Motivation refers to the factors behind a person’s desire to meet their objectives (Dörnyei, 2001; Harmer, 2015). Popular theories behind motivation to learn a second language (known as L2 motivation) were put forth by both Gardner (2000) and Dörnyei (2009), but these have mostly been studied in the context of motivation to learn English as a foreign language (EFL) (Masgoret and Gardner, 2003; Moskovsky et al., 2016; Subekti, 2018; Taguchi et al., 2009). L2 Arabic motivation has the additional dimension of being attached to religious motives as well as the desire for cultural integration (Abdelhalim and Alqubayshi, 2020; Alhamami and Almosa, 2023; Almelhes, 2022; Hillman, 2019; Jaspal and Coyle, 2010; Polinsky and Scontras, 2020; Rosowsky, 2021). The lack of studies on L2 Arabic motivation poses a challenge to educators of L2 Arabic learners, especially at the post-secondary level, in that the factors that increase or decrease L2 motivation in Arabic learning contexts have not been reliably identified (Abdelhalim and Alqubayshi, 2020; Aladdin, 2010; Alhamami and Almosa, 2023; Al-Osaimi and Wedell, 2014; Calafato, 2023; Rosowsky, 2021). This study seeks to evaluate the validity of two quantitative instruments developed to measure L2 motivation in Arabic learners studying at Arabic learning institutes (ALIs) in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).

Research on motivation and L2 motivation

Motivation relates to the internal and external factors behind a person’s desire to meet their goals (Dörnyei, 2001; Harmer, 2015). It is an internal psychological state that drives a person to act to achieve desired accomplishments (Harmer, 2015). Dörnyei (2001) stated that motivation levels toward a goal are impacted by the reason an individual may have for setting the goal, how hard the individual is willing to work for the goal, and how much time is spent on carrying out goal-directed activities. In L2 learning, L2 motivation reflects the reason behind the learners’ desire to achieve mastery in an L2, how much effort they are willing to put into pursuing this goal, and the positive attitudes that they may feel toward the L2 learning process (Gardner, 1985, 2000). L2 motivation has been explored through several popular theoretical frameworks, including those proposed by Gardner (2000) and Dörnyei (2009).

Gardner’s (2000) theories of L2 motivation were based on studies of Canadian L2 French learners. His research points to two types of L2 motivation he called “instrumental” and “integrative” motivation, which are both important in the L2 learning process (Gardner, 2000; Masgoret and Gardner, 2003). Instrumental motivation refers to motivation to gain enough skills to function in the L2 for pragmatic reasons, such as those related to occupation or college attendance (Masgoret and Gardner, 2003). Integrative motivation refers to learning an L2 for the purpose of communicating with the L2 community (Masgoret and Gardner, 2003). Previous studies, including one by Gardner (1985) and another by Gardner and MacIntyre (1993), have shown that integrative motivation has a stronger impact on L2 learning achievement than instrumental motivation.

In contrast, Dörnyei’s (2009) L2 Motivational Self System (L2MSS) theory sees L2 motivation from the point-of-view of the learner’s identity as an L2 user and consists of three components: the ideal L2 self, the ought-to L2 self, and the language learning experience. The ideal L2 self represents the learner’s visions and aspirations for the future (Dörnyei, 2009). The ought-to L2 self relates to the attributes the learner feels they ought to possess in the future to meet others’ expectations to avoid feared and negative outcomes when utilizing the L2 (Dörnyei, 2009). The language learning experience relates to the attitudes toward the immediate L2 learning environment (L2LE) and conditions, which may involve attitudes toward the teacher, curriculum, teaching methods, and peers (Dörnyei, 2009). Both Gardner’s and Dörnyei’s theories have been applied to research in L2 learning settings, and there is evidence to support both theories (Al-Mubireek, 2020; Azar and Tanggaraju, 2020; Jang and Lee, 2019; Stamenkovska et al., 2022).

Research on L2 Arabic motivation

Current studies on L2 motivation generally focus on learners of EFL (Masgoret and Gardner, 2003; Moskovsky et al., 2016; Subekti, 2018; Taguchi et al., 2009). Far fewer studies focus on L2 motivation in learners of the Arabic language (Abdelhalim and Alqubayshi, 2020; Alhamami and Almosa, 2023; Almelhes, 2022; Calafato, 2023; Hillman, 2019; Husseianali, 2005; Husseinali, 2006; Jaspal and Coyle, 2010; Polinsky and Scontras, 2020; Rosowsky, 2021). While English and Arabic can represent heritage languages (HLs), which are languages associated with certain cultures, Arabic is different in that it also represents a liturgical language (LL), meaning a language used for religious purposes (Hillman, 2019; Jaspal and Coyle, 2010; Polinsky and Scontras, 2020). While Arabic is not the only HL that is also used as an LL, as the Sikhs learn and speak Gurmukhi as the official language of their religion (Jaspal and Coyle, 2010), Arabic is a language that is studied by many communities all over the world for both religious and non-religious purposes (Alhamami and Almosa, 2023; Jaspal and Coyle, 2010; Rosowsky, 2021).

The Muslim holy book, the Quran, is in Classical Arabic (CA) (in Arabic, al-Fus’ha), and Islamic religious activities are conducted in CA. The revelation of the Quran in CA fosters a special bond between Muslims and the Arabic language (Alrahaili, 2018). When using CA, speakers adhere to all the grammatical rules in their speech, as well as the pronunciation of Harakaat, meaning the letters’ sound movements (Dajani, 2006). CA is to be contrasted with Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), where users adhere to the grammatical rules without the ending sounds of Harakaat (Dajani, 2006).

