God, Man and themes of Mortality In Emily Bronte’s Poetry

Written by: Iana Boutchkova, Full-time PhD Student
Department of English Philology, The Paissij Hilendarski University of Plovdiv

I’m happiest when most away
I can bear my soul from its home of clay
On a windy night when the moon is bright
And the eye can wander through worlds of light –
When I am not and none beside –
Nor earth nor sea nor cloudless sky –
But only spirit wandering wide
Through infinite immensity.

Inside the theme of Nature in Emily Bronte’s poetry, another smaller, but not less crucial, discourse could be discerned: the relationship between man and God tinted with lyric variations on the theme of mortality. The topic in hand is something which nineteenth-century critics (urged by Victorian piety and common sense, with the particular contribution of Charlotte Bronte’s moralistically strewn Preface to the 1850 edition of Wuthering Heights) deliberately shunned to analyse; but a topic that modern introspective criticism takes a particular interest in. Doubtless, Emily Bronte’s poetic heritage provides a wide enough field for the treatment of both the dramatic texture of her verse and its existential boundaries: the latter is what the present paper tries to trace. It would be appropriate, therefore, to briefly discuss the following issues:

  • the Spirit if Nature and the Spirit of man
  • the chthonian dimensions of Emily Bronte’s idea of time and space
  • the poet’s vision of the mutually dependant terms of sin, repentance and solitude
  • the borderline between the terms Universe and Self

The present analysis does not strictly limit itself within Emily Bronte’s much-discussed imaginary world of Gondal present in her poetry. It does, nonetheless, follow Hatfield’s edition of her poems – a classic source for all Bronte scholars (‘Gondalians’ and ‘non-Gondalians’, the ultimate goal being to perceive the specificities of the poet’s mystically orientated philosophy of life.
* * *
The Spirit of Nature and the Spirit of Man
As Richard Benvenuto puts it, a major problem of Emily’s poetry arises from a crucial principle of life. Namely, “nature releases the soul from its confinement to itself, (…) but as the physical world it presents to the soul only what is material and visible, while the soul yearns for the invisible and the spiritual” (Benvenuto, p. 61). God is one source for the spiritual, and although Emily seeks the traditional help of the soul-purging and alleviating Christian faith, she reaches further on for something strictly personal: a God/ Gods of her own – both tangible like Nature and original and extra-mundane like man’s consciousness. A deeper analysis shows that the poet is incessantly ‘torn apart’ hesitating between interpreting the self either as the only objective reality known to the individual consciousness and between that of the mind being the subjectively transforming principle in the independently existing world of Nature outside the self.
If the former be true then the critic is stunned at reading the following lines Cf H140 – In Summer’s mellow midnight, Sept. 1840):

I sat in silent musing,
The soft wind waved my hair:
It told me Heaven was glorious,
And sleeping Earth was fair.

In which case the Natural element is a an inlet into the world of the transcendentally accepted mind beyond, the mind above all and before all, which, being ‘unprovisional’ and unchallenged, could adequately be referred to only as God (Cf Bolnoff, pp. 45-54).
If, on the other hand, the latter be true, then one would be more than puzzled to read the following verse (H44):

I’m happiest when most away
I can bear my soul from its home of clay
On a windy night when the moon is bright
And the eye can wander through worlds of light
When I am not and none beside –
Nor earth nor sea nor cloudless sky –
But only spirit wandering wide
Through infinite immensity.

Paradoxically, the whole universe here is devoid of its primary constituents. Moreover, the spirit in hand could not be specifically and uncompromisingly defined as one belonging to the speaker, the poet, God, or even the wind. Rather, the reader is carried into the extra-temporal and non-chronological realm of Kant’s duratio noumenon – an eternity incompatible with the term time, but compatible with the sense a particular man’s life carries in its existential dimensions.
Still, in Emily Bronte’s poetry there is enough evidence of the poet being well acquainted with, and obviously bred by, Christian piety that makes man revere all living creatures, no matter how superior or inferior man might be to them. And, as nothing dies off in Nature, but leaves a trace behind, the wind is often an embodiment of God:

And thou art now a spirit pouring
Thy presence into all –
The essence of the Tempest’s roaring
And of the Tempest’s fall –
A universal influence
From thine own influence free;
A principle of life, intense,
Lost to mortality.
H148, July 6 1848

The everpresent universal influence could be connected with the poet’s idealistic vision of the Almighty. What the second stanza emphasizes is not a mere split of the self, but an allusion to Jesus’ Crucifixion and God’s benevolence ever after (as well as before), the Son ascended to Heaven (compare the lines italicized). The magnanimity of the Holy Spirit is in Nature that never expires but esoterically reproduces itself in various forms – man being a metamorphosed particle of it (his intellectual advantage only endowing him with a graver burden to carry – that of the Earth’s fate).
An evangelical idea of man’s redemptive death is elucidated in H183 (Death, that struck when I was most confiding), where Death is called forth to strike “Time’s withered branch” so that “its mouldering corpse” may “nourish that from which it sprung – Eternity”. And that is a “relationship between vine to branch” that “obtains both between God and creature, and between parent and child” (Tayler, p. 56).
Chthonian Dimensions of Time and Space and the Poet’s Perception of Immortality
In Emily Bronte’s viewpoint, Man possesses one feature that undeniably gives him the chance to remain what one was in one’s lifetime: and that is that, at some point, one’s life comes to an end. Ironically, all the characters of the Gondal saga are given the chance of a reunion with their native land (and true self) at death. For example (Cf H102):

In English fields my limbs were laid
With English turf beneath my head:
My mortal flesh you might debar,
But not the eternal fire within.

Or, to recall Cathy’s deathbed soliloquy spoken to Linton: “What you touch at present you may have; but my soul will be on that hill-top before you lay hands on me again.” (Cf, Wuthering Heights, ch. 12, p. 93).
There are many examples of poems where the grave, in the physical perception of this word, is but the threshold into the world that exceeds the traditional system of mans senses as well as man’s imagination. It is a way out into a world of its own, where the soul unites with its true spirit. Deviating from both the traditional Christian reverence for the passed-away (and therefore innocent) individual, the poet glorifies the grave as the shelter from all socially grounded strains and glorification of only one Deity. In H147 the lyrical speaker craves for “a Heaven more like this Earth”. As in H126 man is treading over the dead, preparing oneself for one’s future home; so, the hero from H182 considers the ‘tomb already more than his’ – a tomb that provides one with the ‘divine anguish’ one is deprived of in the ‘empty world without’. The division of the self in life, therefore, proves to be the one thing that subverts man’s comfortably relaxed daily routine but is the foreground to each one’s authenticity in the afterlife.
Within the bounds of the Romantic ideology, the limits civilized society imposes on man could be seen to whet the poet’s thirst for a reunion with Nature that, ironically, could only be accomplished in death when the body gradually and literally merges with the soil whence it came. In the light of the latter, two thirds of Emily Bronte’s poetry appear to be an attempt to reformulate eschatology into ontology, i.e. the study of existence beyond ousts the study of the purpose of one’s existence here and now (which, eventually, only becomes possible through the study of death, so that, what might seem futile in the present, is given importance to through its interpretation after death) (Cf Stoyanov, p. 61).
* * *
Sin, Repentance, Solitude
When in H149 Emily treads the earth beneath the turf of the graveyard, wishing to remember the woe she has seen on the earth she is actually arguing that no pre-conditioned passing into the world beyond could efface the existentially burdened sense a person’s life has come to make here and now. What is more, the blissfully accepted regularity of the paradise proves so meager against the sin-laden fleetingness of man’s real life. Cf:

I see around me piteous tombstones grey
Stretching their shadows far away.
Beneath the turf my footsteps tread
Lie low and lone the silent dead;
Let me remember half the woe
I’ve seen and heard and felt below,
And heaven itself, so pure and blest,
Could never give my spirit rest.

The process of self-deprivation of the rewarding idea of a Heaven in the afterlife Emily further on develops in her Belgian essay Le Papillon (i.e. The Butterfly – written as a homework during her stay at Pensionnat Heger in Brussels – 1842). It reads:

Nature is an inexplicable problem, it exists on a principle of destruction. Every being must be the tireless instrument of death to others, or itself must cease to live, yet nonetheless we celebrate the day of our birth, and we praise God for having entered such a world.
It is true that there is a heaven for the saint, but the saint leaves enough misery here below to sadden him even before the throne of God.

Although Nature does seem to imprison the soul within the body, yet it affirms the poet’s belief that to man the act of existence alone remains more relevant than the notion of salvation after one expires. In other words, the traditional Christian conceptions of purgatory and hell are replaced by the idea of a lasting rest or a union with nature. The idea of suffering after death is unacceptable, because life with its many ills and anguish is penance enough. (…) if there is no heaven to hope for, there neither can be a hell to fear” (Ghnassia, pp. 97 – 103). “ If God exists, then if we don’t behave properly we shall be damned, if he doesn’t it doesn’t matter anyway. (…) the devil does not punish you for behaving well, but God punishes you for behaving badly” (ibid., p. 155).
The destructiveness of Nature is actually something that makes one reconsider one’s centeredness on the self and embrace a wider view of reality – one based, in its essence, on experience rather than on pure analysis. For that matter, St Augustin says, the somewhat egotistic expectation of Christ’s sacrifice being made for the benefit of all humanity, one ought to realize that Christ’s life was but a single life exemplary for its irreversible love of mankind…
The Self of the Universe and the Universe of the Self
In Bronte’s works the traditional monotheistic Christian model of the Universe is ousted by a polytheistic system of symbols, all equally elusive and reproducible within one another. In such a system, where death is a mechanism and condition for existence, man’s existence proves still more unique within every single person, regardless of man’s proclivity to transgress.
The fiddliest poem of Emily Bronte’s to analyse ever is one of her last – H191 (Jan 2, 1846). On the one hand, it refutes scholars’ arguments that she must have been an anti-theist, on the other, it still does not do away with certain doubts about her sticking to atheism.

No coward soul is mine
No trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere
I see Heaven’s glories shine
And Faith shines equal arming me from Fear
O God within my breast
Almighty ever-present Deity
Life, that in me hast rest
As I Undying Life, have power in Thee
Vain are the thousand creeds
That move men’s hearts, unutterably vain,
Worthless as withered weeds
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main
To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by thy infinity
So surely anchored on
The steadfast rock of Immortality
With wide-embracing love
Thy spirit animates eternal years
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates and rears
Though Earth and moon were gone
And suns and universes ceased to be
And thou wert left alone
Every Existence would exist in thee

There is no room for Death
Nor atom that his might could render void
Since thou art Being and Breath
And what thou art may never be destroyed.

While the first two stanzas affirm the poet’s faith in God, the third stanza stresses the worthlessness of all men’s creeds. Notwithstanding, stanza V confirms the magnanimous creativity of God’s essence. Yet, stanza II and VI suggest that, although a superior force is described, Emily Bronte obviously denies a purely “instinctive belief in a supernatural power, albeit a pantheistic one” (Chitham, p.65). In stanza II it says that the personal existence of a single human being makes it possible for God to be, but God is a God “within my breast”, unlike any other traditional vision about an omnipotent power and intellect. In addition, the equivocal stanza VI claims that if all else perished, he/ she would remain turning into a multitude of various forms of existence, which virtually means that all forms of life would be preserved in an abstract unified whole. Quite clearly, the eternal Spirit is viewed through Nature: “ ‘Atom’ and ‘Breath’ (stanza VII) are physiological terms being made into absolutes. The mind is felt to be capable of apprehending what is outside the mind” (Cf ll. 3-4) (Hardy in: Anne Smith, p. 115). The Deity is an eternal self, whose continuity depends on the assurance on the constancy of the primary other, of the world that is (Wion in: Linda Peterson, pp. 323-324).
Although strewn with Deistic hints, the poem gives one strong reasons for believing that Emily Bronte’s mature works contain plausible evidence for a tendency for her to cling to German-bred subjective idealism. In many poems one is seduced to believe that the speaker is only certain about the existence of his own mind and through it – of the existence of the external reality. Logically, with one’s death one’s own world is destroyed, for there is no more a consciousness to construct it, yet No coward soul is mine suggests a higher – ominously tangible super-ratio that would preserve the specificity of the speaker’s world. Another variation of the authenticity of this two-individual universe is discerned in poem H137, which reads:

I’d ask for all eternity
To make a paradise for me,
My love – and nothing more!

