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Culture in English Language Teaching Textbooks

Info: 10044 words (40 pages) Dissertation
Published: 10th Dec 2019

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Tags: Cultural StudiesTeachingEnglish as a Foreign Language

A number of studies on the examination of culture within ELT textbooks have uncovered consistent biases favouring certain cultural groups over others. ELT textbooks in Japan reveal the dominance of American English and American characters in dialogues and readings, and the promotion of these as a universal standard. English textbooks in Japan show “a strong inner-circle orientation in the choice of linguistic samples and representations of English users and uses” (Matsuda, 2002, p. 438). The majority of the main characters in these books are native speakers and the dialogues are exclusively among native speakers (Matsuda, 2003). Iranian EFL course books have been criticised for not adequately preparing learners for intercultural communication due to the lack of diverse social issues, the excessive focus on language forms, and little promotion of cultural awareness in the books (Hayati, 2009, p. 149). English language textbooks in Hong Kong were found to preference the cultures of English speaking countries over those of Africa or Asia (Yuen, 2011). The investigation of cultural content in ELT textbooks in Turkey found a high coverage of cultural topics from the US and England as the main target culture of English (Kirkgöz & Agçam, 2011). ELT textbooks in Korea were found to contain mostly British or American values, rather than internationally oriented cultures (Song, 2013). Research which examined EFL global textbooks in Vietnam demonstrated the foreignness of these textbooks to Vietnamese learners (Truong & Phan, 2009). In broader scale research into seven series of international ELT textbooks that were designed for ESL/EFL contexts in several Asian countries (with a total of 25 books), the domination of Inner Circle cultural content was also prevalent in all the textbooks that were examined (Shin et al., 2011). These are not the minority in this view; other researchers have criticised the cultural imbalance or cultural deficiencies in ELT textbooks (Mahmood et al., 2012; Tajeddin & Teimournezhad, 2014). It has been asserted that, “no well-designed ELT course books exist that explicitly focus on cross-cultural and multicultural themes from a global perspective” (Nault, 2006, p. 323)

These common findings, that the representation of the target cultures is dominant, may lead to an assumption that Inner Circle cultures are more highly valued than those from the Outer or Expanding Circle. There are reasons for this imbalance in the representation of cultures. Instead of spending time on looking for outside resources and evaluating whether these resources are appropriate for publication, it is obviously more cost-effective for textbook designers to use their own cultural and social contexts. Textbook designers are also usually native speakers of English. These designers naturally find it more difficult and uncomfortable to compose texts free from the influence of their own Anglo-American culture. Yet the most important reason lies in the characteristics of the target language, which by nature is intertwined with its own cultural norms and values (Shin et al., 2011).

Despite this, some countries with state-promoted religions, most of which are Muslim, have tended to offer a counterview regarding the overwhelming influence of the target culture in ELT textbooks. A number of studies have demonstrated that locally produced ELT textbooks reflect the source culture of the particular country, rather than the target or international target cultures (Kirkgöz & Agçam, 2011). In a study that investigated teaching materials in Morocco, it was found there was less benefit gained by including Western culture in the textbooks. The introduction of Western culture would result in a tendency for comparison between native cultures and foreign cultures, which could contribute to learners’ discontent with their own culture (Adaskou, Britten, & Fahsi, 1990). Pakistani people experience hostility towards representations of Western culture in ELT textbooks, hence they may not have the motivation to know about the society or the culture of native speakers (Shah, Afsar, e Haq, & Khan, 2012). Locally produced textbooks in Iran also concentrate exclusively on Iranian culture and religion (Majdzadeh, 2002). Saudi Arabia and Chile are extreme in the use of their own-designed materials with little reference to the culture of Inner Circle countries (Turkan & Celik, 2007). Locally published textbooks in Vietnam referred mostly to Vietnamese people and places, followed by American and other cultures (Dinh, 2014). A considerable number of other locally published ELT textbooks used in Korea, Turkey, and Morocco focus on the source culture rather than the target ones (McKay, 2004).

The findings of these international studies indicate that both global ELT textbooks, that favours the Inner Circle cultures, and the locally designed ELT textbooks focusing exclusively on their own cultures and religions, show “deficiencies” or “potential demerits” (Hermawan & Lia, 2012; Nault, 2006, p. 322; Shin et al., 2011, p. 256; Tajeddin & Teimournezhad, 2014). Internationally distributed textbooks full of British or American viewpoints might hinder learners’ acculturation because these books do not foster EIL users in expanding their cultural awareness. These books are also said to undermine learners’ agency. By using these books, learners are learning about “a limited section of the world” and are receiving “incomplete exposure to the English language” (Matsuda, 2002, p. 438).

This limited exposure to the English language may make learners think that their English, which may differ from a native speaker’s, is unacceptable. They may feel embarrassed about their accent and hesitate to communicate in English (Matsuda, 2003). Similarly, the lack of target cultural perspectives in locally designed ELT textbooks may create a barrier for learners who seek to develop intercultural communication and target language skills (Shin et al., 2011; Tajeddin & Teimournezhad, 2014).

In addition to the imbalanced representation of foreign cultures, ELT textbooks have also been found to view learners as prospective tourists, which could explain the presence of an incomplete and extremely positive picture of a foreign reality (García, 2005). For example, a culture may be presented in a practical, tourist format such as instructions on how to get things done in the target language. Learners may, therefore, try to adapt it or adopt it as their own when they travel to target countries (Kramsch, 2013). This restricted view of language may lead to learners’ being stereotyped, which is itself an obstacle to interpersonal communication and linguistic competence.

