Why isn’t Arabic used to teach science and technology in Saudi universities?

Why isn’t Arabic used to teach science and technology in Saudi universities?


Essam Amanallah BokhariEssam Amanallah Bokhari

Is encouraging our children to learn and speak foreign languages fluently while ignoring Arabic a sign of advancement and education? If we look around us at advanced countries, we notice that most of them do not put foreign languages ahead of their native language; they always give priority to their native language.

Let us take Japan as an example. The medium of instruction there is Japanese. I once asked a professor why universities there did not teach courses in English. The professor said he used to teach in English but stopped after noticing that the comprehension level of most Japanese students decreased when he taught in English. He then decided to use Japanese. When I asked him about global rankings and how using English as a medium of instruction could improve the university’s ranking, he answered that Japanese students were more important. What matters the most is the comprehension of Japanese students.

I did a MA degree in Waseda University in Japan. The professors always gave translation assignments. Students would be asked to translate research papers written in English into Japanese and present them in front of the class. The professors wanted students to keep up to date with the latest research papers written in English and wanted to ensure that students were able to comprehend them and translate them into Japanese.

We need to follow suit and learn from this experience. Professors at Saudi universities should ask students to read English research papers and translate them into Arabic because English is the language of science and technology. Why don’t we teach science and technology and other courses in Arabic?

According to Scopus, the largest abstract and citation database of peer-reviewed literature, including scientific journals, books and conference proceedings, Chinese students published more English research papers than British students did while Japanese students published more papers than Canadian and Australian students. The NHK Japanese TV channel offers a wide variety of programs for teaching languages like English, Chinese, Korean, German, French, Italian, Spanish and Arabic.

The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs runs a specialized institute for teaching foreign languages to students. There are two types of programs: one offers in-depth knowledge of a foreign language while the other offers basic knowledge of a foreign language with more emphasis on cultural and social aspects. I am happy that some of the students I taught at this institute hold different positions at Japanese embassies in several Arab countries.

While the Japanese are proud of their language and culture, they spend more than any other country on programs teaching foreign languages.

Unfortunately, a large number of private schools in our country do not have intensive Arabic courses for students. The result is that Saudi students can speak and think in English but not in Arabic.


  1. A nation can not be completed without his/her mother language implementation in all stages. From lower level up to the PhD mother language should be the basis. Some countries do not use mother language in science subjects specially. It is a lame excuse only. Mother Language is the basis of all traditional and cultural background including the Arabic.

  2. With a great amazement, I have read your article entitled ‘Why isn’t Arabic used to teach science and technology in Saudi universities? I couldn’t agree more with you that teaching the First Language, L1, (in this case Arabic) is crucial for the learner psychologically, sociologically and educationally as more than a half century the United Nations observed that:

    ‘It is axiomatic that the best medium for teaching a child is his mother tongue. Psychologically, it is the system of meaningful sign that in his mind works automatically for expression and understanding. Sociologically, it is a means of identification among the members of the community to which he belongs. Educationally he learns more quickly through it than through an unfamiliar linguistic medium.’ (UNESCO, 1953)

    Likewise, diverse researches illustrated the importance of mastering L1 in developing, to some extent, and facilitating the learning of a Second Language (L2).

    Shamsudin Abikar
    EdD Candidate
    Bristol, UK

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