The growing number of second-language speakers of English, which has already surpassed the number of native speakers, has influenced the status of English in the world today (e.g., Kivistö, 2005; McKay, 2003c). The new status of English as an international language (EIL) poses major challenges to the hegemony of British and American native-speaker norms in English-language teaching (ELT) practices (Modiano, 2001). Simultaneously, the EIL paradigm has made a unique contribution to cultural, intellectual and economic disciplines in international contexts (Jenkins, 2005; Taki, 2008). It is not surprising that the ELT research field has also been challenged by the emerging paradigm of EIL. However, there is a scarcity of literature on EIL to assist ELT professionals in the development and effective use of resources to enhance instruction (Seidlhofer, 2003). As Ndura (2004) submits, the content of instructional materials significantly affects students’ attitudes and dispositions towards themselves, other people and society. Instructional materials should integrate students’ diverse life experiences and empower them to identify different voices and perspectives.
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The goal of this paper is to examine the way in which the EIL paradigm is framed within a selected number of the current international ELT textbooks, focusing on the cultural perspective. We begin by conceptualizing the EIL paradigm and its relevant issues. Second, we discuss how EIL defines culture, emphasizing the significance of the learners’ own culture and experiences. Third, we examine the current textbooks from various parts of the world, focusing on cultural issues. Fourth, we evaluate the cultural aspects and levels of cultural presentation in some of the current international ELT textbooks. Finally, we discuss the findings in light of existing studies and suggest some recommendations for future textbook writers and classroom practice.
Conceptualization: English as an International Language (EIL)
As mentioned, the paradigm shift in ELT practices and research rejects the superiority and authority of native speakers and their cultures. The new paradigm, termed EIL, accepts the language authority and norms of English-language learners (Phillipson, 1997) and accepts English as a lingua franca, and a medium of intercultural communication. Although these interchangeable terms define the attitudes, expectations, and norms of EIL differently, they negotiate the authority and identity of English-language speakers. Furthermore, world English(es), has recently emerged and is more progressive in emphasizing the role of EIL speakers as fully involved agents and not mere recipients (Seidlhofer, 2003).
Several core issues of EIL have been identified: attention on non-native speakers of English, questions of language identity and language ownership, respect for diverse cultures, and concerns about English as a means of cross-cultural communication between non-native English speakers (Gilmore, 2007; Liu, 2008). These issues have played a role in the categorization of English speakers and the varieties of English. Kachru (1985) categorizes the use of English to inner, outer, and expanding circles to define EIL. Inner-circle countries, such as the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand, are distinguished by varieties of native-speakers. The outer circle comprises countries, such as India and Nigeria, where English is an official language in the historical context of colonization. Finally, the expanding circle refers to countries such as Korea, Japan, and China, where English is spoken as a foreign language. McKay (2002) states that the inner and outer circle of English varieties make up the EIL. Furthermore, Seidlhofer (2003) believes that countries in the expanding circle could enter the mainstream circle as well.
However, some researchers argue that Kachru’s model does not fit the current framework of EIL (Bruthiaux, 2003; Kirkpatrick, 2007). For example, Kirkpatrick (2007) argues that Kachru’s classification for outer and expanding circle countries assumes a native-speaker model of English. For this reason, Modiano (2001) suggests a conceptual model of English speakers that places fluent international English speakers who use English for cross-cultural communication in the center circle without considering if they are native or non-native speakers. Modiano’s model is notable because it shifts the focus from the inner circle of native speakers to an international inner circle of non-native speakers (Kivistö, 2005). However, since most of the ELT textbooks still use a native speaker model, Kachru’s model which delineates ‘inner circle’ countries from ‘outer’ and ‘expanding’ is more applicable to our analysis.