With English as a lingua franca and a means of international communication, ideal global ELT textbooks should not only prepare learners to use English with native speakers, but also with non-native speakers of English. The limited exposure to English varieties in the classroom may lead to confusion or resistance when students are confronted with different types of English users and uses outside this context (Matsuda, 2003). In order to achieve the goal of international communication, instead of providing learners with a particular standard or model, these materials should expose learners to many types of language-based interactions and engage learners through different types of speakers and texts (Tomlinson, 2005). Students may find it beneficial if material writers and publishers devote more attention to issues such as cultural misunderstandings, cross-cultural pragmatics, stereotypes, non-verbal communication or culture shocks (Nault, 2006). It is essential to introduce more than a single variety of English or one culture into the materials for international communication (Matsuda, 2003; McKay, 2003; Nault, 2006). A thoughtful incorporation of cultures in textbooks may help learners to communicate more successfully in cross-cultural situations. Even if one variety of English is chosen as a dominant target model, students should also be aware of varieties other than British or American “to develop a more comprehensive view of the English language” (Matsuda, 2003, p. 721). This incorporation of cultures is especially important in the era of learning English as an international language.

Catering for the purpose of intercultural language teaching does not necessarily mean that ELT textbooks should be “mass-produced for an international market regardless of local contexts” (Dinh, 2014, p. 146). They should not be a kind of “one-size-fits-all” textbook, which tries to satisfy all needs and in the process, loses pedagogical, linguistic, and cultural value. These “one-size-fits-all” textbooks are often accused of excluding the local and presenting a world that is different from reality. Learners are not engaged authentic communication (Gray, 2002). In other words, such textbook designers have moved from authenticity to appropriateness in designing their books. New global textbooks are now similar in design and content because they are following similar guidelines in terms of cultural content. They may stress the international functions of English, but finally end up with “bland and characterless constructions of international conferences, airport lounges and hotel reception desks, which could be anywhere and nowhere…” (Pulverness, 2004, para. 33). These global textbooks are designed to avoid offensive topics to users, and to ensure a fair and balanced representation of people from different races, religions, genders, ethnicities, and classes (Gray, 2002). For example, modern and very quintessentially British textbooks, the New Headway series, are now “much less exclusively located in Britain” (Gray, 2002, p. 154). Although balancing the two contradictory elements in designing ELT textbooks, appropriacy and inclusivity, is a difficult task, there is an apparent shift in international settings, which reflects the growing sense in ELT textbook publishers of English as a lingua franca.

2.3.4. Approaches to examining cultural representation in textbooks.

Researchers have carried out a great many studies to examine culture in English language textbooks because of the interrelation between language and culture and the importance of textbooks in English language teaching. These studies have revealed different portrayals of culture across all their dimensions (Rajabi & Ketabi, 2012). Cultural information may be embedded in informative and descriptive texts, dialogues, writing tasks, lexical items, and visual and audio recordings (Adaskou et al., 1990). Textbooks thus convey sets of cultural values, which are often referred to as the “hidden curriculum” (Cunningsworth, 1995, p. 90). A variety of approaches have been applied to investigate this hidden curriculum and provided valuable insight into cultural elements in textbooks.

Most research into culture in ELT textbooks has used quantitative research tools, which employ frequency counts of cultural representations as evident in the textual and visual materials of textbooks (Çakir, 2010; Dahmardeh et al., 2014; Kirkgöz & Agçam, 2011; Mahmood et al., 2012; Rajabi & Ketabi, 2012; Shin et al., 2011; Song, 2013; Yuen, 2011). These representations present the target language culture, the source culture of the learners, or follow an international cultural orientation (McKay, 2000). Other research has used qualitative methods, which apply critical discourse analysis (García, 2005; Tahir Yaqoob & Zubair, 2012), or a thematic approach in analysing the content of texts within the teaching materials (Su, 2007). Some studies paid more attention to texts and text analysis (Juan, 2010), while others relied on both text and pictures as the basic units of their research (Yuen, 2011). Others explored textbooks in terms of the meaning potential they have in their texts and images, “as opposed to those taking cultural content as fixed in textbooks” (Weninger & Kiss, 2013, p. 695). Not only using a variety of approaches, these research studies applied a wide range of analytical frameworks as well.

The quantitative analysis framework of four different aspects of culture, Product-PracticesPerspectives-Persons, was adopted to examine foreign cultures represented in two textbooks in Hong Kong (Yuen, 2011). The first aspect, Product, is named big C culture. It refers to the formal institutions (social, political, and economic), the great figures of history, and those products of literature, fine arts, and the sciences that were traditionally assigned to the category of elite culture (National Standards in Foreign Language Education Project, 1996, cited in Yuen, 2011). The other aspect of culture, Practices, is the way of life of a particular group of people (Brody, 2003, cited in Yuen, 2011). This ‘little c’ aspect refers to daily living studied by the sociologist and the anthropologist: housing, clothing, food, tools, transportation, and all the patterns of behaviour that members of the culture regard as necessary and appropriate (National Standards in Foreign Language Education Project, 1996, cited in Yuen, 2011). These two aspects are referred to as “objective culture’, while the more intangible concepts such as world views, values and beliefs by members of

a society are “subjective culture” (Bennett et al., 2003, p. 243). This aspect of culture is named Perspectives. The last aspect to be considered is Persons, which was added by Moran (Yuen, 2011, p. 459). While Products, Practices, and Perspectives often characterise culture, famous icons or individuals can also be a cultural symbol of one particular country. Queen Elizabeth or Mother Teresa, for example, represents the different cultures of The United Kingdom and India, respectively. After analysing the data, Yuen’s final conclusion indicated that the culture represented in the textbooks favours English speaking-countries (Yuen, 2011).

