Saudi Arabia - English learner's profile and detailed language analysis

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Language patterns in Arabic are very different to language patters in English, therefore, in the beginning it can be confusing for people whose mother tongue is Arabic to grasp the pattern that varies so much from their own.

Submitted: November 06, 2013

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Submitted: November 06, 2013

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Level, language background and learner’s motivation

Mohammed is a beginner English student from Saudi Arabia. His first language is Arabic, and due to his level of English the influences of his mother tongue are still very visible in most of the language learning aspects. He started learning English at school back in his home country. He seems to be well motivated, giving a few reasons for learning English here in UK – in order to be able to communicate well, to do better in college as well as to get a better job in the future.

 

Detailed Language Analysis

  • pronunciation

Due to the fact that English and Arabic phonology systems are completely different (Swan and Smith, 2001, p.195) Mohammed’s articulation is much more energetic than the one of a native English speaker. He seems to pronunce /e?/ diphthong very short as /o/, for instance /hom/ instead of /h??m/ or /most/ instead of /m??st/.

The sounds /h/ and /r/ are very strong in Arabic and Mohammed tends to overpronunce both of these sounds which makes him sound rather  harshly when he speaks English (i.e. friend /frend/, country /?k?ntr?/). He also confuses the sounds /g/ and /k/ - saying: /wen a? k?m bæg/ instead of  /wen a? k?m bæk/

Because Arabic languages lack three consonant clusters /?d/ or /n?s/ (Swan and Smith, 2001, p.198), the learner tends to insert a short vowel to make it easier to pronunce /m?n??s/, /?n?ge???d/

The student’s accent is very strong, he pronunces even unstressed syllables very clearly, however, in general, student’s pronunciation is good and he is very understandable. He is also very willing to correct his mistakes and tries to work on his sounds.

  • orthography and punctuation

While watching Mohammed write it becomes very visible that European is not his first alphabet. He has problems with forming some letters i.e. starts writing from a different point than an English person would start, some letters bear the resemblance to his mother tongue (‘y’ looks a little like ‘?’).

He also has problems with so called ‘mirror’ letters – he writes ‘d’ instead of ‘b’ in football (‘footdall).

His use of capital letters is random. He may not remember the difference in writing ‘F’ and ‘f’ or ‘P’ and ‘p’.

Mohammed seems to be using commas quite well, however, his written language very much resembles the spoken form – i.e. he lists all the answers separating them with comas rather than using full sentences and full stops. He doesn’t use the capital letters after full stops.

  • grammar

Language patterns in Arabic are very different to language patters in English (Swan and Smith, 2001, p.200), therefore, in the beginning it can be confusing for people whose mother tongue is Arabic to grasp the pattern that varies so much from their own.

Mohammed seems to be doing very well in this respect. He follows Simple Present Tense structure quite well, he is able to understand the text and answer all the questions in a good form. The student even remembers about using the definite article (‘thank you for THE questions’) and he is using it accordingly to the following plural noun (he is not using ‘a’ or ‘an’).

Mohammed recognizes Simple Present Tense and he seems to recognize the Present Continuous Tense as well. He can form simple sentences in Simple Present Tense (i.e. ‘I like it’) however, he seems to have problems with Present Continuous Tense – forgets about the verb ‘to be’. He does remember the ‘–ing’ ending though (i.e. ‘I coming after 2 months’).

  • vocabulary

The learner knows basic vocabulary. He can recognize the written words and understand the spoken language. He was able to answer all my questions correctly (when filling the table about his nationality and reasons for learning English as well as answering simple questions to the listening comprehension). He was confident enough to ask when he wasn’t sure about the meaning of the word ‘reasons’ and understood when I explained asking him ‘why’.

Mohammed also understood the letter when he was supposed to read it himself. He had a problem with the word ‘enjoy’ but understood it when he was given the synonym ‘like’. He understood all the questions and was able to write me a reply, listing a few things he liked in the UK (i.e. weather, football, people).

  • listening

Mohammed had no problems with understanding the simple text when I read it to him. He was able to answer a few questions after listening which shows that he was able to listen to a specific information as well as listening for the gist. The text was very simple, however, a colleague in his class (a learner of the same level) was not able to understand the text that well.

  • reading

Understanding a reading text was not a problem for Mohammed either. He wasn’t sure about a few words, however, he was able to understand the gist of the letter and correctly reply to all the questions. He was also trying to follow the structure of the letter, copying basic polite forms (i.e. ‘thank you for your questions’) and signing the letter with his name, which shows he is very sensible to  the language structure.

 

 

Identifying language problems and provide suitable activities from published material.

 

Problem 1: spelling

Spelling seems to be the weakest point of Mohammed’s English. The problem might lie in the fact that there are no similarities between the Arabic and English writing systems (Swan and Smith, 2001, p.198) and Mohammed had to learn the whole new alphabet to be able to express himself on paper using English language. It is very visible that he tries to spell the words the same way he would pronunce them (i.e. /?pi?pl/ - ‘peepl’).

The student also has some problems with forming letters, which may be a result of the lack of sufficient practice in the very first stages of learning a language.

Solution:

It is very common for children who start writing to make similar mistakes as Mohammed (i.e. confusing mirror letters), so it would be good for Mohammed to go back and spend more time practicing letter formation. As for spelling particular words, learners often need time to get used to the correct spelling and it is very profitable to look and practice written words as often as possible. Reading books, articles, road signs – should help Mohammed practice remembering how particular words are written.

Audio books and listening materials with the script are also a great way of getting used to the way the words are written at the same time practicing their pronunciation. That way, students see the word and hear it at the same time, learning the difference between spelling and pronuncing and lowering the possibility of mistaking one with the other.

Problem 2: Grammar – Present Continuous tense

Due to the fact that the verb ‘to be’ is not expressed in Arabic present tense (Swan and Smith, 2001, p.201), Arabic speakers like Mohammed may often omit it also in English (i.e. the student said ‘I coming’ instead of ‘I am coming’). He did use the verb ‘to be’ when forming a question, which would suggest that the omission is the result of lack of practice rather than lack of knowledge.

Solution:

Stressing the fact that the form of the Present Progressive Tense is: ‘to be’ + VERB – ing and giving examples to practice should be a good starting point for Mohammed. While in the process of learning this tense the student should be corrected or asked to correct himself as often as possible (every time he makes a mistake of omitting the verb ‘to be’) so after some time it will be natural for him to use the full and correct form when expressing an action in continuous form in English. Also not using the abbreviated forms (I’m, You’re) at this stage of learning would be more sensible, so that the student could see and stress the full form of the versb ‘to be’ i.e. I AM going to school now; he IS reading a book at the moment; the children ARE shouting in the next room now etc.

 

Edyta Larsen

 

References:

Swan, M. and Smith, B. (eds.), 2001, Learner English, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Wells, J.C., ‘Pronunciation Dictionary’, Longman, 1997

 

 


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