Culture in the EIL paradigm
Cortazzi and Jin (1999) define the term culture as “the framework of assumptions, ideas, and beliefs that are used to interpret other people’s actions, words, and patterns of thinking” (p.197). Over the past forty years, language professionals have increased their emphasis on learning the culture of English-speaking societies as well as learning the language itself. Studies of the role of culture in language education have been conducted from a variety of viewpoints (Paige, Jorstad, Siaya, Klein, & Colby, 2000). Currently, there is a growing body of literature stemming from needs analyses of learners in a learner-centered context that details the significance of the learners’ culture. Furthermore, the learners’ own experience in the use of language is encouraged to facilitate effective learning (Alptekin, 2002). The research has shown that learners improve their language skills when they have the opportunity to express their own culture.
The cultural context of the British and American English can differ greatly from the cultural context of non-native speakers, which adds to the difficulty of mastering English. It has been argued that it is not necessary for language learners to internalize the cultural-specific norms of native speakers when English is used to facilitate the communication of learners’ ideas and culture to others (McKay, 2003a). Similarly, Alptekin (2002) carefully points out that it is not necessary to espouse specific cultural aspects of a target language to be effective with the language. Alptekin asks: “how relevant is the importance of Anglo-American eye contact, or the socially acceptable distance for conversation as properties of meaningful communication to Finnish and Italian academicians exchanging ideas in a professional meeting?”(2002, p. 61). He argues that specific cultural characteristics of native speakers of English do not improve-or even influence-meaningful communication between non-native speakers of English.
More to the point, researchers note that it is possible to separate the target culture- American or British-from the English language (e.g., Murayama, 2000). McKay (2003b) presents insights into how to separate EIL from a given culture: (a) the cultural content of EIL materials should not predominantly reflect the native speakers’ setting; (b) an appropriate EIL pedagogy needs to be centered on local expectations regarding the roles of the teacher and student; and (c) the strengths of non-native English teachers need to be identified.
Further support for NNS varieties of English as the pedagogical target can be found in sociocultural theory. In this theory the social context of language learning plays a crucial role and language is seen as being learned through the medium of interaction in context. As Pavlenko and Lantolf (2000, p. 155), point out, second language learning is ‘a struggle of concrete socially constituted and always situated beings to participate in the symbolically mediated lifeworld … of another culture’. According to sociocultural theory, learners are fully fledged participants actively taking part in their second self-chosen world. In EIL settings, most of the interaction occurs between NNSs rather than between a NS and a NNS. Therefore, learners’ cultures and experiences need to be validated in the teaching materials and instructional practices. From a sociocultural theory, learners’ English variants and local contexts have legitimacy and should not be relegated to a marginal status. Textbook writers and material developers should take account of this variability and integrate students’ diverse life experiences in the teaching and learning process in order to facilitate learners’ identifications with different varieties of English and its associated cultures.
Cultural Content in ELT Textbooks
As pointed out by McKay (2002), the use of English is not longer connected to the culture of Inner Circle countries. EIL involves crossing borders, as non-native users of English interact in cross-cultural encounters. With reference to EIL, understanding one’s own culture in relation to that of others is paramount (McKay, 2000).
Many researchers agree that most EFL textbooks focus on elements of American or British culture (Alptekin, 1993; Renner, 1993). The major reasons for using elements of target-language culture seem to be the following: (a) it is more cost-effective for publishers to produce and publish textbooks using these social and cultural contexts; (b) it is difficult for native-speaker authors to compose texts that are free from the influence of their own Anglo-American culture; and (c) historically, target-language instruction has emphasized its own culture (Alptekin, 1993). Boriboon (2004) examined that the disparity between students’ daily lives and the discourse in the text materials they used. He compared examples about shopping and cuisine from a current popular English textbook, New Headway, with learners’ lives in rural Thailand. The disparity between Thai culture and the scenarios presented in the textbook created an obstacle in the learners’ English comprehension. As one solution, the author suggests that teachers encourage their students to modify or create dialogues based on their personal connections or experiences.