MSA is the official form of the Arabic language to be used in formal settings such as the media, sermons, and academic lectures (Almelhes, 2022; Dajani, 2006). On the other hand, the spoken, everyday use of Arabic (which may be in local vernacular) is often referred to in English as “colloquial” or “slang”, and is technically termed ammiyah (Abdelhalim and Alqubayshi, 2020). This is regarded as the local dialect of the Arabic-speaking people in their own country (Dajani, 2006). For example, in Jordan, the local Ammiyah is called Ammani dialect, while in Egypt, the Ammiyah is called Egyptian dialect; both dialects can be difficult for L2 Arabic learners to understand (Dajani, 2006). MSA is considered the form to be used among native-speakers of Arabic, as it is a more common form than Ammiyah dialect and is used in approximately 26 nations (Almelhes, 2022; Dajani, 2006). In the KSA, different dialects of Arabic are spoken, such as Najdi dialect and Hejazi dialect, which makes it difficult for KSA visitors to understand colloquially spoken Arabic (Alhamami and Almosa, 2023).

Research focusing on Muslims learning Arabic in a non-Arabic-speaking country reveals that these learners are studying CA motivated by religious identity, and are not prioritizing the instrumental utility of language for communication (Jaspal and Coyle, 2010; Moraru, 2019; Rosowsky, 2005, 2021). Other studies have focused on expatriates (comprised of diverse nationalities with different primary languages) learning Arabic in a non-Arabic-speaking country, such as Sweden or Malaysia (Aladdin, 2010; Calafato, 2020, 2023). These studies revealed that these learners might not be interested in Arabic culture, and are learning Arabic for its functionality (Aladdin, 2010; Calafato, 2020, 2023). One study found that when Arabic courses are offered in colleges in non-Arabic-speaking countries, L2 motivation is weak, and students end up dropping out of programs if not tracked and monitored by faculty (Calafato, 2023). Studies in non-Arabic-speaking countries have shown that L2 motivation to learn Arabic has been connected to religion (Bakar, 2010; Jaspal and Coyle, 2010; Rosowsky, 2005, 2021). Shaalan (2023a) found that L2 Arabic learners who were learning Arabic in KSA were not only motivated by religious reasons but were also aiming to integrate socially and intellectually with the Saudi population.

Despite the growing interest in L2 motivation research among L2 Arabic learners, there remains a dearth of studies exploring motivational orientations of L2 Arabic learners in a Muslim Arabic-speaking context. More studies are needed, as existing research has shown that the learning context of L2 Arabic learners has a significant impact on their L2 motivation (Alhamami and Almosa, 2023; Al-Osaimi and Wedell, 2014; Calafato, 2023). Specifically, more research is required to understand the motivation of L2 Arabic learners who are studying Arabic in an Arabic country, such as those studying at KSA’s ALIs (Abdelhalim and Alqubayshi, 2020).

Saudi Arabia’s Arabic language institutes

KSA is considered the center of the Islamic world given that it is home to the Two Holy Mosques in Makkah and Madinah (Al-Qahtani, 2015) and its official language is Arabic. The KSA government has made great efforts to promote the status of the Arabic language both on the local and international levels and as part of this, its Ministry of Education (MoE) established a series of L2 ALIs aimed at teaching Arabic to non-Saudi learners who come to KSA to study in the country’s higher education programs (Alhamami and Almosa, 2023; Shaalan et al., 2023). The teaching of the Arabic language at KSA’s ALIs is drawn extensively from the Holy Quran (Alhamami and Almosa, 2023). These ALIs are located on academic campuses, and each has a Diploma Program, which is a two-year educational program aimed at non-Saudis attending KSA’s higher education institutions on scholarship (Shaalan et al., 2023). The purpose of the Diploma Program is to improve the learner’s competency in Arabic so they can take advantage of the rest of the course instruction, which is also in Arabic (Shaalan et al., 2023).

KSA’s ALIs use a standardized L2 Arabic curriculum developed by the Saudi MoE which teaches CA and emphasizes basic reading and writing in the first year, with the second year providing a deeper examination of the history and meanings in the Arabic language (Shaalan, 2023b). Unlike many L2 language programs, the ALI L2 Arabic curriculum does not facilitate practicing conversational L2 Arabic, nor does it include lessons focused on helping learners improve their speech or spontaneous dialog in Arabic (Khajavy et al., 2018; Shaalan, 2023b).

KSA’s ALIs include the Arabic Language Teaching Institute at Imam Mohammed Ibn Saud Islamic University (Imam-ALI) (Abdelhalim and Alqubayshi, 2020). A recent study of the L2LE at Imam-ALI found that while learners were extremely satisfied with learning Arabic for religious purposes, they expressed challenges in the social context in terms of communication with others in Arabic (Abdelhalim and Alqubayshi, 2020). More than half interviewees said they felt uncomfortable with speaking MSA (Abdelhalim and Alqubayshi, 2020). An important finding from this study is that learners stressed that they wanted MSA incorporated into class interaction so they could become better at communicating in daily life situations (Abdelhalim and Alqubayshi, 2020). Al-Osaimi and Wedell (2014) found that learners in KSA’s ALIs had strong beliefs about learning Arabic for religious purposes, and resisted learning focused on improving Arabic communication (Al-Osaimi and Wedell, 2014). Learners indicated that their only interest in learning MSA or the local dialect was to be able to communicate in a religious context (Al-Osaimi and Wedell, 2014). Almelhes (2022) studied the motivations of L2 Arabic learners at one of KSA’s ALIs and found that they were motivated to connect with Islam, improve their career opportunities, and develop friendships with Arabic speakers.

