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Bilingualism On Identity In Saudi Arabia English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 2970 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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English is a global language and an international lingua franca. Most people around the world speak English Language as their second language. Language is more than words and expressions. In fact, Language comes as a package including culture, identity, lifestyle, traditions, conventions and a lot of other things. Therefore, learners and speakers have to go through all these things which, of course, is going to affect them in a way or another. In fact, the impact of language on the identity is crucial. Language has the ability to reform somebody’s identity. People are recognized by the language they speak which reflects their identity, religion and lifestyle. It is obvious that any language has its unique features which are shown through people speech and behaviors. Individuals who speak more than one language play can play various roles and can show different identities using their languages. However, People unconsciously may modify or become affected the moment they start learning another language. Additionally, some people admire particular cultures, so they start learning the language of the culture for the sake of understanding the culture better. Consequently, identity changes occur during acquiring a language. Identity construction is not a conscious process but rather it is influenced by unconscious psychological processes. It is an on-going, evolving and dynamic process which is pluralistic in nature.

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Literature review

According to John Edwards (2009) “Personal identity is essentially the summary statement of all our individual traits, characteristics and dispositions; it defines the uniqueness of each human being.”

In Saudi Arabia, English is considered as a foreign language. People speak English as a kind of prestige. In fact, sometimes Saudis speak English for the sake of showing off among friends and relatives even though they may speak terrible English. It shows that this person is well-educated and multi-cultured. To do that, people tend to change their style of talking which might result in changing parts of their identity to make themselves sound native speakers of English. Additionally, they sometimes behave in a way which destroys their beliefs being unaware of different words notations. Language is not an easy thing to learn. Once you are involved in learning a new language, it is quite hard to stay isolated from the nature and the style of the language. In communities where English is a foreign language, there are dramatic changes that can be noticed on people of this community. In fact, whatever is new to a community, it has an impact, in the course of time, on that community. Language is the most effective and contributing factor that can change or modify someone’s identity. However, language also has positive impacts on identity. Multilingual people seem to have multiple positive identities. People may enhance their own identity from learning another language. They may change the way they respect people or the way they pay compliments trying to be more sincere.

A study conducted by Reima Al Jarf , king Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia investigated college students’ views of the status of English and Arabic in Saudi Arabia. Findings showed that 96% of the participants consider English a

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superior language, being an international language, and the language of science and technology, research, and technical terminology. 82% percent believe that Arabic is more appropriate for teaching religion, history, Arabic literature and education majors. They gave many educational, technological, social and labor market reasons

for favoring the English language. The study concluded that Arabic is facing a serious threat from the dominance of English language in higher education, because of the lack of language planning and linguistic policies that protect, develop and promote the Arabic language, because of the slow Arabicization processes in the Arab world, and inadequacy of technical material translated and published in Arabic.


Investigating the impact of English on the construction of social and cultural identities of different groups of Saudi graduates.

Finding out the aspects of Identity that get affected in bilinguals’ identity.

Main hypothesis

Language plays an important role in forming someone’s identity

Language effects on identity can be positive or negative

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Research questions:

In what ways does English affect the identities of adults in Saudi Arabia as bilingual speakers?

How does English threaten their culture and identity? In what ways does English affect or marginalize local language and local identities?

To what extent does language affect someone’s religion?

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For more reliable findings I am approaching the topic from various points of view by combining qualitative data from unstructured interviews (last for 15mins) and observations. I am also using some theories and books that will guide me to explain the material in the right way.

Three groups in their 30s (male-graduates) some studied at KAU in Jeddah, all of them are Jeddah residents.

Group 1: 10 graduates, English majors. They did not study abroad.

Group 2: 10 graduates non-English majors, but they studied in America, so they speak good English.

Group 3: 10 graduates speak quite good English. The majors of the second two groups are engineering, medicine, dentistry.

In fact, I have chosen such majors because they are taught in English, so the students are exposed enough to the English language. Additionally, the reason behind choosing just males is that this study was conducted in Saudi Arabia where women’s campus is completely separate from men’s campus, so it is difficult to interview women.


