Learning English in a Globalized Context: A Case Study of Students in The United Arab Emirates (UAE)

  • Gihane Sadek

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This doctoral thesis examines the relationship between social identity and the learning and use of English as an International Language (EIL). It reports on a study involving Emirati students at a foreign university in the UAE where English is used as the medium of instruction. The study investigates how the students conceptualize the relationship between identity and the English language.The people of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) like many others in the Arabian Gulf and elsewhere realize the need to learn English. Most of the country’s communication in business, economy, science and health is carried out in English. This requirement comes from the fact that the Emiratis constitute only 19% of the UAE population (Mohammed, 2008), while the rest are non-Arabic speakers. The expatriates either have English as their mother tongue or use English as a medium of daily communication.However, since 2008, there has been a major debate in the media concerning the loss of the Emirati language and identity in the UAE (Al Baik, 2008; Gulf News, 2008; Musabih, 2008; Saayegh, 2008, accessed 14/10/2008; Gulf News, 2008, accessed 23/8/2008). It has been pointed out that nationals not only have to adapt to the new language, but also to the accompanying ‘Western culture’, including different norms, values and ideals that may conflict with the learners’ own Arab Muslim beliefs and ideologies.Previous studies have explored a long-standing debate which centers on the issue of whether we can teach a language successfully without teaching its accompanying culture (Kramsch, 1993, 1998; Byram, 2002, 2010; Beykont, 2002; Brown, 2000; Risager, 2011, 2012; Hinkel, 1999; Dervin and Risager, 2014). It has been argued that in a globalized context, English has become the gatekeeper to higher education, a high-income job, and information (e.g. through the Internet) (Phillipson, 1992; Pennycook, 1994; Holliday, 2005; Canagarajah, 1999; Phan, 2008; Sharifian, 2010; Rapatahana and Bunce et al, 2012). Moreover, English in many contexts is regarded as a status symbol of the elite (Holborow, 2000).The present study adds to this debate by investigating the place of English in the UAE, where the non-Arabic speaking expatriates outnumber the locals. It discusses this situation in general and particularly investigates the attitudes of eight Emiratis towards EIL. The study was interpretive and qualitative. The data were gathered by means of interviews with eight student participants and analysed thematically.The study reveals that there is considerable disconnection between the language policy intentions and the implementation of Arabic and English teaching and learning in schools and higher education. Moreover, the findings suggest a detachment between the ideologies practices of Emirati people and the policy of the government of the UAE. They also reveal that although participants are discontented with the Arabic status within their country, they still use English extensively in their daily communication. In addition, Emiratis often negatively assign low status to the Arabic language.
Date of Award22 Jun 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorTrevor Grimshaw (Supervisor) & Harry Kuchah (Supervisor)

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