Arabic cultural/educational and linguistic background as factors affecting EFL writing performance
Effective communication in a foreign language depends on more than knowing the rules of its lexicon, grammar, and phonology. It involves the processing of cultural as well as linguistic knowledge. Any form of communication (and language is one form of communication) has its own strategies. The strategies of language communication vary systematically across languages and cultures. The differences in the general ethos of one community as compared to another lead to differences in the strategies of communication, as certain aspects of the communicative properties of languages might be culture- and language-specific. As a result, foreign language learners might fail to communicate effectively in the foreign language. This failure seems to be greatly due to a transferance of the native-language communicative strategies to the foreign language. The most appropriate way to solve this problem as suggested in this thesis, alongside many other foreign language teachers and applied linguists, is contrastive language work through translation. Such approach makes possible the juxtaposition of the native language and the foreign language, thus allowing the students to see practically and for themselves the culturo-linguistic differences and similarities between the two languages. Otherwise, native language interference will persist and successful performance in the foreign language will not be achieved. The present study sets to investigate two major factors that seem to considerably affect Arab students' learning of English as a foreign language. First, the culturo- educational background which is almost totally ignored as being the second major factor affecting foreign language learning. Second, the linguistic (or mother tongue) factor which, though more researched, no appropriate solutions are yet provided. Due to culturo-educational influence --dealt with in the first part of this thesis-- Arab students tend to approach the foreign language in the same way they approach their native language. They seem to rely on memorization in the study of the foreign language and in their essay-writing. For this reason, they are often accused of plagiarism, a practice for which the blame should not be laid upon them alone. The Arab educational system should undergo- the biggest portion of the blame. Arab students, from a very young age and from the earliest educational stage, the kuttaab, are instructed basically orally and trained to rely heavily on their memories. Though such training suits young children and the major subject they are taught (Qurlan), it does not stop at this stage, nor does it confine itself to that particular subject. Rather, it escorts them up till university level and extends to most subjects. A solution to get over such a problem as to EFL teaching is suggested in the concluding chapter to this thesis. The second major factor affecting foreign language learning --dealt with in the second part of this thesis-- is the influence from the native language, which is seen to manifest itself on the two major levels of language: the micro and the macro levels. The micro level of language is that of the word and sentence. Influence at such a level appears from the early stages of foreign language learning. However, it is not as serious and as persistent as that at the macro level, ie. the discourse or text level. Here, Arab students often make grave deviations from the norms of the foreign language. Such deviations, their nature, and their cultural and linguistic background are discussed through the examination of the major rhetorical and textual characteristics pertaining to Arabic and English. Translation is proposed as an effective approach of teaching composition to advanced EFL students. Such approach, if applied methodically, will help students develop a much needed awareness of the textual pecularities of the, foreign language; an awareness which will sensitize them to the general linguistic differences and, in particular, those of composing that exist between their mother tongue and the foreign language. Besides, it will certainly help them enlarge more quickly and more practically their EFL lexical and idiomatic repertoire.