The Role of Headway Elementary for Developing Bulgarian Learners’ Intercultural Competence

Written by: Desislava Zareva, New Bulgarian University

Introduction
I would like to start this paper with a set of questions I asked myself when I first used the book I analyze here. The questions are easy:

  • How horrible is English coffee in fact? Would a Briton wholeheartedly agree with this statement from the book?
  • Are shopkeepers in Britain so very unhelpful? If you are Japanese are you expected to pursue career in computer industry? What are the chances that your hobby are karaoke singing and taking pictures of spring flowers?
  • If you are from a minority group in multicultural Britain what are your chances to move up the social ladder and become a lawyer instead of say an assistant in an Indian takeaway?
  • And after all, how ‘realistic’ a textbook should be? Which and whose reality should it represent? What does it have to teach us – just language? Culture? Both? Knowledge or basic survival skills?

As my analysis advanced I think found the answers I would like to share now.

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Aims and objectives

The main aim of this paper is to study in some detail a textbook – Headway Elementary (OUP) – still commonly used in Bulgaria for teaching English to adult beginners with respect to its role for developing Bulgarian learners’ intercultural competence.

To achieve this aim, I raise some theoretical issues in circulation among educationalists nowadays and relating to some definitions of culture, cultural awareness and intercultural competence.  I then offer an analysis of the textbook with regard to its potential for developing learners Intercultural Communicative Competence. To this end  I have relied on a number of criteria outlined and discussed below.

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Definitions of culture

The seeming easiness of defining learners’ needs of developing their intercultural competence may be misleading with regard to the effort of the people who work in the area of cultural studies and its relation to language teaching. It does not reveal one of the main difficulties they constantly come across in the course of their work – the lack of an universally agreed interpretation of the term ‘culture’, which  does not easily yield to definitions. This being the case different authors suggest their own  interpretations.

I am going to quote some of the definitions which, I think, have been fundamental for shaping my own understanding of culture and best describe the term as I have used it in this work.

Lavery views culture as a list of facts we associate with a society and modes of behaving evolved by a society or a group and the pattern it expects its members to live by. (Lavery, 1993:5). Another definition of culture considers the phenomenon in national or in terms of membership in a minority group distinguished by its ethnicity, race, religion, gender or sexual preference (Kramsch 1996: 100). The same author suggests that culture whether at national or group level, has different manifestations, but it is also arbitrary which means that different events could have been recorded if other people had had the power to record them, different patterns could have been identified, these patterns in turn could have been differently enunciated. (Kramsch 1997: 4)

Last but not least, it seem important to point out that  culture is learned, not inherited. (De Jong 1996: 27)

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Language and culture

This variety of interpretations in turn leads to more questions and arguments among educators referring to what components of culture need to be touched upon in language education and to the methodological problem of finding the most appropriate way to implement these components in the language learning process.

Teaching culture through teaching language seems relevant enough, since the two phenomena are interrelated. Language and culture are closely bound (Murphy – Lejeune, 1996: 51); language is an integral part of a country’s culture (Lavery, 1993: 5).

Finally, language expresses and embodies the values, beliefs and meanings which members of a given society, or part of it, share by virtue of their socialization into it and their acceptance of and identification with it. (Byram, 1991: 5). In other words, any attempt to separate language from culture would be useless and teaching culture and language as two different subjects would seem, to say the least, artificial.

Even without an explicit culture learning theory language learners have had the chance to acquire certain amounts of cultural knowledge about the country and the people whose language they have studied.  In the majority of cases, however, it has been restricted to some existing stereotypes and overgeneralizations, exotic traditions and beliefs, achievements in the field of arts and literature (i.e. Culture with capital ‘C’), some facts and figures about the country, etc. This type of knowledge proves insufficient within the context of the new geopolitical changes, especially when teaching English is concerned. This language did long ago cross the borders of the countries where it is used as a basic means of communication to become an internationally accepted lingua franca.

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Cultural awareness

The new lingua franca status of English makes it virtually impossible to treat culture in the sense of facts and figures within the language classroom. Rather, the focus should be shifted to raising learners’ cultural awareness, i.e. the way culture influences language use or people’s behaviour in different circumstances. The term ‘cultural awareness’ has been defined as sensitivity to the impact of culturally-induced behaviour on language use and communication. (Tomalin and Stempleski, 1993: 5). It comprises the awareness of one’s own culturally-induced behaviour, the awareness of culturally induced behaviour of the others and the ability to explain one’s own cultural standpoint.

There are some practical reasons explaining why raising learners’ cultural awareness should be one of the main aims of language education. According to Byram it enables learners to anticipate cross-cultural communication problems, because they are conscious of culture-specific meanings of the cultural identity of their interlocutors and of how their own cultural identity and shared meanings are perceived by their interlocutors, influencing the process of communication and interaction. (Byram 1997: 60)

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Intelectural communicative competence ( ICC )

So far the term ‘cultural awareness’ has been viewed as a part of a bigger theory  about intercultural communicative competence, which has been developed in order to meet the new needs of the learners within the changing context of language use.

