THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ATTITUDES OF EFL ARAB STUDENTS TO…

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ATTITUDES OF EFL ARAB STUDENTS TO ENGLISH ON THE BASIS OF THEIR COMMUNITY ETHNIC AFFILIATION 

SUMMAR FARRAJ1

ABSTRACT. The Relationship between Attitudes of EFL Arab Students to English on The Basis of Their Community Ethnic Affiliation. This is a pioneering study examining the relationship between the attitudes of native Arab students of different ethno-linguistic communities towards the study of the English language, and will discuss this issue by looking at native Arabic speakers studying English as a foreign language in universities and colleges located in Israel. The Arabic minority in Israel consists of a number of ethnic sub-groups (Christians, Muslims and Druze) who use the English language differently and also grant different degrees of importance to English culture. According to the research literature in the field of language study, Christians grant high importance to the English language since it is mostly the language of the Christian Western world. The Druze who lives close to Jewish cities and are particularly attracted to the Jewish and Western world is aware of the essential need of English. However, the Muslims have reservations about English because of their concerns about the Palestinian problem, and their reaction and struggle against the Israeli Government and the Western world specifically the United States of America which English symbolizes for them. The research for this study was carried out through the use of a questionnaire designed especially for the purpose of this study. The population sample included 50 native Arabic students from universities and colleges. The findings of the study indicate that, as expected, there were significant differences between students of the three different ethno-linguistic communities towards English. Christians showed more positive attitudes than the Druze and Muslims, and the Druze attitudes` towards English was more positive than the attitudes of Muslim.

Keywords: EFL (English as a foreign language), attitudes, ethnicity, affiliation, Druze, Muslims, Christians.

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1Summar Farraj is a teacher at Haifa University in Haifa and Har Hazon College and Maghar Comprehensive School “A” in Maghar Village, Israel. Her specialty is teaching English as a Foreign Language.

E-mail: summerma@walla.com  

This paper describes a survey that assessed the attitudes toward English among university and college EFL Arab students in Israel. A group of 50 EFL Arab students studying in universities and colleges were surveyed using a 42‐item questionnaire. The results reveal students’ strong motivation to learn English and readiness to use English as a medium of instruction. Yet, differences have shown in language attitudes among Arab students on the basis of their community ethnic affiliation. The study to be reported in this paper was inspired by the following excerpt of a report prepared by me.

Attitudes towards a language and readiness to communicate it

People have been always defining differently the concept of attitude. Anold (2005) defines attitude as mental willingness that make use of some common or constant impact on big answers, which are usually directed towards people, objects or events.  Meanwhile, Adler (1936) defines attitude as a mental state of eagerness and willingness formed through involving and contact or dynamic effect upon the individual’s reaction to all objects and situations with which it is related. Suleiman (2004) mentioned that knowledge of a language is of great value and has vital importance in creating self-identity, whether social, national or cultural. According to the sociolinguistic theory, positive attitudes towards language encourage learning or acquiring it, while negative attitudes toward it reduce motivation. Gardner and Lambert (1972) defined the concept “attitudes”, and claimed that they are similar to emotional values which are learned early, and are emotionally designed to respond consistently, positive or negatively towards the object.

McIntyre (2003) related to the willingness of an individual to communicate in a foreign language such as English, as a readiness to initiate a dialogue with others in a second language, at a specified time, whenever one is given an opportunity to communicate. Dornyeil (2003) added that the concept of willingness includes a number of variables, such as self-confidence, a desire to communicate with a particular person, inter-personal motivation, attitudes toward groups, and parameters related to social situation and the ability to communicate in a second language.

Dornyeil (2003) also said that the term ‘attitude’ is derived from the concept in social psychology, and was defined as early mental formations designed to respond emotionally and consistently to positive or negative objects. He regarded attitudes towards languages as having different dimensions. The cognitive dimension, refers to a person`s total beliefs concerning any object such as his beliefs about a culture or a language, or about a speaker of a language or a society. The emotional dimension includes the person’s emotional attitude towards an object, such as love, hatred, rejection or acceptance. The behavioral dimension refers to any positive or negative behavior toward any object.

