Arab World English Journal (AWEJ) Special Issue on Covid 19 Challenges April 2021 Pp,147-159
English Language Teaching in Saudi Arabia in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic: Challenges
and Positive Outcomes
Reem A. Al-Samiri
English Language Institute,
University of Jeddah, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Recived: 3/6/2021 Accepted: 4/8/2021 Published:4/26/2021
The pandemic of 2020 was a watershed moment for all educators worldwide as schools and universities were forced to close their doors to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Thus, a new movement towards widespread e-learning emerged with unknown consequences for learners and educators alike. The situation in Saudi Arabia was no exception. The purpose of this study is to explore how English as a foreign language (EFL) teaching and learning at the tertiary level in Saudi Arabia was impacted negatively and positively by the move to online learning. It reviews research published since the onset of the pandemic, with a specific focus on English language teaching at Saudi universities, to analyze the challenges faced by Saudi EFL teachers and learners since the shift to e-learning. One of the biggest challenges observed was students’ lack of motivation, which upon further review was found to be linked to other contributing factors, such as technological issues, inapt learning environments, and students’ mental health. This paper also examines the unforeseen positive outcomes resulting from the digital transformation, including the benefits of the flexibility of place and time and promotion of particular language skills. The current research synthesis will help contribute to the knowledge of online English teaching in the Saudi context.
Keywords: COVID-19 pandemic, distance learning, e-learning, English as a foreign language
(EFL), English language teaching (ELT), remote learning, Saudi university students
Cite as: Al-Samiri, R. A. (2021). English Language Teaching in Saudi Arabia in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic: Challenges and Positive Outcomes. Arab World English Journal (AWEJ) Special Issue on Covid 19 Challenges (1) 147-159.
Alabsi, K. M., & Alghamdi, F. M. (2019). Students’ Opinions on the Functions and Usefulness of Communication on WhatsApp in the EFL Higher Education Context. Arab World English Journal, Special Issue 1: Application of Global ELT Practices in Saudi Arabia. 129- 144
Alfadda, H. A., & Mahdi, H. S. (2021). Measuring Students’ Use of Zoom Application in Language Course Based on the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM). Journal of Psycholinguistic Research. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10936-020-09752-1
Al-Hoorie, A. H. (2017). Sixty Years of Language Motivation Research: Looking Back and Looking Forward. SAGE Open, 7(1), https://doi.org/10.1177/2158244017701976
Ali, R., & Abdalgane, M. (2020). Teaching English Literacy in the Time of COVID-19 Pandemic in Higher Education: A Case Study in Saudi Qassim University. Multicultural Education, 6(5), 204–215. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4374526
Aljaber, A. A. M. (2021). The reality of using smartphone applications for learning in higher education of Saudi Arabia [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. University of Glasgow.
Al-Jarf, R. (2007). Online Instruction and Creative Writing by Saudi EFL Freshman Students. Asian EFL Journal, 22. Available at https://www.asian-efl-journal.com/monthly-editions-new/online-instruction-and-creative-writing-by-saudi-efl-freshman-students/
Al-Jarf, R. (2020). Distance learning and undergraduate Saudi students’ agency during the Covid-19 Pandemic. Bulletin of the Transilvania University of Brasov, 13(62), 37-54. https://doi.org/10.31926/but.pcs.2020.62.13.2.4
Alkhamees, A. A., Alrashed, S. A., Alzunaydi, A. A., Almohimeed, A. S., & Aljohani, M. S. (2020). The psychological impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the general population of Saudi Arabia. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 102. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.comppsych.2020.152192
AlMaiman, I. (2005). A study of seventh -grade Saudi students’ motivation level to learn English as a foreign language, (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Kansas. Available at http://search.proquest.com/docview/304990875/abstract/44DF25B67A324409PQ/1
Al-Nofaie, H. (2020). Saudi University Students’ Perceptions towards Virtual Education During Covid-19 Pandemic: A Case Study of Language Learning via Blackboard. Arab World English Journal, 11(3), 4–20. https://doi.org/10.24093/awej/vol11no3.1
Alowedi, N. A. (2020). Saudi Electronic University a Role Model in Implementing Blended Learning; Exploring the Experience of Female Students in the Department of English Language and Translation. International Journal of English Language Education, 8(1), 113-130. https://doi.org/10.5296/ijele.v8i1.16685
Alqarni, M. S. (2020). Informal EFL Learning in Saudi Arabia and the Role of the Internet: An Ecological Perspective, (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). The University of Queensland.