Alhamami and Almosa (2023) also studied the motivations of L2 Arabic learners and the learning barriers they encountered at several KSA ALIs using a mixed-methods approach. These respondents had high motivation to learn Arabic because they wanted to learn more about their religion (Alhamami and Almosa, 2023). However, they were faced with barriers as they struggled to understand the dialect spoken by their instructors (Alhamami and Almosa, 2023).

Measuring L2 Arabic motivation

To facilitate research into motivation to study L2 Arabic, the intention was to develop instruments in Arabic to quantify known sources of L2 motivation. We decided to focus on measuring three primary sources of L2 motivation in L2 Arabic learners at KSA’s ALIs: L2 motivation arising from identity (consistent with the L2MSS) (Dörnyei, 2009), L2 motivation influenced by the Arabic L2LE, and L2 motivation arising from integrativeness as termed by Gardner (2000), which would mean in this context how strongly L2 learners wanted to integrate with the local Saudi population. For each source of L2 motivation intended to be measured, a draft quantitative instrument was developed based on items adapted or inspired from the scientific literature (Shaalan, 2023a, 2023b; Shaalan et al., 2023). The current research focuses on conducting validity and reliability studies on two of these instruments: the identity motivation instrument, and the Arabic L2LE instrument.

Next, a pilot study was conducted at three of KSA’s ALIs by administering the draft instruments to Diploma Program participants, and then using statistical techniques to evaluate instrument performance (Shaalan, 2023a, 2023b; Shaalan et al., 2023). All of the research reported in this manuscript was approved in a research protocol reviewed and found to be exempt from oversight by the Graduate Studies and Scientific Research Vice-Rectorate at Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University (PNU), Exemption #HAP-01-R-059. The instruments were programmed into online survey software, and a link to the survey was sent via WhatsApp to potential respondents. Consent language was included in the WhatsApp invitation and the first page of the survey. No identifying data were collected in this survey.

Based on the pilot study analysis, the number of items on each instrument was reduced, and instrument subscales were determined, thus producing a final draft of each instrument (Shaalan, 2023a, 2023b; Shaalan et al., 2023). The original research reports for each instrument detail how statistical analyses were applied to the pilot data reduce the number of instrument items and determine the subscales (Shaalan, 2023a, 2023b; Shaalan et al., 2023). Details of how final drafts of the two instruments that are the subject of the current research were developed are presented below.

Pilot study description and findings

As mentioned earlier, the pilot study was limited to learners in the Diploma Program from three of KSA’s ALIs: Imam-ALI, King Abdulaziz University Arabic Language Institute (KAU-ALI), and a large public women’s university, which is based in Riyadh (Shaalan, 2023b). For the identity motivation instrument, a final version was proposed including 12 items falling on four subscales: Learning L2 Arabic for cultural exposure (CE), learning L2 Arabic due to Islamic identity (Islam), learning L2 Arabic to better understand the Middle East politics or problems (MEP), and learning L2 Arabic for instrumental needs (Instrum) (Shaalan, 2023b). For the L2LE instrument, a final version was proposed including 15 items falling on three subscales: L2 motivation due to classroom environment (CEnv), L2 motivation due to teacher/curriculum (TC), and L2 motivation arising from personal anxiety about using the L2 (PersAnx), which should more correctly be seen as a source of demotivation (Botes et al., 2020; Shaalan, 2023b).

As part of the pilot study, the final instrument subscales were scored and compared (Shaalan, 2023a, 2023b; Shaalan et al., 2023). Reflecting upon the results of this analysis, meaningful differences in subscale scores between sites for any of the instruments were not observed (Shaalan, 2023a, 2023b; Shaalan et al., 2023). For identity motivation, it was not surprising to see high scores on the CE and Islam subscales (Shaalan et al., 2023). We hypothesized that the ALI Diploma Program was designed to attract learners external to KSA who would be interested in a cultural experience, and existing research suggested that the Islamic religion would be a primary motivator for learning Arabic (Jaspal and Coyle, 2010; Rosowsky, 2021). However, it was unexpected to see a relatively low level of instrumental motivation (Instrum), given that studies on Saudi undergraduates the same age learning L2 English at the public women’s university’s College of Languages (CoL) show they expressed a high level of instrumental motivation in terms of using L2 English in work, socializing, service encounters, and travel (Shaalan, 2021), and that high instrumental motivation for career opportunities was expressed by respondents of another study at a KSA ALI (Al-Osaimi and Wedell, 2014).

In terms of the pilot study results for the L2LE instrument, it was unexpected to see the subscales of CEnv and TC surface, as the literature suggests these factors are important to L2 learning in general (Khajavy et al., 2018). However, given the close-knit classroom environment, small class sizes, and attentiveness of the professors at the ALIs, it was unexpected to see PersAnx arise as a subscale (Shaalan, 2023b). Superficially, this finding appeared to contradict the other findings.

Next steps

Once this pilot study was complete, the next appropriate step was to evaluate the validity and reliability of the measurements coming out of these subscales, and also, troubleshoot the apparent contradictory subscale scores identified. To do this, a mixed-methods study was conducted under the same exempted research protocol at one of the ALIs that participated in the original pilot study, the public women’s university, which only enrolls female L2 Arabic learners.