Briefly, I am going to outline the main points of this theory the way they have been suggested by Byram (Byram, 1991; Byram 1997). The following components may be distinguished within his understanding of intercultural competence:

  1. Knowing how to respond: an affective capacity to relinquish ethnocentric attitudes towards otherness and perceptions of otherness and a cognitive ability to establish and maintain a relationship between native cultures and foreign cultures.
  2. Knowing how to learn: an ability to produce and operate an interpretative system with which to gain insight into unknown cultural meanings, beliefs and practices in both familiar and new language and culture.
  3. Knowledge / knowing that: a system of cultural references which structures the implicit and explicit knowledge acquired in the course of linguistic and cultural learning.
  4. Skills / knowing how: a capacity to integrate the different kinds of knowledge in specific situations of bicultural contacts.
  5. Knowing how to compare: an ability to develop critical understanding of other cultures and one’s own and a perspective on the other from one’s own and on one’s own from the other.

In other words, interculturally competent language users are able to establish and maintain communication with representatives from both their own and other cultures, to respond with no bias towards difference, to show empathy and understanding without losing their national identity or accepting new cultures uncritically. Interculturally competent language users have the skill to seek evidence about the new culture from different sources (including their immediate interlocutor) and to interpret it with respect to the circumstances. They can apply this ability with regards to their own culture, which encourages their reflection on mechanisms that govern it and further enable them to compare phenomena from different cultures.

Developing critical thinking as a part of intercultural competence is essential when teaching culture is involved. It allows learners to look on different cultures (their own including) with as much realism as possible, taking into consideration both their positive and negative sides. It also helps them to deal with existing stereotypes in terms of reflecting on their origins or justifying their existence.

Intercultural communicative competence is a slow developmental process, and it sometimes requires considerable changes in the way learners (especially adults with more or less established principles and value systems) think, perceive the environment and respond towards it. This to a certain degree explains why ICCC  should be one of the aims since the early stage of language learning. As a support to this understanding, I will quote other authors who share the opinion that linguistic and intercultural competence should be developed simultaneously and that culturally influenced behaviour should arise out of the language material being studied… and be clearly identified and systematically treated as a regular feature of the language lesson (Tomalin and Stempleski 1993: 7). The last statement takes into consideration the importance of teaching materials for the development of learners’ intercultural competence.

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Teaching materials

The choice of the teaching materials is especially important when the learners make their first steps in learning the language and get acquainted with other cultures.

Fortunately, Bulgarian teachers of English have nowadays access to various text and resource books focusing on cultural issues. Moreover, both learners and teachers get the chance to have a direct exposure to the influence of other cultures mainly through the media.

There is also a special category of textbooks which usually provide the necessary syllabus for the language learners and help teachers to structure and grade the language into accessible units. It is often the case that such textbooks are the only teaching material used in the classroom, which makes them a very important factor for forming learners’ attitude towards the language and culture(s) it represents. By means of its content – texts and language learning activities – the textbook may encourage or hinder the process of developing learners’ intercultural competence.

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The learners

The learners whose needs I have taken into consideration are Bulgarian adults (age 18+) from different backgrounds who enrol in 3-month (360-hour) courses in order to achieve certain level of English language competence. A small-scale survey has revealed the following reasons for their motivation to learn English:

  1. Good command of English (both oral and written) will provide the learners with better career opportunities.
  2. Good command of English will ensure the establishment of business contacts with companies abroad.
  3. Good command of English will ensure more or less unproblematic residence in the countries where it is recognized as a means of communication.
  4. Good command of English will enable the students to derive pleasure from the contact with the achievements of ‘Culture with capital C’.

From their response I can draw the conclusion that linguistic competence should be only one of the aims of an English language course. Even from the early stage language learning should include components aiming at developing learners’ intercultural competence.

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The book

As I have already mentioned, a coursebook can play a crucial role in the language earning process. I have chosen Headway Elementary as a subject of this study for the following reasons:

  1. According to the authors Lin and John Soars, Headway Elementary has been designed for adults and young adults who want to use English both accurately and fluently and all four language skills are developed systematically (Soars & soars 1993). This makes the book suitable for use in courses for adult learners.
  2. The textbook has not been written to satisfy the needs of a particular national group, so it may be claimed that it takes into consideration the needs and interests of a larger group of learners from different countries.
  3. Headway Elementary is the first of five books, which covers the initial stage of language learning. This makes it suitable to work with beginners and false beginners.
  4. At the moment, Headway is still widely used in Bulgaria, especially for teaching adults.
  5. I have used Headway Elementary in my work with Bulgarian learners of English which has been helpful for my analysis of the textbook.
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The criteria

In order to evaluate the role of Headway Elementary for developing Bulgarian learners’ intercultural competence, I have defined  a set of  criteria which, in my opinion, take into consideration different aspects of the phenomenon ‘culture’ as well as the ways it is treated by Headway Elementary. For the purposes of this work I have borrowed and further adapted the first two criteria from De Jong (De Jong 1996), the third criterion from Byram (Byram 1991), and the other three I have worked out myself.

  1. The text materials, visuals and language learning tasks should be representative of the cultural differences both in native speaker usage and lingua franca settings.
  2. Learning activities should reflect the actual multicultural composition of countries where English is a native language.
  3. The textbook should be realistic in that it needs to present culture as it is lived and talked about by people who are credible and recognizable as real human beings. (Byram 1991)
  4. Textbook materials and learning tasks should encourage comparison between students’ own culture and cultural manifestations they encounter in the process of learning English.
  5. The textbook should encourage learners to reflect on stereotypes both in their own and in cultures they encounter, in terms of how and why they come to existence, reasons for their justification or rejection, etc.
  6. The textbook should encourage and provide space for developing learners’ ethnographic skills and autonomous learning.