Gardner and Lambert (1972) claimed that according to the socio-linguistic theory, motivations towards learning a language are instrumental and integrative ones. The instrumental motivation refers to language learning in order to achieve a particular goal, such as succeeding in a test. The integrative motivation refers to language learning as a goal to understand and integrate within a certain society and its culture.

Gardner and Lambert (1972) and Schumann (1978) added that discovering integrative motivation empowers the internalization, the understanding and the connection of the individual to the culture and to the language. Suleiman (2003) claimed that there are differences of opinion about this theory because many conditions affect attitudes toward language such as political and social conditions. Giles, et al (1977) stated that an individual identifies with the group to which he belongs through language.

I assume that numerous studies worldwide have addressed the issue of attitudes towards the language, especially among minorities.

Ethnic identity

The concept of ethnicity or ethnic identity cannot be clarified simply. Alba (1990) defines ethnic identity as ‘a person’s subjective orientation toward his or her ethnic origins’. Berry and Laponce (1994) indicate that there seems to be no consensus as to the definition of the word ‘ethnic’. They point out that at certain times “ethnic” was used to refer to ‘race’, and at other times it has acquired the connotations of the word ‘culture’. In a country such as Israel where much of the population is made up of several diverse populations from many different backgrounds, the terms ‘ethnic identity’ and ‘ethnicity’ remain problematic. Among Arabs, the term “ethnic identity” refers to religious affiliation.

Tajfel and Turner (1979) claim that people in a specific social company appear to have a strong wish for self-recognition. There is proof that constructing and grasping a social individuality secures people from feelings of low self-esteem (Crabtree, Haslam, Postmes, & Haslam, 2010; J; Jetten et al., 2014). Research on immigrants from various communities shows that psychological anxiety results from the failure to coordinate between the labeling and identification of the original and the host culture (Sam & Berry, 2010).

Language and identity

Regarding, the role of identity in learning English, Whyte and Holmberg (1956) claim that psychological identification could be the most important factor in learning the language even in an instrumental setting. They also state that when an individual learns the English language simply as a means to complete a job, he might later on have the urge to go beyond the job in order to know more and explore the English language. As Renandya (2004) has said, the knowledge of English has become a symbol of modern identity and the mark of an educated person in most societies. Whyte and Holmberg (1956) also claim that if the individual views language as a tool for establishing authentic links of communication with other people, then he possesses the psychological foundations for language control and mastery. However, students from diverse backgrounds might have unfavorable and disrespectful attitudes towards English and see it as a danger or threat to their national identity. Gardner (1985) emphasizes the significance of producing a learning environment in which students do not feel the target language as a threat to their mother tongue. Gardner (1983) argues that since language is an essential part of civilization, studying a foreign language relies on the student`s desire to identify with the civilization of the target language. Moreover, the learner should integrate facets of the target language, civilization and linguistic repertoire into his/her own manner of acting.     

Asmah Haji Omar (1992a) remarks that learning a language is in itself an accomplishment for the learner. She says in reference to English as a second or foreign language that: “there is always the opinion that learning another language will turn the learner into something else, that is, after acquiring another language he will not be the same individual that he was when he had not acquired that language” (p. 119). Regarding the relationship between ethnic background and students` attitudes towards English, Gardner (1985) considers attitudes as components of motivation in language learning. Accordingly, I believe the motivation of Arab learners should be a combination of effort and desire to achieve the goal of learning the English language together with favorable attitudes toward learning it. Moreover, Islamic perspectives on the role of language and the attitude that Muslims may adopt towards learning English language has a great effect on the attitudes of pupils. It emphasizes the need for English teachers to take into account the socio-cultural aspects of learning English when teaching Muslim, Druze and Christian pupils. Concerning Muslim pupils in particular, they should stress the value and importance of learning English for the purpose of acquiring modern and current knowledge in spite of their hostility towards Israel and the West. Mohd-Asraf Ratnawati (2009) acknowledged the resistance of Muslims towards English, and about the commonly known conflict between Islam, and the way Muslims feel about English, which is regarded by many as a conveyor of Christian cultural values, and Western civilization. Nevertheless, it is also considered as having some positive values.

