Dr. Kholoud Abdullah Al-Thubaiti was awarded the Sheikh Nahayan Fellowship in 2009. In this interview, Dr. Al-Thubaiti discusses the findings from her doctoral research, and shares her current teaching responsibilities.
Editor’s Note: Dr. Kholoud Abdullah Al-Thubaiti was awarded the Sheikh Nahayan Fellowship in 2009. She completed her doctoral research at the University of Essex in the UK, and is now an Assistant Professor of Applied Linguistics in the Department of English Language at the Umm Al-Qura University in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where she has been recently appointed the deputy chair for the department. Her specialty is second language acquisition.
Dr. Al-Thubaiti: My research focused on explaining the phenomenon of selective fossilization in L2 grammars. For my doctoral dissertation, I explored the impact of starting age in an EFL context (with minimal exposure to English input) as a non-linguistic factor. I evaluated the long-term effects on proficiency of starting English in the elementary and middle school level in Saudi Arabia. Unlike previous studies on the same topic which have looked at proficiency in a general, rather diffuse way, I conducted a detailed investigation on five morpho-syntactic and semantic properties known to be problematic for Arabic L2 speakers of English: verb phrase ellipsis, the use of ‘resumptive’ pronouns, adverb placement, the contrast in meaning between progressive/habitual forms, and preterite/present perfect forms. My findings consistently show no observable differences in L2 performance due to starting age of L2 learning, but rather due to property type.
TIRF: What were some of the salient findings related to your research?
Dr. Al-Thubaiti: The findings from my research suggest that an early start in a minimal input setting does not offer the same beneficial effects on later competence that has been found in studies of L2 learners exposed to English in naturalistic settings. The first and most important implication of these findings is not to over-predict the outcome of early EFL instruction. Age alone is not enough to guarantee success. It has to be supported with the optimal quality and amount of input to create a significant environment for L2 exposure. In order for age effects to emerge, it is suggested that the hours of foreign language teaching during elementary school need to be increased from 90 minutes (two classes) per week to perhaps five classes each of 45 minutes (almost four hours) per week. Whether such an increase would prove significant is still an empirical question for future research.
TIRF: What plans do you have for future research? How will your research be connected to pedagogy in the language classroom?
Dr. Al-Thubaiti: Having explored a maturational-based account for selective fossilization, I am now conducting research that explores a property-based account from a generative theoretical framework. I am exploring the extent to which properties at the syntax/discourse interface (e.g., temporal perfect) are more vulnerable than properties at the syntax-semantics interface (e.g., progressive aspect). This research has important implications for pedagogy as it helps identifying learnable grammatical properties and the appropriate timing for introducing them in the curriculum.
TIRF: What courses are you now teaching? What aspect of teaching do you wish to focus on in the future in your classroom?
Dr. Al-Thubaiti: I am currently teaching undergraduate courses in linguistics, such as introduction to language, second language acquisition, and writing in EFL. My teaching philosophy is to extend knowledge by promoting creative thinking and stimulating critical questions like Why? How? What if? The aspect of teaching I enjoy the most is the blossom of ‘independent’ critical thinkers who don’t just reproduce what teachers say.