Alsowayegh, N. H., Bardesi, H. J., Garba, I., & Sipra, M. A. (2019). Engaging Students through Blended Learning Activities to Augment Listening and Speaking. Arab World English Journal (AWEJ) Special Issue on CALL (5), 267–288. https://doi.org/10.24093/awej/call5.18
Bin Dahmash, N. (2020). ‘I Couldn’t Join the Session’: Benefits and Challenges of Blended Learning amid COVID-19 from EFL Students. International Journal of English Linguistics, 10(5), 221-230. https://doi.org/10.5539/ijel.v10n5p221
Bukhari, S. S. F., & Basaffar, F. (2019). EFL Learners’ Perception about Integrating Blended Learning in ELT. Arab World English Journal (AWEJ) Special Issue on CALL, 5, 190-205. https://doi.org/10.31235/osf.io/nmjf2
Elsalem, L., et al. Al-Azzam, N., Jum’ah, A. A., Obeidat, N., Sindiani, A. M., & Kheirallah, K. A. (2020). Stress and behavioral changes with remote E-exams during the Covid-19 pandemic: A cross-sectional study among undergraduates of medical sciences. Annals of Medicine and Surgery, 60, 271–279. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amsu.2020.10.058
Elyas, T., & Al-Grigri, W. (2014). Obstacles to Teaching English in Saudi Arabia Public Schools: Teachers and supervisors’ perceptions. International Journal of English Language Teaching, 89274, 74–89.
Fudge, T., & Williams, L. (2020). Zoom in (but fasten your seatbelt). International Conference for Media in Education (iCoME) 2020: Diversity Education in ICT Advanced Society, Kobe, Japan (online). pp. 195-201. https://icome.education/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/icome2020_programproceedings_final_v2.pdf
Ghazi-Saidi, L., Criffield, A., Kracl, C. L., McKelvey, M., Obasi, S. N., & Vu, P. (2020). Moving from Face-to-Face to Remote Instruction in a Higher Education Institution during a Pandemic: Multiple Case Studies. International Journal of Technology in Education and Science, 4(4), 370–383. https://doi.org/10.46328/ijtes.v4i4.169
Gregersen, T., & MacIntyre, P. D. (2017). Optimizing Language Learners Nonverbal Behavior: From Tenet to Technique. Bristol, England: Multilingual Matters.
Gulnaz, F., Althomali, A. D. A., & Alzeer, D. H. (2019). An Investigation of the Perceptions and Experiences of the EFL Teachers and Learners About the Effectiveness of Blended Learning at Taif University. International Journal of English Linguistics, 10(1), 329-344.
Hakim, B. (2020). Technology Integrated Online Classrooms and the Challenges Faced by the EFL Teachers in Saudi Arabia during the COVID-19 Pandemic. International Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature, 9(5), 33-39. https://doi.org/10.7575/aiac.ijalel.v.9n.5p.33
Hartnett, M., St. George, A., & Dron, J. (2011). Examining motivation in online distance learning environments: Complex, multifaceted and situation-dependent. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 12(6), 20-38. https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v12i6.1030
Hasan, N., & Bao, Y. (2020). Impact of “e-Learning crack-up” perception on psychological distress among college students during COVID-19 pandemic: A mediating role of “fear of academic year loss.” Children and Youth Services Review, 118,1-9. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2020.105355
Hashim, H., Yunus, M. M., & Embi, M. A. (2018). Learning through mobile: Exploring the views of Polytechnic ESL learners. TLEMC (Teaching and Learning English in Multicultural Contexts), 2(1), 56-62.
Hassounah, M., Raheel, H., & Alhefzi, M. (2020). Digital Response During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Saudi Arabia. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 22(9). https://doi.org/10.2196/19338
Hernández, S. S. F., & Flórez, A. N. S. (2020). Online Teaching during Covid-19: How to Maintain Students Motivated in an EFL Class, 16(2), 157-171.