In this study of instrument validity and reliability, all three instruments were administered to learners in the public women’s university’s Diploma Program multiple times to explore the reliability of subscale scores, and a subgroup of them were interviewed about their perspectives on the topics of the subscale scores to gain insight into the validity of the measurements. The recruitment and consent were similar, in that potential respondents received a WhatsApp message including consent language and a link to the online survey to complete. The online survey was modified to ask the respondents if they would be willing to undergo an interview for the qualitative portion of the study, and those answering in the affirmative provided their contact information to be contacted for an interview. In the current analysis, the following research questions were posed: (a) What is the evidence for or against the validity of the subscale measurements from the identity motivation and L2LE instruments? and (b) how can this evidence be used to explain what appear to be contradictions in the results from these two instruments in the pilot study?


To assess the reliability of subscale scores, scores from three overlapping cohorts were obtained and compared using a mixed-methods approach recommended by Ushioda (2020) (see Table 1).

Table 1 Study cohorts.

Cohort 1: Reanalysis of pilot data and data collection approach

As described in Table 1, data collection for the pilot study took place in March and April 2022 (Shaalan, 2023a, 2023b; Shaalan et al., 2023). In the pilot study, demographic items and items from the draft instruments were programmed into an online survey platform (SurveyMonkey), and an anonymous link to the survey was distributed to potential respondents by a co-author who is also the Dean of the ALI at the public women’s university (BBA). The link was distributed via WhatsApp groups established to communicate with Diploma Program participants.

For the current study, pilot study respondents from the public women’s university were reclassified as Cohort 1, and data from the identity motivation and L2LE L2 Arabic measurement instruments for this group was transferred to the current study and reanalyzed. For the current study, just the items included in the final instruments were included, and subscales were recalculated. As shown in Table 1, the number of respondents who contributed data to the Cohort 1 analysis in the current study is n = 49, but for each individual instrument, there may have been fewer rows of data contributing to the analysis due to missing data on instrument items (Shaalan, 2023a, 2023b; Shaalan et al., 2023).

For Cohort 2 and Cohort 3, quantitative data collection followed the same survey approach as Cohort 1, including items focused on gathering demographic information, followed by items from the two instruments. In contrast to Cohort 1, in Cohorts 2 and 3, only the items from the validated subscales arising from the pilot study analysis were included in the survey (Shaalan, 2023a, 2023b; Shaalan et al., 2023). In these articles, factor analysis, and reliability studies were conducted to develop the subscales (Shaalan, 2023a, 2023b; Shaalan et al., 2023). The validated subscales included 12 items from the identity motivation instrument (four for CE, two for Islam, two for MEP, and four for Instrum) and 15 items from the L2LE instrument (seven for CEnv, five for TC, and three for PersAnx). Details of the pilot study, resulting instruments, and scoring approach are reported elsewhere (Shaalan, 2023a, 2023b; Shaalan et al., 2023).

Cohort 2: Quantitative and qualitative data collection

As is also shown in Table 1, in June and July 2022, data from the instruments was again collected from the Diploma Program participants at the ALI at the public women’s university; these participants were classified as Cohort 2. The instrument administration approach was the same as the one used for Cohort 1, where an anonymous link to an online survey was sent to all current Diploma Program participants (Shaalan, 2023a, 2023b; Shaalan et al., 2023). This data collection approach was cross-sectional, in that we expected that some participants in Cohort 2 may overlap with participants in Cohort 1.

To assess validity, respondents in Cohort 2 were given an opportunity when completing the anonymous survey to provide their e-mail address if they wanted to be contacted to participate in the interview portion of the study. As shown in Table 1, six respondents indicating interest were contacted and interviewed by co-author and Dean of the ALI at the public women’s university (BBA). All interviews were conducted in Arabic, recorded, and transcribed in Arabic, then translated into English.

The interviews were done via videoconference. Those undergoing the interviews provided informed consent, and then were asked the following quantitative demographic questions: Age, marital status, nationality, religion, first language, other languages known, whether parents speak Arabic, years living in KSA, who they live with in KSA, friends or relatives living in KSA and as to whether or not they speak Arabic.

Next, the interviewer asked the respondent the interview questions in Arabic. Table 2 provides the Arabic and English translations of the interview questions.

Table 2 Interview questions in Arabic translated into English.

As shown in Table 2, the interview questions were designed to elicit responses that would shed light on the possible motivational influence of future L2 selves as described by Dörnyei (2009) in the L2MSS, as well as instrumental motivation described by Gardner (2000). The questions also sought to elucidate discussion of any barriers to learning L2 Arabic being experienced by ALI Diploma Program participants, and how they overcame these barriers. Interviews lasted 30 to 35 min.

Cohort 3: Quantitative data collection

A final quantitative measurement was made again in October and November 2022, when data from the instruments were again collected from Diploma Program participants at the public women’s university’s ALI the same way as in Cohort 1 and Cohort 2; these participants were classified as Cohort 3 (see Table 1). These cross-sectional surveys were for the purpose of assessing reliability, so we acknowledge that the respondents from each cohort likely overlapped.

Data analysis

The number of individuals participating in the Diploma Program at the ALI at the public women’s university is between 70 and 80 at any given time. When members of this list were provided a link by WhatsApp by the ALI Dean to anonymously complete the instruments, the response was high: Cohort 1 n = 63, Cohort 2 n = 65, and Cohort 3 n = 72. However, due to missing data on instrument items, instrument data from many of these respondents had to be removed from this analysis. The final numbers of respondents whose instruments are included in this analysis are Cohort 1 n = 49 (78%), Cohort 2 n = 29 (45%), and Cohort 3 n = 39 (54%). However, each instrument analysis may include data from fewer members of each cohort due to the respondent having missing data on one instrument, but not another.