In contrast to Yuen’s methodology (2011), an alternative semiotic framework that drew on the semiotic theory developed by Charles Sanders Peirce was offered (Weninger & Kiss, 2013). By introducing semiotic principles in EFL textbook analysis, this approach focused on the “dimensions of the meaning-making process, on how things can mean, rather than on empirical classroom data from distinct learning contexts” (Weninger & Kiss, 2013, p. 696). In this approach, textbooks were analysed in terms of the meaning potential they generated through texts and images, without necessarily insisting or imposing any meanings. The activities of looking or reading were the units of examination. Texts, images and tasks were considered together in order to understand how they facilitated certain interpretations. This allowed teachers to explore and exploit these as part of learners’ dynamic engagement with texts and images in textbooks (Weninger & Kiss, 2013).

Another study adopted both qualitative and quantitative approaches in investigating the cultural content in ESL textbooks in Pakistan (Mahmood et al., 2012). The researchers followed Byram et al.’s (1994) model, which included such categories as social identity, beliefs and behaviours, sociopolitical institutes, socialisation and life cycle, national history, geography and stereotypes. As culture is expressed through language, and bases itself on words, words representing cultural aspect were denoted and counted, in line with Byram’s model. It was then determined whether the culture presented belonged to the target culture, source culture or both (Mahmood et al., 2012). This approach highlighted the presence of particular cultures and focused on cultural content as well as how some other aspects are overlooked. “The results reveal that the major focus of textbook Step Ahead 1 is non-native culture, inadequate, inefficient inter-cultural harmony is found in it and the least consideration has been given to the source, which is likely to alienate the learners from their own culture” (Mahmood et al., 2012, pp. 35-36)

Thompson’s (1984) rubrics were utilised to clarify the meaning of cultural values (Asgari, 2011). In Thompson’s analytical framework, the concept “ideology” was defined as “the ways in which meaning serves to sustain relations of domination” (Asgari, 2011, p. 890). This concept is used to connect education and power relations. Thompson’s rubrics of cultural values include: hegemony of English, which has to do with English speaking countries; consumerism; personal issues; health and social issues. To clarify the meaning of each of these values, a definition for each cultural value was given. As these values are parts of people’s lives, they are realistic and can become part of the learners’ value system (Asgari, 2011).

Still other researchers have employed different analytical frameworks. ELT textbooks have been analysed qualitatively in accordance with the model proposed by Ramirez and Hall (1999) (Aliakbari & Jamalvandi, 2012). The two main sections of the model are the amount and various categories of cultures, which refer to English-speaking countries, non-English speaking Western countries, Eastern nations, China, and Cross-national references. The five major cultural categories include: social issues; personal issues; religion, arts and humanities; political systems and institutions; environmental issues (Aliakbari & Jamalvandi, 2012). Similarly, Ramirez and Hall’s (1990) categorisation was used to examine the representation of culture in Iranian Language Institute advanced level textbooks. Five out of these eight categories were present in these advanced books, which show good variety across these texts (Rashidi & Najafi, 2010).

2.3.5. Theoretical framework for cultural representations in ELTtextbooksinthisstudy.

From various approaches to cultural representations in literature, it is clear that researchers’ analytical frameworks draw on a variety of definitions of culture, most of which well serve the intention and the purpose of the research. However, researchers in the investigation of cultural representation in ELT textbooks have used some models more frequently than others. One of the most frequently used models is the one proposed by Adaskou, Britten and Fashi (1990). As a holistic and profound framework, their four senses of culture have been adopted as a research instrument in numerous studies (Hermawan & Lia, 2012; McKay, 2000; Rajabi & Ketabi, 2012; Shah et al., 2014; Stapleton, 2000; Tajeddin & Teimournezhad, 2014). Using this framework, problems were found in both localised and international textbooks (Tajeddin & Teimournezhad, 2014). The localised textbook series may not serve to enhance intercultural understanding among learners, since in this case very few references were made to target or international cultural elements. On the other hand, the problem with international textbooks was the absence of the source culture.

Adaskou, Britten and Fashi’s (1990) comprehensive model includes four ‘senses’ of culture: the aesthetic (culture with capital C), the sociological (culture with small c), the semantic (the conceptual system embodied in the language) and the pragmatic (or sociolinguistic). The aesthetic includes literature, media, music, films and the fine arts (whether serious or popular), literature – the study of which used to be one of the main reasons for language teaching. Very often, some forms of culture in this sense are also sources of cultural information in the sociological sense. The sociological sense refers to the way of life in the target community. This category includes the structure of different institutions, from the national health system to the family, and interpersonal relations at home, at work, and during free time activities. In other words, it includes the organisation and nature of family, home life, interpersonal relations, material conditions, work and leisure, customs and institutions. The semantic is the conceptual system embodied in the language, which is culturally distinctive because it relates to a particular way of life and context. This system conditions all our perceptions and our thought processes, time and space relations, and emotional states, and colour usage. The pragmatic means the background knowledge, social skills, and paralinguistic skills, which help create successful communication with other members of the target language community and vary according to setting, audience, purpose and genre.  It includes the ability to use appropriate exponents of various communicative functions; the ability to use appropriate intonation patterns; the ability to conform to norms of politeness, where different from the learners’ culture, including taboo avoidance; the awareness of conventions governing interpersonal relations – questions of status, obligation, license, where different from the learners’ culture; the familiarity with the main rhetorical conventions in different written genres e.g. different types of letters and messages, form-filling, advertisements. The last two types, the semantic and the pragmatic senses of culture, are stated to be necessary for learners’ achievement. The other two types, aesthetic and sociological, foster international understanding and challenge negative stereotypes and other prejudices (Adaskou et al., 1990).

