English Language and Its Role in Saudi Arabia


Saudi Arabia was founded by king Abd-Al-Aziz in 1932. Since its foundation it has been ruled by his descendants this is because it is a monarchy and its constitution is the holy Quran. It is a country in the Middle East that has very little rainfall but vast oil resources. The oil reserves are the backbone of its economy. Due to its large scale oil production it has a very important role in the world trade. The world trade follows the terms of globalization which is based on the information technology and the language of information technology is English. This means that English plays a role in Saudi Arabia as well as the following paper seeks to find out.

What language is spoken in Saudi Arabia?

Arabic is the most commonly spoken language in Saudi Arabia which is also the official language. However English is also spoken widely and it is taught in schools as a compulsory language in addition it is used in business. English is spoken because of the relationship between Saudi Arabia, America and the United States. There are also other languages spoken in Saudi Arabia like Urdu and Farsi (Saudi Arabia 2009)

The Arabic language is much respected and has very high status. This is because it is also the language of the Quran and thus a very important language. The highest percentage of Arabians are Muslims and for this fact they have to learn Arabia (Saudi Arabia 2009).

What language(s) do the Saudis use for communication?

Arabic is the main language used in Saudi Arabia in their daily communication. In fact it is the official language thus businesses use Arabic to draw up their contracts. For non Arab speaking expatriates willing to do business in Saudi Arabia they need to have translations of the contracts. This is because they are not expected to learn Arabic but those who show signs of interest in the language for instance greetings are highly appreciated (Saudi Arabia 2009).

Why are people choosing to learn English?

Most of the Saudis have chosen to learn English because it is the language used manly in business especially with globalization. Some learn it because some subjects are written in it for instance the information technology field is expressed in English and thus for those willing to learn about it they have to learn English (Fishman 2001: 83-87).

English is also used to assist in integrating modern technology (Fishman, Conrad & Lopez 1996:477). This is because technological knowledge started in the west and thus for them assimilate it they have to learn the language or risk being left behind. This means that many students are learning English especially those seeking higher education abroad. More importantly English is being learnt due to many job opportunities available. Higher status jobs are only available to those who can speak English and thus many have taken to the language. On the other hand English is being learnt for the economical developments therein. These findings were according to a study done in 1984 by Taminian and Zughoul (Fishman et al 1996:478).

Most are motivated to learn the language for the religious purpose that it serves. As long as they are able to spread and spread Islam using English they do not see any reason why they should not learn it. Thus religion here acts as an incentive for learning English (Quandt 1981:150)

What inducements are there for learning to speak in English?

English language in Saudi Arabia is seen as the language of oil. For instance we have the Arabian oil Company (ARAMCO) that has gone out of its way to train its non- English speaking workers in the English language to work fro the company. This demonstrates that English is dominant in the technical field (Benesch 2001:26).

Employment opportunities also induce people to learn English as they want to improve their chance of being employed. This is because English is the language used in business. This means anyone wishing to enter the business world has no choice but to learn English.

The graduates who go to school have to learn English as it is the language of instruction. There are many graduates who seek higher education abroad and because the language of instruction is English they are forced to learn it (Bersamina 2009). Thus some may have a negative attitude towards the language as they may see it as an additional load of work.

However, learning a foreign language has its challenges. The learners of a foreign language are expected to learn the language and speak it well because the native speakers expect them too. This is hard especially when the learners are taught the language without the consideration of other things like the culture. Culture is said to be transmitted through language and thus when they learn a new language they get exposed to a new culture yet this is not put into consideration in foreign language learning. This is because the complexities of the interacting cultures are ignored (Dobson 2001:64).

The teachers of a foreign language try to change the foreigner to behave like a native speaker (Dobson 2001:65). The learner is judged by the teachers as having acquired the language if they communicate in a manner that satisfies the native speakers. These are challenges that need to be looked into to improve the learning and teaching of foreign languages.

In what domains is English used?

This era of technology has come with globalization. This means that most nations of the world are now coping with the changes that globalization has brought. This is in many fields like politics, technological, academic, and social and even in the academic including linguistic change.this means that Saudi Arabia has to keep up with the changes.

