April 2019
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Jane Petring, Eric H. Roth, Negin H Goodrich, Mauricio Arango, Jane Hoelker


Jane Petring, MWIS 2017-2018 Chair, Moshi, Tanzania. U.S. State Department Fellow at the College of African Wildlife Management

For the InterSection Panel at the TESOL 2018 International Convention, the Materials Writers Interest Section (MWIS) teamed up with the EFL and Intercultural Communication Interest Sections to explore how content and culture are presented in EFL courses around the world and whether the focus tends to be on the culture of the target language or the local environment. Four speakers shared their experience in Japan and Vietnam, Colombia, Iran, and China to present a fascinating portrait of diverse approaches.

Eric H. Roth: Cultural Challenges and "Good Mistakes" in Creating Intercultural EFL Materials for Japanese and Vietnamese ELLs

"Publishers obviously aim to produce excellent books which will satisfy the needs of their users but their need to maximize profits makes them cautious and conservative and any compromise with the authors tends to still be biased towards the perceived market needs rather than the actual needs and wants of the learners." (Tomlinson, 2014)

Eric Roth spoke of the default dependencies of using textbooks published in London or New York and said that creating localized intercultural materials remains an alternative to one size fits almost all global textbooks. Using personal experiences and 2018 online TEFL survey results, this presentation examined some barriers to implementing intercultural materials in Vietnam and Japan. Some good mistakes in coauthoring books for English language learners (ELLs) in both countries were also reviewed.

As in most industries, the largest customers in ELT have the loudest voices. China, home to an estimated 1.4 billion citizens, remains a very attractive, lucrative market. However, the Chinese government as well as the government of Saudi Arabia and other restrictive countries ban a number of topics. PARSNIP is the acronym often used to describe seven taboo topics: politics, alcohol, religion, sexuality, nudity, isms, and pork. Consequently, many major EFL publishers have chosen to create EFL textbooks stripped of any controversial topic. The result is sanitized EFL textbooks used by ELLs across the globe that promote passive skills, demotivate students, and discourage creative inquiry. Neglecting local national cultures is, unfortunately, the status quo in far too many EFL and ESL classrooms.

Two online TEFL surveys were created to collect and analyze data from English teachers in Vietnam and Japan to learn about the teachers' background, their perspectives on local student needs, their frustrations and pleasures in teaching in their respective country, and their thoughts on creating and using supplemental materials and speaking activities in class. Results showed that teachers perceived considerable gaps between English textbooks and the needs of EFL students, emphasizing the importance of motivation and the effects of its absence in many EFL classes in both countries. Respondents also noted the need to use specific cultural knowledge to effectively meet their students' needs.

Tentative conclusions included:

  • Considerable gaps still exist between EFL textbooks and the perceived needs of EFL teachers and English students.
  • Motivation matters for ELLs in Japan and Vietnam.
  • Teachers need to use background knowledge specific to their English students' needs.
  • EFL teachers often create intercultural, communicative, and pronunciation activities.

    It seems likely that the gap(s) can be used as an opportunity by small ELT publishers and/or entrepreneur teachers to create intercultural materials for EFL students in both Japan and Vietnam.

    Tomlinson, B. (Ed.). (2014). Developing materials for language teaching (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic.

    Negin H. Goodrich: Cultural Representations in Iranian EFL Textbooks

    Negin Goodrich shared her research on cultural representations in Iranian English textbooks. This investigation shows that texts mainly represent Iran and the Iranian-Islamic cultural components: most of the names, places, food, events, and traditions, within both texts and illustrations, reflect the Iranian-Islamic culture, whereas the English-speaking countries, especially the United States and United Kingdom, are not presented. In other words, the countries located in the inner circle of the World Englishes model (Kachru, 1992) are intentionally neglected in the Iranian English textbooks; however, only Iran and some of the non-English-speaking countries in the outer and expanding circles of World Englishes are represented.

    According to this study, there are ideological and political reasons behind this policy, which are rooted in the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The revolution affected all aspects of the Iranians' lives, including education and textbooks, and redefined the relations of Iran with the Western countries whose first language is English. The English language was considered the language of imperialism, and anything related to the Western culture had to be avoided, because it could be a threat to the Islamic Revolution's identity. During the postrevolution years, English textbooks were revised and redeveloped in the country to reflect the Islamic values and revolutionary ideas.

    The study findings show the differences between textbooks' localization and politization. It will help language textbook developers to be aware of the influence of politics and ideology on the quality of English textbooks and language learning. Results are also helpful in understanding the cultural issues of language learners and how to appropriately respond to them in and out of language classrooms.


    Kachru, B. (1992). World Englishes: Approaches, issues and resources. Language Teaching, 25, 1-14. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

    Mauricio Arango: EFL Content to Enrich Intercultural Awareness in Colombia

    Mauricio Arango shared insights about Colombia Bilingue, the current bilingual program in his country. Emphasis was on the suggested program textbooks and the way public school teachers are fostering learners' intercultural awareness by planning and delivering lessons as well as designing and implementing their own materials focused on the Colombia Bilingue four proposed themes: Democracy and Peace, Sustainability, Health, and Globalization.