Everyone is bilingual. That is, there is no one in the world (no adult, anyway) who does not know at least a few words in languages other than the maternal variety (Edwards:2004). Bilingualism straightforwardly is defined as being able to use more than one language easily. In the past bilingualism was considered as a disadvantage making a child/guy less intelligent. However, after a lot of studies conducted on bilinguals, it showed that bilingualism is a great advantage. In my opinion, it is really a big bounty being able to speak more than one language. Moreover, studies showed

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that bilinguals are more intelligent than monolinguals in that they are exposed to two languages. In fact, language is not just expressions and words. But, it is deeper than this meaning that the language words based on the culture, lifestyle, thinking style of a language. All these things together makes a bilingual more open-minded and more intelligent.



It is learning one language after already knowing another. This is the situation for all those who become bilingual as adults, as well as for many who became bilingual earlier in life. Sometimes it is also called successive bilingualism. 


It is learning two languages as “first languages”. That is, a person who is a simultaneous bilingual goes from speaking no languages at all directly to speaking two languages. Infants who are exposed to two languages from birth will become simultaneous bilinguals.( http://www.saolt.net)


Identity is a very complicated concept in a way that it is unclear because what we can see is just a very small part of that big concept within a person. In fact, I came across many definitions for identity and I have found that the most relevant one is the one which defines identity as “The set of behavioral or personal characteristics by which an individual is recognizable as a member of a group”.(www.answers.com)

The construction of identity takes long to be shaped. Moreover, there are strong identity and weak identity. In fact, the strong identity depends on a firm base that cannot be changed or affected by external factors. Unlike the strong identity, the

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weak identity is easy to change because it was not built firmly, so its base is simply can get changed.

There are some factors which affect identity. Identity is shaped by different elements found in a society.


Religion is a very powerful factor which can play a major role in someone’s identity. In fact, religion urges its followers to behave and build their identity on a particular base after giving them a perfect model in order to make it possible to reach. In fact, if a non-Muslim person converts to Islam, his identity will be totally different and the vice versa will take place is he was muslim and converted to another religion.

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The environment starts from the family where a child begins building his identity at an early stage. Later on, the community plays a role also. In multi-cultural communities, people’s identity is different than people where they live in mono-cultural communities. In fact, the environment where people live has impact on people in that they have to follow the rules, lifestyle, traditions and conventions which should be taken into consideration in terms of identity forms.


Language is the key factor that helps us to identify people’s identity. As speakers of a particular language, people might have an idea about how such people behave and how they respect others depending on their expressions of apology, for instance. People might have stereotypes about a group of people or a particular society which they sometimes, unfortunately, depend on it in terms of making judgments on them. Actually, language factor is the most important element in our research. Therefore, we

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will talk about this factor till the end of the research. Language spread to remote parts of the world through its speakers who make a good and international use of it. This reflects what we have mentioned earlier about weak and strong personality. Obviously, English speakers are very proud of their language, and are very self-confident which shows a strong identity.

Bilingualism and Identity

Most of people across the world are bilinguals. This, actually, makes such a study more significant in that it has become a phenomenon among people. Somebody might poses a question saying that why is it like this Bilingualism and Identity? Why is not religion and identity? Or Environment and identity? We can straightforwardly answer such questions by another question What controls what?Who is the mother and who are the daughters?

It is very simple now to explicate that language is the mother in that it brings all these daughters (religion, environment, conventions, and lifestyle) with when it reaches any part of the world. Basically, if the language is not there, whatever comes under it will never be in that place. Therefore, it is the mother which is in control of everything.

Acquisition process of any language has its impact on the learners from different angles. In fact, there is no way of running away from the target language culture whether we like it or not. Learners have to get exposed to the culture in order to learn the language perfectly. Consequently, they start identifying the various aspects of the culture which usually results in absorbing the cultural variations. Afterwards, learners at this point are divided into two parts: the first part will change their identity to the target language identity being the global and the lingua franca of the world. Besides:

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it is more prestigious. The second part will preserve their native-language identity being conservative and not easily affected by external factors. In fact, some of the second group might do this to stay in the safe side and not to get attacked by the conservative society. I got such a finding from observing those people when they are away from their community, they try to behave as if they are westernized.

