A Select Review of Some Popular ELT Coursebooks

23/08/2018 15:22


A Select Review of Some Popular ELT Coursebooks





With the development of English as an international language and the increase of migration, and multicultural societies, knowledge of intercultural norms and rules of appropriateness is essential in achieving effective communication. Textbook evaluation assesses how well course books put this theory into practice. Studying more complicated aspects of language, intermediate level students focus on functional, or communicative competence, and so students` success is dependent on books` fulfillment of these criteria. Nguyen’s (2011) evaluation of Vietnamese EFL textbooks, and Wong’s evaluation (2002) of 1990s textbooks employed conversation analysis (Bowles 2006), or authenticity of conversations (Wong 2002;Boxer 1993), while Eleni Petraki`s (Petraki and Bayes, 2013) evaluation of the course books Intermediate Matters (Bell & Gower 1991), Language in Use (Doff & Jones 1994), Landmark (Haines & Stewart 2000), New Headway (Soars & Soars 2009), and New Cutting Edge (New Cutting Edge) (Cunningham & Moor 2005), observed that conversation was request based, so successful course books inculcate the ability to negotiate as a basic five point criteria; to raise students’ cross-cultural awareness of requests; to expose students to different request forms - direct, conventionally indirect, and non-conventional indirect; to adequately explore the contextual factors that affect the degree of politeness; to emphasize second pair parts, that is, preferred and rejecting responses; and to expose students to multi-turn request forms, that is, pre-sequences and re- requests.


 The success of the lesson depends on these criteria being met by the course books. Quantitative analysis counts the number of request based tasks; for example, in Intermediate Matters from 9 types of request forms (direct and indirect), 5 are interactional in context, and 4 transactional, which an evaluator would perceive as `balanced`. In Eleni Petraki's (Petraki and Bayes, 2013) quantitative study, textbooks were found not to attend to contextual factors affecting the way requests are formulated, so there`s a lack of attention to rejecting responses, which is detrimental to authentic communication. In short, quantitative analysis is sufficient to make that deduction, whereas qualitative analysis is the perception that, although quantitative analysis suggests 5 interactional and 4 transactional request forms in task based exercises within Intermediate Matters is `balanced`, qualitatively that`s not established until students` results are examined.




 Criteria for evaluation is politeness derived, and relates to speech act theory (SAT); `speaking a language is performing speech acts, such as making statements, giving commands, asking questions, making promises, and so on` (Searle 1969: 16): as well as conversation analysis. Cultural appropriateness with regard to requests, request relationships, and other contextual factors explaining pre-sequences, and re-requests, are what course books need with regard to negotiative skills in order to provide adequate practice activities and lessons.


 Discourse analysis (DA), that is, analysis of written, vocal, sign language, and indeed any significant semiotic event, which helps to express the socio-psychological characteristics of individuals, is important in assisting learners in formulating speech acts to achieve successful real life communication (Bardovi-Harlig and Mahan-Taylor 2003; Kasper 1997; Nguyen 2011). Textbooks are inadequate insofar as they fail to present sufficient pragmatic information, and lack authentic dialogues resembling naturally occurring conversations (Bardovi-Harlig 2001;Boxer 1993; Bowles 2006; Nguyen 2011; Wong 2002). The pressure on teachers to improve their lessons on requests by using pragmatics research, and authentic examples as a guide, is doubtless incommensurate with the capacity of ordinary humanity. Nevertheless, the speech act of requests aim to get the hearer to do something for the speaker. Consequently, the teacher is beholden to employees and students alike; if they accept remuneration for employment.




