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Using the Mother Tongue
in the English Language Classroom
by Zainab Al Balushy
- 1

Chapter (1): Introduction
1.1. Context:
The context I am referring to is my country, the Sultanate of Oman. I would like to present some information regarding the English language use and the teaching of English in Oman. This will be discussed in the following sections relating the existence of English to the Omani society, the schools, and the university (Sultan Qaboos University). Teacher training programs will be mentioned particularly in the field of training student teachers to teach English. The new system of education in schools in the Sultanate will be a major focus since it reflects the changing role of English in the country as a whole.

1.1.1. The status of English in Oman
English is very important in Oman as a source for national development and as the means for wider communication within the international community. It is the second official language after Arabic in Oman. This appears in that it serves as the key in many essential areas especially science, technology, trading and foreign affairs. It is considered a foreign language in the Omani government and thus a language to be learnt by the public through different institutions. This way, English is available for students and for those who do not go on to tertiary education and prefer to work in the public or private sector.

At the moment, the majority of postgraduate students in different fields are sent to either Britain or America for their studies. They without any doubt need the English language to cope with their studies. A good amount of English is also needed in most advertised jobs in Oman. Finally, in order to communicate with foreigners who are working side-by-side with the Omanis, people in Oman need the English language.

1.1.2. Translation into and from the mother tongue (Arabic):
The view regarding translation into Arabic is positive in the Sultanate of Oman. It is one of the subjects in English Language and Literature program in the college of Arts at Sultan Qaboos University. Graduates of this program are accepted as translators and interpreters in several ministries in the Omani government. A person having such a skill is highly considered in the society.

1.1.3. Teaching English in schools:
The school system in Oman is divided into three stages with different exposure to the English language as below:
a) Elementary / primary stage: six years
• Lower elementary: classes 1-3, no English is taught.
• Upper elementary: classes 4-6, English starts in grade 4 with 220 hours of English.
b) Lower secondary: three years 250 hours of English.
c) Upper secondary: three years
• Science option: starts 2nd year 340 hours of English.
• Arts option: starts 2nd year 420 hours of English.

Among the central points for the English language curriculum in the Omani schools at all stages are the following, which still exist till the whole application of the new system in education (Abdul Razek, 1987):
• A commitment for the development of the Omani teachers of English.
• A commitment to the upgrading of the status of the English language teaching profession.
• English language teaching should be integrated within the overall school curriculum.

1.1.3.1. The educational policy.
The educational system is guided by the policy-making body of the Council for Education chaired by the Sultan and operated by the Ministry of Education. Students start sc0hool at the age of six and enrol in a two-term school system. English is introduced in the fourth grade of the primary level and is taught as a foreign language and included in the curriculum as the other subjects. Teachers are advised to concentrate on the target language (English) and feel constrained about using Arabic (the mother tongue of the Omani students). They are informed about this through inspectors' visits who discourage them from using Arabic with their students.

1.1.3.2. Aims / objectives of teaching English
The goals of the Omani English Language Curriculum for schools, defined in "Philosophy and Guidelines for the Omani English Language School Curriculum" (Nunan, Tayak and Walton, 1987) are as follows:
1. To assist students to acquire the competence to use English as a vehicle for learning and communicating inside the classroom, and as a medium of communication in situations outside the classroom.

2. To develop an understanding of the nature of the English language at the levels of phonology, grammar and discourse sufficient to facilitate learning and to assist in learners assessment of their own learning progress.

3. To increase, through a common language, the possibility of understanding, friendship and cooperation with people who speak English.

4. To assist students to exploit their knowledge of English to better inform the world of Oman's people and their concerns, and to be able to participate more actively and effectively in English in the international arena.

5. To develop in teachers an understanding of the principles underlying successful language learning and how it can be accomplished.

6. To enable Omani school leavers to use English in employment and in tertiary education and to act as a resource for the country's continued development.

Hence, concentration on the development of English proficiency is focussed on throughout the curriculum and is fulfilled gradually through the learning stages to accomplish its short and long-term aims in the school environment and in the society as a whole.

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