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Article Details

Tips on Teaching Saudi Students

by Carol Fleming - 07/24/2010

"This article provides tips from a Westerner who teaches English to Saudi students."

Some expatriates may be undecided on whether or not to accept a position in Saudi Arabia teaching English. It may be due to an unknown location or perhaps in wondering just how to interact and teach English to Saudi students. One teacher who has been teaching English to Saudi students was kind enough to share her experiences and tips on teaching Saudi students. These tips can apply whether teaching Saudi students inside or outside of Saudi Arabia.

I really enjoy teaching them, and have a lot of fun with them. I've found that I really love their sense of humor. We laugh a lot! Their sense of humor seems to involve a lot of teasing, and a bit of silliness too. The majority of them are good students who respect me. But some of them can be difficult, and I'm always nervous when I get new students that they may be difficult ones.

Following are the challenges she has encountered and how she has chosen to respond:

They are always late, but this doesn't really bother me too much, and I've figured out ways to handle this. We have 3 breaks in our morning class which gives them 4 opportunities to be late. So I don't let them in if they are more than 10 minutes late and this works. The other thing I do is before they are allowed to sit down is I make them apologize in correct English, and they have to get it right at least once before they are allowed to sit down. Eg "I'm sorry I'm late because I was smoking." I wouldn't do this to someone who was shy because they would be mortified. However I have found that Saudis aren't the slightest bit worried about being put on the spot, or even looking silly in front of the class.

The other rules I really enforce are: no mobile phones which I enforce by asking them all personally if their phone is off, and are they sure it's off, and getting them to show me if I don't believe them. Additionally I request that they do not speak Arabic in class. This is pretty difficult to enforce, but if they speak Arabic I give them their homework and send them out of the class for 5 minutes. They always protest but I don't back down and this does seem to really work, and stop them from speaking Arabic.

A lot of them seem really unmotivated and lazy, and completely uninterested in learning. They seem to be very spoilt and pampered, and don't really need to learn anything because they're just going to work for their father anyway, who is usually some kind of businessman. Thankfully at the moment I have Saudi students who are all good and keen to learn.

They are often not very good at thinking for themselves whenever I give them written exercise where they have to work on their own. They want me to tell them the answers, or someone else to tell them the answers; they don't want to actually think. When I do get a Saudi who will sit there and work through the exercises on his own I'm so impressed.

They are very demanding. Recently one of them told me that it's rude to cut in on an elder when he is speaking. They all demand my attention at once. For example I am talking to one student, but three others are crying out "teacher! Teacher! Teacher!" And don't stop until I answer them. And they always try to cut in when I'm speaking. This doesn't bother me too much if they are generally otherwise good students.

A lot of them cheat in their weekly tests, and if they've been absent they will never tell me the truth (eg I just didn't want to come to school), they always come up with some sort of excuse.

In turn, for those who have worked in Saudi Arabia or with other Arabs, please consider sharing your own experiences and tips you have to pass on to others!

Carol Fleming

(11 Votes)

Views: 17209

24 comment(s)

Wednesday 11 August 2010, 1:51 am
This is a very good thought. I have no experience yet in teaching Arab learners but soon I may experience because as of this writing I am on the process of applying to teach in any educational institution in Saudi Arabia.

Wednesday 11 August 2010, 2:01 pm
My students in Saudi Arabia fit the author's description well. I would add that communalism in the Middle East versus individualism in Western cultures adds a notable dynamic to classrooms wherein native Saudis are taught by native Westerners (as opposed to International private schools for expatriot children). Saudi students homogenize, rarely express different views from the group, and are extremely hesitant to work alone. As a Westerner, this forced me to change the way I approach and present individual activities and assessments. I had to offer explicit justifications for individual work because their impulse to help each other was so strong and they honestly had no notion of why they would ever need to work alone. Growing up in the US, we are constantly told how special we are as individuals, how important our personal dreams are; we are taught to express our own opinions and stand up for whatever we believe in as individuals. Growing up in Saudia, children are taught to always help each other, stay with the group, conform to cultural beliefs, and that their family is basically their life force. I admire my students' deep devotion to family and friends. I wanted to share a belief in oneself with them as well, and I believe we achieved that. I found that discussions involving family, friends, tribes, and societies won student engagement more effectively than topics centering on personal likes, opinions, schedules, and experiences. Better students were those who better navigated group bonds when studying, so I could help students who fell behind by supporting those kinds of study skills. After they got used to it, my students seemed to enjoy focusing on themselves as unique individuals now and then.

