Interculturality in textbooks for English language teaching

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2007

16 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. What constitutes Intercultural Learning? A brief theoretical digression

3. The role of the textbook in EFL-teaching

4. Interculturality in EFL-textbooks
4.1. Preliminary remarks on the analysis of interculturality in textbooks
4.2. Textbook analysis 1 – Green Line New 5 (Klett)
4.3. Textbook analysis 2 – English G 2000 (Cornelsen)

5. Concluding remarks

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Intercultural Learning and Intercultural Competence are ubiquitous buzzwords that have been used in the sphere of English teaching and learning for more than two decades now. It has been recognized that modern language teaching goes far beyond the acquisition of grammar and vocabulary alone. As students progress in their study of the foreign language, it is expected that they extend their knowledge and broaden their awareness about the target culture’s characteristics and peculiarities.

Theoretically, the creative implementation of Intercultural Learning could, if intelligently put into practice, have also led to an ‘overthrow’ of outdated teaching methods that, as a rule, emphasise pure cognition rather than communication or interaction. Unfortunately, the initial euphoria has gone and only little has changed in German classrooms. Still, interculturality is often taught in a way that appears uninteresting and ineffective, that is mainly based on facts and figures, and therefore rendering English sometimes not particularly popular as a subject among students.

The reasons for this situation are manifold. Teachers (and students) know too little about Intercultural Learning because it is a concept too fuzzy, vague, abstract and indefinite so as to be grasped immediately. It may also be due to the apparent lack or shortage of suitable learning and teaching materials that can be used in day-to-day school life. Luckily, current textbooks increasingly include creative aspects of interculturality. But how useful and fruitful are these modest ‘intercultural elements’ in practice?

In this paper, I will analyse two German textbooks used in institutional English teaching and learning nationwide and scrutinise them from an intercultural point of view. Before that, I will carry out a brief but thorough investigation into the notion of ‘Intercultural Learning’ (abbreviated to IL). I will then look into general functions of school textbooks as the primary teaching instrument, followed by a critical description and analysis of Green Line 5 (Klett) and English G 2000 D5 (Cornelsen).

Intercultural Learning – ‘ a process that moves human beings (minds, hearts and bodies) to a deeper awareness of their own culture (norms, behaviours, relationship and visions) through a qualitative immersion to another culture.’[1]

2. What constitutes Intercultural Learning? A brief theoretical digression

The aforementioned quotation attempts to clearly summarizing the idea of Intercultural Learning. Apart from characterising IL as being a ‘ process’, it tries to pinpoint the goal (‘deeper awareness’) and the means by which this goal can be achieved (‘immersion’). It follows that IL is not a passive undertaking, but active participation. The quotation also embraces two different ‘types’ of culture: our own culture and the culture of the target language. Understandably, this short explanation is much too general and abstract, but should suffice as a starting point for our investigation.

It should be noted that, with the fairly recent coinage of IL, a number of new terms came to be used (sometimes synonymously). They include intercultural communication, intercultural competence, intercultural awareness, and intercultural sensitivity. For the time being, I will restrict myself to the notion of Intercultural Learning since this term is, in my view, the most all-embracing one and puts more emphasis on the how rather than the what, even though the latter should not be neglected either.

So what is IL? What constitutes this new approach in language teaching and learning? What should be taught in this context? Why is IL so important and ‘trendy’ right now? Answers to these questions will be provided in this chapter.

A brief glance into the ninth edition of the Oxford Concise Dictionary (1995) surprisingly reveals that there is no entry for the lemma ‘intercultural’. That does not necessarily mean that the term did not exist at publishing date. ‘Intercultural’ did exist but may have been quite limited in its use. Interestingly though, there are dictionary entries for ‘multicultural’ and ‘multiculturalism’. And here we arrive at a pivotal point. When the dictionary was compiled, western societies could no longer be seen as homogeneous entities. Ever since guest workers and immigrants streamed to Western Europe (in particular to Britain, France and Germany), their societies have been shaped by the ‘newcomers’ and became multicultural. The term ‘multicultural’ was therefore far more common than ‘intercultural’.

The difference between ‘multicultural’ and ‘intercultural’ is subtle but important and can be explained as follows: whereas ‘multicultural’ merely establishes the bare fact that it “relates to […] several cultural or ethnic groups within a society” (OCD 1995: 893), the term ‘intercultural’, in addition, embraces the notion of comparison: a particular culture is seen from the perspective of another culture so as to display similarities and differences between them. A common synonym would be ‘cross-cultural’.