The frequent application of ‘four senses of culture’ framework, in terms of examining the cultural representation in language textbooks, indicates that this framework is widely accepted and that the four categories of culture are well established. This framework is not necessarily all-inclusive or mutually exclusive, but the four senses of culture are representative of the countless dimensions of culture. They provide both the concrete substance and the abstractness of cultural concepts. This framework is comprehensive and holistic in the way it focuses on both tangible cultural content, through texts and images, and intangible cultural values through the underlying semantic and pragmatic meanings embedded in the language. As this framework was developed for an EFL context, it is particularly appropriate for studies on non-native speakers. The four senses of this framework are useful for examining the cultural representations in ELT textbooks because they incorporate topics which are normally dealt with in general EFL courses. Such culturerelated topics may have different degrees of importance, depending on vary according to the aims of the courses; however, this framework defines the substance of cultural teaching in many EFL educational contexts. For those reasons, this ‘four senses of culture’ model forms part of the analytical framework for the cultural examination in ELT textbooks of this study.

2.4. The Connection between the Representation of Culture in              ELT              Textbooks              and              Language              Learning

2.4.1. Cultural aspects in foreign language learning.

Since the introduction of CLT, linguists have placed a lot of emphasis on the learning of not only English itself but also the culture of English-speaking societies. This is due to their intertwined relationship. Learners should be informed how native speakers of English see the world, and how the English language reflects the ideas, customs, and behaviour of their society. It means that a good command of linguistic knowledge contributes to the correctness of sentences, while familiarity with cultural knowledge of that language may guarantee appropriateness of discourse (Fageeh, 2011). As a result, some scholars consider culture the fifth skill in language learning (Lewis & McCook, 2002). It is even more than a skill in that it cannot be separated from language (Kramsch, 1998). In fact, target language culture is an essential feature in every stage of foreign language learning (Stewart, 1982).

Language shapes our culture and our viewpoint of life; therefore, language is not just a means of communication, it is a conduit of culture as well. When learning a language, students are exposed to a target language and human nature reflected in that language. Learners are simultaneously provided with cultural knowledge input through the language knowledge (Wei, 2005). This cultural input helps learners to have appropriate language behaviours in terms of culture, for example, how to accept an invitation, how to take leave, how to express agreement or disagreement, or how to make requests (Coltrane, 2003). Language is senseless when learners pay no attention to the people who speak the target language and the country where the language is spoken (Pulverness, 2003). When one fails to learn the culture of the target language, the language learning process is deemed to be incomplete or a recipe for becoming a “fluent fool” (Bennett et al., 2003, p. 237). The question of culture teaching now is not whether it should be taught but how it should be taught (Nault, 2006). Textbooks, as a conduit of culture, have an important role to play in bringing forward culture to learners so that it is not a language barrier to students’ language acquisition.

Because “second language learning is often second culture learning” (Brown, 1986, p. 33), language learning and teaching involves the negotiation of cultural identity. Learning a foreign language provides learners with a cross-cultural experience that requires them to negotiate new cultural and linguistic codes that are different from their own (Kubota, 2004). The intrinsic link between language and culture gives rise to some terms such as acculturation – learners assimilate new culture or linguaculture – language is interrelated with culture and is taught in tandem with its culture (Friedrich, 1989; Rajabi & Ketabi, 2012, p. 707). Some English instructors “have interpreted their task…. as that of getting their students to ape native speakers as faithfully as possible, or rehearsing them in patterns of native-speaker behaviour, with all the cultural baggage that comes with this unquestioned, even unnoticed” (Seidlhofer, 1999, p. 237). However, as mentioned in section 2.3.1 in this chapter, if the goal of English language teaching pedagogy is to train learners to communicate in a globalised world, then learners’ communicative competence needs to be redefined with a broader language knowledge and cultural knowledge, and not be confined to the target language culture. In other words, the ultimate goal of modern language learning has now shifted from communicative competence to intercultural communicative competence (hereafter ICC), which is a dynamic process of encountering other cultures and becoming more confident with one’s own culture. This process is directed toward using English as an international language in a globalised era, and not to reach a perfect, native-like linguistic competence.

In that spirit, it is also emphasised that learning about a new culture does not necessarily mean accepting that culture (McKay, 2000). One is not obliged to strictly follow the conventions of the target culture (Kramsch, 1993). That explains why interculturalism – knowing about another culture, and biculturalism – accepting another culture, are clearly distinguished (Byram, 1998). In the EIL classroom, where the language belongs to its users, it is more relevant for learners to reach the goal of interculturalism (McKay, 2000). This “enables them to mediate/interpret the values, beliefs and behaviours (the ‘cultures’) of themselves and of others and to ‘stand on the bridge’ or indeed ‘be the bridge’ between people of different languages and cultures” (Byram, 2006, p. 12). In other words, learners need to be aware of the differences between their own cultural values and beliefs and the target culture; at the same time, they need to have the capacity to negotiate these differences in order to achieve common understanding and establish solidarity (M. T. T. Nguyen, 2011). With this in mind, full exposure to cultural diversity in the English language may help learners raise their own cultural awareness, and at the same time develop insights into the values and beliefs of other cultures. In this way, the goal of interculturalism may be achieved in EIL classrooms (McKay, 2000). This informs learners on how to behave in a manner that is considered culturally acceptable, while also developing greater tolerance and receptiveness toward others (Cunningsworth, 1995). The issue arises as to which types of culture and what kinds of culture should be included in ELT textbooks and should be taught in the language classroom.