These six criteria can be further organized into two main groups: group I - comprising the first three criteria – focuses on the cultural content of the textbook, while group II – comprising the other three criteria – focuses on the learners’ development of skills to collect and interpret data, to think critically and interculturally.

I do not consider these criteria exhaustive for an in-depth analysis of a textbook. For the purposes of this analysis, however, they have proved to be sufficient enough.

Finally, I would like to stress that the following study does not aim at underestimating the authors’ effort to offer their learners a textbook which meets the demands of the new trends in language education or at criticising the content of their book. My only intention has been to look for evidence which may be decisive with regards to the role Headway Elementary might have for raising Bulgarian learners’ of English cultural awareness and for developing their intercultural competence even at the initial stage of their language learning.

I am aware of the fact that the following analysis remains in the field of theoretical speculations and that any conclusions I will arrive at will need further trialling within a real classroom situation.

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The analysis

I begin  the analysis of Headway Elementary by taking into consideration criteria from the first group, i.e., those referring to the cultural content of the texts and learning tasks. As some of the definitions may sound too general and subjects of study seem to overlap, the criteria as suggested in the previous chapter will be further broken down into subcriteria in order to describe in depth different sides of the phenomenon “culture” and its representation in the textbook. The following analysis will inevitably involve quotations from “Headway Elementary”, so the following abbreviations – SB, TB and T, will be used to refer to Student’s Book, Workbook and tape script respectfully.

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I. Text materials, visuals and learning tasks should be representative of the cultural differences both in native speaker usage and lingua franca settings.

This principle takes into consideration that language is used differently by native and non-native speakers, the difference being, influenced by the cultures they belong to. In the course of their language training learners should acquire the ability to give the language produced by an interlocutor – whether native speaker or not – meanings which are taken for granted by the interlocutor or which are negotiated and made explicit with the interlocutor (Byram 1997: 48). In order to do this they should learn to be sensitive to factors such as the social status of the interlocutors, their relations, the setting, etc. It all makes the clear distinction of settings necessary and for the purpose I suggest to break down this criterion into the following subcriteria:

  • The textbook should take into account differences in communication in which only native speakers are involved.
  • The textbook should show differences in communication in which native and non-native speakers of English are involved.
  • The textbook should indicate differences in communication in which non-native speakers from different cultures are involved.

Arguments for and against the detailed distinction between different types of language use

There might be arguments that such a detailed distinction between different patterns of language use might be too complicated and even confusing for the language learners, or that their exposure to examples of non-native use of English might have a negative effect, especially if they are at the initial stage of learning English.

However, there are counterarguments which favour such a distinction.

First of all, mainly through the media, Bulgarian students are constantly exposed to English as used by native speakers not only in, but also outside the classroom. They come across and experience examples of difference without being able to give them a proper explanation. This inevitably leads to biased and in some cases negative reactions towards otherness. In order to avoid it, learners need to develop an ability to interpret events taking the point of the native speaker (but not necessarily accept it as their own), showing awareness of existing conventions both in written and spoken language.

Secondly, Bulgarian learners, no matter how high the level of linguistic competence they achieve is, still remain non-native users of English. In this respect they need to be aware of the fact that their use of English will be influenced by conventions typical of Bulgarian culture. This awareness will help them foresee and avoid confusing situations when communication with native speakers takes place.

So, does Headway Elementary succeed in raising learners’ awareness of the impact cultural differences may have on language use?

In order to answer this question, I have focused on the language content of the texts and learning tasks suggested in the textbook, the workbook and in the set of audiocassettes that accompany them.

1. Differences in native-speakers’ use of English.

A closer look at the materials and the learning tasks reveals that, step by step, learners gradually get acquainted with some of the basic rules that govern native-speakers’ written and oral communication. Some of them (mainly concerning writing) have been made more explicit, others rely on learners’ interpretation or teachers’ further explanation.

Conventions in written communication

Headway Elementary Workbook, in which the writing syllabus of the course is centred, focuses on raising learners’ awareness of existing conventions in letter writing in the English speaking countries. The authors have clearly stated the requirements that should be satisfied when writing different types of letters – both formal and informal. Obviously, they have taken it for granted that letter-writing as a skill may differ from culture to culture, which results in their providing the learners with clear instructions in this respect.

The authors assume the position of the native speakers who would expect a letter to be structured in a certain way. The distinction between “we – the native speakers” and “you – the non-native speakers” is made clear and is easily traceable throughout the workbook. These are only some of the instructions accompanying the layout and the language content of different types of letters.

We begin all letters with “Dear”…

We put the number of the street first…

(WB, Unit 4, p.24)

or:

We can use Ms for a woman if we do not know her title (Miss or Mrs)

We do not use short forms (I’m, he’s, they’re, it’s) in formal letters.

(WB, Unit 6, p.35)

Such instructions are the visible part of learners’ intercultural training not only with respect to letter-writing. Similar instances appear with regard to other cultural phenomena the authors assume to have a different manifestation in their own culture; e.g. saying phone-numbers (WB, Unit 1, p.9), dates (SB, Unit 8, p.59).

