Perhaps the best and fairest way to judge the quality of an ESL/EFL textbook that purports to be communicative is to critically examine the claims made by the authors of the book, with regard to its content and goals, and to ascertain to what extent these claims can be justified. In the introduction to the textbook New Interchange 2, the authors, Richards, Hull and Proctor make many claims to support their assertion that this textbook is an improvement on “one of the world’s most successful and popular English courses.” However, two stand out as being particularly noteworthy. Firstly, the authors state that
The primary goal of the course is to teach communicative competence, that is, the ability to communicate in English according to the situation, purpose and role of the participants. (Richards, Hull & Proctor, 1997: iii)
Secondly, they maintain that the content of the text
…reflects the fact that English is the major language of international communication and is not limited to any one country, region, or culture. (Ibid.)
In addition, it is mentioned that the book incorporates suggestions from teachers and students all over the world. So it is clear that they have set specific communicative goals and, in addition, see the text as being relevant to all L2 English adult learners (the fact that this textbook is designed for adults is also mentioned in the introduction). To investigate the validity of these claims, relevant principles of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) will be used to study the implications of using such a text in a TESOL program, specifically in a Korean Adult EFL class.
With regard to the second claim about content, one would assume that, after reading it, the textbook has a global outlook, in that it includes information and exercises with a diverse multi-cultural scope. One might also expect that materials about different countries and cultures are treated equally and without bias, and when first looking at Unit One (which will be used in this paper as material which exemplifies the overall framework and outlook of the textbook), there does seem to be an effort made in this regard. The material not only includes mention of Inner Circle countries like the USA, Australia and Canada , but also Expanding and Outer Circle countries (Kachru & Nelson, 1996) like China, Colombia, Haiti, Mexico, the Philippines, Ghana, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Greece, Indonesia, Italy, Vietnam and Portugal (Section 1); Argentina (Section 2); Argentina, South Korea and Ecuador (Section 3); China and Pakistan (Section 4); Mexico (Section 5); and China (Section 12). Also, the pictures that correspond to the sections portray a wide variety of ethnicities..
However, when doing what Birch and Liyanage (2004) call a cultural content analysis of Unit One, it is obvious that these first impressions are misleading. Luke (1995) argues that the one of the purposes of CDA is to make transparent the devices that texts can use to position and manipulate the people using them, and that if one looks closely at Unit One, it seems like the authors are trying to promote the “inherent superiority” of Inner Circle countries, to the point where they are advertising a better way of life. In all of the sections that mention immigration (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 12), the immigrants concerned always move from an Expanding or Outer Circle Country to an Inner Circle one. Also, the Unit shows an extremely attractive view of Inner Circle Culture (particularly the USA), with very few counterbalancing features. Section 4 has two questions about what immigrants miss the most and what they find difficult, but this is the only section with a (partially) negative view of immigrating. There are no topics about immigrants having homesickness, writing to relatives back home, participating in or teaching activities from their own culture, or planning to move back to their country of origin at a later date. Rather, there is an emphasis on having fun (rollerblading – Section 2) and meeting new friends (Section 3 and 5).
Section 12 is particularly indicative of the embedded cultural bias in the unit that is covered by a thin transparent layer of multi-cultural relevancy. The reading is about Joan Chen, a Chinese actress. Her parents were both doctors and she became successful and famous both in China and America. The story on the surface looks fine – hard work and talent lead to success – a story that is seems to go beyond cultural stereotypes. But when one starts to think about how the story is constructed, and the conclusions that can be drawn, a different picture emerges. At age 18 she won China’s top film award but when she went to the United States, she only got small parts. The man that helped her to be successful in America, was an American film producer. World wide fame was possible after she went to America. There is a pattern here, a concept being promoted. America is the land of exciting opportunities and you “haven’t really made it’ unless you “make it” in America, and “real success” is only possible in America.
So what implications do these findings have for a Korean adult EFL class? A strong case can be made for the assertion that “Anglo focused” textbooks like New Interchange 2, that are produced in Inner Circle countries, are really only appropriate for people taking ESL courses in countries like Australia and America (Kirkpatrick, 2002). I used this textbook last year in Korea for a university elective English course (the book was chosen by the university) and I can say from personal experience that the student reaction to the book was far from positive. They generally felt that the units in the textbook were generally irrelevant and too “America focused.” Maybe I was an unwitting purveyor of cultural and linguistic imperialism (Birch & Liyanage, 2004). At the very least, it is clear that the text does not live up to the content claim made by the authors.
The first claim, that students studying the textbook will have the ability to communicate according to their situation, purpose and role, looks doubtful, given the analysis of the textbook so far. It seems difficult to argue that a Korean student will be able to communicate in a Korean, Asian, or English as an International Language context if the textbook he is studying is Anglo-centric. However, if it can be shown that the book is empowering to the point that students can learn how to take elements of communicative competence from the material, even if that material is largely culturally irrelevant, and effectively use those elements for their specific situations, then it can be argued that the textbook, while problematic for use in an EFL setting, may still have some merit.
