want to express “when do you come to San Diego?” In addition, there are no modal verbs in Arabic, this, for instance, may result in errors such as “do I must do that?” spoken out from Saudi English learners. Based on our research, the indefinite article does not exit in Arabic, leading to its omission when English require it. Another important difference between Arabic and English is adjectives in Arabic follow the noun that they qualify, hence this leads beginners of English learners to making word order mistakes in written and oral English.

In terms of phonology, English has three times as many vowel sounds as Arabic, so it is inevitable that new English learners will fail to distinguish between some of the words that they have heard. For example, it is hard for them to distinguish ship and sheep, or bad and bed. Besides, mistakes or problems in pronouncing consonants include the inability to pronounce the “th” sounds. And in English, there is a difference between /b/ and /p/ sound at the beginning of a word, and the /f/ and /v/ sounds, and the /k/ and /g/ sounds. However, it is really hard for new Saudi English learners to pronounce the /p/, /f/, and /k/ sounds. The suggestion that we want to give TESOL teachers is teaching your Saudi English learner to say it in a word, start by saying the word in two parts for a bit and then put it back together. For example, say the /p/ first and isolate it, and then say the rest of the word.

In terms of written of Arabic, it is really different from regular norms. Text are read and written from right to left. Unsurprisingly, these fundamental differences between the Arabic and English writing systems lead Arab learners significant problems. Therefore, they probably need much more time to read and write than other English-learning peers. As Mohammad told us that when he first time saw and read the power point from Dr.A, he felt like frustrated because the words are from left to right. The reason why they write and read from right to left is not only because there is a strong association with the right as being good and proper, but there is also an association in the Arabic world of unclean activities being carried out with the left hand based on our research.

In general terms, the cultural perspective in Saudi Arabia is mainly based on their religious beliefs and Islam. They are also a very family oriented culture, where different family clans can be identified after hundreds of years. Since this section has many implications to consider, we would like to divide it into different subsections, which will be the following: religious beliefs, gender segregation, main festivities and celebrations, food and costumes.

To begin with, in relation to their religious beliefs, Saudis are a very faithful culture. Basically all their traditions, laws, celebrations, and culture is based in Islam. Saudi Arabia is a country with almost 100% of Muslim people, and it’s considered to be the center of Islam because there is the Mecca, which is where the prophet Mohammed was born. Every single Muslim women and men have to carry out a pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime. There are one pilgrimage every year, around two million Muslim people visit the Mecca unifying the force of Islam. At the same time, when muslims die, they have to be buried, without coffin, facing the Mecca.

Secondly, in terms of gender, there is an important segregation in Saudi Arabia, that separates women and men. There are different institutions for men and women, like schools, universities, and also, places that have their own designated space for women, like restaurants, waiting lines, etcetera. Men and women have different rights and obligations which, in the case of men, represent a more free lifestyle, where they can do basically everything we do in Western society. Men in Saudi Arabia are also allowed to get married 4 times, as long as they don’t treat their wives differently, and have the resources to do it. However, women have to live within a number of different restrictions that determine their very different lifestyle. For instance, women need to have a male legal guardian, that can be a brother, their father or husband, who is in charge of them, and who conduct most of their private and public decisions. Some of the decisions their guardians make are related, for example, to if whether they can travel abroad, or meet other men that are not related to them. There are other specific restrictions for women, like for example, the fact that they cannot drive, or ride a bicycle in public, or the fact that they have to wear a veil that covers their faces, since it’s not well seen that women are in the public sight. At the same time, women are deeply appreciated within the family sphere, and are expected to be very feminine and to obey the male authority.

In terms of the way women and men relate, it is not well seen to have any contact with people of the opposite gender that are not related by blood. When a Saudi woman and men get married, they are not supposed to see each other before the wedding night. In fact, eye contact between women and men should be avoided, and even a simple smile can be misunderstood.

There are some general taboos in the Saudi Culture, that include women and men’s behavior. For example, it is not well seen to point to someone else’s foot or any part of their feet. It is also not considered correct to show the sole of the feet or use them to move objects, since the feet are viewed as the lowest part of the body. At the same time, it is also considered to be a taboo to wear tight or revealing clothing. Finally, one of the most important things to consider in Saudi Arabia is the respect people have towards their families. There is nothing worst than dishonor your family with your behavior. If, for example, a person commits a crime that leads them to death penalty, the family will be supportive since this would mean the rectification of the family’s honor.