This treatment of differences may well encourage Bulgarian learners to reflect on Bulgarian tradition in letter-writing. However, it will hardly leave the surface of mere comparison between different conventions. There is no attempt whatsoever to raise learners’ critical cultural awareness or stimulate their critical thinking with respect to who creates and why these conventions are established, what the possible consequences would be for the person if he or she does not follow them, etc.

Conventions in oral communication

Headway Elementary provides also opportunities for the language learners to try their hand in oral communication and to attempt to act as native speakers within a country where English is a native language.

Beside the language learning tasks mainly aiming at achieving fluency and accuracy in language use, there is a special section Everyday English which allows learners to practise their English in situations close to real life ones.

The section covers a great range of everyday situations the native speakers may well find themselves in, thus providing the learners with examples of genuine communication with respective structuring and language content.

Everyday English does not only make learners aware of the ways native speakers obey the “unwritten” rules innate to their culture, it also encourages them to experience this difference by involving them in similar communication patterns.

Although it is not formulated as an aim of these exercises, teachers may use them for developing learners’ intercultural competence. The majority of the conversations from this section convey cultural information sometimes new for Bulgarian students. An example from the very first unit in the Student’s Book will, I hope, prove the point. Through an exercise aiming at developing learners’ receptive and productive skills, Bulgarian learners are faced with a tradition foreign to Bulgarian culture – the necessity of spelling names and words.

4. T7d Read and listen to the conversation.

A: How do you spell your first name?
B: J-A-M-E-S.
A: How do you spell your surname?
B: H-A-double R-I-S-O-N.
A: James Harrison.
B: That’s right.

In pairs, ask the same questions. Write the answers.

5. Ask and answer questions about things in the room.

What’s this in English?     A dictionary.
How do you spell it?         D-I-C-T-I-O-N-A-R-Y.

(SB, Unit 1, p.12)

While practising these questions, Bulgarian students who have just begun their learning may need additional explanation concerning the importance of correct spelling and pronunciation. Saying words letter by letter is a tradition that is not questioned in the English speaking world, but it can bring about certain feelings and attitudes among representatives from other cultures.

Along with such unfamiliar (at least for Bulgarian learners) settings, Everyday English section focuses on language use in situations easily recognizable by learners. Ordering meals in a cafe or a restaurant (SB, Unit 2, p. 17; WB, Unit 9, p. 50), buying and selling things (SB, Unit 9, p. 64; Unit 11, p.82; Unit 13, p.98 and WB, Unit 6, p.32), seeking information at the airport or railway station (SB, Unit 6, p.46; Unit 13, p.97), telephoning (SB, Unit 14, p.104) are situation Bulgarian learners, especially adults, are familiar with from their own personal experience in their own country.

Such instances make the experience of facing difference invaluable. I have used the word difference here to refer to different schemata the same setting may bring about in the minds of native speakers of English and Bulgarians. The mere notions ‘cafe’, ‘airport’, ‘railway station’, etc. may evoke different pictures or feelings in people who use them. That is why, I think, the authors must be credited for the effort to provide their learners with the English native-speakers’ perspective on world-wide recognizable situations and to encourage them by means of language tasks to experience it.

There is also an attempt on the part of the authors to broaden this perspective by including situations which involve representatives from different age (SB, Unit 8, p.58), social groups (SB, Unit 7, p.49), thus enabling students to take and practise different roles. The choice of roles, however, remains limited to some traditional patterns of communication. Shop assistant – customer (SB, Unit 11, p.82; Unit 2, p.17), waiter – customer (SB, Unit 2, p.18; WB, Unit 9, p.50), information officer – customer (SB, Unit 13, p.97), stranger – stranger (SB, Unit 3, p.23; Unit 5, p.39) or friend – friend (SB, Unit 6, p.43; Unit 15, p.107) are the relationships that dominate throughout the textbook.

This weakness to a certain degree is presupposed by the nature of the textbook – being designed for beginners it could hardly cover thoroughly all existing types of communication.

Despite this weakness, Headway Elementary as a whole and Everyday English section in particular proves helpful in the attempt to develop Bulgarian learners’ intercultural competence. My conclusion is based mainly on the anecdotal conversations I have had with my students and on the observations of their learning process in the classroom, which makes its validity subject to further trial.

2. Differences in non-native speakers’ use of English.

Text materials and language learning tasks in Headway Elementary include instances which take into consideration the use of English in lingua franca settings.

There are examples of the language used by non-native speakers coming from different countries: Japan, Portugal (SB, Unit 4, p.29), Greece (Unit 5, p.38), Italy (SB, Unit 2, p.16-17), etc. Bulgarian learners can easily recognize them and to a certain degree identify themselves with them, because they all bear the features of non-native users of English: they speak with an accent, have problems with understanding the language, encounter a new culture, different from their own.

This is yet another look at the language use, this time from the perspective of foreigners.

Examples of different patterns of communication between native and non-native speakers

The number of instances in which native and non-native speakers communicate seems insufficient, but we should bear in mind that the textbook is designed as an introductory course, so it covers the main areas which may cause misunderstanding between interlocutors; e.g. low level of linguistic competence (SB, Unit 2, p.17).

