Should English Be Taught to Saudi Children under the age of six

English has become a global language. It is widely used in Saudi Arabia, although the official language is Arabic. As a result, many Saudi parents are wondering what the optimal age for teaching English to young children is. Should they talk to young children at home in English, in Arabic or both? Should they send their children to a kindergarten that uses English as a medium of instruction, teaches English as a subject or teaches Arabic only? Does teaching English (L2) to young Saudi children affect their acquisition of Arabic (L1) and their academic achievement in later stages? The present study tried to explore parents’ perceptions of L2 acquisition and its effect on simultaneous L1 acquisition and academic achievement. Interviews with a representative sample of 300 mothers revealed that 70% believe that English instruction should start in kindergarten. 70% prefer to enroll their children in a kindergarten that would teach them both English and Arabic. 50% prefer to speak English with their children at home. 70% believe that teaching English to young children has no negative effect on L1 acquisition and has a positive effect on their scholastic achievement in later years. Findings also revealed many stereotypes and misconceptions among mothers about the optimal age for teaching L2, the effect of L2 acquisition on L1 acquisition and on scholastic achievement, and the attribution of failure to learn English by junior and senior high school students to their learning English at an older age, i.e, grade 7, rather than any other factors. Mothers also believe that children can learn both English and Arabic easily and effortlessly and can learn to speak English with a native accent. The second language acquisition literature and theories were reviewed to clarify those common misconceptions and stereotypes. Some recommendations regarding the teaching of English to children under the age of six will be given.

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

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