Some from Here, Some from There: Global Culture in an English Textbook

Alexander M. Lewko

The American University in Cairo

 

 Global: Elementary coursebook.  By Lindsay Clandfield & Kate Pickering, Oxford: Macmillan, 2010.  160 pages.  £ 25.21 (paper).

 

            A modern textbook for a class in English as a foreign language has several important objectives to meet beyond the mechanics of the language.  First, it must be authentic and culturally sensitive to be considered acceptable by curricular gatekeepers as well as to keep the students’ attention.  Second, it must prepare students to interact with other English users from a variety of backgrounds.  Finally, it is beneficial for such a textbook to be written so it is able to be useful in a variety of locations, regardless of local cultural taboos.  Global: Elementary coursebook (Clandfield & Pickering, 2010) grapples with these challenges as educators continue to determine how to teach global English.

            The book is structured similarly to other modern English textbooks.  It is made up of ten thematic units, each with four parts focusing on a narrower topic.  The parts are divided into sections on grammar, reading, listening, vocabulary, and speaking and pronunciation.  Each unit ends with summary sections that serve to review the unit’s material but also give the student opportunities to use English in different ways (such as writing an email to a hotel or using appropriate speech while shopping).  The pictures and other visuals throughout the book, which are visually pleasing to the point of serving as a distraction, are placed to support exercises presented in the text.  Global can be used for instruction of either young people or adults; its layout is interesting and engaging so as to attract the attention of younger learners while not being infantile in a way to be insulting to professionals.

            Global, in trying to be “a different book” (Clandfield & Pickering, 2010, p. 2), attempts to teach English through discussion of various cultural topics, yet in a culturally neutral fashion. Recent perspectives on English teaching emphasize the need to direct learners away from focusing on the culture of an inner circle country and back to their own, or at least to an “international target culture” where users of English as a second language communicate English with each other as they see fit in relevant situations (McKay, 2003, p. 39).  In fact, teaching English with a focus on traditional inner circle cultures may be counterproductive to learning, as students may feel that a foreign culture is being imposed on them when they were only looking for language instruction (Ziad, 1999).  Global's authors take these points seriously.  A skimming of Global will reveal no single source culture that is being used for the material, and there are no attempts to acculturate the reader to any “preferred” culture.

            A review of one unit can illustrate these points.  The ninth unit, entitled “Life & Style”, opens with activities based on an online environmental project called the “Encyclopedia of Life”.  Animals pictured in this section originate from different parts of the world, and a listening exercise asks the students to note these places.  Part 2 of the unit builds activities around rites of passage, specifically the first haircut for a Mongolian child, interesting weddings from around the world, and American baby showers.  Part 3 is concerned with the body.  It begins with a reading exercise on body art that discusses the history of tattoos, different reasons people may get them, and their current popularity.  Pictures include a man with tattoos on his face, outstretched hands with henna, and a man’s arm covered in tattoos.  Additional exercises involve the major parts of the body and face, as well as how to describe a friend or family member to a person who has not yet met him or her.  The final part contains exercises about clothing and the history of fashion.  Different clothes are pictured on their own, but not on people (Clandfield & Pickering, 2010, pp 102-109).

            All of the units function similarly by creating a global context for specific themes; this context serves as the basis for the English instruction and activities.  Within this framework, an exercise may highlight a topic from a specific culture or country; however, there is no cultural preference.  This textbook pointedly avoids Ziad’s concern about student alienation by forcing a predominant culture through the content (1999).  Thus, this book aims to differentiate itself from other English language textbooks by fostering in students the ability, if not the outright desire, to learn about other cultures without feeling intrusion on their own.  This is a valuable skill to develop, especially if learners intend to use their English skills to communicate with English users from different backgrounds.

            I have written this review as an American student in Egypt studying teaching English as a foreign language, so I have tried to view the book from the perspective of an Egyptian (and I certainly admit that my attempt to do this is imperfect at best).  Through that “lens,” Global’s advantages also serve as pitfalls.  Arab cultures are barely represented, so an Egyptian may see little in the book directly related to his or her own experiences.  The text may lack authenticity to that student and prove a hindrance to learning.  Second, topics in this text may have minimal usefulness to an Egyptian student if he or she is only going to use English in Egypt for specific purposes.  The student may view the “global” context of the book more as an unnecessary distraction than a benefit.  Finally, I did not detect subject matter in the book that I would believe to be controversial for the majority of Egyptians, but if I tried to use this book for teaching elsewhere in the Middle East or North Africa, I could not assume the same.  As a responsible teacher, I would have to reevaluate the material against my knowledge of the culture to ensure appropriateness.  This may seem obvious, but an outside practitioner must never assume a book is “neutral” everywhere.

            So while Global represents an evolution in the use of culture for a potentially global audience in an English textbook, it also is a reminder that “source culture”, or texts that reflect the student’s own cultural experience (McKay, 2003, p. 39), may serve as an optimal solution for many local educators to facilitate English language instruction.  This textbook will serve many students well, but the discerning teacher, depending on the students’ background and reasons for learning English, may require a more “local” book.

 

 

References

 

Clandfield, L. & Pickering, K. (2010).  Global: elementary coursebook. Macmillan: Oxford, 
            United Kingdom.

 

McKay, Sandra Lee (2003).  EIL curriculum development.  RELC Journal, 34(1), 31-47.

 

Zaid, Mohammed A. (1999).  Cultural confrontation and cultural acquisition in the EFL 
            classroom.  IRAL, 37(2), 111-127.

 

 

 

Alexander Lewko is currently a student in the MA TEFL program at the American University of Cairo.  He is interested in usage of and attitudes toward English in Egypt. He can be reached at lewkoa@aucegypt.edu.