Generally, the authors have not explicitly viewed these exercises as developing intercultural competence, although the teachers could use them for this purpose. That is why they have not been marked and occur in different parts both in the Student’s and the Workbook. For example, a character is introduced in Unit 2 in the text developing reading and listening skills, who later appears in other learning tasks serving other purposes. This is Paola, an Italian student, whose personal impressions of London and the British way of life are the first thing Bulgarian learners encounter in the textbook. She is also an example of how a foreigner learns to cope within a different environment.

There are also instances presenting communication between native and non-native speakers from another perspective. The listening text (SB, Unit 4, p.29) features settings in which English native speakers are visitors to other countries – Portugal and Japan. This time they are the people who need to take into consideration the values of other cultures.

I think that despite some weaknesses in representations of the various settings in which English is used both by native and non-native speakers, it is still an achievement of the textbook to expose the learners to this variety right from the beginning of their language learning. It helps them to take into consideration, even at this early stage, the influence different cultures might have on language use.

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II. Learning activities should reflect the actual multicultural composition of countries where English is a native language.

The analysis based on this criterion will be carried out on the condition that the word “countries” as used in the definition will actually refer to Britain, as it has been chosen by the authors to represent the English speaking world in Headway Elementary. Although a few examples giving account of different aspects of life in other countries (the USA and Canada) have been included, still the main focus is on Britain and the British.

Two interpretations of the term “multicultural” with respect to Britain and examples

One possible interpretation of the term “multicultural composition” takes into consideration the four different countries – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – that comprise Britain, each one adding features to form British culture.

Quite surprisingly, the authors have decided not to touch upon this issue, thus leaving the learners with the impression that these countries lack in any specific features or traditions and that they hardly take part in shaping the image of Britain.

Occasionally examples appear, which introduce Scottish people (SB, Unit 2, p.14; Unit 8, p.55) and a Scottish accent (SB, Unit 4, tapescript 22, p.29). Examples representing Ireland and the Irish are even more scarce. Moreover, the texts (SB, Unit 3, p.19; Unit 5, p.38) and accompanying visuals are examples that focus on the Republic of Ireland but not Northern Ireland which in fact is part of Britain. Once again, there is a danger that learners might be left with the wrong impression that an independent country such as Ireland is one of the parts of Britain.

Wales is introduced in the textbook only once through its flag (SB, Unit 14, p.99).

In other words, British culture both in terms of achievements of ‘Culture with capital C’ and culture as defined in the previous chapter, is reduced to examples and representations taken mainly from one part of the country – England. This is done easily and in a kind of matter-of-fact way as observed with the examples of letter-writing. The authors take it for granted that the learners’ interests in patterns of life and behaviour will be limited to getting acquainted with examples from life in England.

Such an approach deprives learners of building a fuller picture of Britain and provides them with the image of that country the way it is perceived or thought to be appropriate by the authors.

Another interpretation of the term ‘multicultural composition’ of the country takes into consideration cultures existing on a group level (Kramsch 1996) and the way they are represented by the textbook. Such representation could be a step forward to forming a more realistic image of the British way of life.

Some evidence can be found of the authors’ attempts to take into consideration the different groups shaping British culture. There are people representative of different age groups: children (SB, Unit 2, T12b; Unit 9, T47), teenagers (SB, Unit 6, p.43; WB, Unit 4, p.24), young (SB, Unit 6, T33) and elderly people (SB, Unit 14, p.102; WB, Unit 8, p.43). The authors have also included people with different social status; the royal family (SB, Unit 5, p.36; Unit 8, p.48), middle and lower middle class (SB, Unit 4, p.25; Unit 8, p.58), etc.

However, this ‘multicultural’ representation of different groups appears to be artificial and reinforcing the distorted picture of Britain and the British. One fact, in my opinion, is sufficient to prove this point. Headway Elementary does not at all touch upon questions such as minority groups distinguished with respect to racial, ethnical or sexual principles. There is no mentioning of immigrants or people failing in their attempt to succeed in Britain. All the characters, regardless of age, sex or race, appear to belong to the same group of successful people. The colourful photographs of smiling people, or people busy with their favourite occupation and hobbies, etc. only add to form the picture of British life as unproblematic, happy and successful.

Culturally aware teachers would like their learners to come across examples from the other (not so lucid) side of British life with unemployed and homeless people and problems that exist in every society.

Headway Elementary does not entirely succeed in its attempts to represent the multicultural composition of Britain. What learners encounter is an one-sided image of the country and its people.

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III. The textbook should be realistic

in that it needs to present culture as it is lived and talked about by people who are credible and recognizable as real human beings (Byram 1991).

This criterion attempts to take into consideration the standpoint of the authors with regard to the image of Britain and the British they try to depict in Headway Elementary.

Can Bulgarian, learners who use Headway Elementary as a course book, get a full picture of British life as it is lived and talked about by British people?

A closer look at the texts, the learning tasks and the visuals reveal that the answer to this question is negative.

In my opinion, from Headway Elementary learners get what some authors (Sercu, to be published) call the royal image of the country. The royal image according to Sercu is like a royal visit – everything runs smoothly, no problems are allowed on the surface. Although the authors’ attempt has apparently been to select texts, learning tasks and visuals as to form a realistic picture of Britain and the British, the final result is an edited version of this picture.

Characters

On the one hand, there is an attempt on the part of the authors to introduce characters representative of different backgrounds: the royal family or middle class people (the majority of the characters in the book), etc.; people with different occupations (students, journalists, teachers, taxi-drivers, hotel-owners, etc.) and marital status.