The beloved here substitutes the ever-present deity from No coward soul is mine. In other words, as Catherine’s confesses about her love for Heathcliff in chapter 9 of Wuthering Heights:

“(…) there is or should be an existence of yours beyond you… my great thought in living is himself. If al else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it… Nelly, I am Heathcliff!

It is remarkable, indeed, how the poet manages to affirm the existence of a hyper-rational being who is at once a part of, and a container for, man’s authenticity. To make the picture more complete and complex, one would remember poem H168 where Emily describes the vastness and esoteric profundity and abstractness of her soul:

What my soul bore
My soul alone within its self may tell.

* * *
Emily Bronte builds up an undeniably intricate modus vivendi, which – thanks to its complexity and interdiscoursivity – speaks of a Nature that possesses purposiveness (which is what modern twentieth-century poetry lacks most [Beach, p. 8])… Latent in that interdiscoursivity of being is the counter-Calvinistic idea that the sense of one’s life could only be arrived at by one’s own will and by the person himself. If so, if one life was lived out in a wholesome and complete manner (albeit contrary to common epistemological perceptions) there would be no reason why death should be shunned… To go precipitously further, within Emily’s philosophy, the soul that contains the whole universe is the only one to grant one the revitalizing prayer, i.e. the ability to transcend oneself by looking within, and create hell of heaven and heaven of hell (Ghnassia, pp. 158, 168)…
Emily Bronte’s ontological ‘proposal’ then does not imply a denial of the virtue represented through Christian piety, but rejects despair and humility of thought which could be viewed as the greatest sin in a universe where man should always be able to see through the superior creative power (also called natura naturans) the actively non-finite variety of the created (also called natura naturata) and vice versa. It is the latter ability that secures man a position so unique in Nature.
Text Editions

  • Bronte, Emily, Wuthering Heights, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Classics, 1992
  • (ed.) Hatfield, C. W., The Complete Poems of Emily Jane Bronte, New Work: Columbia University Press, 1941
  • (ed. & transl.) Lonoff, Sue, The Belgian Essays. Charlotte and Emily Bronte. A Critical Edition, Yale University Press, 1996

Critical Reference

  • (ed.) Allott, Miriam, Emily Jane Bronte. Wuthering Heights. A Selection of Critical essays, Macmillan
  • Homans, Margaret, Transcending the Problems of Sexual Identity, 1980, source: Women Writers and Poetic Identity. Dorothy Wordsworth, Emily Bronte, Emily Dickinson, New York: Princeton, 1980
  • Van Ghent, Dorothy, Dark “Otherness” in Wuthering Heights, 1953, source: The English Novel. Form and Function, 1953
  • Visick, Mary, The Genesis of Wuthering Heights, 1958, source: The Genesis of Wuthering Heights, 1958
  • Beach, Joseph Warren, The Concept of Nature in Nineteenth-Century English Poetry, New York: The Macmillan Company, 1936
  • Benvenuto, Richard, Emily Bronte (chapter 3: Poetry), Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1982
  • (transl. in Russian.) Bolnoff, Otto, Filosofia ekzistentzializma. Filosofia sustchestvovania, Sankt-Peterburg: Lan’, 1999
  • Chitham, Edward, The Birth of Wuthering Heights. Emily Bronte at Work, St. Martin’s Press, 1998
  • Daleski, H. M., The Divided Heroine. A Recurrent Pattern in Six English Novels (chapter 2: Wuthering Heights. The World of Contraries), New York London: Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1984
  • Frank, Katherine, Emily Bronte. A Chainless Soul, London: Hamish Hamilton, 1990
  • Ghnassia, Jill Dix, Metaphysical Rebellion in the Works of Emily Bronte. A Reinterpretation, New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1994
  • Harrison, G. Elsie, Haworth Parsonage, A Study of Wesley and the Brontes, London: The Epworth Press, 1937
  • (in Bulg.) Kaltchev, Ivan, Metafizika na smartta, Sofia: Biblioteka ‘Nov Den’ – 3, 1993
  • Patterson Charles (Jr.), Empathy and the Daemonic in Wuthering Heights in: (ed.) Goodin, George, The English Novel in the 19th Century. Essays on Literary Mediation of Human Values, Illinois Studies in Language and Literature, University of Illinois Press, 1974
  • Sherry, Norman, PhD, Charlotte and Emily Bronte (chapter 2: Background and Influences, chapter 7: The Poetry of Emily Bronte), ARCO, New York, 1970
  • (ed.), Smith, Anne, The Art of Emily Bronte, Vision and Barns & Noble, 1976
  • Hardy, Barbara, The Lyricism of Emily Bronte
  • (in Bulg.) Stoyanov, Tzvetan, Niskite, koito se prekasvat. Problemat za alienatziata v literaturata I obstestvenata psihologia na Zapad, ‘Narodna mladez’, 1967
  • Tayler, Irene, Holy Ghosts. The Male Muses of Emily and Charlotte Bronte (chapter 1: Emily Bronte’s Poetry), New York: Columbia University Press, 1990
  • Wang, Lisa, PhD, The Use of Theological Discourse in the Works of the Bronte Sisters, Birkbeck College, University of London, Submitted for the Degree of PhD 1998
  • Wion, Philip K., The Absent Mother in Wuthering Heights, in: (ed.) Peterson, Linda, Wuthering Heights (with biographical and historical contexts, critical history and essays from five contemporary critical perspectives), Boston New York: Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press, 1992

Tales and stories in teaching English to student-teachers of English in the primary school

Written by: Zhivka S. Ilieva Abstract
There are tales and stories interesting for all ages. Stories are rich material for foreign language lessons. They are bearer of different cultural and moral values and base for various exercises: reading comprehension, listening comprehension,speaking and writing tasks, creative activities. Children like stories so it would be useful to their teachers to be acquainted with some stories in English in order to heighten students’ interest.

1. Introduction

Tales are the oldest spiritual companion of people. Very long ago first tales have been short and with simple structure but with the time passing they have become longer, richer, complicated stories. They have always been a source of moral values, a kind of religion, philosophy, science. They have always enchanted and fascinated children as well as adults.

2. Stories and Tales

There are stories and tales interesting for all ages. I use both terms – story and tale in my paper because I use them both in my practice, though more often I say story, may be because of the books I use: “Five-minute stories”, “The storytelling Handbook”. But in “The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory” by J.A.Cuddon there is no definition of story. There are definitions of short story, tall story, story within a story, frame story. The definition of tale begins as follows:

“A narrative, written (in prose or verse) or spoken. When in prose barely distinguishable from a short story.” and about the short story it is said that “this is one of the most elusive forms.”(Cuddon, J. 1991: 954, 864)

In the same dictionary it is written that

“The fairy tale belongs to folk literature and is part of the oral tradition of every nation.
In its written form the fairy tale tends to be a narrative in prose about the fortunes and misfortunes of a hero or heroine who, having experienced various adventures of a more or less supernatural kind, lives happily ever after. Magic charms, disguise and spells are some of the major ingredients of such stories, which are often subtle in their interpretation of human nature and psychology.” (Cuddon, J. 1991: 324)

There are Tales and Stories suitable for all levels of language proficiency.
Emma Solloway says,

“Fairy tales are for all levels and ages. They operate on two levels: the literal (“What happens?”) likely to interest children; and the symbolic (“What does it represent?”), likely to interest adults.” (Solloway, E. 1993)

That’s why they are suitable both for students at school and for students at University.

3. Enquiry

Since the students I teach are going to be Primary School teachers, I thought it would be useful for them to deal with stories and fairy tales in English so I made an inquiry concerning stories in order to investigate their opinion on that matter. The first question was “Do you like stories?” (Yes or No). All of them – 100% circled “Yes”. The next question – “Why?” most of them answered “Because they take me away from reality”, because I like to dream, because they are interesting, because children like them or something similar. The question “Would you use stories in your classes?” most of them – approximately 83,3% answered “Yes” and 16,7 % – No, because a lack of time. The question “How would you use them?” had various answers: as reading compehension exercises (most of them) as listening compehension exercises, for text-related tasks (answering questions, making illustrations, drawing a film (succession of pictures) writing the end or the beginning of a story, discussions, retelling the story etc.) for acting out, for grammar exercises to choose or make a suitable melody for that story, to find the moral.
The answers showed me that these particular students liked stories and would be willing to use them in their teaching experience in different ways. This result made me think that they would not mind if I use tales and stories in my classes with them. Moreover stories are very rich material for our lessons. On the one hand they are interesting as texts – the subject-matter, the cultural information they bear, the morals they give, and we know that students work better when they have something interesting in front of them. On the other hand thanks to their richness, we may invent different exercises and tasks using those interesting texts depending on the level of the students, on the topic and the aim of the lesson, on the grammar structures and words we want to reimforce … or introduce.

4. Stories as Reading and Listening Compehension Texts

We may give different reading and listening compehension tasks depending on the story and on our aims. The task may be:

  • Circle the correct answer (multiple choice)
  • True or false
  • Guess the meaning of the following words
  • Find synonyms or antonyms of the following words
  • Write the following sentences in the correct order
  • Answer the questions

4.1. Circle the correct answer

Not all stories are suitable for multiple choice questions. There should be something misleading – more characters, more events. Students will have to read carefully the whole story in order to choose the right answer. Suilable for this type of questions is “Elizabeth” (Ecceleshare, J., 1995: p.23-25).

4.2. True or false

Almost all stories are suitable for true or false exercises. They may be complicated a bit by adding an extra task: if the statement is not correct, write the correct one.

4.3. Guess the meaning of the following words; find synonyms or antonyms

Not all stories are suitable for guess the meaning of the words and find a synonym or antonym. There sould be unfamiliar words for the group we are teaching and the meaning of those words should be recognisable from the context. Suitable for this is the story “The Elephant’s Picnic” (Ecceleshare, J., 1995: p.130-131). It is very productive for discussions also. I gave my students the following task – think of a moral for that story. They were talking about the elephant and its friend – the kangaroo, about their attitude and their doings, about the picnic they made together. They finally reached to three different morals: If you don’t know how to do something, don’t do it at all; A man is known by the company he keeps; In good company the most awful food tastes good. These are three completely different morals for the same story – the students were divided into three groups for the discussion. And each group had good reasons to give that moral to the story.

4.4. Write the sentences in the correct order

For the task “Write the sentences in the correct order” we need a story wth lots of events. We write sentences about the events in the story and change their order – we mix them up. If there are enough events in the story, students have to read very carefully the whole story in order to be able to arrange the sentences properly. Such stories are “Koala” (Ecceleshare, J., 1995: p.161-2).

