Challenges experienced by Saudi female students transitioning through Canadian pre-academic ESL

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Altamimi, Arwa Mohammed
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Mount Saint Vincent University
This study explored the issues for female Saudi students studying English in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada that might have a negative impact on the development of proficiency in spoken English. A mixed methods approach was used. A 38 item questionnaire was completed by 61 participants. It asked about experiences within the classroom, opportunities to talk to others, level of comfort speaking, and the relative importance of speaking, reading, and writing. Structured interviews were conducted with four students, two teachers, and two support staff (receptionists) to enrich the knowledge gained from the questionnaire. Results indicated that Saudi female students had issues with self-confidence, shyness, and a fear of making mistakes. While it can be argued that all ESL students have similar issues, the sense was that the issues were more profound for Saudi females than for other females or for Saudi males. As well, Saudi female had additional cultural differences that had a major impact on performance. Firstly, Saudi women – even those with university education -- are unaccustomed to co-educational classes and male teachers. Secondly, Saudi women are expected to defer to males. As such, the presence of males in the classroom causes Saudi women to remain silent. Thirdly, Saudi women are not expected to interact outside the home, or with males. As such, Saudi women socialize only with Saudi women and do not have the opportunity to practice speaking. Finally, Saudi women are expected to have all business transactions conducted by a male relative (husband, father, brother) and as such, have little opportunity to practice speaking even for official reasons. Recommendations for Saudi women, the Saudi and Canadian governments, and ESL instructors are provided.
Postsecondary students - Saudi Arabian Women , English as a Second Language , International students