Abdulrahman Al-Zuhayyan | email@example.com
Friday 8 June 2012
Last Update 9 June 2012 10:07 pm
The news came out recently that two girls of Indian immigrant parents won the annual Scripps National Spelling Bee Competition in the United States.
I instantly recalled a moment when I was doing my graduate studies in the United States. I was sitting in a couch watching a television coverage of the same competition, and there was an Indian young girl trying to spell a very hard word, even for native English-speaking Americans with the highest degrees in English studies and literature, and succeeded in spelling that word and also won the competition.
Two things came up to my mind at that moment: How immigrant Indian families, whether in the US or elsewhere, find the time to teach and train their children to spell the most difficult English words. I leave this question to Indian families to answer so that we learn from their experience. The other thing that came up to my mind is the plight of most Saudi students trying to master the English language, especially when they are planning to complete either their undergraduate or graduate education in an English-speaking country, particularly the United States.
For most high school/secondary school students, the English language is the most difficult subject, and consequently is the most undesirable. Hence, the TOEFL or the IELTS, English evaluation exams are Saudi students' nightmare. Most of these students have to take either of these exams more than once to achieve the required score for admission in a university or college.
As a matter of fact, good percentage of graduate students finish the first year for studying the English language without being able to achieve that required score, and ultimately they have to return home, losing an opportunity of a lifetime to receive a quality education that cannot be obtained elsewhere, not to mention the waste of educational expenses, in addition to the psychological damages suffered by the students and their families.
As for those students who make the required score, they shoulder a combined burden. A student has to look up the Arabic translation for most English words from the dictionary, and then semantically situate the English word in its natural context to understand its meaning correctly. As a result, a Saudi student spends twice or even more time on studying than an American or Indian student spends. This has consequences for Saudi students.
The universities and colleges' educational arrangements, particularly in the United States, require Saudi students and other students from Arab and Islamic countries to take specific credit hours. For example, a Saudi graduate student cannot take less than nine credit hours or face the threat of being deported to his/her country or visited by members of a security authority.
Although the academic training that all graduate students receive in the United States is superb and rarely matched by universities in other parts of the world and I wish it to continue in the same manner or better, the training is excruciating and time consuming, which keeps students on their toes most of the time. Consequently, most Saudi students hardly find time for extracurricular activities.
Most Saudi students are missing out on almost all social activities that are either personally- or university-organized. They cannot find the time to socialize with other local or international students in university-organized events, to attend symposia or talks, and to participate in students' associations or fraternities and other functions.
Most Saudi students face the pressure of potential deportation if they take less than those required specific credit hours, or stigmatized as losers in their home country if they failed. This state of affair prevents the majority of Saudi students to realize a vital purpose of their foreign education whether in the US or elsewhere, particularly being able to socialize with the local people and understand their culture (religion, history, worldviews, etc.).
A recent investigative coverage of Saudi students in Britain published by a local newspaper reported that many of these students graduated without being able to speak English fluently. With all given circumstances being equal in Britain and the United States, the same thing can be said about Saudi graduates from US universities and colleges.
(Next week the consequences of the English Language and its impact on cross-cultural understanding)
￼ Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Zuhayyan is a Saudi academician based in Riyadh.