Between essays and coursebooks – ELT curriculum and a beer


March 1, 2012 by Willy Cardoso

I have ‘literally’ just submitted my fifth and last MA essay and am now having a beer.

But wait! I’m not a Master yet. These five little pieces were just a warmer I suppose, I now have to: [drum rolls] …research.

And write a dissertation four times longer than each essay.

If I put all of what I’ve already written for this MA in Education, it will sum up about 25,000 words (nearly as much as what I have spent on it if I consider not only the #@*&  tuition fees for overseas students, but also the amount of time I spent reading and writing the essays, considering that I could’ve spent this time working at a café, drinking free coffee — but hey, I’m not gonna calculate the ROI of this MA).

Anyway, let me share bits of what I’ve just submitted (here adapted to a more bloggish style).

Title: The global ELT coursebook as curriculum

“[Educational] institutions and the manner in which they are organized and controlled are integrally related to the ways in which specific people get access to economic and cultural resources and power.”

(Apple 2004: vii)

Although studies of syllabus design have long passed the ‘structural/grammatical’ tradition and evolved to more communicative approaches (namely: functional, skills-based and task-based), most coursebooks remain in a lockstep stage of grammar-orientation in their syllabus rationale which has far-reaching implications for students.

I analyzed a well-known coursebook and:

The book acknowledges the use of English as an International Language in another of their statements of what students need:

“Students will need to use English if they travel to an English-speaking country or if they are using English as a lingua franca”.

However, their overt concern in making students able to produce ‘intelligible’ pronunciation is limited to students modeling British English standard accent, notion of which is actually covert (even if standard is a vague term in this area).

The underlying idea, which actually goes against a real understanding of lingua franca, is that the ultimate level of language proficiency (esp. in pronunciation) is the native-speaker model.

This is quite an unfounded ‘superstition’ dare I say, since a native English speaker from New Orleans will present a rather different pronunciation from one from Edinburgh; or Sidney, Johannesburg, etc.

… This is an example of linguicism, which is defined as ‘ideologies, structures, and practices which are used to legitimate, effectuate, and reproduce an unequal division of power and resources (both material and immaterial) between groups which are defined on the basis of language’  (Phillipson, 1992: 47).

As my example showed, the heteronormative framing of identity in the global coursebook is one of the many factors in which the personal world of the students can be foregrounded by materials

Coursebook-driven curricula center on consensus, in contrast to conflict. A consensus-only ideology has very little resemblance to the complexity of our social life

For a great number of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) schools, syllabus is mistakenly understood as curriculum and vice-versa.


This general de-regulation and the functioning of EFL schools as independent enterprises make them less accountable to values, beliefs, ideologies, and other abstract conceptions of curriculum which end up being overly implicit and hence unexamined. In turn, the focus remains on how and what to teach language learners, bringing educational efforts only to the level of the syllabus.

And so on and so forth.

There are, actually, more interest bits; like the part in which I discuss gay invisibility in coursebooks. But let’s leave it to another day… a day I feel less curricular.


15 thoughts on “Between essays and coursebooks – ELT curriculum and a beer

  1. you did mention gay invisibility: “the heteronormative framing of identity in the global coursebook.” i’m not sure i understood the rest of that fragment, though. i think an impt part of the context is missing there. but it sounds really interesting, can’t wait for your next M.A. essay post. 😀

    • Yes, I did. But not as much as I’d like, and that’s probably the reason you felt there was something missing.
      The key concept in this argument is culture + context.
      Ideally, teaching materials should be representative of students culture and context; needless to say the global coursebook can’t do that. In which case the teacher is responsible for doing it. However, if the same coursebook also forms the core of the curriculum, and teachers do not examine and evaluate what kind of values and beliefs are being transmitted through the materials, these cultures and contexts aren’t given as much importance. And one relevant aspect of the values-culture mix is this so-called heteronormativity, which more often than not is passed on as a ‘hidden curriculum’.

  2. simonjonathanfranks says:

    Hi Willy!

    How’s it going?

    Thanks for your post – you instigated a little discussion between myself and Mariana which I thought I might share, albeit in an equally post-beer, post ‘natural sandwich’ haze.

    I think most of what you say is very true, I think native teachers tend to impress on their students the correctness of their pronunication, even though, a lot of the time, this is something quite subconcious for the teacher.