4.5. Answer the Questions

For “Answer the questions” we again need text with lots of events or details. Students have to answer a few questions concerning the story. Sometimes the aim of these questions is retelling the story with just a few sentences. If we practise the present tense, we may choose a story in the present tense. If we practise the past tense, we may choose a story in the past tense. Thus students practise sequencing of tenses and other peculiarities of retelling – transferring of direct into indirect speech – thus through practice they remember easier that in retelling here becomes there, today – that day, tomorrow – the day after etc.
Stories are such a rich material that we cannot limit them to one type of exercises only. We may give a reading or listening comprehension task and then a speaking or writing task.

5.Speaking and Writing Tasks

5.1. Discussion.

The most popular speaking task is discussion. Students may discuss the cultural and moral values implied in the story, the characters, the events and places described, the feelings the story inspires. They may compare them to other similar ones in other stories. An example of such a discussion was choosing a suitable moral for the story “The Elephant’s picnic”

5.2. Creative writing

Writting tasks are most often connected with creative writing – students have to use their creativity in order to invent a beginning or an end of a story. They may have to write a similar story – sad or joyous; something similar they have experienced; or a story with the same moral. All these writing tasks give students opportunity to use and enrich their imagination, their experience; thus they use some motives of the stories they know both in English and in Bulgarian. Through their writing I can follow their development in foreign language learning and acquisition. These works show me how well they can express their thoughts in English; if they really enrich their vocabulary, if they have acquired the new grammatical structures.

6. Grammar tasks.

There are exercises that reinforce certain grammar item – a tense, a specific structure. They may be quite different; most often they are writing tasks.
E.g. Pick up all the verbs from the story, mark the irregular ones and write their forms. Write the story into the present (if it is in the past) or write it in the past tense (if it is in the present). Having copied the verbs, students now have the skeleton of a story. We may give them the task to write a story using these verbs as a skeleton.
Another grammatical story-based exercise is using a story, which consists of dialogue primarily for turning the direct speech into indirect speech e.g. the story “The Bet” (Ecceleshare, J., 1995: p.11-12). This story is quite long so there is enough material for working in class and for homework.
There are statements “I win”, questions “What are you thinking about?”, commands “Look out of your window” – Gloria said”.
So we can practise turning from direct into indirect speech of different sentences where the verb is in different moods – indicative, imperative, interrogative.
The exercise my students liked best was based on the story “The Mouse and Winds” (Ecceleshare, J., 1995: p.145). It is in the past tense. The students had to answer a few questions and their next task was: Continue asking and answering similar questions in the past tense. The aim of the questions was more grammatical – to practice the past simple tense and to retell the story in the past simple; and lexical – to remember certain words. The students liked it because they considered it applicable in classes with primary students in some later stages. That motivated them to make some very interesting translations. The story belongs to the chapter titled “The world we live in” and the words used in it represent entities from the surrounding world: boat and lake, house and roof, tree, mountain, island, wind. There are mentioned the different directions of the world.
The story is in the past simple tense and some phrases are repeated several times so that they would be easily remembered by the audience:

“Shouted the mouse”
“The wind blew and blew”
“…went up in the air … and landed on…”

There are also examples of irregular verbs: blow – blew, come – came, burst – burst, say – said
These verbs can be seen both in their first form (in the direct speech and in their second form in the indirect speech).
The students found this story very simiral to a Bulgarian one – the similarity is in the repetition of all items and in adding each time a new one.
Most students also made some illustrations at home claiming that it would be better to use them while telling the story to their students during their teaching practice. Other students chose to tell the story to their students and to leave them to make illustrations.

7. Conclusion

“Listening to stories allows the teacher to introduce or revise new vocabulary and sentence structures by exposing students to language in varied memorable and familiar contexts, which will enrich their thinking and gradually enter their own speech”
(Ellis, G. and Brewster, 1991: p.2)
So stories provide fruitful ground for discussions, for creative writing, for dramatization, for drawing.
Stories are motivating and fun and can help develop positive attitudes towards the foreign language and language learning.
(Ellis, G. and Brewster, 1991: p.2)

This can be said both for student – teachers and for their pupils.
Using stories in Practical English Language lessons with student-teachers in the Primary School enriches them as people and as professionals as well.


Cuddon, J. A. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. Penguin, 1991
Eccleshare, J. Five-minute Stories. Scholastic Ltd., 1995
Ellis, G., J. Brewster, The Story-telling Handbook for Primary Teachers, Penguin, 1991
Solloway, E. Flights of Fancy. Practical English Teaching, Dec. 1993

Fun with Pictures for ELT

Written by: Simon Mumford This was a demonstration of ways in which pictures can be used in ELT. It started with a display of juggling to illustrate the point that in language practise activities, a number of components can be ‘juggled’, eg memory, question and answer, descriptions, indirect answers. This was to show that good picture activities consist of enough components to make them challenging, but not so many that they become confusing.
Eight activities using pictures were then demonstrated and the audience was invited to take part in these and also to note down which components were used. The activities were as follows:
1 ‘Yes/No’
The audience was invited to guess what was in a picture they were not able to see. They were only allowed yes/no questions and the only clue was the way ‘yes’ and ‘no’ were said
2 ‘Family relationships’
Here the audience was invited to construct a family tree out of a set of seven random pictures of people and follow up activities were suggested, including writing and role play
3 ‘Whose is it?’
Three large pictures of people were displayed. Small pictures of objects were turned over and the audience was invited to say whose they were, and then the pictures were ‘given’ to that person, practising possessives.
4 ‘All tense revision’
A picture and gestures were used to elicit sentences in different tenses.
5 ‘Picture pass around.’
An activity in which students built up a sentence about a picture, by passing a picture and adding to the sentence was demonstrated.
6 ‘Future faces’
Two pictures, one an old woman and one young were used to demonstrate future tenses. The older picture represented the woman in the future, thus a variety of future tenses were practised.
7 ‘Surprise surprise’
Some surprising ‘facts’ were given about a picture of a person, so that the audience could practise the intonation of surprise.
8 ‘Vocabulary bids’
Members of the audience took part in a game involving 2 people competing to bid the highest for the number of vocabulary items they could get from a picture.
A brief round up concluded the session. Competition, cooperation, description, movement, intonation, gestures, repetition, imagination, giving opinions, and time limits were some of the components noted by the audience.

Communication skills for teachers in the language classroom

Written by: Desmond Thomas, British Council Bulgaria & Svetlana Dimitrova, NBU [toc class=”toc-right”] Introduction
The way in which some teachers communicate with and establish positive rapport with language learner students often seems effortless – one of life’s mysteries. How do they do it? The question is worth asking because:

  1. Teacher trainers can produce plenty of anecdotal evidence of the opposite extreme – trainee teachers or even experienced teachers who fail to communicate with their students.
  2. Emerging evidence from a new research project in Bulgaria (see below) supports this idea and gives a picture of the negative consequences of communication failure. These include: demotivation of students, frustration for the teacher and conflict rather than co-operation in the classroom (cf. Malamah-Thomas 1987:8-9)
  3. It’s a question that doesn’t get asked as frequently as it should. A brief survey of articles and books which deal with the ‘communicative classroom’ shows that they tend to focus on ways of encouraging learners to be more communicative. When communication skills for teachers are mentioned, these tend to equate with presentation skills for conferences or seminars.

There are exceptions to this. For instance, Penny Ur (1997) in a conference presentation entitled “Are teachers born or made?” concludes that there may be some individuals who are born not to teach. In this respect she identifies some essential qualities, which relate to teaching rather than other professions:

  • I sense where the learner is at, what their problem is: I feel what they know and what they don’t know.
  • I know how to transform what I know about the language into a form that is accessible to my learners
  • I know how to design and administer activities and exercises that will foster learning
  • I know when learning is and is not happening by the way the learners behave: I don’t need tests
  • I get my ‘buzz’ from when the students succeed, learn, progress

Communication skills and the ability to build rapport are implied here rather than stated directly. Richard Cullen (1998) is a little more explicit, providing useful ideas on features of teacher talk, which can help foster communication with students. His initial list includes: use of referential questions (rather than display questions), content feedback (rather than form-focused feedback), use of speech modification such as rephrasing and attempts to negotiate meaning. However, he quite rightly points out that such a list is defined in terms of the norms of communication from outside the classroom. So what do desirable classroom norms look like? He suggests the following list:

  • Questioning/eliciting
  • Responding to students’ contributions
  • Presenting/explaining
  • Organizing/giving instructions
  • Evaluating/correcting
  • ‘Sociating’/establishing & maintaining classroom rapport

An effective language teacher will aim to use all of the above channels of communication, whether it is through varying questioning techniques, taking care to give clear instructions, being sensitive to feedback from students, and so on. But it is the last category – “establishing and maintaining classroom rapport” – which is of particular interest, since this is the area about which relatively little appears to have been written. How do we go about improving our ability to ‘sociate’ or to establish rapport? Illustrative case studies, some of them taken from an on-going research project could provide at least a partial answer.

A Baseline survey of English Language Teacher Education in Bulgaria

As part of its commitment to encouraging the development of effective teacher education programmes in Bulgaria, the British Council is currently helping to co-ordinate the first ever extensive survey of English language pre-service teacher education in the country. A pilot project is already underway in Veliko Turnovo.
Some of the case studies quoted below have emerged from that pilot project. Some pre-date the project and have been taken from teaching practice supervision exercises in the Sofia region. All the case studies are real and have been well-documented.
The case studies appear to confirm that one very important factor that contributes to successful teaching is indeed the teacher’s ability to communicate directly, clearly and in a supportive and encouraging manner with her students. Here are some typical examples (greatly abbreviated from the original reports):

Case 1

In a lesson based on the topic of “advertising”, Teacher B gives out brochures & leaflets (in Bulgarian) advertising various products for his 9th grade students to look at in pairs. But after a couple of minutes of excitement and interest in the colourful realia, the students look puzzled – no task has been given. Meanwhile, Teacher B is at his desk, looking intently at his lesson plan, completely unaware of the problem .
10 minutes later Teacher B starts walking round the class, asking every pair for the English name of the product advertised in their sample and whether the advertisement is effective. He speaks in a low voice, which can hardly be heard across the room and so do the Ss in providing answers to his questions. (‘What is advertised?’ and ‘Is it effective?’) Ss do not listen to each other and start talking among themselves until their turn comes.

Case 2

In a grammar lesson on degrees of comparison with a group of adult elementary students, Teacher N begins by instructing them to look at the grammar table in their textbooks while she reads out the information from the same table on a small handout stuck on the blackboard. While she does this, she stands with her back to the students. She explains the different patterns one by one in Bulgarian in a low and monotonous tone of voice, insisting on Ss’ silence (noise was caused by Ss trying to clarify the pattern to each other).
After each pattern explanation, she makes the students repeat in chorus the examples from the table. Some of the adult students are rather reluctant to do so. A task follows, which requires them to use the comparative of some adjectives. A number of problems occur with selecting the right form and the spelling of the adjectives. Teacher N blames the students for not being careful enough while she was explaining the rules.

Case 3

In a class of 9th graders, Teacher P gives instructions for a listening comprehension task in Bulgarian. After an attempt to pre-teach three key vocabulary items, he plays the recording leaving the students no time to get familiar with the elements of the task. Some students find the task difficult and start following the tapescript at the back of the book – this goes unnoticed by the teacher.
Answers are demanded immediately after the end of the recording. Only one girl volunteers and after helplessly searching with his eyes for other contributors in vain, Teacher P allows that student to provide all the answers. It’s not clear whether they have failed to complete the task or whether they simply refuse to cooperate. No evidence or support from the text is elicited for the right answers. When the student fails, the correct answer is provided by the teacher himself. No further listening is done.

