Assessing the role of Arabic in EFL classes: an activity theory approach

Machaal, Brahim (2012) Assessing the role of Arabic in EFL classes: an activity theory approach. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


In this research, I investigate the role of Arabic in the classes of English as a Foreign Language (EFL), by exploring the uses of Arabic during classroom activities that teachers and students engage in. I also look into how such role shapes the attitudes of the stakeholders in the institution where the research took place. While the literature reveals that the use of the learner's first language (L 1) in foreign language (L2) classrooms can be beneficial and sometimes even necessary for the teaching- learning process, the role of Arabic as the students' first language (L 1) in EFL classes, although it is a controversial issue, has not been properly researched. This scarcity of research calls for comprehensive and in-depth studies to contribute to the understanding of the phenomenon and to help in filling the existing knowledge gap. I undertook the present research as an endeavour and contribution toward such ambition. For the purposes of this study, I employed a mixed methods approach to tackle the issue from a broader perspective. Thus I have used questionnaires, semi-structured interviews and class observations. In addition, I have made use of the principles of Activity Theory (AT) as a conceptual framework to help interpret the findings of the research in a rigorous and systematic manner. This theoretical background has provided a suitable lens to analyse human behaviours as complex as the ones found in EFL classrooms. AT also has helped in identifying three main roles that Arabic plays in the EFL classes. The results suggest that Arabic is useful, and sometimes even necessary, in EFL classes as it serves as a pedagogical tool that mediates the teaching-learning activity! and as an educational scaffold that facilitates the students' learning expansion. Furthermore, Arabic has been found to be the source of contradictions within and between the components and participants of the EFL teaching- learning activity. Additionally, data analysis has revealed that the participating EFL teachers have displayed levels of confidence by adopting an eclectic approach to EFL teaching and through assuming ownership of their teaching in a stance that is characteristic of the post method era. It is anticipated that these findings will help to raise the awareness towards the role of Arabic in EFL classes, inform the revision of the EFL pedagogic policy, and pave the way for more research endeavours on the topic. Such initiatives will enlighten the development of an alternative, appropriate and efficient local pedagogy that is suitable for EFL preparatory English programs in Saudi colleges and universities. The findings also appear to be of Significant value for EFL teachers' professional development programs and suggest a rethinking of the training and recruitment of EFL teachers for this part of the world.

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