2.4.2. Effects of cultural aspects in foreign language learning.

Across a variety of linguistic and cultural boundaries, cultural differences are assumed to greatly influence language learning and communication. In a language class, every single element to be taught is linked to culture in some way or other as “every lesson is about something and that something is about culture” (Tseng, 2002, p. 20). Effective language learning among different cultures is challenging, due to the different ways of thinking, seeing, hearing, and interpreting the world embedded in these cultures. They bring both positive and negative values: While cultural differences may lead to communication breakdown, they also provide learners with valuable learning targets (Kubota, 2004).  Therefore, learners’ attitudes toward other cultures may range from resistance to hostility at one extreme, to affection on the other (Knutson, 2006). As a positive attitude toward the target language and culture helps promote affinity with the lingua-culture, it may facilitate language learning. In contrast, if learners feel alienated from the target language and culture, this cultural gap may hinder language-learning processes, and is commonly framed as a cultural barrier in the path of learning/teaching different languages (Mirdehghan, HoseiniKargar, Navab, & Mahmoodi, 2011; Rajabi & Ketabi, 2012). Although language instructors are well aware of leaners’ affinity to target culture, they show more concern about cultural factors that seriously hinder the effectiveness of the learning process (Mirdehghan et al., 2011).

In an EFL classroom context, learners’ learning behaviours and progress are generally regulated by their pre-existing knowledge, attitudes and beliefs (Talley & Hui-ling, 2014). Therefore, familiarity with the cultural context assists learners in the handling of various language tasks (Alptekin, 1993). A review of literature has presented numerous examples on how cultural familiarity facilitates foreign language acquisition, and comprehension in particular (Bakhtiarvand & Adinevand, 2010; Erten & Razi, 2009; Hayati, 2009; Lee, 2007; Nguyễn, 2003; Pulido, 2004, 2007). Research on the impact of cultural knowledge on listening comprehension in Iran emphasised that cultural familiarity, background knowledge and linguistic complexity were essential features in developing and enhancing listening comprehension. As long as these three factors were applied and learners were exposed to these, listening comprehension would be developed (Bakhtiarvand & Adinevand, 2010; Basavand & Sadeghi). Another study in Iran demonstrated that familiarity with culturally oriented language material promoted Iranians’ listening proficiency (Hayati, 2009). A research on the effects of cultural familiarity on reading comprehension in Turkey showed that cultural familiarity facilitated comprehension (Erten & Razi, 2009). Another study in Spain found that topic familiarity had a significant impact on text processing, comprehension, and second language lexical referencing and gain (Pulido, 2007). Participants in research in Korea who read culturally familiar topics found that they understood the content of the reading better (Lee, 2007). The familiarity with cultural contexts had role to play in assisting students to handle various language tasks.

Despite the advantages of teaching the target language’s culture, confusion could occur due to ignorance of cultural information. Ambiguity in some functions of the target language may arise if learners do not recognise the hidden meaning of a language unit (Rajabi & Ketabi, 2012). For example, learners should be aware that the statement “It’s cold” can function as a general comment on the weather and as an implied request to close the window. In addition, learners should be informed of culturally accepted attitudes and behaviours in the target language. Being afraid of losing face, Asian learners may be embarrassed and reluctant to speak because of the fear of making mistakes when they do not know how to respond correctly in a particular situation related to cultural differences (Alptekin, 1993; Huang, Dotterweich, & Bowers, 2012). It is understandable that the lack of target cultural information will hamper language learning. Cultural unfamiliarity has been found to have a considerable negative influence on the assessment of listening and reading comprehension in Vietnamese universities. This negative influence may lead to the decrease of reliability of this assessment (Nguyễn, 2003). Similarly, foreign language learners have encountered cognitive processing difficulties in reading and writing activities relating to unfamiliar contexts (Winfield & Barnes-Felfeli, 1982). In a different skill area, culturally influenced rhetorical patterns were said to have a great impact on Japanese learners’ ESL/EFL composition due to these patterns’ underlying social and cultural assumptions (Kobayashi & Rinnert, 1996). Cultural barriers for Taiwanese EFL students stemmed from ‘acculturation’ – the adaptation process in a new setting; “culture shock” – the negative feelings learners have due to “cultural dislocation” and the “foreignness” of the learning context; and feelings of “social distance” – experience of different social standing from that found in a peer group (Talley & Hui-ling, 2014, pp. 78-79). In religious countries such as Jordan or Saudi Arabia, cultural obstacles included Western culture with opposing religious values and beliefs, sure to hinder the process of English language teaching (Khuwaileh, 2000; Mekheimer, 2011). Cultural inequality and lack of inclusiveness in ELT materials are factors which affected learners’ motivation in Botswana (Magogwe, 2009). Cultural dimensions, such as social factors, religious matters, and taboo words, are also considered to have interfered in the effective language learning of Iranian learners (Mirdehghan et al., 2011).

In short, language does not in any way function independently of the social context of that language. As English today belongs to all who speak it, the context is not confined to its native setting but has expanded across diverse settings. Also, it is “unrealistic and misleading” to present that setting in “a stereotypical manner” to EFL learners, or in a way that entirely lacks comparative insights and critical perspectives (Alptekin, 1993, p. 141). Instead of this, EFL material writers and teachers should try to build conceptual bridges between the culturally familiar and unfamiliar for learners when they acquire English. That is, in EFL settings, students should be provided with opportunities to practice the English they will use in local situations and international circumstances. Local and international contexts relevant to students’ lives should be used, as opposed to irrelevant contexts from the English-speaking world (Alptekin, 1993). English educators should “adopt and promote a more cosmopolitan outlook that recognises and accepts other ways of life, modes of thought, and styles of English usage beyond Great Britain and the United States” (Nault, 2006, p. 324). They should emphasise cultural differences as a starting point for students to develop cross-cultural awareness. Then teachers can elaborate further on the target culture, the similarities and differences between students’ own culture and the target one (Gonen & Saglam, 2012). Finally, culture learning should be considered an experiential and on-going, open-ended process essential for English language education, as opposed to a momentary diversion from regular lessons in language teaching (Nault, 2006).