Table 1 below summarizes recent studies that have examined cultural contents in ELT textbooks. The table contains two noteworthy features. First, in terms of methodology, content analysis and critical discourse analysis were used in several studies. For example, Murayama (2000) analyzed the cultural contents of 10 EFL textbooks in Japan in terms of ‘aspect’ and ‘level’ of culture to determine which culture was presented and how deeply the culture was delivered in texts. García (2005, p.61-62) created a ‘cultural analysis table’ that included ‘cultural objectives, cultural content, the methodology of the cultural component, and assessing culture’. Each of these categories was further subdivided. Based on critical discourse analysis, Taki (2008) examined the content, social relations, and subject positions in textbooks.
Second, research findings have shown that the internationally distributed and locally produced ELT textbooks both contained deficiencies. The analysis of internationally distributed ELT textbooks determined that the materials were dominated by American and British viewpoints (e.g., Ilieva, 2000; Ndura, 2004). Ilieva (2000) argues that this might hinder learners’ acculturation because it does not help them expand their own cultural awareness vis-à-vis their new society. Similarly, other researchers have found that locally produced English textbooks also contained mostly American and British cultures and values, rather than including globally oriented materials. On the other hand, Majdzadeh (2002) found that locally produced Iranian ELT textbooks tended to focus more on Iranian culture and religion. This lack of target cultural perspectives can create a barrier for students seeking to improve their intercultural competence and target language skills. Similarly, García (2005) also concluded that the Spanish ELT textbooks he analyzed provided little opportunity to develop intercultural competence.
Table 1. Summary of research on culture and ELT textbooks.
Matching the cultural content of textbooks and pedagogical issues, the goals of learning English of Gabonese students, and cultural contexts of Gabon in textbooks used in Gabon
Two widely used textbooks in Gabon: Imagine You’re English & L’anglais Vivant
English textbooks used in Gabon were not compatible with learners’ needs
Culture in adult ESL texts designed in Canada; (1) what is cultural knowledge? (2) whose viewpoint of culture is used? and (3) can students reflect their own cultural experiences in the new immigrant society?
Critical discourse analysis
Canadian textbook for adult L2 learners: Canadian Concept 3
(1) Culture in the selected texts adhered to mainstream concepts; (2) the texts were dominated by mainstream viewpoint; and (3) the texts were more likely to alienate learners than help them integrate into their new environment.
The content of cultural features in EFL textbooks in Japan
Document analysis; analysis of the cultural content of textbooks using the categories of ‘aspect’ and ‘level’ of culture
Ten EFL textbooks for upper-secondary school in Japan
The reflection of EIL seemed different in each textbook; the cultural content of textbooks examined seemed to stay in the traditional knowledge-oriented level
The disconnection between English and the culture of English in Iranian English textbooks
Twenty one lessons in 8th and 9th grade public school textbooks and 24 lessons from the same level textbooks in a private language school in Iran
(1) The textbooks emphatically espoused Islamic traditions and culture; (2) the textbooks need more materials to introduce Western culture for the international purposes
The role of culture in Iranian English textbooks for students’ intercultural competence
Four levels of Iranian high school textbooks:
English Book 1-4
The Iranian textbooks were not sufficient to improve students’ intercultural competence
Cultural biases in ESL textbooks used in the U.S.
Six ESL textbooks used in elementary and secondary grades in the U.S.
The major cultural biases of stereotyping, invisibility, and unreality were found
International and intercultural aspects in EFL textbooks in Spain
a cultural analysis table
Fourteen first and second course Bachillerato textbooks in Spain
Textbooks did not present a cross-cultural and contrastive approach
Ideology and power relationships in ELT materials used in Iran
Critical discourse analysis;
analysis of content, social relations, and subject positions in texts
Four internationally distributed ELT textbooks: Expressways, New American Streamline: Destination, New Interchange 3, and Spectrum 4, plus locally produced ELT textbooks for Iranian high school students: English Book 1-3 and A Preparatory English Course
The internationally distributed textbooks included the discourse of the Western consumer economy based on social equality; Iranian high school textbooks have the following features: (1) de-contextualized conversations; (2) lack of cultural contrast; (3) significant consumer-oriented issues; and (4) a focus on other people’s lives.