In the same way that English is more than just a language, Druze beliefs are more than just a religion. It is a way of life, with its own worldview; a way of looking at the world positively, especially towards the Western world even though it differs from some fundamental issues of Druze religion and culture.

Effects of religion on learning a foreign language

Some researchers explored the notion of religion in investigating the attitudes of learners towards the English language. Shaaban and Ghaith (2003, pp. 53-73) found that the linguistic attitudes of learners towards the English language help define the character of the learner. The study shows that the variables of religion and foreign language study at school influence the linguistic attitudes of the participants. This implies that religion is a determining factor of linguistic attitudes.

Amara (2008) states that it is important for Muslims to study and learn the English language, even though Muslims are careful not to be influenced by the cultural aspects that lie behind this language. Moreover, it is important for Arabs to learn English and realize its importance as a world language and as a means for promoting mutual understanding among people and countries, while at the same time keeping in mind Islamic and Arabic values as well as Muslim identity.

Some Arabs communities might find English a threat to their Arabic or Islamic religious and cultural values. Yet the majority may recognize the international importance of English because of its worldwide application in business, education and communication.

  

Druze and English

Originating in the eleventh century from the Shi’a Muslim sect, the Druze religion is based on a philosophical movement that began during in the Fatimid Caliphate and was influenced by Greek philosophy and Christianity (Betts, 1988:19).

Little research has been conducted regarding the attitude of Druze pupils, their cultural background, and their interest in the English language. The Druze is a minority population in Israel living in villages in the north of the country, existing within a unique social context and fully identifying with the national goals. They are considered an Arab conservative society. In addition, they perform compulsory military service in the Israeli army. The uniqueness of the Druze lies in the fact that they are a minority who identify with the majority population of the country in their language, politics, attitudes towards the Western world and culture.                             

These facts have a positive effect on the attitude of Druze pupils towards the Hebrew language as well as towards the Western world and the English language. Druze pupils are aware that the knowledge of English is essential for them because of its global reach.

The Christians and English

Parks (2003) stated that English is seen by many as the incorporation and transmitter of Christian cultural values and of Western civilization, and is regarded either positively or negatively by those who use it. 

The Muslims and English

There is a struggle between the English language and Islam. Harris (1991, p. 90) refers to this struggle. Al-Issa (2002) also talks about the opinion of one group concerning the teaching of English in primary schools in one of the Arab countries that knowledge of English is a basic need in these secondary schools. Other groups argue that the exposure of young children to the English language and culture will be a catastrophe for their cultural and religious education.

English is not just a language, any more than Islam is just a religion. English language and Western culture and Islamic religion and Arab culture, whatever else they may be, represent two very large international power groups in their struggle for control of the Middle East. Muslims probably cannot express clearly exactly what it is that made them oppose English. It could be that their opposition to English came simply as a reaction to their political struggle against the Israeli government and the Western world. They may also be anxious about the change in their children’s thoughts and behavior as a result of being exposed to English language, culture and literature, which is a basic requirement in the English syllabus today.

Another reason for this resistance to English is the fear of reform. Zaman Muhammad Qasim (2002) stated that the real issues were the fear that those in power, in my case, the Israeli authority and the Western world, would reform and modernize Muslim pupils, secularize them, and change their identity altogether. Muslims are concerned that English language learning may be the crucial element that would be used intentionally to undermine their identity. On the other hand, Zaman (2002) added that modernity was as essential for Muslims as for anyone else, and that aspects of Western culture should be accepted in order to empower one’s self and support one’s identity.