 Only Intermediate Matters and New Cutting Edge explicitly instruct students to think about polite requests in their L1, although it`s important students recognize differences between requests in their L1 and the target language. The lack of cross-cultural awareness activities in Language in UseLandmark and New Headway is disadvantageous, because comparisons are useful in alerting non-native speakers (NNS) to impolite pragmatic transfer, and can help them avoid miscommunication (Cohen 1998; Blum-Kulka 1989; Nguyen 2011). With regard to direct request forms, Language in Use omits examples of direct requests, which can be formed differently, depending on whether the request is direct or indirect, and whether following conventional, or non-conventional patterns. Consequently, students using Language in Use may transfer the directness of their L1 to the target speech act, and can unintentionally be impolitely direct when requesting. Landmark and New Headway present a single example each of a direct request form, and in transactional contexts, which is unbalanced. Landmark`s is a conductor`s: `Tickets please` (Landmark 2000a: 143). In the activity, this direct request is not identified as such, so students may not notice how closely related orders and direct requests are, which may cause pragmatic transfer (impoliteness). New Headway`s is part of an exercise where students have to use correct intonation when matching a request with an answer, `Two large cokes, please.` (New Headway 2009:a 37) In both Landmark and New Headway, the lesson is incomplete, because they lack information about pragmatic transfer. In Intermediate Matters there are four examples of direct requests. The first two are identified as the least polite among six. The third is from a listening exercise, `I want to try on that black pair` (Intermediate Matters 1991: 81), which is an instance of a direct request form identified as `rude`, because of form and intonation. Intermediate Matters then has a fourth direct request, `Put the kettle on, please.` (politely) (Intermediate Matters 1991: 82), where tone is used to indicate degree of politeness. Using its examples, Intermediate Matters draws a connection between direct request forms, intonation and politeness, and identifies the direct request as a form that should be avoided unless the appropriate intonation and `please` is used.


 New Cutting Edge exemplifies direct requests as objectionable. Students receive dialogues, which are too direct, and should be more indirect. They`re instructed to, `Rewrite the dialogues to make them sound polite` (New Cutting Edge 2005: 73) However, New Cutting Edge doesn`t help students understand that elements of the request form, intonation and politeness, are interconnected to avoid impoliteness through pragmatic transfer. The commonest request form is the conventionally indirect (Blum-Kulka & House 1989). Course books present varieties, `Could/Can you ...?`, `Would you mind (if I) …?`, `I was wondering if you/I could ...?` and `Do you think you/I could (possibly) ...?` However, only Intermediate MattersLanguage in UseNew Headway and New Cutting Edge address differences in formality or politeness between conventionally indirect requests, which is only included in student activities from the teacher’s book, or supplementary grammar at the back of the students’ book. New Cutting Edge even tells teachers to tell students that `Would you be so kind as to...?` and `Do you think you could possibly...?` `are not used very often ... students may sound sarcastic or ridiculous to native speakers if they use them inappropriately` (New Cutting Edge 2005: 56). Landmark has no information about which conventionally indirect request forms are more polite or formal, which may result in students using overly polite, or formal conventionally indirect requests, which are inappropriate for the situation. The non-conventional hint is the most indirect and difficult request form (Weizman 1989). Only New Headway met the criterion of exposing students to a non-conventional indirect request form, which is but mentioned in the listening activity without special attention, A: `I don’t know what’s gone wrong with my computer. The screen is frozen again.` B: `I’ll try and fix it if you like. I’m quite good with computers.` (New Headway 2009a: 123). The absence of hints is troubling as they`re common with native speakers (NS), but present problems for NNS (Weizman 1989).


 Discourse Analysis (DA) shows contextual factors affecting the degree of politeness of a request. Nguyen argues that `learning speech acts without opportunities to uncover relevant contextual information, and differential operations of politeness in different cultures, would cause L2 learners considerable difficulty adjusting themselves to unpredictable intercultural interactions` (2011: 23). Only Intermediate Matters directly addresses the level of imposition of a request. In the students’ book, `when we think a request is difficult, unusual or inconvenient, it is often better to sound less confident and use a polite form` (Intermediate Matters 1991: 81). The inclusion of mitigating features by Intermediate Matters may result in students able to effectively acknowledge the degree of imposition. Language in Use and New Cutting Edge have notes in the teachers’ books instructing teachers to alert students to the connection between degree of formality and level of imposition. It`s `casual` when `the speaker is asking for something that is quite unimportant, and which is easy for the other person to do`, but `careful` if it`s `felt we were asking something difficult` (Language in Use 1994b: 32). Consequently, the teacher may convey how the level of imposition affects the degree of politeness in request form. Landmark and New Headway don`t address degree of imposition and affect on politeness. Requests involving a larger imposition deserve mitigation, and students may be reluctant to request that which involves larger impositions, because they can`t properly mitigate.


 A factor in the politeness of a request is transactional or interactional context. Transactional involves institutions, `transmission of information or the exchange of goods and services`. Interactional is language chosen to `shape and maintain social relations and identities` (Brown & Yule 1983: 2). Intermediate MattersLanguage in Use and New Headway present a balance. Positive and negative politeness strategies are clear determinants of request efficiency and are dependent on the context of the request (Brown & Levinson 1987). The course books don`t specifically address `positive and negative face`, but the inclusion of conventionally indirect request forms means students have requesting strategies that attend to `negative face`, even if they are not explicitly aware of `face issues`. LandmarkNew Headway and Language in Use neglect the issues of `relationship and face`, while New Cutting Edge and Intermediate Matters have left it entirely to the teacher, `Asking for money is potentially quite embarrassing even between friends, so this very polite language is appropriate` (New Cutting Edge 2005: 56).  