Case 4

In a reading lesson based on the topic of “Human Cloning”, teacher L spends the first part of the lesson in lecture mode – in effect giving a science lecture. At the beginning she attempts to create rapport with the students by telling a joke related to the topic, but few of them understand and the effect of the joke is lost. She doesn’t really attempt to elicit students’ ideas on the topic.
Throughout this part of the lesson L stays in her chair at the front of the class. Through negative body language she also transmits a lack of real interest in the topic. She very quickly goes on to the reading of the text, during which she asks individual students to translate word for word. The students seem grateful to hear the bell for the end of the lesson.

Case 5

At the beginning of the lesson Teacher E announces to her 10th grade class : “Today we’re going to do revision exercises. We will begin with a grammar exercise for the present continuous”. The pattern of the lesson then becomes very clear: students do one grammar exercise after another (always on a different topic) and then E checks it. The order of the textbook is followed rigidly, and E’s checking consists of asking individual students to volunteer the right answer. No attempt is made to determine whether the others have understood: the teacher doesn’t even look towards the back row, where the students are either sleeping or chatting to their friends in low voices.
Occasionally, E decides to give brief grammar explanations. Her voice is low and monotonous, and her presence in class rather muted. Her body language doesn’t help: she doesn’t seem very enthusiastic about the task in hand. She forgets to use the blackboard during her short explanations, so that these rely on students listening carefully to what she says.

Tentative conclusions: areas which help & hinder the development of rapport

From these five cases studies and many more, (some giving positive and some giving negative examples of effective classroom communication), it is possible to draw some preliminary conclusions concerning factors which can help or hinder teacher-student communication in English language classes in Bulgarian schools. For more ideas on the first three categories see also Gower et al., 1995: 8-18.
Use of eye contact
In all of the case studies the trainee teachers underestimated the power of eye contact to encourage contributions from the students, to hold the attention of students, to elicit feedback from them, to check comprehension and to signal when to start or stop. In Case Study 1, for example, the teacher is too busy consulting his notes to be able to use his eyes to see how students are coping with the set activities.
Use of body language
Gestures, facial expressions and mime have multiple uses. They can help convey the meaning of language, facilitate classroom management or can entirely substitute verbal explanations. They also convey a sense of involvement and interest on the part of the teacher. Where they are noticeably absent, as in Case Studies 2, 4 and 5, students easily become distracted and disengaged from the target activities.
Use of voice
In most of the case studies reference is made to the “low and monotonous tone of voice” employed by the teacher. Trainee teachers need to be aware of the potential effects of varying the use of the voice (whether through loudness/softness, high speed/low speed, high pitch/low pitch etc.). Voice variation can help energize or calm a class, can help draw attention to key items, can express moods and feelings and can help provide structural markers during a lesson.
Use of varied patterns of teacher & student talk
In many of the case studies (eg Case Study 4) unsuccessful trainee teachers tended to rely on lecture mode to communicate with their classes (perhaps subconsciously copying the style of their university lecturers). Those trainees who made a conscious attempt to vary the patterns of interaction during a particular lesson tended to be more successful.
Use of techniques to gain, keep & spread attention
Case Studies 3 and 5 represent typical examples of trainee teachers who are unable to discover a means of involving the majority of students in the target activities. In desperation, such teachers tend to accept any answer to questions presented to the whole group, even if this means the same individual repeatedly supplying all the answers. Where simple techniques such as moving around the class or asking students to prepare answers in pairs were used, the amount of student involvement rises dramatically. Other techniques such as using visual aids to focus attention also seem to help in this respect.
Ability to adapt materials & activities to suit the context
This crucial aspect of teaching seems to be lacking in most of the case studies cited above. The reaction of the teacher in Case Study 2 is typical of many trainees, who find it much easier to blame the student for not understanding the explanation given.
In Case Study 5, Teacher E’s insistence on keeping to the order of exercises prescribed by the textbook shows an insensitivity to the context and an inability to communicate with those whose needs are not being taken into account.
Flexibility & sensitivity to changing demands of the lesson
In the pilot project and in other classes observed successful communicators were often those who refused be slaves to the coursebook, or the lesson plan, or the exam syllabus. In several cases, being willing to jettison an activity (or even the entire the lesson plan) sometimes determined the outcome of a lesson.
As well as these factors mentioned above, there are others which are less easily definable. For instance, certain personality traits in the teacher may play an important part in determining the degree of successful communication between teacher and students. But the cases observed are inconclusive in this respect: obvious extroverts often had more difficulties than more thoughtful introverts, who tended to spend more time thinking about different ways of improving communication.
In conclusion, it seems that only a more extensive enquiry building on these preliminary findings will begin to solve the ‘mystery’ of successful classroom communication between teachers and their students. The baseline survey of pre-service teacher training in Bulgaria may provide both an opportunity and a meaningful context for this. In the meantime, the idea of the ‘born teacher’ and ‘born communicator’ remains neither proven nor unproven.


Cullen, R., 1998, “Teacher talk & the classroom context”, ELTJournal 52/3
Gower,R., Phillips,D. & Walters,W. 1995, Teaching Practice Handbook, Heinemann
Malamah-Thomas, A. 1987, Classroom Interaction, Oxford University Press
Ur, P. ,1997, “Are teachers born or made?”, IATEFL UK conference proceedings

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

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.

Written by: Desislava Zareva, New Bulgarian University
[toc class=”toc-right”]
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.

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.

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)

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.

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)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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)


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.

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.

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.
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 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.

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
(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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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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Byram, M., 1997, “Cultural studies and foreign language teaching“, in: Bassnett, ed. 1997
Byram, M. and Esarte-Sarriers U., 1991, “Investigating cultural studies in foreign language teaching“, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters 62.
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Durant, A.,1997, “Facts and meanings in British Cultural Studies“, in: Bassnett, ed. 1997
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Activities for integrating concept learning – Into the science in english lessons

Written by: Magdalena Tsavkova Combining an exercise typical for studying a foreign language in subject learning is one of the areas in education today that is of great interest. In particular, students who study various subjects in a language not native for them, face a double challenge – to master both content and vocabulary of the subject. There are many ways to accomplish this aim – crossword puzzles, fill in the blanks, match the terms, concept mapping, decision-making, etc. All these activities replace the traditional lecture-based teaching and give the student the opportunity to be an active learner. Subject teachers need to implement this way of presenting information more regularly, though in Bulgaria they lack hands-on materials and supplemental manuals for their classrooms.
This paper will present some activities for chemistry in English classroom. These are only samples that attempt to bring only a few typical “language” exercises into the science classes.
The rest of the publication is in the attached document

Hester Prynne: A Bridge Over Two Centuries and Continents

Ştefanovici Smaranda, senior lecturer, “Petru Maior” University of Tg. Mureş, Romania CREATIVE TEACHING is predicated upon the ability of the teacher to motivate students by arousing their interest in the material to be studied. However, this is not always an easy task. Such teaching demands a lively imagination, ability to analyze and anticipate student needs, and a willingness to experiment.
Among WAYS TO MOTIVATE STUDENTS the following can be mentioned:

  1. to show the relevance of ideas found in their reading to their own lives;
  2. to create in them a desire to extract greater meaning from what they read;
  3. to guide them to discover major points by which they can judge the relative importance of the ideas they encounter.

As a GENERAL METHODOLOGY used in teaching literature creatively, our teachers:

  1. Make constant use of examples in explaining complex sentence structures;
  2. Explain the nuances, range of meaning, and special references of a new word rather than a single lexical meaning;
  3. Draw parallels in the students’ own culture to clarify the meaning of idiomatic expressions;
  4. Give ample background explanation of new facts not within the students’ experience;
  5. Encourage the students to deduce the meaning of new words from their relationship to familiar words in the sentence or paragraph;
  6. Make frequent use of paraphrases to help the student organize his ideas and relate them to those of the author. The paraphrase is useful both for oral and writing practice.

Taking the above as a springboard for plunging into the interpretative process of The Scarlet Letter in a modern way, the paper is meant to demonstrate a paradox: many of the moral issues and stigmas of Puritan society are still grappled with today (a bridge over 4 centuries and two continents: 17th century setting, 19th century romancer, 20th century reader; America and Europe )
Students minoring in English were asked to think of possible contemporary issues found while reading the romance. The list with their findings was presented to the class and the interpretation given by them to each issue was recorded.

  • Baby born out of marriage
  • Deceived husband
  • Husband taking revenge
  • Cowardly lover
  • Teenage pregnancy
  • Sex and adultery
  • Woman’s pride
  • Community reaction (isolation)
  • Feminism
  • Consumer society (free to choose her own destiny)
  • Child in need of both parents
  • Child desiring  ‘right’ moral behavior
  • Economic, sexual and psychological freedom
  • Emancipation Vs Hypocrisy
  • Woman morally superior to man

The seminar discussions, which resulted in a challenging and most rewarding experience for both the teacher and the students were registered and are summarized in the following lines.
The way Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote made his stories seem almost modern.  He raised interesting issues in his romances that are still relevant to today’s readers. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter , although written in the Puritan age of  1860 America, deals with several issues which are mirrored in our modern society, more than one hundred years after Hawthorne created his masterpiece.  Today’s readers can thus identify with the characters and their circumstances; their souls are touched, their imagination is captured.
The story of The Scarlet Letter traces the consequences of a deadly sin committed by Arthur Dimmesdale, a godly minister, beloved and revered, almost idolized by his people as a model of human excellence. Hester Prynne, the erring but heroic woman, her strange child, Pearl, and her wronged but malicious and horribly vengeful husband, Chillingworh, are the other main characters of the romance.
A baby out of wedlock.  Single parent.  Working mother.  Rebellious daughter.  Sadistic, avenging husband.  Cowardly lover.  These are some of today’s challenging issues that are mirrored in this powerful story, sensitively written by a 19th century author, in a 17th century setting.
The book explores the conflicts between private truth and public appearances and the choice between sin and salvation.  From unwed mother to sex and adultery, many of the moral issues and stigmas of Puritan society still exist in our own.
Hawthorne is relevant today both in theme and attitude.  The connection between sexuality and womanhood is an important theme in The Scarlet Letter.  Sex, however, is nowhere mentioned in The Scarlet Letter, and the narrator tries to distance Hester from her act by presenting her as dignified and overcome by feelings of guilt.  Her behavior when she is in the forest, however, proves that Hester does not feel as guilty as she appears to be:

The stigma gone, Hester heaved a long, deep sigh, in which the burden of shame and anguish departed from her spirit.  O exquisite relief!  She had not known the weight, until she felt the freedom!  By another impulse, she took off the formal cap that confined her hair; and down it fell upon her shoulders, dark and rich, with at once a shadow and a light in its abundance, and imparting the charm of softness to her features.  There played around her mouth, and beamed out of her eyes, a radiant and tender smile, that seemed gushing from the very heart of womanhood.” (p 202)

