Issues in Designing English for Islamic Studies Courses

Undergraduate students majoring in Islamic Studies at the women’s colleges in Saudi arabia need to take an English-for-Specific-Purposes (ESP) course each year of the B.A. program. The material for all four courses was specially developed in-house by a group of instructors at those colleges. An examination of the course material in general and reading texts in particular revealed many weaknesses. It was found that each textbook consists of 6 units, each of which consisting of a reading text, few vocabulary items and their dictionary definition and comprehension questions that students could answer by just matching the words of the question with those of the text. Vocabulary exercises required the students to fill in the blanks with the words that were defined or to look up the meanings in the dictionary. The reading passages lacked gradation in length and difficulty level and lacked variety in theme. They contained no context clues to develop the students’ ability to infer meaning of unknown words from context. English passages were simply a literal translation of Arabic sentences rather than connected discourse. The passages lacked cohesion, coherence and an organizational structure (enumeration, cause-effect, comparison-contrast, definition, sequencing, classification …etc). No devices signaling the text structure and no transitional words between sentences and paragraphs were used. Ideas are abstract, vague and have insufficient details. Stories had no theme, no setting, and no sequence of events. The passages lacked the stylistic features of English texts. Although the students are required to translate the same reading passages, translation skills and techniques were not mentioned. English for Islamic Studies courses need to be re-designed by a team of subject-matter, curriculum design and native English language experts. Discourse structure, stylistic features, register and specific reading and vocabulary skills should be taken into consideration in the course design.

Prof. Reima Al-jarf
King Saud University
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

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