An Examination of University Students’ Uses of English and Arabic in One Syrian Higher Education Setting, Drawing on Atkinson’s (2004) Model of Overlapping Cultures

Abdulkader Abdulkader, Janet Laugharne


This article contributes to discussion on uses of English and other languages in international higher education. The authors draw on Atkinson's (2004) model of five overlapping cultures (national, professional-academic, student, youth and classroom) in an educational setting to examine students’ uses of English and Arabic in one higher education institution in Syria. Although modest in scale, this is of particular value as there is little existing data on this topic. Fifteen semi-structured interviews were conducted in Arabic, translated into English and analysed within the computer programme NVivo. The students’ responses about their language use were examined with a focus on student culture as this overlapped with the other cultures in Atkinson’s (2004) model. Findings are presented in relation to: i.) national culture and youth culture; and ii.) professional academic culture and classroom culture. While recognising there are dynamic connections between all these cultures, we found that student culture overlapped closely in language use onto Arabic for national culture and some aspects of youth culture, while it overlapped onto English for professional academic and classroom culture. One key finding was the widespread aspiration to travel and study abroad. This was strongly associated with the use of English and was particularly striking, since few of the students had travelled outside Syria. A second finding was the varied and enterprising way by which students engaged with the Internet and other media to support their learning of English. This contrasted strongly with the more formal way by which they were taught English.

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English Linguistics Research
ISSN 1927-6028 (Print)   ISSN 1927-6036 (Online)

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