Qualitative analysis

Each of the six interviewees was assigned aliases that will be used from now on. Table 3 lists the interviewees by their aliases, and summarizes their answers to the quantitative questions posed at the interview.

Table 3 Interviewee characteristics.

In addition to what is reported in Table 3, all respondents said they were Muslim, and all reported having relatives or friends in KSA.

As can be seen in Table 3, three (half) of the interviewees—(1) Inaya, (5) Maryam, and (6) Aamirah—were non-Saudis who had actually grown up in a non-Saudi family in KSA. Therefore, unlike the other three participants—(2) Khadija, (3) Yasmin, and (4) Nadia—they had lifelong exposure to the KSA educational system, which provides instruction in Arabic, but includes L2 English classes (Al-Jarf, 2008; Shaalan, 2021).

The long-term non-Saudi residents were essentially acculturated into the KSA way of life, in contrast to the recent arrivals, who had only been provided the opportunity to acculturate to KSA society over the last two years.

Observing this, qualitative data were analyzed for these long-term vs. short-term KSA residents separately, to see if the length of residency explained any patterns to the themes that arose in the analysis. For thematic analysis, an approach recommended by Burnard and colleagues (2008) was utilized, where for each participant, an initial coding framework is made, classifying each statement by applying a set of labels for coding. In this approach, once an initial coding framework is developed for each participant, the coding frameworks are merged into a final coding framework to reduce the results to final themes, which are subsequently interpreted (Burnard et al., 2008). As the focus of this analysis was validation of the instrument subscales, themes that would help provide evidence for or against the subscales were identified, coded, and targeted for focused analysis.

Quantitative analysis

Data were separated by cohort, and subscales from each instrument were calculated. As the interviewees were drawn from Cohort 2, the intention was to match themes expressed by interviewees to the magnitude of the subscale scores from the three instruments for Cohort 2. Reports from the qualitative analysis were used to help explain apparent contradictions in subscale scores. The specific intention was to understand why the Instrum subscale on the identity motivation instrument was lower than originally anticipated, and why the PersAnx subscale score from the L2LE instrument continued to register higher than anticipated given the high subscale scores on the identity motivation subscales. To make the mean subscale scores comparable, each mean score was divided by the maximum potential score on that subscale to standardize them. Standard mean scores that appeared contradictory were then compared, and item wording was considered.


As described earlier, the final number of respondents whose data are included in this analysis was 117 from an original pool of 200 (59%), as rows of data were removed due to missing responses on items.

Quantitative results

Table 4 provides summary statistics for the subscale scores for the entire sample and for each cohort separately, and includes the maximum score possible for each subscale for comparison.

Table 4 Summary statistics by cohort.

As is visually apparent in Table 4, mean subscale scores for all subscales did not change much across Cohorts 1, 2, and 3, providing evidence of the reliability of subscale scores. As was predicted from the pilot study results, mean scores across time were consistently high for the CE and Islam subscales from the identity motivation instrument, and the CEnv and TC subscales from the L2LE instrument. Also, as seen in the pilot study, mean subscale scores from the MEP and Instrum from the identity motivation instrument registered were not as high over time, and similar behavior was seen with the PersAnx subscale from the L2LE instrument.

Qualitative results

Identity motivation subscales

The identity motivation instrument contains four subscales: CE, Islam, MEP, and Instrum. Based on the results of studies at other KSA ALIs (Abdelhalim and Alqubayshi, 2020; Alhamami and Almosa, 2023; Almelhes, 2022) and the results of the pilot study, we expected that both short-term and long-term respondents would express a strong source of L2 motivation arising from Islamic identity (Islam). Also, we expected that instrumental motivation (Instrum) would be high, given that this group was enrolled in a foreign learning program.

However, from the pilot study, it was not clear what instrumental activities were the target of Arabic learning (other than religious activities associated with Islam). We also expected that recent respondents would likely have a stronger CE motivation since respondents already living in KSA for over 20 years would already have had CE, and it would not be new to them. It was unclear based on pilot findings what to expect both short-term and long-term respondents to say with respect to MEP.

As it turns out, among both short-term and long-term residents, the CE expressed was in the framework of becoming closer to Islam. Short-term resident Yasmin described it this way:

By living here in a Kingdom whose culture is very beautiful, I benefit and learn as well, especially their treatment of others, and we can apply it in my country. For example, if someone does a good deed for the other or not, they get praised a lot, and when people meet other people, they greet each other using supplication until they part. (Yasmin)

Yasmin seems to be conflating Saudi culture with proper Islamic behavior. An almost identical sentiment is expressed by Maryam, a long-term resident whose family is from India:

I was not used to using these supplications in my speech before, even in our language we do not use many supplications. We only use “God willing” and, “may God bless you”. I started using this habit in my speech. Now my heart is in Saudi Arabia! I don’t want to go to India, I love the Saudi people like my family… and I don’t want to go to India. (Maryam)

The high level of CE motivation appears to be directly connected with the high level of L2 Arabic motivation arising from Muslim identity, as these participants see Saudi society as an ideal version of Muslim society.

As described earlier, we expected that MEP would not be a primary motivation to study L2 Arabic for this group. However, a few respondents expressed opinions in this regard, including short-term residents Yasmin and Nadia, as well as long-term resident Maryam. Yasmin opined, “The role of Saudi women in society is very great from a theoretical point of view, especially in this era of development, as the women employees and foreign students need someone who will guide them or teach them about their customs and culture”. Nadia added a similar point, that “women have the main factor in society, and they have an important role, as they are the mother, sister, wife, and daughter, and they bear many pressures and life conditions”.

