From sentence to paragraph to essay – Teaching paragraph writing in Saudi Arabia

After having taught in Saudi Arabia for around 8 years, it is only now that some aspects of what makes Saudi students ‘tick’ is making me re-think my preconceptions of why students struggle to write.

During a recent writing course I was teaching, the best student in the class made me aware that he and the other students had never been taught how to write paragraphs at school. “We were just told to write”. So that’s what they did – write.

They were not taught to:

  • Plan
  • Write an outline
  • Brain storm
  • To write their ideas in any particular order
  • Or to write with any kind of interconnectedness
  • Or to summarise their ideas

There were told “just to write”.

This information is important, as what this brief piece of information reveals, is that students lack basic cognitive/thinking/learning skills, and that in the EFL classroom in addition to worrying about language, a great deal of time needs to be spent in just developing these more ‘lateral skills’.

If anyone knows of any traits within Arabic writing that might help us understand the Arabic writing/thinking process, then could they please share their experiences?

It’s not an Arab problem, it’s a Saudi problem. I say this, as all Arabs tend to be boxed into one category, but as experience shows, cultural and experiential factors play a significant part in how learning and language skills develop. We certainly need more research in this area.

Zees is the IELTS and Zees is the TOEFL!

‘Created’ sample speech from somewhere in an inner-circle country (e.g. The UK, USA or Australia).

Doctor -“Thank you for coming zees morning; how can I help?”

Patient– “I have a sore throat.”

Doctor – “Okay. I will prescribe to you zees medicine. Please take zeees tablets, three times a day; is zees clear?”

Patient – “Yes thank you.”

Doctor – “Thank you for coming.”

  • By reading the dialogue, did you fully understand what the doctor said without reservation?
  • What if you were the listener, i.e. the patient?
  • Looking at the sample of speech, should this person’s slight difference in pronunciation be ignored in the examination?
  • Would you say that this person’s speech ‘communicates clearly the task at hand’?
  • If so, then is that not the point of communication?
  • Importantly, should some non-native speaker norms be deemed acceptable within international exams?

The underlying question here is whether International English Exams should recognise these slight differences in speaking as acceptable, the premise being that if the receiver understands what is being said, then the communication here is successful. What do you think?