The Scarlet Letter clearly needs explaining to understand its pertinence to our lives.  This leads to a comparison of the two societies (the Puritan society of the 17th century, and the Democratic present day society), with direct reference to the extent to which society accepts Hester’s immoral love affair with the reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, and her illegitimate child, Pearl.  The results will reveal astounding similarities despite the long span of time (three centuries) and the conspicuous difference in meaning between the adjectives “puritan” and “democratic”.
The Puritan society was a society composed of successful hypocrites, contending against a minority of discovered criminals.  This is the narrative context in which Hester chooses to live her passion, to have a child out of wedlock which makes her stronger, reliant on her own decisions to choose her own moral system, which, in a consumer society is just as good as anyone else’s.  Her moral system is not based on the rejection of all Puritan authority.  The authority she does not adhere to is male authority and the laws made by men.  In the long run, Hester does not submit to anyone or anything but her inner laws.
This can be seen as the realization of true emancipation.  There is, however, some ambiguity in the way Hester appears to react.  On the one hand, as Hawthorne writes:  “Had Hester sinned alone?”, of the sinners – all suffer – yet it is Hester alone who survives.  Still, despite the ties she has to her society, she is never controlled by it; she is far from being hypocritical as the other Puritans are.  Hester is not afraid of the consequences of her act of adultery.  Love transforms her into a non-conformist, much superior to her fellow beings.  She actually chooses to stay in Boston rather than leave after her initial confinement; she, in a sense, chooses her own retribution and destiny; we think Hawthorne is far more condemning of Dimmesdale’s weakness, duplicity and hypocrisy.  Hester never has the chance to hide her sin, but even if she had the opportunity, we doubt she would.  On the other hand, the narrator presents Hester as submissive and well aware of her guilt when accepting her punishment.  However, the act of adultery itself, the scene in the governor’s hall where she stands up for herself and her right to raise Pearl, and the forest-scene are evidence to the contrary.  In the end “the world’s law was no law for her mind”(p 164)
The story of Hester’s personal liberation is also the flight toward economic, sexual and psychological freedom of today’s self-reliant women, who, although few, being endowed with a strong sense of sacrifice, do not have to have men validate their actions before a society built on an amoral code of behavior, in which gross misconceptions can lead to severe, even fatal errors of superficial appreciation.
Hester’s marriage obviously could not bring her fulfillment, but neither can her relationship with Dimmesdale. Only Pearl, her daughter can do that.  Pearl is Hester’s constant reminder of her sin.  Hester chooses to stress this fact by dressing Pearl in red; thus, Pearl becomes a loving representation of the scarlet letter.  The name “Pearl” represents the great price Hester has paid for her and the fact that Pearl is her “ only treasure”.
Pearl also mirrors nature’s changeability and disregard for civilization’s precepts.  In the 1690’s, the witchcraft issue was one of the hot topics among small Puritan towns such as the one in The Scarlet Letter.  In that period when the Salem Witch Trials were taking place, Pearl’s actions are those of a strange, almost demonic child.  We wonder whether this portrayal might not show that Hawthorne thought the child would act this way because it was a “bastard” child, a thing unheard of in those times.  Another explanation, which can account for her behavior and also be taken under discussion, especially with reference to present-day children out of wedlock which is so often the case.  Pearl really wants her family; she needs a whole family, both parents.  It is one of the tragic results of Hester and Dimmesdale’s adultery that Pearl is deprived of a “normal” family.  Hawthorne expresses the common ideas of his time which are so applicable to our society, as well.  Pearl is a paradox, both wild and amoral, and also desiring “right” moral behavior in her parents.  William Wordsworth once said in a poem of his: “The child is the Father of the Man”.  It seems to us that this quotation mirrors Pearl’s role in the novel  (i.e. the role of reprimanding and leading Hester).  She acts and speaks with so much insight.  At the age of 3 (three) she was saying things like: “my mother picked me off of a wild rose bush”.
The ending of the romance is bewildering.  Pearl only achieves “wholeness” when Dimmesdale acknowledges his paternity.  The duality of Pearl, as illustrated in the scene at the brook can only be reconciled when Dimmesdale tells all of Boston of his sin and its consequences. Is Hawthorne saying that single women are incapable of raising “whole” children?   That for a child to be complete he or she must be raised in a “nuclear” family?  Society today is still grappling with the answers.
One can see the romance as a clear attack on the hypocrisy of society then and today.  Adultery was and is still considered today, a worse crime for a woman that it is for a man.  Moreover, when a woman gets pregnant, it is a physical sign that makes the promiscuity a known fact.  Men are not connected to the act in any visible way.  Hester pays a different price because she is a woman.  Hester, as a woman, takes all the blame, while Dimmesdale, as a man, does not get punished, at least not by man-made law.  This illustrates the inequality between the two.  Hester is not only the stronger one, (e.g. she is the one who decides they will leave Boston, and she is the one who is going to make all necessary arrangements); she is also the morally better one.  This connects to nineteenth, as well as twentieth centuries’ ideas about women as morally superior to men.
Hester’s marriage to Chillingworth proved to be a fake from the very beginning, because of the difference in age between the two.  Chillingworth thought to make up for that by giving her his deep love:  “And so, Hester, I drew thee into my heart, into the innermost chamber, and sought to warm thee by the warmth which thy presence made there!”(p 74).  The relationship was not only unequal, but Chillingworth also married Hester under false pretences:   “mine was the first wrong, when I betrayed thy budding youth into a false and unnatural relation with my decay”. (p 74-74)
The greatness of The Scarlet Letter lies in the character of Hester Prynne.  Because she dared to trust herself and to believe in the possibility of a new morality in the new world, she achieved spiritual greatness in spite of her own human weakness, in spite of the prejudices of her Puritan society, and, finally, in spite of the prejudices of her creator himself.  For the human weakness which made her deceive her lover in order to protect him maker her seem only the more real.  The calm steadfastness with which she endures the ostracism of society makes her heroic.  And the clear purpose, which she follows, despite the denigration of Hawthorne, makes her almost ideal!
Hester, almost in spite of Hawthorne, envisions the transcendental ideal of positive freedom, instead of the romantic ideal of mere escape.  She urges her lover to create a new life with her in the wilderness:  “Doth the universe lie within the compass of yonder  town?  Whither leads yonder forest track?”  And she seeks to arouse him to a pragmatic idealism equal to the task:  “Exchange this false life of thine for a true one!  . . .   Preach!  Write!  Act!  Do anything save to lie down and die!” (p 215)  What Hawthorne wants to tell us by Hester’s mouth is that, if he had less of that external morality and decorum, his case would be less desperate; and often failure to maintain them can lead to real conversion to truth and holiness.  As long as we maintain our self-complacency, are satisfied with ourselves, and feel that we have outraged none of the decencies of life, no argument can reach us, no admonition can startle us, no exhortation can move us.  Proud of our supposed virtue, free from all self reproach, we are as placid as a summer morning, pass through life without a cloud to mar our serenity, and die as gently and as sweetly as the infant falling asleep in its mother’s arms.  We have often met with these people, and tried to waken them to a sense of their actual condition, to see that pride is the root of all sin, while humility and genuine repentance which springs from humility is the root of all virtue.
Thus Hester Prynne embodies the authentic American dream of a new life in the wilderness of the New World, and of self-reliant action to realize that ideal.  In the Puritan age in which he lived, and in Hawthorne’s own our modern society with its more liberal laws, Hester Prynne might hope to live happily with her lover, after winning divorce from her cruel and vengeful husband.  But in every century her tragedy would be the same.  It would result from her own deception and from the conflicting moral belief of her lover.  But it would not result from her won sense of guilt or shame.
In The Scarlet Letter alone, among his novels, Hawthorne succeeded in realizing a character embodying the authentic American dream of freedom and independence in the New World.
The Puritan asceticism and rigidity fixed the scarlet letter to the breast of Hester Prynne, and drove Arthur Dimmesdale into a life of cowardly and selfish meanness, that added tenfold disgrace and ignominy to his original crime.  In any form of society hitherto known, the sanctity of the devoted relation between the sexes has constituted the most certain foundation of all purity and all social safety.  It is no pleasant matter to contemplate what is called the guilt of Hester Prynne; but it may be instructive, nevertheless.  We naturally shrink from any apparent violation of virtue and chastity, and are very ready to forget, in our eager condemnation, how much that is beautiful and holy may  be involved in it.  We forget that what society calls chastity is often far the reverse, and that a violation of this perverted virtue may be a sad, sorrowful and tearful beauty, which we would silently and reverently contemplate,  – silently, lest a harsh word of the law wound our hearts, – reverently, as we would listen to the fervent prayer.  While we dread that moral hardness, let us not forget that holy love that purifies one’s soul.  Man’s heart recognizes this, whether society will or will not.  The struggle and the sacrifice, which the latter calls a crime, the former receives as an exhilarating air of virtue.
We would not condemn the vigilance of society, were it really a tribute paid to the true sanctity of virtue.  But is that the case?  Is there no violation of social law more radical and threatening than any wayward (i.e. disobedient) act of passion can be?  We make so many compromises in life, more or less under the mask of the superficiality the social law creates.  We see in the lives of Hester Prynne  and Arthur Dimmesdale that the severity of puritanical law and morals could not keep them form violation; and we see, too, that this very severity drove them both into a state of moral insanity.  And does any benefit arise from such a sacrifice?  There can hardly be any at all.  Severity and unforgiveness was the social atmosphere which surrounded them.  Who has not at least once in his life “obeyed” the unwritten law and banished that whom society has taken for a sinner, whereas, in our deep soul we acknowledged being on the wrong side.  We sin every hour and still, in most cases, do not dare to open our soul to the dearest ones dreading their reactions.  Just like in the case of the father, the mother and the child in The Scarlet Letter – the whole trinity of love – for whom the world has done nothing, so we are waiting today for a “divine, still human” recognition and forgiveness of our weaknesses.  Only an open confession of our weaknesses and hypocritical nature can bring us strength.  The romance is but a shadow of the realities which daily occur around us.  The opportunities for opening our hearts to the gentle teachings of tender error and crushed virtue lie all along our pathway, and we pass by on the other side.  The flattering self-assurance that we pursue virtue with conscientious diligence, never enables us to reach what we pursue what we are striving for.  There is no more fatal error than moral ignorance and hypocrisy.  Vice and virtue are not at opposite poles, they are part of our everyday lives; as long as we do not approve of that, we cannot understand Hester’s moral superiority, who, in her long hours of suffering and loneliness, through love, the great parent of all power and virtue, the guardian of the tree of good and evil, became sweeter and better that all the world beside, by the cause in which she suffered.  To those who would gladly learn the confidence, and power, and patient endurance, and deep fervor, which love can create in the human heart, we would present the life of this woman, true representative of both puritan and democratic worlds.
As a follow-up, the students were asked to do further research on the following

  • What is Hawthorne’s answer to the question on which the story (romance) hinges: would we live our lives differently if we could live them over? Do you agree with his conclusion? What value is there in speculating on a situation that could not happen in actual life?
  • How does Hawthorne achieve skill as a writer? Does he compare favorably with any writer of our national literature in style and subject matter? Give examples.
  • Did you think the story had to end as it does? Could another outcome have been possible? Explain your answer.

The interpretation tried to oppose and, at the same time, find similarities between two opposing cultures (American and Romanian): the former as creator of Hester and the latter, as receiver. The social contexts in which the character was created, and under what conditions she was read and interpreted by a different people, from another continent, 150 years later were also subject to discussion. The conclusions would show how Hester transgressed the alleged boundary both between the 17th century and 20th century America, and between America and Romania. We have still been waiting for our sinful nature to be acknowledged. Just like in the case of the father, the mother and the child in The Scarlet Letter – the whole trinity of love – for whom the world has done nothing, so we are waiting today for a “divine, still human” recognition and forgiveness of our weaknesses. This is what will make us self-confident, true, and real.
Through Hester, Hawthorne brought to point interesting, ever-lasting issues such as teenage pregnancy, babies born out of marriage, sex and adultery, woman pride, society rejection and consequent isolation, woman’s role to freely choose her own destiny in a consumer society. Hester managed to bridge across two continents, with two different cultures and conventions. She is still an apostle of a would-be world; she is still waiting for justice through economic, sexual and psychological freedom.
[1] Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. A Romance. Ohio State University Press, Penguin Books, 1986.
[2] Highlights of American Literature. A Course in American Literature for the Advanced Study of English. Washington, D.C.: English Teaching Division, Information Center Service, United States Information Agency, 1970.
[3] White, R.V. Process Writing. London & N.York: Longman Group UK Limited, 1991.
[4] White, R.V. Teaching Written English. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1990.