In relation to the main festivities and celebrations in Saudi Arabia,  it is a very festive place. Their main religious celebration are the Muslim holy days of Eid ul-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan, and the lesser-known holiday of Eid al-Adha, which takes place 70 days after Ramadan. Saudis also celebrate the Unification Kingdom day, that celebrates the funding of modern Saudi Arabia in 1932.

In terms of the food in Saudi Arabia, their most traditional snack are dates. Their diet is also based on chicken, goat and beef. They also consume rice, wheat and a variety of vegetables. During celebrations, it is a tradition to sacrifice an animal, which can be a sheep, goat or camel. They way they eat is started by men, who have to use their right hand to consume the food and who use a special room just for them. Traditionally, women have to eat after them and in a separate room with their family members. Some forbidden products are pork, and wine, and any alcoholic beverage. According to our interviewees, some of these restrictions are considered to be very old fashioned and no longer represent the Saudi culture. However, they also mentioned the importance of the body as a Muslim temple, which basically inspired them to take care of it, and to avoid any products than can be harmful for them.

Finally, and in relation to our interviews and the culture of Saudi Arabians, one of our interviewees, Sara, expressed that she hasn’t experienced a significant cultural shock, because she travels a lot, and she knows how to ‘behave’ outside her country. For instance, when we met her, she was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, loose hair and makeup. She told us that she felt comfortable that way outside her country, but that she also knew how to ‘go back’ to her traditions in Saudi Arabia. For her, the main difficulty she has faced being here is having her family so far away. Despite the fact that she is here with her brother and sister, she doesn’t know how to cook and really misses the help she gets in her home. In relation to the way she interacts with other Saudis in America, she says that she respects the local rules, and doesn’t interact with them. They might say ‘hello’ to each other, but it’s fine if they don’t. At the same time, she says that people from San Diego identifies her as Middle Eastern, and for the same reason they don’t shake hands with her, which, apparently, is more comfortable for Sara.

In the case of our other female interviewees, they said they have no problem interacting with Saudi boys in America. Their main difficulty being here, is related to the fact that they miss their families way too much.

Finally, Mohammed said that he feels comfortable here, but that he is having a little bit of a hard time making friends with American people, maybe because of the cultural differences, or maybe because American people are a little bit distant to relate with each other.

As a conclusion, we think we have learned more about Saudi Arabia this amazing and wonderful country than before especially in terms of its culture. Both of us have preconception about this country just before we did this project, so we were curious and looked forward to learn about culture of this country. However, we also felt like a little bit nervous since there are three classmates who are from Saudi Arabia and we do not want to be offensive if we are presenting. We did a lot of research and interviews about this culture when we were doing this project. First of all, we did some research in terms of the culture, history, landscape, education, and language of Saudi Arabia. Then, we invited some students who are from Saudi Arabia, and classmates in our class, and ELA professor who are teaching Saudi students as our interviewees. We think this was a fantastic experience that we interviewed them such as we went to Saudi restaurant with Mohammad together and we talked a lot of cultural and educational things together. Based on the history of Saudi Arabia, we learned that all of the Saudi people who come to the U.S. are for very specific reasons. They come here for training themselves or for some workshops. In terms of education parts, Saudi Arabia has a very religious and normal systems. It follows the regular or general education system like “6+3+3” policy, and the most shocking thing to us about education of Saudi Arabia is that students are separated by sex. That means that men and women are separated all the time. Therefore, the implications that we want to give English teachers who are teaching Saudi students in the future are never putting Saudi girls and Saudi boys into one group talking all the time. In other words, It might be very distracted for Saudi students. In addition, the very shocked us thing is that read and written forms of Arabic is from right to left! that is really different from regular norms. For culture part we learned that  there are one pilgrimage every year, around two million Muslim people visit the Mecca unifying the force of Islam. In terms of gender in Saudi Arabia, they even separated into two parts in restaurant. Saudi Arabia is really an amazing and fantastic that we have learned before. We had fun in doing this kind of culture.

Sources and References