Researchers such as Majdzadeh (2002) and Vitor (1999) have suggested that textbooks need to be localized but should include target and global culture to facilitate learners’ intercultural competence. In the classroom, teachers should be encouraged to use two kinds of complementary textbooks. For example, ELT teachers who use local textbooks could also provide their students with some international ELT materials containing global perspectives, and vice versa. Cortazzi and Jin (1999) believe the cultural information that can be used in language textbooks and materials can be of three types: ‘source culture materials’ that draw on learners’ own culture as content, ‘target culture materials’ that use the culture of country in which English is spoken as the first language, and ‘international materials’ that include a variety of culture around the world. Finally, they argue that more research is needed from various countries, with a more reflective attitude toward cultural content and methodology, with the goal of improving cultural awareness and the EIL perspective (Cortazzi & Jin, 1999).
The main research objective in this study was to examine how the current international ELT textbooks reflect the cultural perspective of the EIL paradigm. To reach this objective, we identified the existence of the cultural perspective of the EIL paradigm regarding localized content in the internationally distributed ELT textbooks and then investigated the depth of the cultural presentation in the textbooks in terms of raising learners’ cultural competence. Based on this, the following research questions were formulated. First, do the internationally distributed ELT textbooks reflect the cultural perspective of EIL paradigm? A positive answer led to the second question: How comprehensively do the internationally distributed ELT textbooks present the cultural perspective of EIL paradigm?
The sample consisted of 7 series of internationally distributed ELT textbooks, designed for ESL/EFL contexts and being used in several Asian countries, for a total of 25. The textbooks were selected based on the recommendations of ESL/EFL teachers, ranking as best sellers from the publishers’ annual catalogues, and their availability at the time of this study. The sample textbooks are listed in Table 2.
Table 2. Textbook sampling.
Books examined in this study
Side by side
Steven J. Molinsky & Bill Bliss
Level 1-Level 4; a total of four books
Susan Stempleski, Nancy Douglas, & James R. Morgan
(low beginning-high intermediate )
Intro-Level 3; a total of four books
(New) Headway English course
Liz & John Soars
Oxford University Press
Starter-Level 1; a total of two books
Warren Wilson & Roger Barnard
(low beginning-high intermediate)
Intro; Level 2; a total of two books
Jay Maurer, & Irene E. Schoenberg
4-level (beginning- intermediate)
Basic-Level 4; a total of five books
Jack C. Richards with Jonathan Hull & Susan Proctor
4-level (beginning- intermediate level)
Intro-Level 3: a total of four books
4-level (beginning- high intermediate level)
Level 1-Level 4: a total of four books
Data collection and data analysis
The textbook analysis was conducted based on the approach recommended by Murayama (2000) and modified to expand his regional study to an international scope. Kachru’s (1985) model was also used to delineate the inner and outer/expanding circle contexts. This study employed a mixed-method approach for textbook evaluation in which qualitative data was quantified utilizing content analysis, a tool that makes inferences from data through objective and systematic content categories (Holsti, 1969; Stemler, 2001). In addition, inter-rater reliability by two independent raters was added as an analytical step. The inter-rater reliability for the raters was found to be Kappa = 0.85 (p <.0.001), 95% CI (0.504, 0.848). In order to cope with the 15% of the data of inconsistent coding, we reviewed them together again to reach a consensus.
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To answer the two research questions, the researchers examined contents of the textbooks from the two viewpoints, ‘aspects of cultures’ and ‘levels of cultural presentation.’1 (Murayama, 2000). The analysis of ‘aspect’ was then subdivided into ‘inner circle,’ ‘outer/expanding circle,’ and ‘others,’ based on Kachru’s widely-used model (1985) noted earlier; and the analysis of ‘level’ was subdivided into ‘knowledge-oriented content’ and ‘communication-oriented content.’ Some examples are presented in the following sections.