    Mariana and I tried to be a bit practical in our discussion, bearing in mind the tenets of what you were arguing. I tried to express to her that what you say about ‘native speakerism’ leaves the native teacher in a bit of a sticky conundrum. How does the native teacher teach when he implicity has a power agenda which he may/may not know he is pursuing.

    As Mariana rightly suggested, in practical terms, we think it means being flexible enough to incorporate prounciations, lexus, and idiomatic expressions which might not be your own – hence the learner is never wrong, so to speak.

    However, more problematically the student that has a very strong native (domestic native) accent or pronuncation, for example a student I have at the moment, whose English would be difficult to decipher regardless of the native or non-native fluent English speaker he/she might be confronted with.

    So where does the native English teacher go? As a native English teacher the tendency, as you rightly point out, is to attempt to reform the learner to fit into a particular ‘standard’ something accent. But what if you try not to? What are the implications for the native English teacher? Should I, in my best Australian, Kiwi, or Canadian accent, attempt to reconfigure my student’s accent and pronunciation by teaching them variations of phrases or lexicon based on different accents, which might mean I teach a single phrase with three seperate intonations, accents etc., or do I simply say that maybe it would be best if they tried to find an English speaker who has the same native accent as their target accent (i.e. should someone planning to travel to Sydney to live for six months find a native Australian English teacher)?

    I think that if we extrapolate and attempt to read where ESL learning might be going, I think we are most certainly heading for a place where English language speaking is totally hybridised, regionalied, customised and bastardised which I think is great for the English language. But do we not equally arrive at a place where the language becomes so non-standardised that we can start comparing apples with pears and the like…? Without native English speakers becoming proficient actors as well as proficient (sometimes) teachers, I think it is a problematic area and one which, I myself, has problems coming to terms with what might be construed as a creeping anti-native or native-redundant movement in ESL theory?

    Cheers for the post!

    Simon & Mariana

    • Hi Simon & Mariana!
      Hope all’s well with you guys and the kiddo!

      Let me try to answer some of your questions. From the bottom up.

      Although there is an increasing number of non-native-English-speaker scholars in this field, and possibly more NNES teachers than otherwise; there a “huge” agenda behind everything, whose history is long and whose ideas are still very strong (the fact coursebooks are still structured around grammar points is one example of this). This agenda is certainly dominated by the English-speaking world and will remain for a long time. They’re coming to terms with matters related to accents, regional dialects, global English, etc. But the ethos, as I see it, is still very much white-male-anglosaxon. It’s changing, I personally know a lot of people working on it, but slowly (the change, not the ‘working’ 🙂 ).

      To give you an idea of this master agenda, here’s something I recently found:

      Britain’s real black gold is not North Sea oil but the English language. It has long been at the root of our culture and now is fast becoming the global language of business and information. The challenge facing us is to exploit it to the full.
      (British Council 1987/88 Annual Report, page 8)

      Moving on… I will summarize your other point using your question:

      “Should someone planning to travel to Sydney to live for six months find a native Australian English teacher?”

      My answer is yes and no.

      I never impose any accent on my students. By now, and it took a long time, I’m quite aware of the most common variations of English in terms of pronunciation, so my judgement is that if it is acceptable pronunciation in any of these variations, then I accept it too, I have no other choice. For example, I stopped trying to get my Spanish/Italian students to produce an ‘r’ sound that is closer to the two most frequent American and English sounds. But I insist on it with the French. Sorry, I don’t have the means to explain this clearly.
      Moreover, I try to keep abreast of studies in International English and what they consider important. E.g. the dreaded “th” sound really doesn’t matter if you say: dis, dat, dose (this, that, those) or tree, tread (three, thread), the context will more often than not prevent miscommunication if the ‘th’ sounds ‘d’ or ‘t’.

      But back to the ‘Australia’ thing. If I was the teacher of this person, I would try to use as much authentic materials as possible from this country, videos, articles, films, etc. And draw the student’s attention to the peculiarities of this variety of English. — So in this sense my answer is, ‘no’, you don’t need to have an Australian teacher, if your Brazilian teacher is resourceful.


      And here’s a big ‘but’, the teacher won’t have some cultural aspects of Australia which are intrinsic in the language. So, in this case, ‘yes’ please try firstly to find an Australian teacher.

