An Investigation into the factors influencing Arabic speaking students’ proficiency in the Arabic language in Dubai British School

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The British University in Dubai (BUiD)
Despite the fact that Arabic is the official language of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as a modern and cosmopolitan nation it is far from the only language spoken there. Therefore, there are schools where the instructional language is other than Arabic, although primarily English. However, those Arabic-speaking students attending non-Arabic schools become less proficient in the Arabic language and continually fall behind their peers in Arabic schools. This is despite the fact that both groups of students are native Arabic speakers, and that both groups of students attend Arabic classes that use the same curriculum and textbooks. Given the high number of British as well as other non-Arabic schools in Dubai, this is a significant issue as many Arabic-speaking students are failing to achieve proficiency in their native language. Thus, the aim of this study is to investigate the factors influencing Arabic-speaking students’ proficiency in the Arabic language in Dubai’s British schools. The theoretical framework that underpins this study is based on three theories: Language Variation, Linguistic Environment and Language Management. In order to answer the research questions, one of which was based on each theory, an explanatory a sequential mixed-method approach was used to best support, refine and triangulate the quantitative with the qualitative data. The schools selected for this study were five British and two Arabic schools. The participants of this study comprised 211 students from grades 2, 5, 7 and 10, in addition to 39 Arabic teachers, 12 leaders and 83 parents from both types of schools. The instruments used in the quantitative analysis were a set of questionnaires administered to the students, teachers, leaders and parents. Furthermore, samples of the students’ work were analysed quantitatively, as well as qualitatively through thematic analysis. The final part of the qualitative analysis consisted of semi-structured interviews with the teachers, leaders and parents. The primary findings of the study are that while all the students’ proficiency was negatively influenced by the factor of language variation of the Arabic language, such an influence was felt more by the students in the British schools. This is likely due to the difference in linguistic environment experienced by the students in the British schools, relative to those in the Arabic schools, and which this study significantly correlated with decreased proficiency. Furthermore, this study found that many of the students, parents, teachers and leaders felt that because of this difference in proficiency, the Arabic classes mandated by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) are not appropriate for this group of learners. Of the factors studied, only the final one offered a viable solution, which could potentially mitigate some of the negative influences of the first two. Obviously, reversing the language variation of Arabic is impossible, while changing the language of instruction at British schools to Arabic would defeat the very purpose of their existence. While neither factor can be changed, both of their effects can be compensated for at the language management level. Therefore, this study recommends that British schools should have their own policies, curriculum and grading criteria, taking into account both the degree to which the British school students are impacted by language variation and the difference in their linguistic environments. While the precise design of that curriculum and criterion is beyond the scope of this study, it seems likely that a design that takes these important factors that influence the proficiency of Arabic-speaking students into account will be an improvement over any design that does not.
Arabic speaking students, Arabic language, United Arab Emirates (UAE), British school, language variation, linguistic environment, language management