 Gumperz’s work (1997) demonstrates that even a slight deviation in intonation can threaten the face and relationship between participants by its perceived lack of politeness. Language in Use completely fails to note the importance of intonation on the degree of politeness. Intermediate Matters addresses intonation, and presents polite, impolite and sarcastic intonation. Students are encouraged to express impoliteness, irritation, and nervousness in `roleplay`. By knowing not-polite intonation, they avoid conveying the wrong message when requesting. Landmark has a mini-lesson where students listen to a recording of polite intonation and where `request can sound like an order` (Landmark 2000a: 151). New Cutting Edge`s mini-lesson presents four examples of requests, but three end with `please`, which isn`t variety enough. With adjacency pairs, the second pair part may be a preferred or rejecting response. The course books don`t present the form and delivery of second pair parts, which is deleterious to students’ competence and confidence.


 The course books present the preferred response to a request in the form of agreeing or complying with the action requested, which mostly require only `yes`. However, the conventionally indirect form, `Would/Do you mind (if I)…?` requires explanation, that is, `no` indicates compliance, `No, I don’t mind if you…` In Intermediate Matters and New Headway responses are inadequate, `Would you mind…?` is answered with `I’ll try, sir, but …`, (Intermediate Matters 1991: 81) which is ambiguous. Language in Use does not show a response to this request form at all. In New Headway, limited possibilities for negative and positive responses are attended to at the back of the book, `Sure/of course/Well, I’m afraid I’m a little busy right now/Well, I’m a little cold actually` (New Headway a 2009: 138) Landmark and New Cutting Edge clearly show the preferred responses, `Not at all` (Landmark, 2000a: 143), and New Cutting Edge, `Of course not!` (New Cutting Edge 2005: 167). Because of the `face-threatening` nature of rejecting responses, examples could be expected on mitigation and delivery of the second pair part. However, this issue is not covered. Intermediate Matters shows the importance of rejecting responses, `when we can’t agree to a request it is often polite to apologize and give a reason, make an excuse or give some helpful advice`, thus providing a `face-repairing strategy` with which to mitigate the rejection (Intermediate Matters 1991: 81). Language in Use emphasizes the second pair part by clearly outlining the possible responses, and illustrating how refusal is overcome with re-requesting. However, Language in Use provides only a single example of a refusal and does not explain how a refusal is formed, mitigated or delivered while still maintaining an appropriate level of politeness.


 Landmark presents only two examples of refusals without any explanation about the differences between preferred and rejecting responses, but does elicit possible second pair parts by asking students to list the positive and negative request responses they already know. New Cutting Edge presents several examples of mitigated refusals and second pair parts, ` by asking in the listening activity if `the other person [says] yes or no to the request?` (New Cutting Edge 2005: 72).  Students listen and record the reasons given for refusing the requests, which helps.


 Multi-turn requests, such as pre-sequences and re-requests, are commonly used by NS and are therefore useful for NNS to know. Pre-sequences are subtle devices that may achieve a desired action, while avoiding going on-record with a request, although re-requests are usually more direct than the original request form, so useful. New Cutting Edge and Intermediate Matters didn`t include any examples of either pre-sequences or multi-turn request forms, while Language in Use didn`t have any pre-sequence examples. Landmark contains one example of re-request, which isn`t expanded, `Excuse me. I’m sorry to bother you [pre-sequence New Cutting Edge] but could you possibly get my case down for me? [request]` (Landmark 2000a: 143). It`s useful if the teacher needs to show how to predict the fulfillment of a request following from pre-sequence. Language in Use illustrates the possible responses to a request. If the hearer responds with a refusal, the speaker may choose to either abandon the request or try to persuade the hearer with a re-request. Although the teacher is told to act out the possibilities, there`s no opportunity for guided practice, where students practice the form themselves, or the context in which they are used. Landmark and New Headway each present an example of a re-request in the listening activities, `Can you change the date on it? [request]`, then re-requests `Well, can’t you just turn a blind eye? [re-request]` (Landmark 2000a: 143). The elderly woman doesn`t want to pay for a new ticket, and the conductor refuses both the original request, and the more direct re-request. Both Landmark and New Headway present some examples of re-requests in the listening tasks, a refusal and a compliance. However, both Landmark and New Headway omit any explanation of when to make a re-request, and how direct it should be. As a result, students may feel uncomfortable re-requesting.