      … I’m kinda lost now… I’ll come back later

      thanks for your comment!

  3. Wow! Congratulations!!! You seem to have thrown your back into that one. Interesting!!! Enjoy the beer!

  4. Well done for coming so far. And thanks for sharing you essays and work.

    Apropos of which: I teach a fair few people doing doctorates and theses, and am always begging them to post parts of it online. Very few of them take my advice.

    Would you say it was a beneficial practice to post your own research and writing online pre-publishing?

    • Hi Alan

      I often post extracts of my papers because I don’t see in the near future a chance of them being published elsewhere. If I was doing a PhD, I’d probably not blog it, at least not the parts that would be essential and ‘original’ to a published paper on a academic journal.

      The main reason I published a few things of my MA is that it’s a lot of hard work only to have a professor or two read it, and only because they have to evaluate it and give me a mark. This is rather off putting, so in order to get other types of feedback I started posting them on the blog. However, I’m keeping one of these essays in the back burner, ‘cos I think I can get it published in a teaching magazine or something like that.

  5. Eddie Estryed says:

    thanks for sharing, but I think for many, Phillipson (and his “Linguistic Imperialism”) doesn’t have a lot of validity. In fact, all his handwringing guilt trip is quite patronizing to those he is trying to “protect”. Check out Alan Davies. He was my antidote forPhillipson when I had to read him on my MA course. Good luck!

    • Hi Eddie
      In fact, what I cited above was pretty much the only thing related to Linguistic Imperialism in the whole essay; and I mentioned Phillipson mainly because for better or for worse his text is a very important one in our field; and beyond validity, it poses challenging questions, which is what I’m more interested in. But as I said, I was not at all heavily influenced by his theory; though his definition os “linguicism” is a good one; and I wanted to use it to ‘label’ what I was analyzing in this MA assignment.

      I’ll check out Alan Davies. Thanks for offering an antidote!


  6. […] values embedded in class curricula Posted on 1 March, 2012 by Simon Thomas Willy C Cardoso shares some of the more interesting points from his recent MA TESOL essay on syllabi and curricula.Share this post:Bookmark on DeliciousDigg this postRecommend on FacebookGoogle Buzz-up this […]

  7. Not to jump on the stereotypical boat here, but I found myself most curious about the argument you make in your papers on gay invisibility. I recognise that coursebooks need to appeal both practically, but also culturally to the culture it’s pandering itself to. It’s also self-evident that this cultural relevance is only as wide as the lowest common denominator, in global coursebooks (e.g. the predominance of young, caucasian-like protagonists being the obvious ‘English-speakers’)–likely the least offensive denominator, more like. Of course, more and more, different nationalities are seeping into being part of this coursebook culture too, like those moving in gradually on American television shows. Still, gay characters do still tend to be under-outed, if used even ambiguously. Despite this, I often (and to my resulting frustration) used homosexuality as a topic when I lived in Korea.

    So, I’m curious where you go with this side of things in one of your papers.

  8. Hi Tyson
    The question of gay invisibility (and heteronormativity) in my paper was raised rather incidentally (well, not so much), as I was taking a critical look at the values and ideologies underlying a certain coursebook. This was specifically when I analyzed the texts and activities about a unit on ‘family’, which the opening text invited students to think about ‘the family of the future’, in terms of structure. e.g. more single-parents, more great-grandparents; single-child, etc. And obviously, for me, more ‘officially’ same-sex partners; needless to say the text didn’t mention it, neither did it offer a ‘space’ for it to be mentioned.

    I took this as something important mainly because I was analysing the ‘global’ coursebook, as a form of curriculum. And the theory of curriculum I was subscribing to was one of ‘curriculum as conversation’, focusing on the process of language development rather than on the product.
    I’m afraid I will have to use an “etc” now, otherwise I’d be rewriting the whole thing in this comment; but if you’re interested I can send you the paper, or parts of it.

  9. Hi =) Thanks for that. I’d love to read more of your paper–whatever you’re comfortable sharing with me. I’m not likely to investigate the heteronormativity, as you call it, much during my own MA, but find not only it (particularly the same-sex issue) and your ideas in general, engaging.

  10. […] Cardoso, “Between essays and coursebooks – ELT curriculum and a beer” (2011) – Willy and I had a good little discussion on gay invisibility in coursebooks, […]

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