Some contents with World Link series explicitly showed examples of ‘aspect’ of the content. Content pertaining to Western holidays such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter in World Link Intro (Unit 8-A) was judged as ‘inner circle.’ However, content related to the Nebuta festival in Japan, Holi festival in India, and Chusok in Korea in World Link 1 (Unit 7-B) was judged as ‘outer/expanding circle.’ ‘Others’ pertained to the content mainly related to phenomenon or knowledge in natural science, such as information on the earth and the natural world in World Link 3.
The following example taken from chapter twelve in Fifty-Fifty 2 illustrates the ‘level of cultural presentation.’ It is considered as ‘knowledge-oriented content.’
Hong Kong, Tokyo, Moscow, Senegal, Nepal, Cairo
Where have they been?
Why did they go ______?
A second example, from Chapter Nine in New Headway Pre-intermediate, clearly shows ‘communication-oriented content’:
Speaking: “What do you think?”
In groups, write what you think are the ten largest cities in the world. Compare your list with the class. Your teacher will tell you the answer. Make a list of some of the problems that these cities face. Decide what the three most important problems are. Compare your ideas with the class.
The text helps students improve communication skills and promotes intercultural competency through the discussion of world cities.
The data were analyzed based on the following procedures. When the major content of a lesson was found to be in either the ‘inner circle’ or ‘outer/expanding circle,’ the unit in which it was found was assigned a full point. However, when ‘inner circle’ and ‘outer/expanding circle’s cultures were represented equally in a single unit, each category received one-half of a point. For example, this was the case in Lesson 1 in True Colors Level 1, so 0.5 point was given in each category. The percentage of ‘others’ was the remaining of 100% after the deduction of the inner and outer/expanding circles’ portions.
To answer the second research question, a similar procedure was applied to the feature of ‘level.’ In this section, the cultural content in each lesson-if any-was categorized into ‘knowledge-oriented’ and/or ‘communication-oriented.’ The sum of the two categories added up to 100% (See table 3.)
Table 3. Sample analysis.
Aspects of cultures
Levels of Cultural Presentation
Research question 1: Aspects of culture
The intent of ‘aspect’ analysis was to investigate whether internationally distributed ELT textbooks deal with the cultural perspective of the EIL paradigm.
Figure 1. Aspects of cultures in current textbooks
Figure 1 shows that the cultural content related to the ‘inner circle’ compared to outer/expanding circles dominated the cultural content covered in all these textbooks. More than half of the content of Side by Side covered the ‘inner circle’ culture. For example, Western holidays such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter was judged as ‘inner circle.’ Similarly, American Headway involved ‘inner circle’ culture in more than half of its content. Although the ‘inner circle’ cultural content dominated the World Link series as well, this series addressed the cultural content related to outer/expanding circle to a greater extent compared to other textbook series. Interestingly, each unit of the World Link series consisted of two sub-lessons under a single topic. In each unit, most of lesson A was related to Western culture and lesson B to international culture.
In addition, some textbooks had a separate section on cultural aspects. For example, the revised edition of Side by Side had a new feature under the cross-cultural topics, Gazette pages, which contain feature articles, role playing exercises, and e-mail exchanges among global English speakers. As for the World Link series, according to Stempleski, Douglas, and Morgan (2005), the topics and themes were designed to center around universal topics that can facilitate English-language learning with a global perspective. In particular, this textbook series had a unique section, titled World Link, which introduced global knowledge and information. For instance, one section introduced tipping, a practice common in many countries, presenting the case of the U.S., Egypt, Mexico, Italy, and Thailand.
The analysis showed that even though still the ‘inner circle’ cultural content dominates the content of most of the ELT textbooks analysed, there is some attempt to both localize and globalize the texts. Examining the inclusion of cultural content in textbooks was one of the objectives of this study, the other objective was to examine ‘levels of cultural presentation’ and investigate whether textbooks go beyond the knowledge level presentation of cultural issues and promote intercultural communicative competence among learners. For this reason, ‘the levels of cultural presentation’ of textbooks was examined as well in order to explore whether textbooks can facilitate intercultural communication of learners (Murayama, 2000).
