Worm's-Eye View; The Impact of Policy and Research on the Classroom Practitioner
by Neil McBeath
Language Domain Policy/Planning
This takes us into the next level of Kennedy's model, and this is where the impact of policy and research really begins to impact on the classroom practitioner. Clearly Kennedy's list of domains is not intended to be exclusive, but for present purposes, it is sufficient to consider the five areas of education, government, law, media and business.
At the highest level, the days when there was open control of the Arab Gulf states by English speaking expatriates (Innes 1987; Henderson 1988) have passed.
The move to government in Arabic was, of course, inevitable. It gives an advantage to the national populations when official business is conducted in Arabic. Code-switching is accepted among the Arab stakeholders, but expatriates are required to rely on translations. This places them at a double disadvantage. They are excluded from important decision making both by virtue of their nationality, and by the pragmatic requirements of the local forms of Arabic.
Until very recently, the same double disability applied to legal language. In all the Gulf Arab states, the law was based on Shari'a, and proceedings were conducted in Arabic. As a result of globalization and altered economic circumstances, however, there is now a slight shift towards English, particularly in the area of commercial law.
This is partly an unforeseen consequence of the economic recession that hit Dubai in the years 2008-2010. With hindsight, it is clear that Dubai placed far too much faith in an unsustainable property boom. The bursting of that bubble, and the following retrenchment, led to a blizzard of litigation, and a realization that the Shari'a code of law was simply unsuited to the complexity of many of the cases.
In Oman, by coincidence, a totally different set of circumstances produced a similar outcome. In 2010 the actual fabric of the Oman College of Law and Shari'a had become physically unsafe. The College therefore transferred to the campus of the Sultan Qaboos University, and became an integral part of SQU. At the same time, it was decided that students at the new College of Law should be required to reach the same minimum competence in English as all other SQU undergraduates. That meant that the SQU Language Centre was obliged to accept some 200 additional undergraduates. The implications of that decision will be discussed later.
All Arab Gulf states offer a bilingual media, with the local publishing houses printing Arabic and English versions of what is essentially the same publication. Across the Arab Gulf, the reportage also reflects the population composition of the English literate readership.
More importantly, however, use of English reflects the nationalities of the journalists. South Asians use terms current in Indian English, with the result that reporters are referred to as "scribes" and photographers become "lensmen". The quality of writing can also be clichéd, probably because India has its own English language press, and the Indian journalists employed in the Arab Gulf would only be writing for provincial publications back home. The clichés, however, can seep into the writing of Arab Gulf students, particularly when well-intentioned teachers refer them to the local English language press, or even to the weekly free newspapers.
In the Arab Gulf, English is now the primary language of business, but in that respect the Gulf is no different from the rest of the world. Even in the smallest, most remote villages, however, retail shop signs are bilingual in Arabic and English, although this simply reflects the shops' customer base. For commercial purposes, the high percentage of expatriate workers in the Gulf has resulted in English becoming a lingua franca (Troudi 2002), used among non-Arabic speakers, and between Arabic speakers and expatriates.
What should not be forgotten, however, is that the citizens of the Arab Gulf resemble those of Singapore and Hong Kong, and that they "learn English because they want to compete with the Anglo world, rather than join it." (Babrakzai; 2004)
This returns us to Kennedy's model, and the division of English language as either a subject, or a medium. Kennedy includes the acronym EAP, but it is open to question whether EAP (English for Academic Purposes) is applicable to all levels. The literature (Jordan 1997; Flowerdew and Peacock 2001; Hyland 2006) suggests that it is not.
It oversimplify, it could be argued that English is taught as a subject at primary and secondary school levels, and that it becomes the medium of instruction at tertiary level. This is certainly true for the Arab Gulf students who have attended the public schools. It is not, however, universally true, which is why this model is an oversimplification. Wealthier Arab parents often choose to send their children to private schools, where at least part of the instruction is in English.
The ethnography of the Gulf states is such that even very young children are aware that service encounters may require code shifting into "a common medium for communication." Within the public school system itself, however, much depends on the quality of the input, or the materials and the teaching.
English-medium Education, of course, does not rely on locally produced texts, but English-medium Education has generally remained the preserve of private schools, international schools, and those schools which have been established to serve the needs of specific expatriate communities. In the latter case, these follow the syllabi of their parent nations.
At tertiary level, the Arab Gulf countries have generally employed an English-medium approach, with the exception of subjects like Arabic, Islamic Studies, Shari'a, History and sometimes Geography. This has been criticized by both Troudi (2002) and Habbash (2008) who have a good deal of logic on their side. There is no real reason why tertiary education in the Arab Gulf should not be conducted in Arabic, other than the fact that doing so would be to swim against the current linguistic tide. It might also suggest, to the national population, that local universities were offering a devalued education.
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