On the other hand, there are hardly any people in the book who are poor or unemployed, single parents or divorced, people anyhow different from the main stream or such that are not satisfied with their life or job. In other words, Headway Elementary does not present characters who are credible, i.e. characters with whom the majority of the native speakers could easily identify themselves.

Everyday activities, the past and the present

The representation of everyday life suffers from a similar weakness.

On the one hand, learners can learn about Britain’s past, for example about Queen Victoria’s reign (SB, Unit 7, p.48) or its literary achievements (SB, Unit 7, p.51; Unit 13, p.95-97), and traditional cuisine (SB, Unit 9, p.66). And I think, the authors must be credited for their decision to let the faces of Britain emerge little by little from the various tasks, rather than to design a special section dealing with different aspects of British life.

However, the authors have once again been selective with regard to what faces of Britain to touch upon. Once again they have carefully avoided problematic areas both from the past and present, thus reinforcing the distorted image of Britain. Even if certain problems are dealt with, for example pollution (SB, Unit 10, p.73), crime (SB, Unit 14, p.103), generation gap problems (SB, Unit 15, p.109), there are always ways out to diminish their importance: pollution is not only Britain’s but a world problem, crime receives humorous dimension as it is committed by a granny who wants some fun in her life, the generation gap problem is presented by means of a song.

Visuals

Visuals have an important role for shaping the image of Britain as represented by Headway Elementary. There are colourful pictures whose main aim, in my opinion, is to support the image emerging from the texts and learning tasks.

By means of photographs, learners get an idea of what British food looks like (SB, Unit 9, p.66) or get acquainted with the interior of a shop (SB, Unit 4, p.30; Unit 11, p.82) or a cafe (SB, Unit 4, p.30; WB, Unit 9, p.50). Learners can see different examples of housing they may encounter in Britain (SB, Unit 1, p.10; Unit 5, p.38). Such details help the authors form the superficial realism and authenticity of representation. The photographs can be considered realistic bearing in mind that they, in fact, show something that certain groups of native speakers (but not all of them) would count as being part of their life.

The main weakness of Headway Elementary appears to be its attempt to ascribe beliefs and values typical of certain social groups to the British as a whole.

Another weakness in this respect is that the textbook does not take into consideration what learners would really like to know about Britain. The image of this country as depicted in Headway Elementary does not differ very much from the one presented in a tourist brochure.

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IV. Textbook materials and learning tasks should encourage comparison

between students’ own culture and cultural manifestations they encounter in the process of learning English.

This principle attempts to evaluate the role of the textbook for raising learners’ awareness of existing cultural differences and for developing their skills of comparison and reflection on such differences.

Examples of comparison activities

Headway Elementary can be considered a good example with regard to encouraging learners to compare instances from British culture with similar ones from their own culture. It systematically offers to the textbook users opportunities to reflect on various aspects of Bulgarian culture.

For example, a section in Unit 4 (SB, p.38) deals with different types of dwellings and a special task requires from the learners to describe their house or flat. A pre-reading task in Unit 6 (SB, p43) encourages them to reflect on teenagers’ life in Bulgaria, and their usual free-time activities. There is also a special part of Everyday English section in Unit 7 (SB, p.52), whose main aim is to involve learners in comparison of different public holidays and traditions.

However, the majority of the tasks do not go beyond the initial stage of mere stating of similarities or culturally bound differences between the two cultures. In fact, there are only two instances that explicitly require from the learners not only to compare but also to seek for possible justification of the existing differences. The first one appears in Unit 4, where the furniture of a house is described:

“2. Have a class discussion.

What is there in your kitchen? How is your kitchen different from the

one in the picture?

Why do you think kitchens are different in different parts of the

world?”

(SB, Unit 4, p.36)

The second one appears by the end of the textbook, when hopefully learners have reached a certain level of language competence which would enable them to discuss the problem of generation gap:

“Leaving home. Pre-reading task. Work in small groups. Discuss the following questions:

1. In your country, when do children usually stop living with their

parents and leave home?

2. How old are they? Why do they leave home?

3. What are the good things and bad things about leaving home?”

(SB, Unit 15, p.109)

Generally, what Headway Elementary succeeds to do is to raise learners’ awareness of existing differences between cultures. By means of different learning tasks and visuals it proves to be a good basis and provide a starting point for discussions on various culturally-bound topics.

However, it does not encourage them to go beyond the initial stage of simply giving account of differences and to seek evidence for their possible justification. It is all left on the good will of the teacher and the enthusiasm of the learner.

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V. The textbook should encourage learners to reflect on stereotypes both in their own and in cultures they encounter in terms of how and why they come to existence, reasons for their justification or rejection, etc.

This principle takes into consideration the way Headway Elementary treats generalizations and stereotypes about cultures it represents. The aim of my analysis here is to find out whether this textbook encourages learners’ passive acceptance and further strengthening of such generalizations and stereotypes or helps the students develop their critical thinking with regard to their origin and existence.

Headway Elementary does not have a clear ‘policy’ with regard to dealing with stereotypes.

Breaking down stereotypes

On the one hand, there are attempts on the part of the textbook to break down certain stereotypes. For example, a reading text in Unit 4 tries to provide a new look at the weather in Portugal, giving the learners the point of view of a Portuguese woman:

People think it’s always warm and sunny in Portugal, but

January and February are often cold, wet and grey.