Harris (1991) suggests that such a conflict, Muslim resistance and rejection of English language learning, leaves its traces on the attitudes of pupils to English language.  British imperialism and colonialism has made the Arab world feel that there is a strong relationship between English and Christianity. According to Amara (1999), the most obvious signs of cultural expansion are the spread of the English language. The ideological and cultural backgrounds of English language and culture threaten the Islamic world. Thus, the appropriate solution is to understand the Muslim attitudes towards English and adopt an Islamic approach to teaching English as a foreign language. Islamic English is the English language modified to enable it to carry Islamic proper nouns and meanings without distortion, and thus to serve the linguistic needs of Muslim users of the English language. As a new notion, “Islamic English” raises three questions; who are the Muslim users of the English language? What is the nature of the distortion which is claimed to exist? What is the required rectification? Farouqi (1986) examined the development of Islamic English and defines Islamic English as the language to enable and serve the linguistic needs of Muslim users of the English language.

The researchers Che Dan, Haroon and Naysmith (1996) examined the claim that a conflict might exist between the values underlying English language teaching and the values of Islam. They found that the majority of students studying English in this case are well-motivated towards English language learning. However, even though they recognized the dangers of acquiring strange values through their English language learning, they feel able to learn English as a tool for their development without allowing it to influence their identity as Muslims. One obvious benefit gained by young Muslims is the awareness of the change in their attitude towards English from a negative to a more positive one. They no longer regard English as the language of non-Muslims but as a necessary tool for their development.

Like any language of the world, Arabic is a means of communication. However, like very few languages of the world, it is also a vehicle for a renowned culture and civilization. The Muslims have always supported and favored classical Arabic as a unifying factor not only for the Arabs but also for non-Arab Muslims who share the language and its heritage. They also said that English is the chief marker of modern identity and is the major factor that divides Muslim society into the ranks of the English-using elite and the traditionally educated proto-elite, or the illiterate masses.

Participants

         The participants in the study were 50 EFL Arab learners, who have a similar background and little knowledge of English learning, majoring in the Exemption English faculty at universities and colleges in the north of Israel. The research questionnaire was filled out by 50 student participants, whose ages ranged from 18 to 42 years (M=28.33,SD=7.53). The participants were studying in various departments at universities and colleges in the State of Israel. All the students were given a questionnaire designed for the purpose of this study.

The study was conducted during the fall term 2018 – 2019. They were 32 female and 18 male.

Questionnaire

A direct attitude questionnaire of 42 items was designed by me, based on similar questionnaires used in previous studies. The questionnaire attempted to measure students’ attitudes toward English and English learning in Israel. It prompted students to respond to 42 statements on a five ‐point Likert scale ranging from strong agreement to strong disagreement. The scales reliability value was calculated as 0, 91. (1=strongly agree, 2=agree, 3=undecided, 4=disagree, 5=strongly disagree).

I necessarily modified and added items to make the questionnaire relevant and appropriate for universities and colleges Arab students learning English as a foreign language in the north of the State of Israel. This questionnaire was constructed for this study in cooperation and coordination with the supervisor Professor Mihai Zdrenghea. The questionnaire underwent a process of judgment by experts.

Results and Discussion

The information collected from the survey was analyzed using the statistical package SPSS for Windows. The means and standard deviations of each of the 42 items were calculated to determine whether or not there were significant differences in attitudes among the students. Knowing the importance of English and the importance of attitude to language learning, this study was conducted to explore students’ attitudes towards learning English, and to investigate the effect of students` community ethnic affiliation on their attitudes.  Based  on  the  definition  of  attitude towards  English  in  general  as  mentioned  earlier,  the results  indicated  that  Arab EFL students  generally  have  positive thoughts  and  emotions  towards  learning  English language.

The Arabic minority in the State of Israel consists of a number of ethnic sub-groups (Christians, Muslims and Druze) who use the English language differently and also grant different degrees of importance to English culture. According to the research literature in the field of language study, Christians give high importance to the English language since it is the language of the Christian Western world. The Druze who live close to Jewish cities and are particularly attracted to the Jewish and Western world, also grant considerable importance to the English language. However, the Muslims have reservations about the study of the English language because of their reaction and struggle against the Israeli Government and the Western world which English symbolizes for them.

 

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