Maryam was particularly emphatic in making this point:

People outside say the woman here is in prison, but we can’t see this. I mean, in the street, they stop cars so that women can walk. There is respect for women. Respect for people here is very wonderful, and people in America say no. They are in prison, and also here in the laws for women they have a lot of women’s rights. In the oral exam, the teacher asked me, If you were the president of your country, what would you do for a woman? And I said, “I will follow the laws of Saudi Arabia,” and I finished answering. (Maryam)

Maryam’s answer is particularly revealing, as it seems to reflect again the conflation of Saudi culture and society with the concept of the ideal Muslim culture and society.

It was hard to determine the instrumental motivation behind learning L2 Arabic in both short- and long-term residents because they rarely spoke of utilizing their L2 Arabic. Two short-term residents, Khadija and Nadia, mentioned using Arabic for communication. Khadija explained, “I use the Arabic language mostly in education and also [to] communicate with family and friends,”, while Nadia said, “We do not hesitate if we always use the language in communicating with people. This is the importance of learning the language to speak it”.

Long-term residents Inaya, Maryam, and Aamirah, also mentioned using L2 Arabic in communication. Inaya explained, “…We live in Saudi Arabia, we go abroad, and of course, if we go abroad, we must talk to people…sometimes in Tarawih when we go to Tarawih prayer, our neighbors are all Arabs, so we talk to them and greet them, and I mean we ask about conditions, and so on, all in Arabic.” For Maryam, it is “… also the Saudi neighbors, we talk to them and they talk to us.”

However, the overarching instrumental purpose expressed by long-term residents for both learning L2 Arabic and also living in KSA was to ultimately become closer to Islam. Maryam explained, “In India, they love the Arabic language, but it is difficult for them even in college. They only study the language. They do not study how to speak the language. It is easier, here [in Saudi Arabia] it is easier”. Aamirah expressed a similar sentiment, saying, “First I started because of the Quran, to understand the Quran, this is the main reason. Also, I lived in Saudi Arabia and I want to talk to people and so on. Also, when I read the Quran in the mosque, people say Masha’Allah, a beautiful reading. But they ask me if I speak it and I say no, they get surprised that I am able to read but can’t speak the language”.

Arabic Second Language Learning Environment

The Arabic L2LE instrument contains three subscales: Class, TC, and PersAnx. A high Class score indicates that the learners are rating the language learning classroom environment highly, and a high TC score indicates they are rating the teacher and curriculum highly (Shaalan, 2023b). During the development of this instrument, a “speaking anxiety” domain was not pre-specified, but it was identified, so it was included as PersAnx (although it is acknowledged that other instruments have been developed to measure this specific domain across different types of L2LEs) (Botes et al., 2020). A high PersAnx score indicates a high level of speaking anxiety (Shaalan, 2023b).

In Table 4, across all three cohorts, both the Class and TC scores were high, reflecting learner satisfaction with the classroom environment, teacher, and curriculum. Yet, the mean PersAnx score, when standardized across cohorts, was higher than the standardized mean MEP score discussed earlier (Cohort 1 PersAnx = 56%, MEP = 51%, Cohort 2 PersAnx = 64%, MEP = 57%, Cohort 3 PersAnx = 69%, MEP = 57%). This suggests that PersAnx had more of an influence on L2 motivation than MEP, which had relatively little influence. This seems to contradict the findings about the high satisfaction learners indicate with Class and TC.

Although the interview questions posed in this study in Table 3 were reasonable, upon reflection, they did not invite interviewees to directly comment on why the classroom environment, teacher, and curriculum may be satisfying, yet, they continued to experience personal anxiety in the classroom environment. As a result, few of the respondents commented directly on the classroom environment, teacher, or curriculum.

Only the long-term resident respondents made any comments reflecting the L2 learning environment. Inaya observed, “Yes, praise be to God, and here it is not only the study, we had activities and other things, so praise be to God we enjoyed a lot…because if it was just studying [without activities], it would be boring”. Maryam reported, “In the beginning, I learned the language from the institute, and I had self-confidence in learning through reading, writing, listening and speaking. It is not easy but as a student, I have to do all these in order to learn”. Aamirah expressed the importance of “oral” learning, saying, “For me, the oral material and the reading material helped me a lot. Because in oral, that’s why I started…. It means talking to people. These things mean, sometimes when I went to the market and so I spoke to them in Arabic and they knew that she did not know Arabic, but she helped me a lot… No, no, it is normal to speak in Arabic. So I want.”

While little was said about the L2LE, a clear sentiment being expressed by all three quotes is the desire to include speaking and listening as part of learning Arabic for practical reasons. Inaya does not specify the “activities” she mentions, but Aamirah correctly points out that “oral material” and “talking to people” are necessary to learn Arabic, even for the purpose of understanding religious texts or using it mainly in the context of religious activities. Aamirah also points out that when she goes to the market and tries to speak Arabic, the people at the market “know that she does not know Arabic” from the way she speaks. This provides a practical barrier in interacting and communicating with others—including others of the same religion who are engaging with the respondents in religious activities.