“Surfing” the Pages of Identity

Written by: Tsvetelina Ilieva [toc class=”toc-right”] Introduction
The presentation focuses on the role of the foreign language teacher as mediator between cultures, as a professional who is able to guide his/her students through the meanings of the cultural practices that take place within the foreign and the native framework. Therefore, it attempts to turn attention to the necessity of consistent intercultural training of student teachers of foreign languages.
The paper explores the relationship between foreign language learning and cultural observation based on the usage of advertisements from British and Bulgarian teenage girl’s magazines and suggests ways of broadening the cultural context of English lessons to include critical understanding of both the learners’ own culture and the target culture.
This article is an outcome of my diploma paper entitled “Teaching Cultural Representations through Ads “ written under the supervision of Leah Davcheva, Head Cultural Studies, the British Council, Sofia.

Finding a Third Place

The future teachers of English, who are themselves learners of the foreign language, encounter the culture of the language they are going to learn and teach as foreign. However, being influenced by their native culture, which has shaped their standards for perceiving and evaluating reality, the teachers’ perception of the foreign culture has only indirectly to do with the foreign culture reality because it is “partial and filtered through the way they see themselves”/Kramsch 1993:209/. Aiming to interpret “otherness” the student teachers have to find another, third place from where they will be able to “look at both [cultures]”/ Kramsch 1993:223/ – a third place that will serve as a bridge between cultures and that will enable them to see the world from the point of view of the representatives of the target culture. Yet, the finding of this third place will be possible only when the student teachers learn how to approach culture. They should be given the chance to exploit different materials, to devise lesson plans and imagine what these lessons will be like through the eyes of their students. Or said in other words – these future language teachers have to be guided to explore the foreign culture and to be stimulated to investigate “otherness” which will enable them to see themselves as “mediators between two frameworks and the cultural practices which take place in them”/Byram 1997a: 61/. Furthermore, they will realize that they have to “teach culture as it is mediated through language, not as it is studied by social scientists and anthropologists”/Kramsch 1998:31/.
Unfortunately the training of foreign language teachers as teachers of culture is underestimated in our Bulgarian universities and the future teachers don’t fully understand their role as teachers for intercultural communication. In the next section I attempt to outline some of the challenges for intercultural teacher training.

Growing Demands for Culture and Language Education

The introduction of a subject as Teaching Cultural Studies in the curriculum of the students of English Philology in three Bulgarian universities /among which is the University of Veliko Turnovo/ is only one of the ways for the development of the intercultural sensitivity of students. In fact this subject enables future teachers of English not only to develop an understanding of the culture in question through the work with a variety of materials but makes it possible for them to get to know their native culture better. Moreover, being aware of their own and the foreign culture, they will be able to develop such awareness in their students.
Among the arguments for the necessity of intercultural training of future teachers of English, is the fact that culture education is making its way into Bulgarian schools. The design and the usage in the English lessons in Bulgarian schools of the Branching Out: A Cultural Studies Syllabus /designed and written by 60 Bulgarian teachers of English at English Medium schools all over Bulgaria, a publication managed and supported by the British Council – in Reid – Thomas, Pulverness and Davcheva 1998/ is only one of the challenges for intercultural teacher training for future teachers of English who will be able to use it effectively in the classroom and who will be able themselves to search for materials and design lessons with which they will teach culture.
The introduction of British Cultural Studies and Cultural Studies courses in the curriculum of English philology higher education although “knowledge oriented and strictly theoretical in nature” /Netnews – the Newsletter of the Cultural Studies Network in Bulgaria, Feb.2000, issue 8,p.13/ offer the students an insight into the problems of cultural studies and introduce them to the foreign cultural practices, ways of thinking and evaluating the world. Therefore, Cultural Studies can serve as a stimulus for the future teachers to start developing their own attitude towards the teaching of culture and be a prerequisite for the development of the intercultural training of the future teachers. Moreover, the interest in culture teaching, which is represented by numerous events, both international and national, by many publications on the topic, is another factor influencing the necessity for such type of training.
All these arguments make me claim that the future teachers of English have to be able to answer the demands for culture teaching in the foreign language classroom.
Aiming to develop further the idea of integrating language and culture education, I have directed my attention to only one of the many aspects of culture nowadays – advertising – because it offers great opportunity for research in terms of multiplicity of cultural representations and of ways for their implication in the teaching of culture.

Advertising – an Approach to the Teaching of Culture

The potential of exploring advertising material and adapting it for use in the foreign language classroom is infinite and depends entirely on the choice and academic pursuits of the teacher. Moreover,  ads pervade all sorts of media and it is easy to provide plenty of them to illustrate the lesson and at the same time they present a cultural phenomenon students are familiar with since adverts are among the most important cultural factors “moulding and reflecting our life today”/Edginton and Montgomery 1996:81/.
But what makes ads a really thrilling and motivating material for usage in the foreign language classroom is the fact that advertising belongs to the collective forces that shape and construct one’s personal identity and that imposes on consumers styles for dressing, image and appearance. Having in mind that foreign language learners are young people and thus young consumers who are “more adept at and more willing than adults, to experiment with their identities, no matter what boundaries /whether they be class, gender or race/ of identity, may appear to constrain them” /Journal of Youth Studies, Vol.1, No1, 1998, p.83/, students will willingly explore not only the language of advertising but also the relationship between consumption and the framing of young peoples’ identity in both cultures.

Advertisements and Independent Learning

However, ads will serve not only the purposes of teaching and acquiring intercultural competence in the foreign language classroom but will provide the basis for independent learning, which according to Michael Byram is a consequence of previous training that allows the foreign language learners to “continue to reflect upon as well as develop their knowledge, skills and attitude”/Byram 1997b: 69/. This suggests that cultural learning will take place outside the classroom rather than inside once the learners have acquired “explicitly the underlying principles of the skills and knowledge they are taught, and the means of generalizing them to new experience” /Byram 1997b: 69/. And since we encounter ads in our everyday life, they are one of the perfect ways to provide independent learning. This point raises important questions about approaches to teaching and assessing intercultural competence because it is no longer relevant to ask the question of where the learning has taken place but what kind of learning has been taught and acquired. So, it comes clear that ads are not only challenging as material to work with in the foreign language classroom, but also as a way of planning the curriculum for teaching and assessing intercultural competence.

The Exploration of Cultural Representations in Ads – a Way of Getting to Know Otherness

Led by the ambition to reveal the multiplicity of cultural representations in ads, I directed my attention to the exploration of gender subjectivities and teenage girls’ sexuality presented on the pages of British and Bulgarian magazines for teenage girls and women. To analyse and interpret the body of advertisements and the various cultural meanings that they convey I made use of both cultural observation and the means of textual and non – textual analysis alongside with some theories of representation.
The exploration of the two frames for the construction of teenage girls’ identity provides and idea of the different perspectives of creating images in the two cultures and of the difference in their meaning and significance. Moreover, the study of the meanings and messages communicated through body gestures, eye contact and relationship among human actors in ads illustrates the difference in the socially learned and conventionalized cultural codes and the difference in the production of images in cultures.
Focusing attention on such phenomena as “multi – ethnicity” in advertising and the publication of foreign ads in Bulgarian magazines allowed me to provide the image of young people as tolerant to and receptive of culture and ethnic diversity, as people who are aware of the processes of globalization of culture and cross – cultural exchange. Besides, the actual teaching of the sample of lessons that I had designed outlined clearly that our Bulgarian students are open minded, eager and willing to learn more about the foreign culture. This again poses the question of the need to develop consistent classroom methodology for intercultural competence.

The Impact of the Studying of Ads on Students

The action research of the impact of this approach to the study of culture on students clearly proved that the introduction of cultural learning in the foreign language lessons “double[s] the usefulness of the lesson, not only in adding another dimension, but also in making the lesson more interesting and therefore more easier to learn”/Valdes 1990:21/.
The three lessons that I prepared have one and the same theme, i.e. Cultural representations in advertising. Although their topic is the same, the lessons approach cultural representations from a different perspective. The first lesson is structured around the exploration of the language of advertising and the layout of ads as conveyors of cultural representations. The second lesson focuses on the effects of colours in advertising and the third is based on the comparison of cultural representations in adverts for cosmetics and for drinks excerpted from British and Bulgarian teenage magazines.
Due to the fact that the lessons are designed to be taught in series they have a different degree of exploration of culture differences and similarities. Therefore, their aims, objectives and skills are nearly the same. They aim to raise students’ awareness of cultural differences and similarities, to familiarize them with the language of advertising and to develop students’ understanding of how ads are constructed and how cultural representations are incorporated in them. The lessons also encourage students to develop skills for cultural observation and analysis: comparing and contrasting, decoding images and meanings, recognizing and interpreting culture – specific representations and developing tolerance. Besides the above – mentioned skills I expected to practice learners’ skills to express opinions and to work cooperatively.
What is essential to add is that the lessons aim to show students the “multi – perspectivity” of culture, and respectively of advertising, and to give learners the opportunity to take the leading role in the learning process by expressing opinions, taking part in discussions and developing interest and curiosity in the foreign culture.

Feedback from Students

The evaluation techniques that were used were mind maps /at the beginning of the first lesson/ and questionnaires. What is important to note is that students were not conscious of the idea that advertising conveys culture specific representations, values and meanings at the beginning of the first lesson. But that was not surprising because learners have to be introduced to the foreign culture, they have to be sensitized to the nature of different cultures and to be provided with the means to interpret cultures and to communicate successfully across cultures. Actually the evaluation of the students’ answers shows that the lessons have made students realize that the exploration of cultural issues in the foreign language classroom can facilitate both understanding of otherness and of one’s own culture.
The results of the research suggest that that the training of teachers as teachers for language and culture should continue. Being themselves cognizant of the cultural nature of language teaching they will be able to develop students’ consciousness of their own cultural practices and to guide them through the meanings of the cultural practices that take place within the foreign framework. Seeing themselves as intercultural speakers, the foreign language teachers will be able to develop such consciousness in their students.


This paper is based on the belief that it proves the benefit of the integration of the teaching of language and culture. Presenting the exploration of advertising for pedagogical purposes it attempts to serve as a stimulus and generator of novel and innovative approaches to language and culture education and indicates the demands that contemporary education puts on teachers enabling them to become “classroom researchers and intercultural material designers” /Culture and Language Education Symposium, Feb. 2000, The British Council, Sofia/


Byram, M. /1997a/, “Cultural Studies and Foreign Language Teaching”, in Basnett, S.,  Studying British Cultures, An Introduction, Routledge, /1997/, Ch. 4
Byram, M. /1997b/, Teaching and Assessing Intercultural Communicative Competence, Clevendon: Multilingual Matters
Culture and Language Education Symposium, Feb. 2000, The British Council, Sofia
Edginton, B. and Montgomery, M. /1996/, The Media, The British Council
Kramsch, C. /1993/, Context and Culture in Language Teaching, Oxford University Press
Kramsch, C. /1998 /, “The Privilege of the Intercultural Speaker”, in Byram, M. and Fleming, M. /1998/, Language Learning in Intercultural Perspective, Cambridge University Press, Ch.1
Netnews – The Newsletter of the Cultural Studies Network in Bulgaria, Feb. 2000, issue 8
Reid – Thomas, H., Pulverness, A.  and Davcheva, L.  /1998/, “Working Towards a Syllabus for Cultural Studies”, in Teaching Towards Intercultural Competence – Conference Proceedings, ed. by Ruth Cherrington and Leah Davcheva, The British Council, Bulgaria, publ. by Tilia, 1998, pp. 123 – 136
Miles, S., Cliff, D. and Burr, V., “ ’Fitting in and Sticking Out’: Consumption, Consumer Meanings and the Construction of Young People’s Identities”, Journal of Youth Studies, Vol.1, No 1, 1998,  pp. 1 – 97
Valdes, J. /1990/, “The Inevitability of Teaching and Learning Culture in a Foreign Language Course”, in Harrison, B. /ed./, /1990/, Culture and the Language Classroom, ELT Documents: 132, Modern English Publications and The British Council, 1990, pp. 20 – 30

Stara Zagora Plenary

Van Lier’s definition, with its extensive social, cultural and political implications, seems to relate to a far broader educational constituency than is typically addressed by the literature concerned with English Language Teaching.
Within the ELT community, the term ‘language awareness’ has largely been adopted to denote the linguistic knowledge that it is believed should form the essential core of the foreign language teacher’s professional expertise.