(SB, Unit 4, p.29)

Such instances, however, are isolated.

Reproducing stereotypes

In the majority of cases, intentionally or not, Headway Elementary reinforces already established and even creates new stereotypes. This process is subtle and hardly noticeable. Quite often stereotypes and generalizations appear in exercises with a main focus on accuracy of a certain grammatical item. In order to master a given structure, learners are involved in constant repetitions of sentences similar to the following:

A: New York is safer than London.

B: No, it isn’t. London is much safer than New York.

A: The underground in London is better than the Metro in Paris.

B: No, it isn’t! The Metro is much better.

(SB, Unit 10, p.70)

The learners are faced with the danger to take this information for granted and to disseminate it further without even being aware what the source is. A and B remain anonymous, they do not even have names.

Here are only a few of the stereotypical statements and generalizations I have been able to detect in the texts and learning tasks of Headway Elementary:

  • London Underground is difficult to understand and it is also very expensive. (SB, Unit 2)
  • Japanese are very busy people. (SB, Unit 4, p. 29)
  • Italians are very artistic. (SB, Stop and Check 2)
  • In Ireland people are friendly. The Irish people always live close to
  • their families. (SB, Unit 4)
  • People visit Norway to see the midnight sun. (SB, Unit 12)
  • French food is delicious. (SB, Unit 4)

“English coffee is horrible.” Creating new stereotypes

I would like to touch in more detail upon one of the stereotypes from the list above because it seems in many ways representative of the whole textbook.

From what I have observed in my practice, learners who have used Headway Elementary as an introductory course to study English language, remain absolutely convinced that “English coffee is terrible” without even having tasted it. To a great degree, it is due to authors’ sometimes ritual repetition of what appeared in Unit 2 as a comment on English coffee quality by an Italian student:

English food is OK, but the coffee is horrible. (SB, Unit 2, p.16)

The same idea is reinforced in the following comprehension check exercise and in the listening comprehension texts in the same unit. How horrible English coffee is learners revise in the Stop and Check section, in which they come across this statement twice. This seems enough to form a negative opinion even in the most unbiased learners. Thus what has been simply a comment of a foreigner, turns out to be a new stereotype with respect to British cuisine. Moreover, nowhere in the texts or learning tasks has a point of view of a British person been included.

Generally, there are a lot of missed opportunities in the textbook with respect to stereotypes and the way they influence learners’ thinking. There are topics which would have encouraged Bulgarian learners to go beyond the surface of a stereotype and apply critical thinking in order to find out what they are based on. Such topics are, for example, plans about future retired people might have in Britain and Bulgaria (SB, Unit 12, p.83), leisure and the way it is organized in the two countries, or the way people in Bulgaria and abroad perceive the political changes in the 90’s, etc.

Bearing all this in mind, I could hardly classify Headway Elementary as a book which encourages learners to seek the origins or possible justification of existing stereotypes or generalizations about the cultures represented in it.

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VI. The textbook should encourage and provide space for developing learners’ ethnographic skills and autonomous learning.

Generally, this criterion takes into consideration the fact in real life the learning process is never restricted to the classroom only. This is the reason why learners should be trained from the initial stage of their education to take the responsibility for their own learning process. Another thing learners (and teachers) should not forget is that the textbook, no matter how good or bad, is not the only source of information about the language and culture. Apparently, what Bulgarian learners need are skills to seek additional information about the cultures they encounter, place it within a context and interpret it within the framework of this context. As mentioned in the previous chapter this skill is one of the components of the learners’ intercultural competence.

The role of Headway Elementary for developing autonomous learning

Headway Elementary develops quite systematically learners’ skills for autonomous learning. However, it does it exclusively with respect to studying grammar and vocabulary. For example, grammar rules appear only to confirm or reject conclusions learners reach on their own on the basis of examples they come across in the textbook (SB, Unit 4, p.25; Unit 7, p.49). Vocabulary is dealt with in a similar way: quite often students are invited to look up unfamiliar words in their own dictionaries (SB, Unit 8, p.57; Unit 4, p.25).

In their majority Bulgarians are not yet used to treating grammar in this way. They are still heavily dependent on the teacher in this respect, so Headway Elementary is a step forward in training autonomous learning. One can only be sorry that the authors have not applied the same method with regard to cultural issues. Bulgarian learners are in no way explicitly encouraged to seek further information neither about their nor about British culture. As it became obvious in the analysis above, dealing with culture stops at the stage of reflection on and comparison of different cultural manifestations.

The role of Headway Elementary for developing ethnographic skills

The authors must have viewed ethnographic skills as a marginal area to the language learning. That is why there is no instance which would encourage the learners to take up the role of the ethnographer and explore examples from Bulgarian or British cultures in some depth.

There are some instances, in which learners are encouraged to do some surveys or speculate on examples, representing British culture. They are, however, restricted to the classroom only and that is why can hardly be considered as systematically developing ethnographic skills in Bulgarian learners.

Although only with respect to grammar and vocabulary, Headway Elementary quite systematically develops learners’ skills for autonomous learning. The textbook, however, does not provide any encouragement with respect to developing learners’ ethnographic skills.

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Conclusions

My analysis of Headway Elementary with respect to its cultural content has been provoked by the understanding that nowadays language learners need to be interculturally as well as linguistically competent in order to be able to establish and maintain communication with representatives from different cultures.