On the one hand technology has literally taken over all aspects of people’s activities while on the other hand globalization that has united the markets of the world into one trade system and this has affected the how trade is done and even the academic way of the people of the world. Saudi Arabia is a major stakeholder in the world trade being one of the world’s largest petroleum exporter; consequently it is affected by globalization and the information technology.

English is the lingua franca of the world today. This means that it is the main language used in the world trade. This has led Saudi Arabia to learn English because it is the language used by most multinational companies that use it to draft their contracts. Thus any non-English speaking countries have had to improve their education systems to match the global standards by including English in their educations systems and Saudi Arabia is no exception (Bersamina 2009).

English is used in the political domain. This is because agreements, treaties and international laws are written in English and they have far reaching effects on the global political arena.

The media also uses English. We have publications in English though we have some Saudis who think that reading or writing in English is backward.

What language is used in the educational system and which language do the Saudis prefer?

Most schools in Saudi Arabia have recognized the need for learning English and they are teaching English because of its effect on globalization. Most Saudi students are learning English as a second language. There are more and more teachers teaching English and more English related courses in Saudi Arabia due to the government’s support. The people prefer that the educational system use Arabic because they consider it superior than English. On the contrary most parents spend a lot of money on their children’s education by sending them to schools abroad that have high reputations. The favorite destinations are Canada and the United States.

How is the use of English related to nationalism and the development of the country’s national identity?

The government of Saudi Africa through “the Programme of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz” offers scholarship grants to Saudi Arabian students this can be interpreted as a move in politics to help the country in its economic growth through its oil. The government is committed to enabling the students learn English and recently it offered about 7000 scholarship grants to its students to study in the best universities abroad in the United States, Australia, Canada and The Great Britain (Bersamina 2009). This helps to improve its relationship with the west through the academic exchange programme.

The government has realized the role of the English language in the business world and thus it is doing everything possible to ensure that Saudi Arabia is at the top. For example we had king Abdulaziz who established the country in1932. He had many challenges and thus he enlisted the help of the British before and after uniting his kingdom, then he changed his loyalty to America during president Roosevelt’s time. This was because the United States geologists discovered oil in 1930s. Thus the economy of the country was set on the right track after the end of the second world war when large scale. Production began (Bersmanina 2009).

Saudi Arabia has to deal with the issue of nationalism and national identity. Language is said to give people a feeling of belonging to a group that shares the same language. Even with globalization where many cultures come into contact and fading away as people acquire new ways of life, language still plays a major role of differentiating between people and maintaining their national identities (Dobson 2001:67).

The Arabians view the English language separately from its native speakers. This means that as much as many have a negative attitude towards westerners they are still willing to learn the language as they do not consider it as imperialistic. This is seen because they have a positive attitude towards the language because they recognize its utility in the above mentioned domains. This positive attitude is further reinforced because they do not link the English language with its native speakers’ culture. The Saudi Arabians are very conservative and shun anything that they think might pollute their culture. Many do not watch, listen or read information that is transmitted by the foreign media (Fishman et al 2001:477).

Economy of Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is the world largest producer of oil as it has the largest oil reserves. Oil exports account for about 75% of the government’s total revenues. This means that the oil business is very important in Saudi Arabia and companies to run the oil industry have been set up. Saudi Arabia dominated the oil market for a long time before competition from other producers hit it and consumption declined. This meant that the government had to take measures to maintain its economic stability. It gave contracts to foreigners to explore natural gas and this meant that they had to learn the language of the foreigners so as to conduct business. English which is the language of trade had to be learned in Saudi Arabia (Saudi Arabia 2009).

The economy thrived and the living standards of most citizens were improved. However, they was a miss match between the Saudi graduates job skills and the market requirement especially in the private sector and other levels acted as a hindrance to economic growth. This means that that about four and a half employed are non-Saudis. To tackle this problem the government has had to invest in the education sector as well as sending students abroad to get skills necessary to run their own economy (Saudi Arabia 2009).