Horrigan, J. B. (2016). Digital Readiness Gaps. Pew Research Center. Available at
Joseph, R., Lucca, J. M., Alshayban, D., & Alshehry, Y. A. (2021). The immediate psychological response of the general population in Saudi Arabia during COVID-19 pandemic: A cross-sectional study. Journal of Infection and Public Health, 14(2), 276–283.
Khafaga, A. F. (2021). The perception of blackboard collaborate-based instruction by EFL majors/teachers amid COVID-19: A case study of Saudi universities. Journal of Language and Linguistic Studies, 17(2), 1160-1173.
Kim, K.-J., & Frick, T. W. (2011). Changes in student motivation during online learning. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 44(1), 1–23.
Maxwell, C. (2016, March 4). What blended learning is—And isn’t. Blended Learning Universe. Available at
Mabrook, A. M. (2020). Distant Learning; Its impact to EFL Students Due to COVID-19, Onaizah Colleges, Saudi Arabia. International Journal of Contemporary Applied Researches, 7(8).
MacIntyre, P. D. (2002). Motivation, anxiety and emotion in second language acquisition. In P. Robinson (Ed.), Language Learning & Language Teaching (Vol. 2, pp. 45–68). John Benjamins Publishing Company. https://doi.org/10.1075/lllt.2.05mac
Madhesh, A. (2021). Full exclusion during COVID-19: Saudi Deaf education is an example. Heliyon, 7(3), e06536. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.heliyon.2021.e06536
Nurunnabi, M. (2021). The preventive strategies of COVID-19 pandemic in Saudi Arabia. Journal of Microbiology, Immunology and Infection, 54(1), 127–128. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jmii.2020.07.023
Oraif, I., & Elyas, T. (2021). The Impact of COVID-19 on Learning: Investigating EFL Learners’ Engagement in Online Courses in Saudi Arabia. Education Sciences, 11(99), 1–19. https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci11030099
Shaibani, M. H. A. (2020). Academic Procrastination Among University Students in Saudi Arabia and Its Association with Social Media Addiction. PSYCHOLOGY AND EDUCATION, 57(8), 1118-1124.
Shin, J. K., & Borup, J. (2020). Global Webinars for English Teachers Worldwide During a Pandemic: “They came right when I needed them the most.” In R. E. Ferdig, E. Baumgartner, R. Hartshorne, R. Kaplan-Rakowski, & C. Mouza (Eds.), Teaching, technology, and teacher education during the COVID-19 pandemic: Stories from the field (pp. 157–162). [eBook edition]. Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education.
Statista. (2020). Internet: Most common languages online 2020. Statista. Available at https://www.statista.com/statistics/262946/share-of-the-most-common-languages-on-the-internet/
Sugarman, J., & Lazarin, M. (2020). Educating English Learners during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Policy Ideas for States and School Districts. Available at https://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/english-learners-covid-19-pandemic-policy-ideas
Tashkandi, H. (2021, January 8). WhatsApp privacy changes could turn off Saudi users: Cybersecurity experts. Arab News. https://arab.news/6b3a6
ur Rahman, M. M. (2020). Challenges and Solutions of Teaching English as a Foreign Language Online During a Global Pandemic Like COVID-19: Saudi EFL Teachers’ Perspectives. Journal of Southwest Jiaotong University, 55(6), 1-9. https://doi.org/10.35741/issn.0258-2718.104.22.168
Wheeler, S. (2012). E-Learning and Digital Learning. In N. M. Seel (Ed.), Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning (pp. 1109–1111). Boston, MA: Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-1428-6_431
Wiederhold, B. K. (2020). Connecting Through Technology During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Pandemic: Avoiding “Zoom Fatigue.” Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 23(7), 437–438. https://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2020.29188.bkw
Wright, S. (2021, February). How has 2020 changed academic English teaching? Cambridge Online Saudi Conference 2021. Available at https://www.cambridge.org/elt/blog/2021/02/19/hows-your-connection-academic-english-teachers-their-responses-change/
Yandell, J. (2020). Learning under Lockdown: English teaching in the time of Covid-19. Changing English, 27(3), 262–269. https://doi.org/10.1080/1358684X.2020.1779029