 Employing politeness, conversation analysis and speech act theory, doesn`t indicate a lesson will be successful, but assists analysis and evaluation. Quantitative analysis shows adequate examples of all types of requests are needed for demonstrating differences in requests as influenced by face, imposition, transactional and international context. Qualitative analysis confirms that adequate explanations or ample opportunities for practice are needed. Otherwise miscommunication, cultural shock, and a lack of confidence in interacting with other English speakers results. Boxer (1993) argues that the lack deprives students` engagement in everyday interactions, maintaining friendships, and further enhancing their ESL/EFL skills.




 Course books are inadequate when compared to authentic NS interactions (Bowles 2006: 355; Wong 2002; Nguyen 2011). Reliance on inauthentic materials results in reinforcing student error, which results in discomfort with NS (Wong 2002: 54). An important implication for ESL, because lesson effectiveness that depends on teachers’ expertise and willingness to draw on other resources to teach pragmatic competence presupposes a need to develop skills in selecting, adapting, designing and supplementing material. Student teachers ought therefore to be involved in textbook evaluation and materials design. Teachers should be made aware of the textbooks’ limitations and develop skills in expanding the material and offering further explanations and more authentic material. The teacher’s role demands dynamic adaptivity (Graves 2008). Although teachers need to be trained in the development and design of materials appropriate for students, course book designers need to work more collaboratively with researchers in refining and updating current ESL/EFL course books. In order to improve the authenticity of textbook dialogues and students’ pragmatic and strategic competence, different request forms, such as hints, favors, or direct requests, should be better exemplified and explained. Additionally, students’ awareness of cross-cultural differences between requests in their L1 and the L2 should be raised, and the different factors that affect politeness should be explored. Furthermore, students should be exposed to a variety of authentic examples of requests in multi-turn conversations to understand the context in which pre-sequences and re-requests are made. Given the global adoption of the English language as a lingua franca, there`s need to develop intercultural communicative competence, so material designers and teachers need to present students with opportunities for reflection and discussion of speech acts and the implications of language use in different cultures. Course books should expand and improve their lessons on the second pair parts of requests; especially with regard to rejecting responses and inclusion of mitigating factors common in refusals: such as the apology-reason-excuse-advice IM gives. IM`s teaching students how to identify a potential obstacle in a request as a reason for refusal will allow them to feel more comfortable about delivering rejecting responses that are polite (Paulson & Roloff 1997). IM, Intermediate Matters, meets more criteria and so is evaluated more highly, but is the oldest of the course books reviewed, which could indicate a diminishing in the aim to teach, and an increase in the business of publishing`s aim to streamline and standardize, but where such means limitation for educator and student.




 The influential Cross-Cultural Speech Act Realization Project (CCSARP) examined requests and apologies (Blum-Kulka, House & Kasper 1989) showing cross cultural variation in directness/indirectness. Australian is the least direct, with more than 80% of requests being indirect (Blum-Kulka & House 1989). Requests in America depend on social distance and contextual situational factors. Requests between family and friends are more direct than those between strangers (Blum-Kulka & House 1989). There`s evidence of too pragmatic a transfer from the first language (L1) of NNS when performing the speech act of a request in the target language (L2) (Cohen 1998). Research by Economidou-Kogetsidis (2005) into telephoning found pragmatic transfer of requests from a NNS’s L1 to English resulted in perceived impoliteness. Moreover, favor asking puts the speaker in debt to the hearer, that is, to be repaid at a future date, and also entails some action from the hearer that is `outside usual routine` (Goldschmidt 1998: 131). Entwined with power, imposition and relationship, it`s difficult for an NNS to understand and use (Goldschmidt 1998).