2.4.3. Intercultural approach in foreign language education.

Understanding the goal of Intercultural Language Teaching (ILT)

With the widespread use of EIL and the emerging modern approaches to English education, the aim of English learning has shifted from communicative competence to intercultural competence. The latter aim assists learners to widen their singular worldview by learning a foreign linguaculture, thus leading learners towards intercultural competence. When a learner achieves intercultural competence in English learning, he/she is able to use English in communication and understands that language use is fundamentally cultural (Crozet & Liddicoat, 1999). A competent intercultural speaker can be defined more comprehensively as follows:

An intercultural speaker is someone who can operate their linguistic competence and their sociolinguistic awareness of the relationship between language and the context in which it is used, in order to manage interaction across cultural boundaries, to anticipate misunderstandings caused by difference in values, meanings and beliefs, and thirdly, to cope with the affective as well as cognitive demands of engagement with otherness (Byram, 1995, quoted in Crozet & Liddicoat, 1999, p. 115).

Every time learners use English, they perform a cultural act, which involves two cultures: their own and the target language. As a result, EFL learners need “to develop a cultural position that mediates between these two cultures” – which is called the third place (Crozet & Liddicoat, 1999, p. 113). The following section provides different definitions of intercultural communicative competence provided by previous scholars. Based on these understandings of ICC, I clarify the important role of the language teacher in assisting students to achieve intercultural communicative competence in terms of what this means for language teaching and learning outcomes. Again, language textbooks should be an important facilitator in this teaching and learning process.

Intercultural communicative competence

The concept of intercultural communicative competence has redefined the goal of language learning and teaching with the integration of culture into language study. In the process of intercultural learning, EFL learners have to gain insight into both their own and a foreign culture (Kramsch, 1993). The term ICC has been defined in a number of ways by different researchers (Byram, 1997, 2012; Lo Bianco, Liddicoat, & Crozet, 1999; Sercu, 2000).

Byram’s conception model of intercultural communicative competence

Intercultural communicative competence is defined as the ability “to interact with people from another country and culture in a foreign language [emphasis added]” (Byram, 1997, p. 71), or in another word, ICC is the “ability to communicate and interact across cultural boundaries” (Byram, 1997, p. 7). This definition implies that in order to develop ICC, learners need to be able to negotiate and mediate between multiple identities and cultures in different situations. The most challenging feature for intercultural interaction can be viewed as the differences in interlocutors’ cultural backgrounds. Byram’s much-cited ICC model (See figure 2.3) is presented in relation to four language competences: linguistic competence, sociolinguistic competence, discourse competence and intercultural competence. The complicated process of developing intercultural communicative competence requires five significant factors (savours) representing the aspects of IC: attitude, knowledge of oneself and others, skills of interpreting and relating, skills of discovery and interaction, and critical cultural awareness (Byram, 1997, p. 91) (see Figure 2.3).

Figure 2.3. Intercultural competence elements

(Source: Byram, 1997, p.34)

In Byram’s (1997) IC model, critical cultural awareness is positioned at the very centre of the model.  This central positioning “embodies the educational dimension of language teaching” (Byram, 2012, p. 9). It implies that the other four components in the model – attitude, knowledge, skills of interpreting and relating, and skills of discovery and interaction – can be acquired to develop linguistic and intercultural competence without critical cultural awareness. However, ICC pedagogy may not achieve its full potential, and the addition of critical cultural awareness assists students in maximising their linguistic functional abilities (Byram, 2012). If students do not possess critical cultural awareness, they may not apply correctly the knowledge they have learnt or perform appropriately in intercultural communication. Byram’s ICC model is valuable in presenting the structural components of IC and the objectives that need to be achieved in the development of ICC.

Liddicoat’s conception and model of intercultural competence

Liddicoat had a dynamic approach to culture and culture teaching. He viewed culture as a set of variable practices that people engaged in their daily life (Liddicoat, 2002). Thus, Liddicoat’s conception of culture is not about information or things, but instead emphasises actions and understandings. A person who has cultural knowledge does not mean that he/she knows information about the culture; it means he/she knows how to engage with culture (Liddicoat, 2002, p. 7). In his dynamic approach to culture, intercultural competence is “the ability to negotiate meaning across cultural boundaries and establish one’s own identity as a user of another language” (Liddicoat, 2002, p. 8). Based on this conception, Liddicoat pressed the importance of learning about one’s own culture in the process of Intercultural Language Teaching (ILT). In order to learn about other cultures, one needs to know about culture of one’s own so that one does not assimilate oneself into the target culture, but rather creates oneself a comfortable third place (Lo Bianco et al., 1999). This comfortable third place is positioned between two cultures, where one can communicate and interact successfully with others while maintaining one’s own cultural identity.

In order to achieve the goals of dynamic culture teaching approach, Liddicoat proposed five principles. He stressed that culture must be taught in tandem with other skills and from the beginning because he argued that culture is fundamental to language and it is integrated into language (see Figure 2.4).

Figure 2.4. Points of articulation between culture and language

(Source: Liddicoat, 2002, p.11)

Liddicoat emphasised that the aim for language teaching is now not “a native-like English speaker norm”, but “a bilingual norm”, who is comfortable and capable of communicating in intercultural context (Liddicoat, 2002, p. 10). He observed that cultures are relative, and he urged learners to expose themselves to other cultures and make comparison to their own culture. Finally, he concluded that culture is an on-going process, and teachers can’t teach everything about cultures. They need to help learners to form their own ways of exploring other cultures (Liddicoat, 2002). These five principles in dynamic culture teaching approach assist teachers and students in developing intercultural competence.