Research question 2: Levels of cultural presentation
The ‘levels’ of cultural presentation analysis was intended to analyze how deeply the internationally distributed ELT textbooks present the cultural materials.
Figure 2. Levels of cultural presentation in the current textbooks.2
As seen in Figure 2, the textbooks seemed to heavily remain at the ‘traditional knowledge-oriented level’ of cultural presentation. This study found that Fifty-Fifty did not have ‘communication-oriented level’ of cultural presentation possibly because of its focus on structural aspects of language. Furthermore, none of the textbooks were found to have a balance between ‘the knowledge-oriented level’ and ‘the communication-oriented level’ of cultural presentation.
In addition, some lower-level textbooks for beginning learners tend to be more ‘knowledge-oriented’ while intermediate or higher-intermediate textbooks tend to incorporate more intercultural communication features. Figure 3 shows that the content of level 1 in Side by Side was more likely to have ‘knowledge-oriented’ features. However, the level 4 content was more likely to have ‘communication-oriented’ features.
Figure 3. Levels of cultural presentation in Side by Side.
The textbook authors took different approaches in moving to ‘levels of cultural presentation.’ Under the theme of travel, for example, the authors of the Fifty-Fifty book included various countries. However, the conversations tended to deliver ‘knowledge-oriented information.’
On the other hand, World Link, New Interchange, and World View provided the ‘communication-oriented level’ under the theme of travel. First, in its reading section, New Interchange 1 (Unit 11) dealt with famous cities. For example, after reading about three famous cities, learners are asked to match the city to its description. The students then make charts to compare each city and discuss it with their partners. Second, in Worldview 1(Unit 11) students view two pictures of the Coliseum in Rome and a safari in Kenya and discuss travel plans with their partners. In addition, Worldview 1 (Unit 3) had a quiz that asks each learner if he or she is an international person by framing the questions related to international matters such as leisure activities, food, and celebrities at the national or international level. World Link 3 (5B) dealt with cultural adjustments made by newcomers under the topic being different. This content addresses real-life issues of culture shock and the problem of acclimation to a new country and culture. This unit enables learners to challenge their own experiences and worldviews by thinking critically and expressing their ideas. The content of these three textbooks under the same topic was formulated in different types of tasks, discussion topics, and various literary genres.
Overall, unfortunately, most ‘communication-oriented’ texts remained at the level of cultural tourism, presenting cultural facts only. The challenge is to provide opportunities to focus on beliefs and values within a culture at a deeper level, targeting English-language learners at the intermediate and higher levels.
With the status of English as an international language, the question of whose culture to teach becomes complicated and raises a number of important issues. As an international language, English is no longer tied to the cultures ‘inner circle’ countries. When English is being taught and used in countries that are socially, culturally, and geographically distant from Kachru’s Inner Circle, questions related to cultural appropriateness become paramount.
Recognition of the international status of English means that educators should promote the learners’ ability to communicate their ideas and their cultures in a variety of situations. The realities of diversity and adaptations are recognized and the international function of English is reflected in the pedagogical approach. A new notion of communicative competence, which encompasses both local and international contexts as settings of language use, is needed. As mentioned by Alptekin (2002), both native-nonnative and nonnative-nonnative discourse participants will be considered and developing successful bilinguals with intercultural insights and knowledge will be our pedagogical goal.
Kramsch (1993) recommends that teachers establish in their classrooms, a sphere of interculturality, a situation where students and teachers approach culture reflectively. Cortazzi and Jin (1999) view cultural learning as a dialogue between teachers, students, and textbooks. The teacher acts as cultural mediator, having students delve into the beliefs, values, and cultural practices they embody and then using those reflections to relate to other cultures. The sociocultural context of language learning, the developmental level of learners, program objectives, and consideration of situations where l
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