Many factors may influence the success in achieving intercultural competence. One of them is the textbook used in the language classroom. On the one hand, it can encourage and support both the teacher and the learners in their attempt to touch upon cultural issues in the language classroom; on the other hand, it may hinder the process of intercultural training.

Going back to the aims

The main aim of this work has been to analyse in some depth Headway Elementary in order to evaluate its role for the development of intercultural competence of a certain group of Bulgarian learners.

In order to achieve this aim I have developed six criteria for evaluation which, in my view, take into consideration different component of the notion ‘intercultural competence’ as defined by Byram (Byram 1997), and applied them in my analysis of the textbook.

From this analysis I have drawn the following conclusions concerning the role of Headway Elementary for developing Bulgarian learners’ intercultural competence at the initial stage of their English language learning. I have grouped them under two main categories. In the first one I have put conclusions which refer to the supportive role of Headway Elementary in developing learners’ cultural awareness as part of their language learning. The second category is concerned with what I see as weaknesses of the textbook in this respect. I do not regard my conclusions as final or firm, I rather treat them as a starting point in my reflection process and practice in developing my materials.

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Headway elementary as teachers’ support

In many respects, Headway Elementary succeeds in providing support to teachers who consider training learners’ intercultural competence as important as training their linguistic competence.

  1. The textbook takes into consideration the needs of adult learners by providing them with opportunities for developing their receptive and productive skills within a variety of contexts. Topics have been selected as to reflect the interests of a great range of language learners.
  2. Right from the start, Bulgarian learners are exposed to English as it is used both by native and non-native speakers in different settings. Thus they are encouraged to reflect on the impact their native language may have on their English use and are prepared for their role as a non-native speaker of that language.
  3. By providing learners with examples of different patterns of communication between participant with varying social status, on the one hand, and nationality on the other, the textbook attempts to develop learners ability to consider a certain event from different perspectives. It is the intention of the textbook to encourage students to produce their own conversations, following a given model, each time assuming a different role. Such change of roles will hopefully help the learners become more tolerant and show empathy and understanding whenever communication with representatives from other cultures takes place.
  4. Some of the learning tasks in the textbook provide the learners with the opportunity to reflect on their own culture and compare it with examples from other cultures they encounter in the textbook. However, such instances do not receive the sufficient depth of treatment. Although they are quite numerous as quantity they do not leave the superficial stage of stating the differences and comparing them with other examples and thus miss the opportunity to encourage learners’ reflection on what causes these differences. Such tasks provide a good basis and may be used as a starting point to analyse cultural differences in depth both by the teachers and learners.
  5. Autonomous learning is quite systematically developed by Headway Elementary. Unfortunately, the focus has been placed on vocabulary and grammar items, thus excluding the cultural component entirely. Learners are left on the good will of the teacher.
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Headway elementary as a stimulus for teachers to look elsewhere

Headway Elementary has also its drawbacks with respect to training learners’ intercultural competence.

  1. The main drawback of the textbook, in my view, is the way it purveys the image of the countries it represents. Texts, learning tasks and visuals form a picture both of Britain and the other countries not too different from what learners can see in tourist brochures or holiday advertisements. The colourful pictures and drawings, the glossy paper on which Headway Elementary has been printed, make the book quite attractive and desired, and these feelings can be transferred to the countries it features. There is nothing wrong if learners’ attitudes towards language they learn and the culture it represents are positive.
  2. My impression, however, is that the authors have been more concerned with the image they want to show, rather than to take into consideration what learners’ attitude is or what they would like to see in the textbook.
  3. Another drawback which could hinder the learners’ development of intercultural competence is the way English speaking world has been presented in Headway Elementary. As already mentioned, they have been quite selective in their choice. It may well be the case that they have focused on Britain for the reason that they are best aware of its culture. Moreover, it is an impossible task to pay equal attention to all the countries where English is a native language.
  4. However, Headway Elementary fails even in the attempt to show the real Britain with its real people who, should they open the book, would identify themselves with the characters. The realism of the textbook is superficial and fragmented to use Byram’s definition (Byram 1991). It is superficial because on the surface life seems real: photographs feature real people and real places, reading and listening texts are about real people and real places, linguistic items are introduced and practised within authentic settings, yet there is nothing indicating, for example, the reason why exactly these people or these places have been selected as representative of the whole Britain. The image is fragmented because only certain faces of the country are presented, leaving out others (quite often negative ones) from the textbook.
  5. Stereotypes are another issue that has not received a proper treatment in Headway Elementary. It fails to provide the learners with examples treating stereotypes and generalizations in terms of their origin and justification. Instead of encouraging learners’ critical thinking concerning the stereotypes, it has turned out that the textbook is a ‘producer’ of new stereotypes.
  6. Finally, the textbook does not dare consider the language learners as potential ethnographers and help them develop the necessary skill for interpreting and drawing conclusions from their immediate experience of the culture they encounter.

Taking into consideration all these weaknesses and strengths of Headway Elementary with regard to the treatment cultures receives in it, I would propose the following general conclusion: being a textbook specially designed for learners at their initial stage of English language learning and focusing on developing linguistic competence, Headway Elementary makes a good starting point for both teachers and learners on their way towards becoming interculturally competent language users.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

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