 To what extent authentic requests are reflected in ESL intermediate level course books determines whether or not students become capable of authentic dialogue. Cross cultural information about types of requests, and their dependence on context, is an implication for language teachers; materials designers, and teacher trainers. DA on spoken interactions between native speakers (NS) and non-native speakers (NNS) reveals a prevalence of direct and indirect speech acts (Searle 1969: 16). Direct acts are imperative, `Give me that pen`, whereas indirect is, `Could I have that pen, please?` A common non-conventional indirect request form is difficult for ESL learners, that is, a hint, (Weizman 1989), for example, `it’s cold in here` or `I love chocolate`. Related to politeness theory (Brown and Levinson, 1987), direct requests threaten the speaker’s ‘face’ (Blum-Kulka & Olshtain 1984: 201). There`s negative face for privacy, and positive face for public self-image (Harris 2003). Mitigation is needed to form a polite request designed to `save face`; and it`s also needed in refusing (Blum-Kulka et al. 1989), which is where hints are invaluable.


 Indirect strategies aren`t polite (Yu 2011). An important feature is intonation. Bartels (1999) states intonation is a device used to fine-tune politeness strategy. If intonation is non-conventional, the hearer may perceive the speaker as impolite. With NS conventionalized indirect requests are `so common that it is rare to hear a completely direct request even between equals` (Brown & Levinson 1987: 248) resulting from the egalitarian nature of Western societies and communication styles. Consequently, NNS` reliance upon grammar can sound stilted. The word `please` covers a multitude of discourse errors associated solely with requests (Brown & Levinson 1987; House 1989; Wichmann 2004; Sato 2008).


 Conversation Analysis (CA) is about how requests are developed and negotiated between participants depending on the co-text (Goodwin & Heritage 1990). The request is the first pair part, whereas the response is the second pair part. CA focuses on the mitigating actions NS take when complying or rejecting. CA suggests a compliant second pair part is preferred response, while a refusal is mitigated (Goodwin & Heritage 1990), which is useful for NNS` appropriate response. Requests are often preceded by pre-sequence, for example, `Do you have a car?` This allows abortion. `No, I don’t` illustrates `request futility` (Goodwin & Heritage 1990) and preserves face without rejection. Some pre-sequencing is so conventionalized it serves as the request speech act, for example, `Have you got a match?` (Goodwin & Heritage 1990). According to Bowles (2006) NS use pre-sequences in telephoning much more than NNS. Pre-sequences are multi-turn, that is, they can be used to re-request, or second pair part expand; formulated to repair the original request: if a rejection is received (Liddicoat 2007). According to Kim, Shin & Cai (1998) NS use more direct forms in the re-request, which confounds NNS who tend to be indirect when issuing face threatening acts. Such multi-turn requests need to be attended to by course books. The word `please` (Sato, 2008) can indicate a directive act, that is, a demand, or an appeal, as well as a simple request, for example, `Can I have the butter, please?` That can confuse.




 As intermediate level students focus on functional, or communicative competence, so students` success is dependent on books` fulfillment of these criteria. Conversation is request based, so successful course books inculcate the ability to negotiate as basic. A successful course book has to raise students’ cross-cultural awareness of requests, and expose students to different request forms, that is, direct, conventionally indirect and non-conventional indirect forms. The successful course book must adequately explore the contextual factors that affect the degree of politeness, so emphasizing second pair parts, that is, preferred and rejecting responses, while exposing students to multi-turn request forms; pre-sequences and re- requests. Quantitative studies demonstrate that textbooks don`t attend to contextual factors affecting the way requests are formulated, so there`s a lack of attention to rejecting responses detrimental to authentic communication, while qualitatively that`s not established until students` results are examined; when it`s too late.


 Cultural appropriateness with regard to polite requests, request relationships, and other contextual factors explaining pre-sequences, and re-requests, are what course books need. Discourse analysis (DA) can help in providing naturally appropriate examples of dialogue. Of the course books reviewed, only Intermediate Matters and New Cutting Edge explicitly instructed students to think about polite requests. The course books didn`t specifically address `positive and negative face`, but the inclusion of conventionally indirect request forms meant students had requesting strategies that professed to be attending to the problem of incurring `negative face` during interactions; even if students weren`t made explicitly aware of `face issues`: so there remained the possibility of a higher embarrassment factor attending interactions. Because of the `face-threatening` nature of rejecting responses, examples could be expected on mitigation, and the absence of coverage for this issue in the course books reviewed might have caused non-native speakers to cause inadvertent offence. Research by Economidou-Kogetsidis (2005) into telephoning found pragmatic transfer of requests from a NNS’s L1 to English resulted in perceived impoliteness, which might result in injurious `face-to-face` interaction. This indicates that ELT course books need to address the issue of request-politness for their students` success in cross-cultural interactivity.




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