Written by: Alan Pulverness

Language awareness can be defined as an understanding of the human faculty of language and its role in thinking, learning and social life. It includes an awareness of power and control through language, and of the intricate relationships between language and culture.
Leo van Lier, Introducing Language Awareness (1995)

Van Lier’s definition, with its extensive social, cultural and political implications, seems to relate to a far broader educational constituency than is typically addressed by the literature concerned with English Language Teaching. Within the ELT community, the term ‘language awareness’ has largely been adopted to denote the linguistic knowledge that it is believed should form the essential core of the foreign language teacher’s professional expertise. The timetables of Cambridge/RSA TEFL certificate and diploma courses (the ‘CELTA’ and the ‘DELTA’) routinely feature slots labelled ‘LA’, although the approach taken in these LA sessions tend to suggest that the ‘A’ should stand for ‘analysis’ rather than ‘awareness’. In EFL teacher training, language awareness has become a very loosely defined label used to refer to the explicit structural and functional knowledge that underpins effective language teaching. Indeed, ‘language knowledge’ might be a more appropriate term to describe the language study component of most EFL teacher training, devoted as it is to learning about the forms and the systems of the language. Interestingly, the idea of developing awareness seems to be restricted to what takes place within the teacher, and often does not extend to any growth of awareness within learners, who tend to be assessed strictly in terms of their ability to use language accurately and appropriately. It might, of course, be argued that such ability proceeds from awareness, but this would ignore the question of what kind of awareness we believe that learners – and their teachers – should have about language.
Closer perhaps to van Lier’s definition is the tradition of ‘language awareness’ that exists within British state school education. Prompted by government dissatisfaction in the early 1980s with the teaching of English and foreign languages, and chiefly associated with the work of Eric Hawkins, the concept of language awareness went beyond the conventional first and foreign language curriculum, promoting greater understanding by learners of the social nature of language in general. The move towards this broader sense of language awareness extended to consideration of language across the curriculum and involved collaborations between teachers of English (as both a first and a foreign language) and teachers of other languages.
In Awareness of Language, published in 1987, Hawkins outlines a curriculum in which students would learn about basic aspects of sociolinguistics, such as language variation and language change. They would practise general language awareness skills, for example, identifying patterns in language or listening for specific language features. It was felt that the general appreciation of what language is and how it works, would equip students with fundamental understandings that would enhance their ability to learn both their own and other languages. Underlying this approach there is also a benign political agenda: awareness of language – and indeed awareness of languages – should deflect any tendency towards linguistic prejudice, and should lead teachers and learners to view the presence of other languages in multi-ethnic schools as a valuable resource rather than a pedagogic obstacle. Students would be encouraged to exchange explicit aspects of their knowledge of their own language with fellow-students from different ethnic and linguistic backgrounds, to their mutual benefit. It should also be noted that this process of sensitisation to the nature and function of language was intended to begin at primary level, and Hawkins and his colleagues produced a series of textbooks for this purpose.
‘Knowledge About Language’ – or KAL – was a controversial element of the recommendations made in reports by The National Curriculum English Working Party in the late 1980s. KAL was intended to introduce students at secondary level in England and Wales to topics such as: differences between spoken and written English; literary language; language change; accents, dialects and standard Englishes; registers and varieties of English. The reports were widely misunderstood and created one of the moral panics about falling standards in education that seize the British at regular intervals. From Prince Charles to the editor of The Sun, leading public figures expressed their antagonism to a version of language awareness that relativised traditional notions of absolute standards of correctness, and suggested a degree of legitimacy for non-standard varieties of English. The then Conservative government subsequently modified the Working Party’s recommendations, replacing the focus on learning about language as social practice with an emphasis on a more traditional kind of knowledge about language, concerned with parts of speech, sentence grammar, correct spelling and punctuation. As the present New Labour Secretary of State for Education has followed much of the philosophy and practice of his predecessors, KAL and language awareness in Hawkins’ sense have remained marginalised.
Critical Language Awareness – CLA – can be seen as a reaction against the tendency to treat language, particularly in foreign language teaching, as a neutral and value-free code. CLA aims precisely to do what van Lier talks about – to raise students’ “awareness of power and control through language, and of the intricate relationships between language and culture”. Critical linguistics proceeds from the belief that language is always value-laden and that texts are never neutral. Language in the world is commonly used to exercise ‘power and control’, to reinforce dominant ideologies, to evade responsibility, to manufacture consensus. The most blatant examples occur (as we have seen all too clearly in recent years) during times of national or international conflict: if as the widely quoted maxim goes, “truth is the first casualty of war”, then language is all too often the second casualty. As readers in the real world – i.e. the world outside the classroom – we should always be on our guard, ‘suspicious’ of texts and prepared to challenge or interrogate them. However, in the foreign language classroom, texts are routinely treated as unproblematic, as if their implicit authority need never be questioned. Their single function is to provide a contextual backdrop for the presentation of language, and consequently, they tend at best to be comfortably bland. Foreign language learners, who may be quite critical readers in their mother tongues, are textually infantilised by the vast majority of EFL coursebooks and the classroom approaches that proceed from these books.
A CLA approach implies what Catherine Wallace calls “a methodology for interpreting texts which addresses ideological assumptions as well as propositional meaning”, which would require students to develop sociolinguistic and ethnographic research skills, in order to become proficient at observing, analysing and evaluating language use in the world around them. It would lead them to ask and answer crucial questions about a text: Who produced it? Who was it produced for? In what context was it published? It would encourage them to notice features such as lexical choice, passivisation or foregrounding that reveal both the position of the writer and the way in which the reader is ‘positioned’ by the text. It would offer them opportunities to intervene creatively in texts, to modify them or to produce their own ‘counter-texts’ in ways proposed in the work of Clare Kramsch and Rob Pope. It would empower students to become active participants in the negotiation of meaning, rather than passive recipients of ‘authoritative’ texts. In short, it would transform language training into language education.
I looked at a few representative examples of different text-types (Robin Cook’s “chicken tikka” speech, a Daily Mail report of a postal workers’ strike action and a magazine advertisement for fitted kitchens) to see how they were loaded with ideological assumptions and how they were constructed so as to influence their intended readership for political or social or commercial purposes. I proposed that our notion of what constitutes ‘reading skills’ needs to be expanded to take account of the skills of critical thinking and interpretation that form an inevitable part of our daily response to texts, but are usually elided in the foreign language classroom.
What I tried to suggest in this talk is that, unless they are purely functional, as in the case, say, of an instruction leaflet, texts are inevitably ‘loaded’ in some way. They are rarely, if ever, as neutral as they are made to appear in ELT textbooks. There are always questions to be asked, about authorship, about readership, about lexical choices and about textual organisation. Students can be encouraged to ask – and answer – these questions; they can be invited to ‘disturb’ or ‘intervene’ in the texts, as they often do in literature classes when they are asked to provide alternative titles or alternative endings, or to re-tell a story from a different point of view. Texts should not be regarded as sacrosanct – the key to critical language awareness is a healthy disrespect for the text.

Caring, sharing & despairing: a critical appraisal of humanistic language teaching approaches & techniques

Desmond Thomas, British Council Bulgaria & Svetla Tashevska, NBU [toc class=”toc-right”]
Do you believe that an English language teacher’s job is to teach the subject – nothing more, nothing less? Or do you believe that language classes should focus on the development of the whole individual, or even that teachers are ‘facilitators of freedom’ (to quote Carl Rogers), with a duty to empower their learners and to prepare them psychologically for coping with life?
If you have some sympathy with the idea of the teacher doing more than imparting knowledge in a given subject area, you may well feel attracted to some of the ideas associated with a humanistic approach to language teaching. According to Moskovitz (1978), humanism promotes the following values in education:

  • The importance of providing a supportive environment that encourages learning
  • The idea that personal growth as well as cognitive growth is the school’s responsibility
  • The importance of affective factors such as motivation and self-esteem
  • The idea that the best kind of learning is through self-discovery
  • The idea that human beings really do want to actualize their potential (cf McGregor’s Theory Y)
  • The importance of healthy relationships within the class emphasizing respect and empathy

Within this approach the teacher is expected to play the following kind of role:

  • (S)he is interested in the students as people and not just in the subject
  • (S)he is flexible and tolerant
  • (S)he is positive and encouraging, constantly trying to build students’ self-confidence
  • (S)he is a guide and counsellor, not just for language-learning, but for life
  • (S)he is a partner “caring and sharing” in classwork

Most of these ideas seem attractive in principle but how do they work in practice? For me, this is where the problems start. Here are three activities devised by Moskovitz herself in which there is a clear affective aim as well as (supposedly) a linguistic aim. The first is one which I experienced myself on a teacher training course. The second is recommended by Moskovitz as a good way to raise self-esteem in a recent article (Moskovitz 1999). The third, also highlighted in the same article, aims to promote individuality and a realization of the importance of differences.

Activity 1: Ex.24 I like you because … p.79

Affective:        To have students give and receive positive feedback
aims                 To look for good in others
Ling. aims:      To practise adjectives describing positive qualities
Levels:             Intermediate to advanced
Procedure:       Make an inner and outer circle (the dyadic belt formation).
Tell the person you are facing what you like about him/her.
Move round one. Repeat.

Activity 2: Ex.30 How strong I am ….. p.87

Affective:        To have students assess their own strengths and share these
aims                 To have students give one another positive feedback
Linguistic:       To practise adjectives describing positive qualities
aims                 To practise first person/second person singular in the present tense
Levels:             All levels

  1. Divide into groups. 5/6 people is ideal for each group.
  2. “We all have many strengths. Some of them we are aware of. Other people may see strengths in us that we do not realize we have.”
  3. Take a piece of paper and write down the names of everyone in the group. Below the names, write two of the strengths you see in each one in your group. Then write your own name and list as many of your strengths as you can think of. (5 minutes)
  4. Each group should focus on one person at a time. The person will begin by telling all the strengths she has written about herself. Then others in the group will share what strengths they see in the focus person. The student on her right writes them down. When everyone is finished, give the list of strengths to the owner to keep.
  5. Did anyone say something that surprised you? Which strength that others saw meant the most to you? What reactions do you have to this activity? What did you learn from it?

Activity 3:        Ex. 34 I like you – you’re different

Affective:        To encourage students to feel proud of their differences rather than feeling the aims                      need to be conformists
To encourage an open attitude toward others and their differences
Linguistic:       To practise the present tense
aims                 To practise the present perfect
To practise the past tense(s)
Levels:             All levels

  1. Explain to students that sometimes people want to be like everyone else and are concerned about differences, yet these are the tings that make us unique. For homework they should write on a card three things they feel good about that make them different from everyone else in the class. They should sign their names on the cards, which should look identical. Example: (a) I was on a national quiz show once and won two prizes, (b) I took lessons on three musical instruments, (c) I wrote a poem which was published in a school newspaper.
  2. Read each card aloud, one at a time. Students should guess who the card refers to. After the class votes on the three choices, ask the mystery person to stand to reveal to the class who was being described. The class then asks this student a few questions related to the card.
  3. Repeat the process. Don’t forget to include a card for yourself. There are many possible ways to follow up this activity.