Liddicoat (2002) proposed a pathway for developing intercultural competence. The development of IC is considered a cyclical process, which engages learners in exploring their own and the target culture. This pathway serves as a model of “learner’s internal processes of noticing, reflections and language production” (Ho, 2009, p. 67). In this model of IC development (see Figure 2.5), language learners having certain knowledge of their own culture are exposed to new cultural input form target cultures.

Figure 2.5. A pathway for developing the intercultural competence

(Source: Liddicoat, 2002, p.11)

Liddicoat (2002) emphasised that learners have to notice this input, because the invisibility of cultures makes it difficult to notice cultural differences. Language teachers have an important role to play in promoting this ‘noticing’. Once students notice cultural differences, they reflect on the nature of these differences and make a decision on how to response to these differences. They modify their cultural practices to accommodate this new cultural knowledge and this process results in output in the language. This process is just initial modification, and the output provides more opportunities to have another ‘noticing’. Learners may feel comfortable or uncomfortable with the new cultural practices they have conducted, or these modified culture practices are considered successful or not in a target environment. This ‘noticing’ continues to be further reflected on, and be realised in learner’s language output. This process continues in an endless cycle of learning (Liddicoat, 2002).

Cultural acquisition is a not linear but cyclical and on-going process. Learners in this process do not reach the native-like destination, but rather find themselves comfortable in “an intermediate intercultural ‘third place’ developed between the sets of practices in the first and second language” (Liddicoat, 2002, p. 11). While Byram’s (1997) conception of intercultural communicative competence clarifies structural components of IC, Liddicoat’s (2002) model of developing IC demonstrates how to address the goal of developing IC in language education. Liddicoat’s (2002) model has high pedagogical values in providing language teachers with ideas and principles in incorporating culture in their own teaching context. This model therefore forms the theoretical framework for the exploration of teachers and students’ perception of cultures and the influence of culture on the process of developing students’ ICC.

The role of language teachers in ILT

In language teaching and textbooks, the concept of cultural (or social cultural) understanding is widely used in the literature but is still largely undefined for language practitioners.  In an EFL classroom, the teacher is expected to assist students in recognising and understanding how people of other cultures act, behave, and communicate. However, there are certain tendencies among language teachers to include cultural information as part of their language teaching. Apart from a few exceptions, teachers in a research project in Japan recognised the important role of culture in their classes. Most of them included cultural information as part of their language teaching; however, they incorporated this content less systematically than other aspects in their teaching (Stapleton, 2000). These teachers may feel that their first and foremost responsibility is to ensure their students have a good command of the foreign language; consequently, the time devoted to teaching about culture is seen as time lost for language teaching and learning (Sercu, García, & Prieto, 2004). Their culture teaching practice is greatly affected by other curricular considerations and limitations (Gonen & Saglam, 2012). Other research indicates that teachers tend to display negative feelings regarding stereotyping, superficial and biased cultural knowledge. Sometimes, there even exists a ‘distancing’, which means staying away from cultural aspects of any texts (Forman, 2014; Mekheimer, 2011). These teachers just effectively skip social cultural understanding because they may be unclear about what they are supposed to do or how to communicate these cultural aspects (Carr, Commins, & Crawford, 1998).

Teachers’ negative feelings about the cultural content in textbooks may then lead them to believe that “adapting their teaching style to dovetail with the cultural expectations of the students” is important (Stapleton, 2000, p. 301). A research in Japanese language classes confirmed that teachers give serious thought, and take action to make changes in their teaching, in order to suit their students’ responses.  If the goals of language teaching in each curriculum are less bound to the knowledge of language, and more engaged in the perception of cultural identity and difference, language teachers and learners alike may feel less overwhelmed (Knutson, 2006).

Due to the impact of mass media, the globalisation of technological progress, multiculturalism and postmodernism, the changing role of the English language in the globalised world has fed the debate over how culture should be incorporated into the teaching of English. In the EFL context, this issue receives great attention (Siddiqie, 2011). With the introduction of CLT over the past four decades, and the inextricable role of culture in language education, exposing learners to a single culture is no longer appropriate; intercultural teaching is, therefore, finding its way into the field (Tajeddin &

Teimournezhad, 2014). Intercultural competence involves the ability to communicate in all types of encounters regardless of the specific cultural contexts (Talley & Hui-ling, 2014). For example, intercultural competence also means creating a balance for English speakers between their own culture and international cultures. This position makes English speakers more confident in any international communications:

As such, an intercultural interaction is neither a question of maintaining one’s own cultural frame nor of assimilating to one’s interactant’s cultural frame. It is rather a third place. In so doing the participant in the interaction is an experiencer, not an observer, of difference. The ability to find this third place is at the core of intercultural competence (Crozet, Liddicoat, & Lo Bianco, 1999, p. 5).

Because effective communication requires more than communicative competence, and in order to avoid miscommunication, intercultural competence is necessary in a globalised world (Thanasoulas, 2001). It involves not only knowledge of cultural factors existing in the target language community, but also intercultural or cross-cultural awareness such as knowledge of cultures other than the source and target language culture (Tajeddin & Teimournezhad, 2014). Intercultural competence helps learners face cultural challenges and frees them from feelings of frustration when communicating across a number of contexts with cultural differences. The pedagogy of EIL now should be framed as “one of global appropriacy and local appropriation” (Alptekin, 2002, p. 63). EFL teaching and learning should prepare learners “to be both global and local speakers of English and to feel at home in both international and national cultures” (Kramsch & Sullivan, 1996, p. 211). As such, while English is a global language, it is realised in a local context. Consequently, in order to develop new perspectives on their own culture and counteract prejudiced attitudes toward others, learners should be exposed to other varieties of English. The more learners experience how different cultures represent the world, the more likely they will act politely and appropriately as international citizens (Siddiqie, 2011). An intercultural approach in language learning assists learners in developing insight into other cultures, and having positive attitudes towards others, while becoming more aware of their own culture as well (Tajeddin & Teimournezhad, 2014).