Foreign relations

Saudi Arabia seeks to maintain security for its citizens and defend the interests of the Muslim countries while at the same time maintain cordial relations with the other countries that produce oil in the world. It signed the UN charter in 1945. Saudi Arabia has a very major role in the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Arab and other Islamic institutions and the World Bank.

The country seeks to maintain healthy relationships with its oil consumers as the world leading exporter of oil. This is to ensure that it has market for its vast resources and thus it allies itself with the western countries that are the biggest market for its oil. The western economies are able to protect its financial assets. On the other hand Saudi Arabia regulates the oil market by ensuring that they are moderate price changes (Saudi Arabia 2009). This has led to the interaction of the Saudis and other cultures making it necessary for new languages to be learnt. The Saudis learn English because Arabic is said to be a difficult language to learn.

Status of the English language in Saudi Arabia

Those people who are committed strongly prefer to use Arabic as the language of instruction in schools especially at the university level in teaching humanities and sciences. However English is considered for religious purposes. It is mostly used to teach non Arab Muslims and for preaching to the non Arab speaking populations (Bersamina 2009).

English was not seen as a threat to national identity of the Arabians and their unity i.e. the Arab world. They do not see it as a threat to their cultural heritage because they still see Arabic as a superior language as it is their religious language and thus a sacred language because it is the language of the Quran. They also consider Arabic as a more rich language linguistically thus more expressive and beautiful than English (Fishman et al 1996 234-245).

The Arabic language is not influenced a lot by English. This is because English is only spoken for business purposes only. It is restricted mainly in the oil industry where it is the language of business. Thus the Arabic remains the language of the majority in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis use English mainly during the hajji so as to be able to communicate with the foreigners from non Arab speaking areas.

English is being taught in Saudi Arabia as second language though in some schools they teach it in Arabic even though it is a core subject. This shows that English has not been fully accepted in Saudi Arabia as Arabic holds a very high position in this community.

The Saudi Arabians have cultural barriers with their business partners especially with their American counterparts. Though they have goodwill they have a problem when it comes to communication. Due to these difficulties they often have misconceptions that result in bad faith between them (Quandt 1981:151). For the two to communicate they relied on the help of interpreters which often resulted in furthers misunderstandings. Even those who understood English refused to use it with the Americans like King Faisal who had to rely on an interpreter. The Arabians value verbal communication while the Americans value written communication.

This led the younger generation of Arabians studying abroad where they learnt English and would use it to articulate their issues and to especially the Saudi issues (Quandt 1981:152)

What connection do people as a whole see between language and occupational or social advancement?

Most of the young Saudis interviewed say they learn English as they are willing to seek knowledge in foreign universities abroad. When they acquire this knowledge they are in a better position to get employment as it increases their marketability because they understand the English the language of business. When they do so they are able to even seek employment abroad as language is no longer a barrier.

Those who learn English are able to understand and assimilate the modern technology that is incorporated in the modern living. This also make is easier for them to adapt the technology to suit the Saudi Arabia needs. This is because English is a language that is used in many higher education systems around the world. Thus for those who learn it have a chance for further education that means better jobs in future (Pennycock 1984:4-7).

Some learn English because they think it makes them superior than those who do not speak it. This in turn improves their status and they acquire more prestigious social status. Thus they are in a better position to socialize with foreigners. This makes it easy for them to understand the customs and the culture of the foreiners.


English is an international language. It is spoken by many people around the globe. It has helped to enhance communication between the citizens of the world. With this improved communication cultures have come into contact and this has led to people borrowing ideas from each other.

Technological advancement has led to globalization. With it many countries are now trading partners and the main language used is English. The countries that do not speak English have had to change by learning English to adapt to the global changes. Saudi Arabia has joined the rest of non-English speaking countries in acquiring English as a second language. This has seen the English language being widely spoken after Arabic the official language.

The challenges faced in learning the English language need to be addressed so as to improve the relationship between the native speakers and the non native speakers of English. The native speakers should not patronize the non speakers of English. They should see them as equal partners who also have something the native speakers can learn.

English will continue to play a major role in the politics, economy and social aspects of the world and thus it is very important that those willing to participate in the global arena learn the language because it is an important international language.


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