    It is worth mentioning that those textbooks, workbooks, and audios are available online:

    Way to go! (6th-8th grades)

    English, please! (9th-11th grades)

    Additionally, Arango stressed the importance of going beyond the use of suggested materials and encouraging teachers to create and keep their own resources. Undoubtedly, among the multiple aspects to be considered, learning contexts are paramount to provide learners with cultural experiences through the use of classroom materials. While taking part in several socioacademic projects in Colombian provincial towns, he has provided teachers with ideas to promote cultural aspects by including, for example, their hometown touristic places, festivals, local food, and traditions as main topics in classroom materials. He showed some of those materials and explained how they were created and have been used in Colombian classrooms.

    Another point to consider when designing materials is that learners' linguistic level, large class size, or lack of resources should not be a limitation, and learners' involvement is definitely worthwhile. By drawing or taking the pictures for vocabulary and information gap activities or recording their voices to create listening comprehension exercises, learners become a fundamental part of our classroom materials development. Their support contributes positively in nurturing a more dynamic materials design process that along with the systematization of all resources created benefit the English language teaching and learning in both EFL and ESL contexts.

    Jane Hoelker: Materials Promote Ease in Speaking: English for Fun and Fluency

    Jane Hoelker shared materials developed by The English Department at Wenzhou-Kean University in China (an overseas campus of Kean University in New Jersey, USA) that incorporate aspects of Chinese and Western cultures to help students practice English for fun and fluency in the English Summer Immersion Program. The program draws on the theories of the direct method, the communicative language teaching method (CLT), and task-based learning (TBL) as it re-creates real-life social and functional situations in using English with peers, faculty, and staff. Guidelines from the two university partners suggested that the curriculum focus on five categories of activities.

    Facilitating the adjustment of the freshmen to an English-medium atmosphere, the initial steps in the program draw on the Chinese context. For instance, in the Celebrity Name Game, a student holds in his or her mind the name of a famous Chinese personality, like Fan Bing-Bing or Dehua Liu. The other students question the student about identifying qualities and then guess who it is.

    The second type of materials supported students as they worked with English language challenges such as vocabulary, fluency, and the present perfect tense (which does not exist in Chinese). For instance, in the activity The History of Sneakers, three students sit back to back so they cannot read each other's lips. Each of the three is missing 10 different words in a 120-word story. As each reads his or her version, the other two fill in the missing words.

    Next, students practice activities about school context language and situations, such as the New York Language School Role-Play. After setting up the schema with a photo and brainstorming examples of polite language, students sit in pairs. One student phones the school to inquire about directions to the school and completes a handout of a map upon receiving directions from the school official (the other student). Then, the partner, as the school official, asks questions to complete the student registration form on a handout.

    Fourth, activities from the arts free up creative expression, such as songs, short films on YouTube, drama, stories adapted from the classics, and a poetry salon. A song-cloze, "China on My Mind," is adapted from "Georgia on My Mind." Also, in small groups, students view short films on YouTube, like "The Most Beautiful Thing," about two ordinary high school students who overcome emotional or physical limitations and fall in love. The small group then retells the story to the class before watching the film together.

    The activity What I Like About You provides closure to the program. Students sit in a big circle and write their name at the top of a piece of paper. They pass the paper to the student on their right. Each student writes a sentence about one personal quality of the student whose name is at the top of the paperuntil every student has written a sentence about every student in the class. The students are then absorbed in reading the positive comments from their peers, generating a very positive atmosphere in the class.

     Jane Petring (Moderator)recently retired as a permanent faculty member at Cégep Édouard-Montpetit in Longueuil, Quebec where she was the 2017 laureate for the AQPC (Association Qubécoise de Pédagogie Collégiale) Teaching Award. She is now serving as a U.S. State Department Fellow in Moshi, Tanzania. She is a frequent presenter at TESOL and other conferences, the author of 12 ESL/EFL textbooks, and the 2017-2018 MWIS chair.

     Eric H. Roth teaches international graduate students the pleasures and perils of academic writing and public speaking in English at the University of Southern California. From 2015-2017, he served on the Fulbright National Selection Committee for the English Teacher Assistants (Southeast Asia). Roth has also coauthored the Compelling Conversations series.

     Negin H. Goodrich is a PhD candidate in second language studies at Purdue University. Her dissertation is about English in Iran, with focus on the cultural representations in Iranian English textbooks. She has a background in communication studies (ABD) and has been a journalist for more than 17 years in Iran.

     Mauricio Arango is an EFL teacher pursuing his Master's in English didactics at the University of Caldas in Manizales, Colombia. His teaching experience includes language centers, colleges and social-academic projects held in Colombian provincial towns. He has been a teacher trainer in the implementation of the English curriculum proposed by the Ministry of Education of Colombia through the current Colombian Bilingual Program.

     Jane Hoelker coordinated the summer Pre-University Intensive English Program (PIEP) and supervised its more than 600 freshmen, 40 Mentors, and 40 English instructors. She also coordinated the Curriculum Committee, which designed the PIEP Handbook of 60 hours of communicative and task-based activities. She is an English lecturer in the English Department of Wenzhou-Kean University in China. She wrote curriculum as a U.S. State Department specialist and English Language Fellow, and has taught in India, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Japan, Korea, Rwanda, and Mali. She has served on the TESOL Board of Directors, as chair of the EFLIS, and president of TESOL Arabia.

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