Wednesday 11 February 2015, 12:52 am
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Wednesday 11 February 2015, 12:53 am
Have you been tired associated with feeling unappreciated, no matter just how much effort and time you put in teaching? Nicely, maybe you have to make the transfer to an worldwide teaching profession.

Musah Ismaila
Thursday 12 August 2010, 5:52 pm
I 46 Ghanaian English teacher and have been teaching English at second cycle level for over 12 years now. I hold Post-Secondary Teachers' Cert. 'A' in English, Mathematics & Education; B. Ed in Secretarial, Management & English; M.A. TESL from the University of Ghana, Accra. Please, how could you assist me to realise my cherished dream to teach English in Saudi Arabia? I hope to hear from you in due course. Yours faithfully, Musah Ismaila

tasneem khan
Friday 17 September 2010, 12:11 pm
i home tutored some arab adults &children.i found them to be very enthusiastic learners of english.they wanted to speak english fluently with right accent.they completed their h. assignments on the beginning they were hesitant while practising spoken english.i gave them assignments to speak on aparticular object or person at least two three sentences after that the error was corrected by making them speak the corrected sentence for five times.however children were distracted & reluctant to learn.i tried to enhance their vocabulary by showing them objects and colours etc .most of the time ihad to encourage them.

Saudi Bound
Saturday 14 January 2012, 10:34 am
Hi there Is it easy to get private tutor jobs? Thank you all for the tips on teaching, I am making notes whilst reading.

Jared H
Wednesday 22 September 2010, 12:38 am
This sounds exactly the same as in Indonesia--Glad to know it's not just over here :)

muhammad awais
Sunday 26 September 2010, 5:42 pm
I have been teaching Saudi students for the last 8 years n i agree with some of the the observations about them.I believe one needs to have immense amount of patience while teaching and handling Saudi students.O ne should remain prepared to face any situation at anytime.It's true that the taste of pudding lies in tasting.By the way, it's great opportunity to teach yourself through

Janet Nolan
Saturday 23 October 2010, 2:57 pm
I am currently working on an TEFL assignment and during my research I happened to come across this web page. I have found it to be very informative. I do haved questions someone mjght answer. How hard is it for European women to get a teaching job in Saudi Arabia and will she be respected even though she is not Muslem??? Thank you in advance. JANET

Monday 21 April 2014, 12:35 pm
it isnt difficult at all...n u'll be respectd no doubt whch religion u belong to :)

Philip Edwards
Thursday 28 April 2011, 2:05 am
Thanks for this information.

Dr. David A. Dutcher
Saturday 16 July 2011, 4:38 pm
I currently teach in Russia. Many of the observations made by Carol fit my students as well. Students in the Universities here believe cheating is a form of helping one another and is a common practice. Few are concerned with grades as it is possible to simply buy a grade, or a diploma for that matter, should one fail. Because I would not take a bribe, I was never approached. The students simply took it to the Dean and, shazam, they passed. Getting students to turn off cell phones is next to impossible. Students here have little respect for teachers and are quick to argue. I would NOT recommend teaching in Russia unless one has the patience of Job.

Fab, Fab
Saturday 27 August 2011, 3:34 pm
Please, I'd like to know about teaching English to university students in Riyadh, working hours, curriculum, technology, salary, accommodation, and student's behavior. Thank you, FF

Friday 31 January 2014, 5:57 pm
Your salary depends on the both your nationality and your skin color, as well as your company. White Americans get paid the most and earn about 2,800 USD each month with housing and transportation provided. There's a good chance you won't work in Riyadh though. They will most likely send you to a smaller town where teachers are much needed. Don't expect much from the technology. Things in Saudi structure is based more on looks than functionality. The working hours is about 40 a week, but can be more when teachers are leaving or still coming in. There are a lot of a lot of vacations. Students, at least the women, are like sour patch kids. They can be sour and then so sweet.

