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Using the Mother Tongue
in the English Language Classroom
by Zainab Al Balushy
- 3

1.1.4. Teaching English at the university
Sultan Qaboos University was established in 1982, and teaching began on the present campus in 1986. The university is co-educational under the auspices of the Ministry of Higher Education. The student body consists primarily of Omani students who are the top 10% of their secondary schools. The academic year is divided into two terms; the first term starts in September and finishes in January; the second term begins in February and ends in June with examinations. The university consists of seven colleges as below:

  • Agriculture
  • Commerce and Economics
  • Education
  • Engineering
  • Medicine
  • Science

All students from all Colleges take at least one course in English during their first year in the university. English is used as the medium of instruction in the Colleges of Agriculture, Commerce, Engineering, Medicine and Science; in the English Department in College of Arts, and in the departments of English, Science, and Mathematics in the College of Education.

1.1.4.1. The Language Centre
The Language Centre is, in many ways, the backbone of most students' academic experience at Sultan Qaboos University. Since most programs and colleges are English medium, it is therefore the Language Centre's responsibility to help equip these students with the necessary linguistic knowledge and abilities. There are over 6,000 students at the university with over 3,000 registered in the Language Centre courses. There are two main types of course in the Language Centre programs:

a) Intensive Courses:
They prepare the students for their English-medium academic studies with
20 hours of instruction per week in classes of around 20 students.
b) Credit Courses:
They support and complement the students' academic studies, with each course earning 3 credits with 6 hours of classroom instruction per week in classes of up to 20 students.

1.1.4.2. The aims
The main goal of the Language Centre is to prepare students for English-medium courses in their subject areas and to prepare them to use English in their professions after graduation. To fulfil that, there are some aims and objectives of Language Centre programs students should be able to do as following:
• Use essential English grammar to communicate accurately.
• Communicate effectively with others in English about many different topics.
• Read and understand English texts written for second language learners.
• Know how and when to use effective language learning strategies.
• Use learned vocabulary in many different contexts correctly.

1.1.4.3. The teachers
Language Centre instructors are employed from Oman and abroad with an M.A or B.A plus one year of subsequent teaching experience. The teaching body at the mean time consists of 100 lecturers. The expatriates include those from the British Isles and the US besides people from Australia, Canada, Ghana, Ireland, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan, Syria and the Philippines.

1.1.4.4. The materials
The Language Centre offers a comprehensive curriculum designed to develop English reading, writing, listening and speaking at a level appropriate to the students. Materials used include both published textbooks and in-house produced materials. Examples of published textbooks used include:
• Headway
• Matters
• In Context
• Speaking Clearly
• Writing Ideas
No Arabic is used in these materials even with the in-house produced ones since teachers include those who do not speak or read Arabic. Teachers sometimes produce glossaries for vocabulary in the materials to help the students understand especially in the intermediate levels.

1.1.4.5. Observations on classrooms
The Omani teachers are those who share the same mother tongue with the students (Arabic) and they use it depending on the students' level although it is not allowed by the policy of the university, which is usually expressed by the directors and responsible staff in the language centre. According to my experience as teacher at SQU and the experience of my colleagues, we use Arabic especially with the weak students and those who study English for only six hours per week in two semesters.

Using the mother tongue (Arabic) is an issue concerning the teachers and the students nowadays at SQU. For example, a group of students and teachers conducted a debate about this subject in May 2000 where most of the participants and audience were in favour of the idea of using the mother tongue in teaching English especially in the early stages. Some of the arguments were that using Arabic is helpful for teachers and students psychologically, socio-linguistically and culturally at the same time.

1.1.5. Teacher training
Teacher training plays an important part in raising the standard of English in schools. In 1990 there were six teacher training colleges providing a two-year program and enrolling a total of about 700 students. Graduates of these colleges teach English at the elementary level. As of 1996, those six colleges were changed to university colleges offering four-year programs.

The two-year program graduates nowadays get in-service training to improve their teaching level (Easan, 1995). Groups of them are sent starting from this year to the United Kingdom on a two-month program to improve their English proficiency. Secondary school teachers of English receive training at the College of Education at Sultan Qaboos University for a period of four years.

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