One long-term resident, Inaya, described her experience of essentially being bullied as a child because she did not talk with the other children using the conversational dialect:

I think the thing that I mean I remember until now is that, the first time when I learned the Arabic language, I learned Al-Fusha, and my language was fragmented and so on, so when I went to memorization and spoke. I mean it was normal for girls, they used to laugh at me because of the language and I was ashamed for this reason and I did not speak because I know if I spoke then my words be chopped …After some time, I mean, because even girls when we were young, girls were like this. After that, I mean, they began to know that I wanted to study the language, so they helped me, so with time, this thing disappeared. (Inaya)

Aamirah, another long-term resident, also provided a very nuanced reflection on the issue, saying, “Especially in Saudi Arabia, I mean, the problem is between colloquial and Fusha… because learning in the institute means anywhere in Fusha, but with people in colloquial. This according to me means a problem… Because when I learned Fusha well, it was not difficult to know slang, I mean, we can differentiate between some words”. Aamirah described very articulately the challenge of trying to use CA to communicate rather than the conversational dialect.

Long-term residents described how they overcame these impediments to learn the local dialect as well as CA so they could get along in Saudi society. However, all three short-term residents Khadija, Yasmin, and Nadia, described enhanced struggles with conversation in L2 Arabic that they felt pressured to overcome while participating in the ALI Diploma Program:

I found it difficult to speak, and if I had a lot of information, I could not talk to others because of the lack of self-confidence. But I thought about how to learn when I don’t talk to others, so I tried to talk to them even if I made a lot of mistakes. Thank God, I was able to talk to them and overcame these challenges. (Khadija)

One of the challenges that faced me in learning the Arabic language was not applying it, and I did not understand at the beginning of the grammatical rules how to use them in speaking the Arabic language, as well as listening skills. I faced difficulty because we did not study them in my country. Yes, mixing with [the Saudi people] helped me until it motivated me to increase my knowledge of their habits and I wished to be like them in the dialect of their speaking in Arabic. (Yasmin)

Nadia related a similar experience, saying she had, “… difficulty understanding grammar and [using] grammar, which I overcame by studying, reading books, watching videos in Arabic, and speaking to friends”.

All three long-term residents complained of not being able to speak Arabic. Khadija solved this by forcing herself to interact with others awkwardly in L2 Arabic and suffer embarrassment in the name of learning the language. Similarly, Yasmin solved this by “mixing” with Saudis so she could “increase [her] knowledge of their habits, and I wished to be like them in their dialect in speaking Arabic”. Yasmin expressed a desire to adopt the habits of Saudis—even the dialect of their speech. Although not said directly, this again seems to be a reflection of the idea that these ALI learners desire to adopt habits and behaviors of Saudi society—including the conversational Arabic dialect—as a way of participating in an ideal Islamic society.

From this perspective, ALI learners not being able to use the local dialect in conversation while participating in KSA society represents a barrier to becoming closer to Islam, just as not knowing CA represents a barrier to participating in Islamic religious activities. Nadia succinctly complained about having “difficulty understanding grammar and [speaking proper] grammar”, and overcame it through several techniques, including “speaking to friends”. It appears that the KSA ALI curriculum lacks a component where learners can practice conversational Arabic presents a barrier to learning both CA and conversational Arabic for these learners, and ultimately, an obstacle along the journey of becoming closer to Islam. This dichotomy likely explains the contradiction of mean high CEnv and TC subscale scores coupled with relatively high PersAnx mean subscale scores.

These qualitative findings prompted the investigation of the exact wording (in English translation) of the items on the PersAnx scale. There are three items worded this way: “It worries me that other students in my class seem to speak Arabic better than I do”; “I am sometimes worried that the other students in the class will laugh at me when I speak Arabic”; and, “Sometimes I do not understand what I read or listen to in Arabic class”. The second item seems to relate directly to the challenges Inaya described growing up in KSA, in being laughed at because her speech was using fragmented CA and not the local dialect. More recent learners like Khadija described how her difficulty being able to communicate in Arabic reduced her self-confidence. The wording of these three items speaks directly to the challenge ALI learners face trying to study CA in an L2LE without having a solid command of conversational Arabic so that they can interact effectively with other students, and learn what is being taught in class.


The current research of Arabic L2 motivation measurement instruments in learners in the public women’s university ALI’s Diploma Program found evidence to support the reliability of measurements across time arising from the seven subscales on the two instruments analyzed in this study. Additionally, the current research found evidence to support the validity of all four subscales in the Arabic L2 identity motivation instrument, and to support one of the three subscales in the Arabic L2LE instrument, the PersAnx subscale. Further, the apparent contradictions between mean subscale scores found in a pilot study of these instruments at KSA’s ALIs were resolved.

In terms of identity motivation, the reason for the relatively high CE mean subscale scores, the higher-than-anticipated MEP mean subscale scores, and the low mean instrumental subscale scores at all time points in this sample became clear when analyzing the qualitative data. As was shown in the pilot study and persisted in this analysis, motivation to study L2 Arabic arising from Islamic identity is extremely high in ALI learners (Shaalan, 2023b). The interviewees explained they were seeking CE for the purposes of adopting Saudi norms and behavior as part of becoming closer to Islam. Participants also expressed MEP interests in line with Saudi societal perspectives as a reflection of their conflation of Saudi society with the ideal Islamic society.

As a result of this analysis, we realized that items on the identity motivation instrument (as well as the other instruments) do not differentiate between CA and conversational Arabic in their wording. For example, one of the four items on the instrumental subscale includes, “Because I want to be able to use Arabic with Arabic-speaking friends,” implying the instrument is referring to conversational Arabic. As the other items on the instrumental subscale imply conversational Arabic from their reference to communication, they were likely interpreted by the learner to refer to the learner’s motivation to learn the local dialect as opposed to CA (although admittedly, this is not documented). As interviewees expressed, their motivation to learn the local dialect has to do with the practicality of interacting with others, often in an Islamic religious context. Notably, the interviewees expressed the desire to learn both CA and the local dialect as arising out of Islamic motivation. We felt that this lack of clarity in the item wording in the instrument could be the reason for the relatively low instrumental subscale scores from this sample (from the assumption of conversational Arabic vs. CA in interpretation). It is also speculated that if the item wording were to explicitly differentiate between CA and the local dialect, different levels of instrumental motivation to learn CA vs. the local dialect might be seen in this sample.

