The Effect of Using Native versus Nonnative Language on the Participation Level of Medical Students during PBL Tutorials

Maha A. Al Turki, Mohamud S. Mohamud, Emad Masuadi, Mohammed A. Altowejri, Abdullah Farraj, Henk G. Schmidt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Purpose: Language competency has been perceived to be a significant barrier to both learning and interaction in university. However, most studies in this field confine themselves to perceptions of students. This study focused on actual behaviors in small group discussions. It explored whether linguistic differences affect the level of participation between students who conduct discussions in their native Arabic language and those who participate in a second language, being English. Method: An experimental study conducted at a Saudi medical school. First-year medical students were assigned randomly to attend two small-group discussions either in Arabic or in English. All sessions were video-recorded for data transcription and analysis. The students' utterances were broken down into propositions and subsequently categorized as either explanatory or descriptive. The number of propositions for each student was counted for each group. Analysis of variance was conducted to test for differences. To examine students’ perception toward conducting small-group discussions either in English or Arabic, students were invited to anonymously fill a questionnaire distributed at the end of the sessions. Results: Students who were assigned to sessions conducted in their native language produced significant more descriptive (p < 0.005) and explanatory propositions (p < 0.008). Discussions conducted in their native language were almost 60% more extensive than those conducted in English. Although not significant, students reported that conducting the PBL tutorial session in the Arabic language made them more motivated and gave them more confidence in expressing their thoughts. However, when PBL is conducted in English, students indicated that their understanding of basic sciences is better (p < 0.001). In addition, they assume that they acquire a deeper knowledge. Conclusion: Students’ who use their native language in small-group discussions contribute more than those discuss matters using a foreign language. However, more students perceived that using the English language helps them better in understanding basic sciences and ensuring deeper knowledge.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)447-453
Number of pages7
JournalHealth Professions Education
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Languages
  • Medical students
  • Participations
  • PBL

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Nursing
  • Education


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