In EFL classrooms, teachers should try to help students raise awareness about cultures inside and outside the linguistic circle. Teachers are the ones who can bring foreign culture into the classroom. However, they do not need to have an encyclopedic knowledge of all English-language cultures, nor do they need to be bilingual, because even “being a native speaker does not guarantee one the ability to explain one’s culture to newcomers” (Byram & Kramsch, 2008, p. 33). These teachers are expected to have a critical, cultural and linguistics consciousness to be able to see overrepresented or underrepresented groups (Song, 2013). They are willing to learn about English-language cultures, or to embark on this lifelong road of discovery, and thus ignite interest in intercultural competence in their students (Klippel, 1994). If teaching the English language for intercultural competence is worthwhile for teachers, in terms of both professional and personal development, then it may become meaningful for their learners as well.

In EFL classroom settings, intercultural teaching may be considered as one of the ways to achieve students’ goals. Students utilise their pre-existing knowledge as a basis to explore more global understandings (Forman, 2014; Kubota, 2004). Similarities between cultures should be emphasised, followed by the discussion of differences. Topics to be taught in the target language should be related to students’ context (Cakir, 2006). All these contributing factors will undoubtedly facilitate the process of culture and language teaching and learning in EFL education. This process helps learners to develop an awareness of diversified cultural frameworks, and provides “a non-judgmental evaluation, and finally the acceptance of the norms of the target language culture” (Krasner, 1999, pp. 83-84). This is referred to as the process of developing intercultural competence in the preceding section (Liddicoat, 2002).

2.5. Summary

This chapter has reviewed the literature on textbooks, culture in textbooks, and cultural pedagogies on EFL teaching that are relevant to the study.  I presented the role of ELT textbooks and textbook selection process in language classrooms, the interrelation of language and culture, and the representation of cultures in ELT textbooks. I reviewed the influence of culture on students’ EFL education within the EIL paradigm. I described different perceptions of intercultural communicative competence, based on which I discussed the important role of language teachers in the intercultural teaching approach.

Playing an important role in educating an intercultural speaker, culture needs to be considered as an integral part of English teaching (Crozet et al., 1999; Liddicoat, 2002). In an intercultural language teaching approach, it is essential to teach culture in tandem with language. However, a review of literature has shown that culture is mostly addressed as cultural artifacts, cultural elements and its functions (Byram, 1997). In this way, culture is viewed as static rather than dynamic component in language teaching. This view affects the way teachers define their goals in teaching culture. Teachers aim at providing students with cultural knowledge and developing students’ positive attitude toward language and culture learning. The adoption of intercultural language teaching approach is not evident (T. L.

Nguyen, 2013).

ELT textbooks, a common form of language teaching materials, represent cultural content that does not satisfy the demand to integrate culture and language. Instead, these ELT textbooks represent a bias in their cultural representations. They represent cultural products and factual knowledge which are represented separately from language skills. ELT textbooks were found to focus mainly on representing target language cultures (i.e., English-speaking cultures) and ignore source culture. There is a recent trend of ELT to present diverse cultures in order to meet the increasing demand of learning English as an international language.

The aim of my study was to examine which types of culture and what kinds of culture are embedded in ELT global textbooks in Vietnam for the university level. Following this, my study investigated how these cultural representations in ELT textbooks influence students’ intercultural communicative competence. The review of literature has suggested that culture is a core component of EFL education, and developing students’ intercultural communicative competence is as significant as developing linguistic competence. A synthesis of previous research on cultural representations in ELT textbooks has identified the choice of theoretical frameworks for examining cultural representations in ELT textbooks. The discussion of perceptions of intercultural communicative competence and approaches toward intercultural language teaching has helped identify the frameworks for exploring teachers’ and students’ perceptions on culture and the influence of culture on developing students’ ICC. As with the current trend of learning English as an international language, the interrelation of language and culture, and the current dynamic view of culture learning that sees the development of students’ ICC as an on-going process, phase three of this research was carried out based on the framework for developing students’ ICC proposed by Liddicoat (2002).

In the next chapter, I outline and expand on the research methodologies that guide the study and discuss the stages of the research and the analysis of data. I present features of qualitative descriptive research to prove that this type of research suits the nature of the current study and provide a truthful account of the teachers and students’ opinions regarding the influence of cultural representations in ELT textbooks on students’ intercultural communicative competence. I clarify the methods used in the three phases of the study and describe the steps for conducting these phases. The method used in the first phase is structured interview with Heads/Vice Heads of Language Faculties. I describe the implementation of this phase, especially the research sites. The data are coded both manually and by NVivo, and analysed using thematic analysis. Addressing the seven current textbooks identified in the first phase, the second phase applies content analysis as its method. The sources of culture framework by Cortazzi and Jin (1991) and the types of culture framework by Adaskou, Britten and Fashi (1990) are used as the two analytical frameworks during this phase. Phase three investigates teachers and students’ opinion on how foreign cultural representations influence students’ cultural competence. I present criteria for selecting participants. This phase applies Liddicoat’s (2002) framework to indepth interviews to explore what teachers and students think about representations of culture in ELT textbooks and how these representations influence students’ intercultural communicative competence.

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