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In my opinion, belonging to one of these groups is not the individual’s decision, rather it is the environment and the community which control the learner. According to the study, those who come from rural areas not from Jeddah city they are conservative, yet those who are from Jeddah find it normal and better to a be a multi-cultural person. Moreover, it is not something bad or negative to be affected by the target language culture. However, there are advantages and drawbacks of any culture which a learner should be aware of during the learning process. It is interesting to be a multi-cultural person which makes it easy to understand more people and get acquainted with different things than in your own culture.

Results and Findings

It is a very interesting and enjoyable study, particularly when it comes to identifying people’s opinions and feelings towards something very attractive to them. Moreover, by doing such studies we can get to know the advantages and the disadvantages of the English language in a particular community, so we can work on finding solutions to problems.

Interviews were conducted on the subjects face to face and were recorded to be summarized and analyzed. There are thirty interviews as well as thirty interviewees. The researcher interviewed the subjects directly to observe the subjects and to get

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more valid and practical results. In fact, the interviewees were asked the following questions:

What is your opinion of applying English as the medium of instruction in schools?

Which schools do you prefer your sons to study in?

What makes you interested in English?

What was the style of learning English that you went through?

Were your teachers Americans?

Do you have American friends?

Do you like the American culture? Why?

What are the aspects that make you like this culture?

Do you want to be a member of that culture? Why?

Are you really impressed with that community?

Do you feel more loyal to the American community?

Do you like the English novels and drama more than the Arabic?

Do you think that Islam is not contemporary and restricts its followers’ freedom?

What is your opinion about Arabic language?

How often do you watch American movies and TV shows?

When was the last time you watched Arabian series?

Where do you usually go when you are on vacation?

Are you planning to live the rest of your life in Saudi Arabia or in America?

The answers of the questions were summarized, analyzed, and classified according to the three groups mentioned earlier.

It is a general finding that English has negative effects on Saudis’ identity in that most of the respondents have slightly or completely changed their identity. 90%

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of the respondents’ sons are in schools where English is the medium of instruction. In fact, in Saudi Arabia there are two kinds of schools; public schools where Arabic is the medium of instruction. The other kind is international schools where English is the medium of instruction. In fact, the American culture is taught there through history and geography subjects.

80% of the respondents believe that Arabic has to do with just religion and

doing some rituals whereas English is the technology language. This, actually, matches with the results of the study, mentioned earlier, conducted by Reima Al Jarf , king Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia where most of the respondents think that Arabic is not a contemporary language and is not valid for teaching scientific subjects such as medicine and technology. All of the subjects asserted that English will help them live a better life and find better careers according to the labor market needs.

95% of the respondents read English newspapers and watch just American movies, TV shows and series, but they rarely watch Arabian programs on TV claiming that they are boring.

40% of the respondents (who lived in America for a long while) said that Islam is not a contemporary religion and does not meet all people’s needs which is a result of the so called brain-washing.

All the respondents in the first two groups prefer to be a member of the American community being more open to the world and people have more freedom to express themselves.

75% of the subjects prefer to speak English in everyday communication, even at home, claiming that it is more prestigious and technical language. Consequently, Arabic will gradually disappear in their speech.

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All the respondents have American friends and were taught by American teachers which affected them a lot.

60% of the subjects prefer to be more liberal in a way that makes them free of the Islamic regulations and rules.


Bilingualism plays a major role in modifying/ changing identities.

American culture has profound and powerful impact on the Saudi society

Saudis who study English language or get exposed to it become very attached to its culture and lifestyle.

Using much English among Saudis, especially educated ones marginalize Arabic language. Consequently, their identities have been changed to be more loyal to the American culture.


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