The Impact of Learning English as a Foreign Language on the Identity and Agency of Saudi Women
AbstractThis study investigated whether or not English as a Foreign Language (EFL) has an impact on the identity and sense of agency of Saudi women studying English in Saudi Arabia; and how Saudi women perceive the role of English in negotiating their identity and roles in the Saudi community. The study also aims to provide a better understanding of the status of English in Saudi Arabia in general, and as it pertains specifically to Saudi women; and what discourses instigate Saudi women to invest in learning English in Saudi Arabia. The study was informed by a mélange of theoretical underpinnings, most notably, ‘braided feminism’ that encompasses three feminist traditions (poststructuralist feminism, intersectionality, and Islamic feminism). Mixed methods (quantitative and qualitative) were used to collect the data; and 12 Saudi women were interviewed to get their perceptions on the topic. The findings indicate that English in Saudi Arabia is highly prized and considered as a key to employment and individual economic prosperity. Despite the consensus on its importance to Saudis and the Saudi society, the magnitude of its importance and the possibility of it being exaggerated were heavily debated. Three levels can explain the widespread use of English in Saudi Arabia: 1) macro (national and societal changes), 2) meso (changes in foreign language education policies), and 3) micro (language usage by social groups and individuals in Saudi Arabia). The data revealed a wide array of investment discourses in the form of: (a) push and pull factors for learning English, and (b) push and pull factors for choosing Saudi Arabia to learn English. The participating Saudi women felt that learning English had a positive impact on their identities; and that the most positive impact was to their positive personal traits. The data also showed how Saudi women assume various identity positions and how learning English helped them to navigate through various positions. The most important finding in this section was that the agency of the Saudi women was not one of resistance, but rather, of piousness; i.e., Saudi women chose to exercise their agency by conforming to the religious norms and traditions in Saudi Arabia, and at the same time, strove to change these structures to allow more freedom. In addition, the study revealed several obstacles that could hinder the Saudi women’s investment in English. The study concluded with implications for the participants, researchers in this area, language institutes in Saudi Arabia, and foreign language policy makers Kingdom-wide.
TypeThesis or dissertation