So then, how can student empowerment occur in a communicative classroom? Savignon (2003) argues that one of the ways to shape a communicative curriculum is to focus on the learner’s “emerging identity” in English and respect their English use. She (1991) also believes that one of the important features of classroom learning is for learner self expression to be promoted. Clearly, she sees power in the classroom as needing to be shared between the teacher and the students. So the amount of access to power that students have to shape what they are learning seems directly proportional to the degree of communicative competence they can achieve.
After reviewing Unit One, it is clear that New Interchange 2 is not designed for power to be shared equitably between the teacher and students. Fairclough, in a 1992 paper on CDA, looks at textual structures and asks two questions: “What interactional conventions are used?” and “Are there ways in which one participant controls the contributions of others?” (p. 111) These two questions are strongly linked. For example, if the textbook promotes traditional interactional conventions, such as the teacher being the unquestioned leader and the students dutifully following his lead, then that is going to ensure that when the text is used, one participant (the teacher) will control the contributions of the others (the students). Unfortunately for the authors’ stated goal of communicative competence, this is the case in New Interchange 2.
In Unit One, sections 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9 and 11 include questions that are predominantly of the type that do not require any individual thought – answers can only be right or wrong. Kraus (2003) warns of making students “automatons” that merely say what is required for a given exercise. He also stresses the need for “social functions” to be explained. Sections 2, 3 and 5 include material on introducing yourself, but there is no information about the importance of how to introduce yourself properly and where and when the need to do so is likely to arise. Section 5 does include some information about what topics are possible to discuss when introducing yourself, but they are very narrow in scope. Even when students do have the power to express their own opinions, which is rare, they have no input on what topics are chosen – they have to confine remarks within the parameters that the text sets, so that the any communicative opportunities that evolve are pre-determined – a situation that does not prepare them well for the place where communicative competence is really necessary – outside the classroom.
Section 1 is particularly problematic. There are four multi-cultural cities mentioned and lists are given about what the predominant migrant nationalities are in each city. Then questions are given and students are expected to explain why the cities have so many immigrants and then talk about immigration in their own city. Students in most learning contexts would struggle with being communicative about this section for several reasons. The four cities mentioned are all Inner Circle country cities, so any students who are studying in an Expanding or Outer Circle country, or who haven’t been to any of the cities would have no background information or scaffolding to construct ideas with (none is given). Each city has a list of five or six immigrant nationalities, but again, no background information is given about these countries, why their citizens might emigrate, and why they might choose a specific city to emigrate to. Students are asked about their own city’s immigration situation, so there is some relevancy attached to this question, but the way in which the questions are phrased leaves very little opportunity for explanation.
Again, as with the first analysis about content, there are negative implications for Korean adult EFL classes. When I taught this book last year, I tried to teach Section One in the first semester, but left it out in the second because my attempts to use it within a communicative framework failed. Even the best students gave very brief answers and seemed lost because I had stressed the need for active participation, but they didn’t know how to get a conversation going about the topic. I also needed to leave out sections in other units for the same reason. In addition, I used a lot of supplementary material for Unit One (and for the rest of the textbook as well), because the format of the material is conducive to a lecturing style of teaching, rather than a communicative one. So, the claim of the authors that, through the study of this textbook, students will acquire the ability to communicate in English according to their situation, purpose and role is, to a very large extent, unjustifiable.
The message for English language teachers is clear. They need to critically examine any potential textbook, using CDA principles, before it is used in the classroom. They can then make elements of the textbook transparent so they can make informed decisions about whether or not it is culturally relevant to and communicatively empowering for their students. Teachers need to remember that “access to particular discourses may make a difference in people’s life trajectories….” (Luke, 1995: 40) Even if it is impossible to change a textbook due to school policy, conscientious teachers, at a minimum, should not fall into the trap that, just because a book is popular or commonly used, it is automatically suitable for their particular teaching needs. If they find their textbook to be deficient in some way, take appropriate steps to ensure that their students are not disadvantaged by the material they are studying.
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Fairclough, N. (1992). Critical discourse analysis in practice: Description. In Language and Power (pp.109-139). London: Longman.
Kachru, B., & Nelson, C. (1996). World Englishes. In S. McKay & N. H. Hornberger (Eds.), Sociolinguistics and language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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Luke, A. (1995). Text and discourse in Education: An introduction to critical discourse analysis. In M. W. Apple (Ed.), Review of Research in Education, 21 (1995-1996) (pp. 3-48). Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.
Richards, J., Hull, J., & Proctor S. (1997). New Interchange 2 (Student’s Book). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Savignon, S. J. (1991). Communicative language teaching: State of the art. TESOL Quarterly, 25 (2), 261-277.
Savignon, S. J. (2003). Teaching English as communication: A global perspective. World Englishes, 22 (1), 55-66.