Instead of exploring the idea of culture (which would lead to an endless debate), I will elaborate on the concept and constituents of Intercultural Learning. As with Cultural Studies, IL does not have a clearly defined subject area. It has to draw upon a variety of disciplines such as psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, pragmatics and pedagogy. It should be indicated that IL is – in psychological terms – no special form of learning like conditioning, imitation, adaptation, modelling, cognitive or programmed learning. Even though they are all to do with behaving in a particular manner and understanding the world around us, the notion of IL refers to the content and methodology rather than describing mental processes.

What is characteristic of IL? First of all, I find it necessary to emphasise that IL should not be restricted to foreign language classes alone. IL can be an inherent part of a number of school subjects such as social studies, geography, music, religious education and even home economics. Interestingly, we gather most of our intercultural experience outside the classroom. Everyone who travels abroad or associates with people from a different cultural background cannot but gain first-hand intercultural knowledge.

So IL is not an exotic but a normal way and result of interaction between members of different cultures. Not only does it support respect for variety, curiosity and openness for different ways of life and attitudes, IL also helps students to develop their own personality and identity. As well, IL leads to a more conscious awareness of their own perspective on life and enables them to change this perspective (cf. Fedrowitz 2005: 40).

In other words, Intercultural Learning is “learning about another culture” (Baron 2002: 63) and its ultimate goal is intercultural communicative competence. “The general idea of this intercultural communicative competence is that the learner should develop strategies for bridging gaps between his (imperfect and ‘uncultural’) use of the foreign language and the fluent and culturally-loaded native speaker” (Dirven/Pütz 1993: 152). A prerequisite for acquiring and applying such (predominantly linguistic) strategies such as code-switching or paraphrasing is intercultural language awareness and the ability to negotiate meaning – elements that constitute IL in general, in addition to empathy (which is necessary for a change in perspective), patience, tolerance to endure ambiguity, courage, and the willingness to communicate and integrate.

It remains to be investigated what exactly should be taught in this context. Teachers especially wish to make their students aware of conventional behaviour in the target culture, familiarize them with cultural connotations of words and phrases of the foreign language and extend the students’ general knowledge – in short, build up a realistic picture of life in the target culture(s). Equally, learners would like to know what members of the target culture ‘are like’, how they behave and talk. At the same time, learners want to understand their counterparts, see the differences between people and places, or get informed of what do to in various situations. They wish to know about customs, family traditions, famous people, fashion, sports, music, holidays, occupations; taboo words, traffic signposts. Likewise, learners want to get acquainted with functional language such as refusing or accepting and non-verbal communication (cf. Gherdan 2005: 51ff.).

Still, goals like these emphasis the what, not the how. Literature dealing with IL tends to sidestep or ignore the ‘how’-question. Only in rare cases do the authors come up with concrete teaching examples. Instead, they present a number of idealised aims of teaching interculturality in the English classroom. All too often, their final statements remain on a highly general or abstract level. For example: “[L]earners need to have opportunities to engage with, use, and practise their cultural knowledge during communication rather than talking about it or passively reproducing it” (ibid.: 54). Specific hints for the practical realisation are often not given. Instead, the teacher has to consult magazines such as Praxis Fremdsprachenunterricht or Englisch betrifft uns for additional material.

Finally, I will briefly touch upon the question why IL is so important and ‘trendy’ right now. The current relevance is first and foremost to do with the changing role of the English language. English is more and more considered not only as a target language to be taught and learnt but also as a means of communication outside the English-speaking world. It increasingly performs the function of a lingua franca – a role that is reinforced by the impact of mass media, globalisation, technological progress, multiculturalism and postmodernism (cf. Cherrington 2005: 16f.).

In addition, the use of English as a native tongue is no longer restricted to Great Britain or the United States alone. In recent years, textbooks have been increasingly supplemented by topics dealing with countries where English has official status such as Canada or Australia and more ‘exotic’ places like India, Jamaica or South Africa.

In his respect, textbooks have adapted their content to the paradigm shift. What has not changed, however, is the purpose a textbook serves in the process of teaching and learning English (and any other modern foreign language).


[1] (as of 17 July 2006)

Excerpt out of 16 pages


Interculturality in textbooks for English language teaching
Otto-von-Guericke-University Magdeburg  (Institut für fremdsprachliche Philologien)
Intercultural Learning
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ISBN (Book)
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Interculturality, English, Intercultural, Learning
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Steffen Laaß (Author), 2007, Interculturality in textbooks for English language teaching, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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