Tuesday 20 September 2011, 4:00 pm
Well , this is very true , i teach Saudis too ,i teach diploma students , some of them are interested in learning a new things, they respect the teacher too, , but how i could engage them with the class, i try many tips such as ,videos , group activities ,etc but they seem not interested and the most annoying thing is the blackberries , they have to check each 2 minutes ,anyhow i enjoy teaching them !

Saturday 18 February 2012, 2:44 am
Hello, I am going to be graduating by the fall of 2013. It might be possible for me to graduate by the summer of 2013, but I doubt it. I am majoring in communications at ucsd, since they do not offer any english degrees except english literature. I was wondering is it easy to get a teaching job in saudi with a bachelors degree and a celta? thank you, Mansoor

Saturday 12 May 2012, 7:36 am
Hello, Saudi Arabia is not another plant, it's just like any other country. You'll meet bad and good people, and as is always the case goods out wight the bads. If you want to have a good relationship with Saudis, please understand the following things. 1- Religion, Islam, is a red line for the majority of them. They're willing to discuss many matters with you regarding their religion, but once they feel you are insulting it, they'll get defensive. So, it's O.K to ask why do you do this or that? but they will not accept saying or implying that this wrong( you could say I disagree). Also, you may have some people who will attack your belief to defend theirs, but again those are rare. 2-Saudis are generous in general. They are raised to be like this as many other Arabs( Being generous is encouraged in the Arabic culture pre-Islam, and Islam has enforced this concept). So, please, when you see us act like this, don't think that we are fools or that we have more money than we need. 3-The majority of Saudi men respects women, and the majority of women doesn't feel oppressed by men. Of course, there are some cases. When men and women in Saudi Arabia discuss the right of women, the majority of them are just trying to have the maximum freedom that the religion has given them. What I am saying is that the standard and the idea of women right is totally different than that of western civilization. As a result, you may use the same term in English " women rights', but the meaning and ramifications are totally different. I again emphasis that Saudi usually judge these matters by their understanding of religion, which could vary from a person to another. 4- Most Saudis extremely love their parents. The mother is usually more loved than the father. 5-Saudi men are Not used to interact with strange women, and of course they get tired when they see a non-modest woman as all men do. The fact that sexes are separated may create this issue, which BTW is widely accepted by both sexes but the argument often come to the extent by which this should be applied. 6-Don't mix things together. Saudis are not Islam. 7-It's common for Saudi students to cheat in test as a mean of helping their friends, even though it's forbidden by religion and Arabic culture. 8-The education system is noticeably weak. 9-When a Saudi invite you to Islam, that's mean s/he really like and wish you all good. Because they truly believe in their religion and that it's the only right path to haven, they'll invite you to it ( don't get confused when you see them ignore some aspects of it, because this is another story) I find myself forced to say that there are goods and bads, and it's your call to know with whom you should interact. Finally, if you are willing to respect their red lines and socialize with them, you'll find many loyal friends. I forget to tell you that it's 5:30 a.m and I haven't slept yet, just in case you wonder why we come to school lazy and late :D. I hope you all enjoy being in Saudi Arabia or teaching Saudis abroad.

sana ahmad
Tuesday 1 January 2013, 8:29 am
this is exactly what i feel. I was reading this and felt that i want to say these things.I am teaching english in Jazan university. I had observed the students and there behavior,and I feel that your observation is correct

Scherazad Falcon
Tuesday 26 February 2013, 12:54 am
thank you so much for sharing your information. as a weekend performer, i interact a lot with saudi students studying english and enjoy learning about their culture. most of them have treated me with much kindness and i have learned to love them and appreciate them. i look forward someday to perhaps having a home where i can take in saudi students who are studying english, as many of the saudi's i interact with are in the u.s. studying english. again, than you for the insightful information.

Neri Reyes
Friday 15 June 2012, 3:57 pm
thank you all for these very helpful information..right now i'm trying to create lesson plans on teaching english to saudi students.i'd really like to know if you can give me some advice on what other activities i could use and on what other topics that i should definitely avoid during discussions and such?....

Monday 3 March 2014, 4:02 am
I had been teaching in Oman since 1996 and I love my students and enjoy teaching them. I find it easy to tackle with Omanis compared to the Indian counterparts....

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