The three activities described above are typical of Moskovitz’s “caring and sharing” activities and have not been chosen because they are extreme examples or more problematic than others. And yet a whole series of problem areas suggest themselves. Here is my list:

  • Regimentation, manipulation, lack of respect for individuals and their wishes. As a participant, I feel that there is an element of coercion in such activities, with everyone being forced to express themselves and behave in the same way – almost as if the class were being conducted in lockstep. As in lockstep, participants can easily switch off in the feedback stage. Interestingly, in instructions for the first activity Moskovitz talks about using a PA system, thus increasing the impersonality of the performance.
  • Cultural sensitivity … is it really OK to announce in public your private feelings about someone in class? Is it acceptable to announce your strengths? In Bulgaria? Elsewhere? Activities considered acceptable in North America or the UK may prove highly problematic where cultural norms are different. It is worrying that in her work Moskovitz does not really mention differences in perception caused by cultural influences, even stating that “(these techniques) transcend cultures and work with all kinds of people”.
  • Respect for the feelings of others. By singling out and exposing in public those who are liked, those who are successful, those who have interesting lives, how do others feel? In the third activity Moskovitz’s examples from her own experience could conceivably intimidate students who haven’t appeared on TV or had their work published. Is there a danger that students will be exposed as failures when compared to their classmates?
  • Artificiality ….. forcing individuals to behave in a false manner (my own case when participating in activity 1 where I was forced to lie when faced with a person I genuinely disliked). Moskovitz’s activities assume a world where everything is positive all the time.
  • Triviality… things such as personal relationships are too important to be treated in such a superficial manner. Activity 3, for example, deals with the issue of tolerance of diversity in a very superficial way.
  • Linguistic aims seem to be added as an afterthought – no real linguistic syllabus. Are the aims of any of the activities really clear? Even Rinvolucri (1999), quoting Dufeu (1994) recognizes that this can be a problem. At best we are distracting students from their main aim in coming to our classes – at worst we are neglecting to do our job.
  • Insensitivity to student expectations. Are these activities really what they want?

What conclusions can be drawn from this list based on a preliminary analysis of a small selection of activities from one author? Firstly that, while the values of HLT may be worth striving for, the means of achieving them can sometimes result in students becoming demotivated and disoriented. Too much emphasis on developing the inner self can lead to a perceived lack of direction and leadership in the classroom. Gadd (1998) quoting Stevick, (who is himself a strong advocate of HLT), has this to say:
Stevick (1980) is careful to show the deficiencies of humanistic approaches taken too far. He points out that students come to language classes rightly expecting well-structured classes and expertise from the teacher ….. Likewise, Stevick is aware that too much focus on the students’ own experiences and inner selves is unhelpful ……. He also comments, in a point one feels could be developed much further, that humanistic approaches can simply become an excuse for the teacher to dazzle students and colleagues with their educational originality and virtuosity: the teacher becomes the star of the classroom, while the students’ needs are secondary to the maintenance of the performer’s ego and his or her need to be loved.
Gadd draws a distinction between pragmatic and romantic humanism, placing Stevick in the pragmatic category. Romantic humanism, on the other hand, believes that the primary task of the English teacher is to develop the students’ inner selves, and that therefore the greater part of the work done in the classroom should be devoted to the students’ feelings, experiences and ideas.
I have chosen two examples of ‘romantic humanist’ activities, which seem to me to illustrate some of the pitfalls already discussed. The first is deliberately highlighted as an example of good practice by Rinvolucri (1999) in an article on HLT. The second is an account of a personal experience as a participant in a conference activity.

Activity 4: Puchta’s rope-trick (Puchta & Schratz 1993:42-45)

Aim: to introduce a reading passage about fans crushed at a pop concert
“The teacher laid a circle of rope (7 metres long) down on the floor in the centre of the classroom. He asked all 27 students to step inside it. As the teacher pulled the rope in tighter, a couple of students, without being asked, helped the teacher raise the rope so that it encircled the whole group at waist level. These were the instructions he gave: Would you close your eyes now, please? Whatever you feel or notice, don’t open your eyes. Just concentrate on your feelings.
Gradually the teacher drew the rope in so that all were tightly pressed together.
During the next stage of the activity the students filled the board with words that described their feelings. This dialogue then ensued:

Teacher: What about lovely? Who wrote that?
Student 1: I had a lovely feeling when we were all so ….
Teacher: …. together, you mean?
Student 1: Yes
Teacher: Interesting. So you did not mind that. Did you all have positive feelings?
Students (some hesitating) Yes.”
(extract from Rinvolucri 1999)

Activity 5: Bell-ringing (Della Fish)

An activity organized by Della Fish, author of “Quality Mentoring for Student Teachers” (1995, London: David Fulton) at a recent teacher mentoring conference in Cluj, Romania.
On the first night of the conference, after a welcome buffet reception , at about 9.30 pm (slightly later than originally planned), Dr.Fish stood up and addressed the assembled group of about 150 people. The activity which she described was as follows. Everyone would be assigned a group through colour-coded, different shape stickers. Each group would consist of 4 members whose task it was to organize a kind of “bell-ringing exercise”. Within the groups each individual would choose his/her own sound (eg baa, moo, pip, doh). The sounds had to be uttered in a complex sequence with accompanying movements as the “bell-ringing line” changed in formation. The trick was to work out a strategy within the group so that the correct sequences could be memorized and then performed on request. The aim of the activity was deliberately made unclear, initially. A team of facilitators was on hand to make sure that each group understood the task and did not deviate from it.
In my group of four we had a number of problems to overcome. It was late and we were tired after travelling all day. We didn’t know each other and wanted to begin our relationship in a more conventional way. We didn’t really see the point of what we were doing. We felt compelled to participate in a scheduled conference activity but our hearts (and minds) were not really in it. We found the activity trivial and irritating. It struck us as insensitive that the organizer might not have anticipated some of our problems. We didn’t have much time even to think about what we were supposed to be doing. An argument developed between two group members who thought the activity pointless and two who reluctantly wanted to make an attempt. In the end we just ran out of time.
The large gathering reconvened and after one group had performed, Dr.Fish drew conclusions for teaching and for teacher mentoring. These concerned the importance of team effort and collaboration in learning a new skill. Meanwhile, I was drawing my own conclusions about teaching and facilitating the development of new skills. Not for the first time I wondered what it was really like to be a learner when the teacher adopts the facilitator role.


Arnold,J.(ed.),1999, Affect in Language Learning, Cambridge: CUP
Dufeu, B., 1994, Teaching Myself, Oxford: OUP
Gadd, N. ,1998, Towards less humanistic language teaching, ELTJ 52/3 pp.223-234
Moskovitz,G., 1978, Caring & sharing in the foreign language classroom, Heinle & Heinle
Moskovitz, G. Enhancing personal development in Arnold,J. (ed.) 1999: 177-193
Puchta,H & Schratz, M., 1993, Teaching Teenagers, Longman
Rinvolucri, M. The humanistic exercise in Arnold,J. (ed.) 1999: 194-210
Rogers,C.& Freiberg, H.,1994, Freedom to Learn, New York:Merrill
Stevick, E., 1980, Teaching Languages: A Way & Ways, Newbury House
Underhill,A. Facilitation in language teaching in Arnold,J. (ed.), 1999: 125-141,

Humanistic activities for the language classroom ????? DThomas 09/00

Activity 1:        Ex.24 I like you because … p.79 (Moskovitz 1978)

Affective:        To have students give and receive positive feedback
aims                 To look for good in others
Linguistic:       To practise adjectives describing positive qualities
Levels:             Intermediate to advanced
Procedure:       Make an inner and outer circle (the dyadic belt formation).
Tell the person you are facing what you like about him/her.
Move round one. Repeat.

Activity 2: Ex.30 How strong I am ….. p.87 (Moskovitz 1978)

Affective:        To have students assess their own strengths and share these
aims                 To have students give one another positive feedback
Linguistic:       To practise adjectives describing positive qualities
aims                 To practise first person/second person singular in the present tense
Levels:             All levels

  1. Divide into groups. 5/6 people is ideal for each group.
  2. “We all have many strengths. Some of them we are aware of. Other people may see strengths in us that we do not realize we have.”
  3. Take a piece of paper and write down the names of everyone in the group. Below the names, write two of the strengths you see in each one in your group. Then write your own name and list as many of your strengths as you can think of. (5 minutes)
  4. Each group should focus on one person at a time. The person will begin by telling all the strengths she has written about herself. Then others in the group will share what strengths they see in the focus person. The student on her right writes them down. When everyone is finished, give the list of strengths to the owner to keep.
  5. Did anyone say something that surprised you? Which strength that others saw meant the most to you? What reactions do you have to this activity? What did you learn from it?

Activity 3:        Ex. 34 I like you – you’re different (Moskovitz 1978)

Affective:        To encourage students to feel proud of their differences rather than feeling the aims                      need to be conformists
To encourage an open attitude toward others and their differences
Linguistic:       To practise the present tense
aims                 To practise the present perfect
To practise the past tense(s)
Levels:             All levels

  1. Explain to students that sometimes people want to be like everyone else and are concerned about differences, yet these are the tings that make us unique. For homework they should write on a card three things they feel good about that make them different from everyone else in the class. They should sign their names on the cards, which should look identical. Example: (a) I was on a national quiz show once and won two prizes, (b) I took lessons on three musical instruments, (c) I wrote a poem which was published in a school newspaper.
  2. Read each card aloud, one at a time. Students should guess who the card refers to. After the class votes on the three choices, ask the mystery person to stand to reveal to the class who was being described. The class then asks this student a few questions related to the card.
  3. Repeat the process. Don’t forget to include a card for yourself. There are many possible ways to follow up this activity.

Activity 4: Puchta’s rope-trick (Puchta & Schratz 1993:42-45)

Aim: to introduce a reading passage about fans crushed at a pop concert
“The teacher laid a circle of rope (7 metres long) down on the floor in the centre of the classroom. He asked all 27 students to step inside it. As the teacher pulled the rope in tighter, a couple of students, without being asked, helped the teacher raise the rope so that it encircled the whole group at waist level. These were the instructions he gave: Would you close your eyes now, please? Whatever you feel or notice, don’t open your eyes. Just concentrate on your feelings.
Gradually the teacher drew the rope in so that all were tightly pressed together.
During the next stage of the activity the students filled the board with words that described their feelings. This dialogue then ensued:

Teacher: What about lovely? Who wrote that?
Student 1: I had a lovely feeling when we were all so ….
Teacher: …. together, you mean?


  • supportive environment for learning
  • personal growth as well as cognitive growth
  • affective factors such as motivation and self-esteem
  • learning is through self-discovery
  • realization of human potential
  • healthy relationships within the class
  • respect and empathy


  • interested in the students as people
  • flexible and tolerant
  • positive and encouraging
  • guide and counsellor for life
  • a partner “caring and sharing”


  • Regimentation, manipulation, coercion
  • Lack of cultural sensitivity
  • Lack of respect for feelings/wishes of others
  • Insensitivity to student expectations
  • Artificiality
  • Trivialization
  • Unclear linguistic aims
  • Intolerance of dissent

Comment sheet on humanistic language teaching techniques & activities

  1. Do you have any comments on the specific activities highlighted in this presentation?
  2. What has been your own experience of HLT, either positive or negative?