The confusion in item wording on the instruments highlights one challenge with diglossia in Arabic (Kamorudeen, 2022). Kamorudeen (2022) reviewed the history of the Arabic language, identifying how CA and MSA evolved separately. As a very general overview, CA has been maintained to continue the purity of the Quran, and MSA was developed for the practical purposes of communication—specifically, for communicating about Islam to non-Arabs (Kamorudeen, 2022). MSA has continued to be a practical invention, persisting through different geographic and cultural dialects, and even some Englishization (Kamorudeen, 2022). Kamorudeen (2022) speculated on the future of CA, pointing out a finding revealed by the current study, which is that in order to completely understand and adopt CA, also knowing MSA or local Arabic dialects is very helpful, and may even be necessary. This is because both CA and MSA have essentially the same history, and were developed for complementary purposes (Kamorudeen, 2022).

For the L2LE instrument, upon reflection, it might be unreasonable to expect interviewees to open up about the challenges they face with respect to CEnv or TC because they were being interviewed by the Dean of their ALI (BBA). Further, because no interview questions were included to specifically elicit discussion about the classroom environment, teacher, or curriculum, further research is necessary to validate these subscales.

Nevertheless, the interviewee’s responses provided a better understanding of the nature of the third L2LE subscale, PersAnx. In order for the learners at the public women’s university to succeed in becoming closer to Islam through elevating their understanding of L2 Arabic, they not only need to adopt CA for religious activities, but they need to achieve fluency in conversational Arabic as well. It is through the local dialect that they can communicate with local Saudis while studying at the ALIs and learn how to adapt their speech, behaviors, norms, and other “Islamic” ways of life. It appears that these learners, who already were studying CA, also recognize that mastering the local dialect is a critical step on the pathway to fulfilling their L2 motivation of learning Arabic for Islamic reasons. Hence, interviewees reported engaging in activities outside of the ALI curriculum and environment to help them master conversational Arabic so they could communicate with local Saudis as well as other Muslims who speak in the local dialect.

While it is clear from the interviews that the ALI learners are very interested in mastering CA for religious reasons, they also wanted to be able to use conversational Arabic to communicate with Saudis for cultural and instrumental reasons that also arise from Islamic motivation. Seen this way, the total lack of conversational Arabic in the ALI curriculum creates a clearly identifiable deficit in their training, which was mentioned specifically in the previous study at Imam-ALI (Abdelhalim and Alqubayshi, 2020). Learners in that study recommended that some lessons speaking Arabic be incorporated into ALI training, and the current results support this recommendation (Abdelhalim and Alqubayshi, 2020).

The next topic to consider is how to effectively incorporate a minimal amount of conversational Arabic training into an already-complete CA curriculum and educational program that does not distract from pedagogical goals, but provides support for ALI learners to be able to communicate in Saudi society and in the classroom. The public women’s university’s ALI already has an optional Arabic-English exchange program that pairs native English speakers learning Arabic at the ALI with native Saudi Arabic speakers studying English at the university’s language college. This program provides Saudis learning English an opportunity to practice their English speech, because Saudi norms prevent learners from being comfortable interacting with each other in English in the classroom environment (Albahlal, 2019; Shaalan, 2024). This program also provides Arabic learners at the ALI an opportunity to practice their conversational Arabic by communicating with native Saudi Arabic speakers.

The framework of the public women’s university’s ALI language exchange program suggests that the components are available to incorporate at least a few conversational “exchange” lessons into the two-year ALI educational program. Native Saudi speakers who are undergraduates studying at the university could be invited to the ALI classroom to participate in lessons focused on conversation (e.g., a panel discussion). The results of the current study suggest that ALI learners would enjoy this activity, as it would provide an opportunity for them to not only practice their conversational Arabic but also to ask candid questions about Saudi society to come to an enhanced understanding of Saudi norms and practices. If these conversational Arabic lessons could be added to the ALI Diploma Program at the university, and subsequent Diploma Program classes measured with our instruments, we may see a decrease in the mean PersAnx subscale score.

This study provided evidence of the reliability and validity of measurements from the two instruments in the ALI Diploma Program L2 Arabic learners at this public women’s university, but there remain limitations to this research and opportunities for further study. As the pilot study was conducted at three ALIs, two of which include men, it is not clear if the reliability and validity results we saw in this sample of women would be consistent with similar studies of men. Next, the strong influence of Islamic motivation would not be present in those studying L2 Arabic in a non-Arabic-speaking country for non-religious reasons. This leaves open the question as to whether these instruments would perform validly and reliably in such a population. Additionally, further research must be done to obtain evidence of reliability and validity for the L2LE classroom environment, teacher, and curriculum subscales.

In conclusion, this study provided evidence of the reliability and validity of measurements from two L2 Arabic motivation instruments when studied in learners of an ALI Diploma Program at a public women’s university in KSA. Further, it underscored a previous recommendation to find ways to incorporate at least a minimal level of conversational Arabic instruction into an educational program otherwise completely focused on teaching CA. Learners expressed strong interest in gaining skills in communicating in Arabic to remove barriers to them learning CA and integrating into Saudi society. How this can be done and the impacts it could have should interest the KSA government and be prioritized as topics of future research.