Using the Mother Tongue
in the English Language Classroom
Zainab Al Balushy
18.104.22.168. The teachers
The majority of Ministry employees as teachers of English (55% in 1990) are non-Omanis, of whom more than 70% are Egyptians. The rest consist of Jordanians, Pakistanis, Sudanese, Indians, Filipinos and others. There are no native English teachers (British or American) in schools. The number of Omani teachers however started with 11% in the academic year 1980/81 and increased to 18% by the academic year 1985/86. Those teachers were well qualified in teacher training colleges and their English proficiency was adequate for elementary teaching. Nowadays the percentage of the Omani teachers of English is over 90% and most of them have had good training to teach in all levels after the opening of SQU in 1986 and most of them have less that 10 years experience.
22.214.171.124. The materials
The materials used within the Omani curriculum went through three stages of change and according to students' needs and policy makers' decisions. Those changes happened as results of investigations on the materials used.
Prior to 1978, the teaching of English in Oman was based universally on the audio-lingual methods. The main course book of English in the elementary and lower secondary schools was the Living English for the Arab World by W. Stannard Allen. It was religiously followed by the English departments and teachers throughout Oman for nearly a decade without evaluation.
The English for Oman course books followed and replaced the previous materials after the Ministry had launched a major project to develop the teaching of English with materials specially designed to suit the Omani school system. The new books have certainly succeeded in omanizing the context. While the new course has certain advantages over the Living English for the Arab World in that the overall context is familiar to the child, the methodology it incorporates is the same as its predecessor – the audio-lingual method.
Our World Through English is the nine-year English language course from Fourth Elementary to Third Secondary in schools in the Sultanate of Oman used nowadays. It is designed, written, edited, illustrated and produced in the Sultanate of Oman. A move from the audio-lingual method to a more communicative language teaching is aimed at and incorporated within the teaching activities of this book (Ministry of Education 1990).
Arabic has no place in any of the textbooks used with the Omani students except for bilingual lists of words and their meanings contained in a glossary at the end of the textbook (see appendix A). That is due to the fact that these books are produced by non-Arabic speakers and Omanis are not involved in the process of production of these materials and if they are they themselves consider the use of Arabic negatively. Instructions and grammatical explanations are dealt with totally in English and students are required to do all the work in English as well. Teacher's books give no advice on using Arabic and emphasises the use of English by both teachers and students. Students are provided with English / Arabic dictionaries by the Ministry of education for their own personal use.
126.96.36.199. Observations on classrooms
As far as the use of Arabic is concerned, most teachers use it according to their students' needs and weaknesses. I have experienced this when I was a school student and still know from my colleagues who teach in schools that they use Arabic in several situations. The following examples are from transcriptions of two classes by two teachers at grade 4, elementary level (see appendix B):
-Teacher says in Arabic: martain ekteb…ala asseter.
-Meaning: write twice…on the line.
- Teacher says in Arabic: mabaadh.
- Meaning: together.
-Teacher says in Arabic: ashsher ala assorah.
-Meaning: point to the picture.
-Teacher mixes between Arabic and English: you have lines hatha al shakel and then you have a gap faragh benekteb feeh elraqam the number.
-Meaning: you have lines like this and then you have a gap (faragh) where we will write the number.
c) Control and discipline:
- Teacher uses only Arabic: ala assoboorah.
- Meaning: look at the board.
- Teacher says in Arabic: baadain ba tekteb.
- Meaning: you will write later.
d) Feedback (dealing with mistakes):
- Teacher uses Arabic: A rat? Where is the rat? Hathak ma rat.
- Meaning: that is not a rat.
e) Exam information:
- Teacher explains in Arabic after talking in English: filemtehan enshaallah beikoon endak arbaat kutob.
- Meaning: the exam will include the four books we have been using during the term (inshaallah = God willing).
- Teacher informs the students of the exam day: elemtehan yoam alsabt.
- Meaning: the exam is on Saturday.
There were relatively few instances of the use of Arabic in the previous examples. This can be partly explained by the fact that it is a 4th grade class, at the end of the academic year, where students are used to the way their teachers ask them questions or provide them with information. Another reason is that the content is not difficult for the level of the students and visual aids are provided for explaining new vocabulary unlike the case with the higher levels where students find it difficult to follow totally in English and therefore teachers find themselves using Arabic to overcome such situations. Headmasters' and inspectors' visits play a great role as well in discouraging teachers from using Arabic as indicated by the teachers themselves.
In an MA dissertation by Al-Busaidi (1998) an investigation was made on Omani teachers' views towards the use of the mother tongue in the foreign language classrooms (English) in Oman. It was found that the students' level and the connection between Arabic and English were the most influential factors on the teachers' decisions to use Arabic in the English language classrooms. The study was applied on schools in the lower and upper secondary. The results showed that teachers' main use of Arabic was for explaining vocabulary, grammatical explanations and classroom routines.
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