An Evaluation of the Suitability of ‘New Headway- Intermediate’ by Liz & John Soars Essay

Introduction

Banks et al. (1989) say that the intangible aspects as well as symbols of a society make up their culture. Banks et al. add that the most important element of culture is how people interpret and attach meaning to the components of culture (1989).

According to Damen (1987), culture is the share of human models that enable people to carry out day-to-day activities through socialization. Lederach (1995), on the other hand, describes culture as the material and non-material practices that differentiate a particular group of people. Culture is specific to groups of people based on race and language.

Hofstede (1984) says that culture is the programming of the mind that helps differentiate different groups of people. From the definitions above, culture can be defined as the patterns of behavior that are shared among peoples, and the cognitive constructs that determine the behavior of people in everyday life.

English is taught as a foreign language in Iran. According to Dollerup et al. (1992), there is a cultural influence perspective in teaching English as a foreign language (EFL) in Iran. Dollerup et al. add that teaching English in the country is always accompanied by the teaching interpretation skills from English to the local language that leaders believe is important for Iranian politics as well as international development (Dollerup et al. 1992).

The leaders also believe that it is an effective way to preserve the indigenous Iranian language. This is because, while learners undertake English lessons, it ensures that they are knowledgeable about the indigenous language. High school learners in Iran aged between 15-18 use the textbook New Headway-Intermediate (Soars and Soars 1996).

The research will center on the question of whether the book is suitable for teaching the English language. Additionally, the research will seek to find out whether elements of Iranian culture need to be incorporated into the system when teaching these students when using books such as New Headway. It is important to note that culture here means all the material and non material features that characterize the way of life of Iranians.

Jenkins (2007) says that generally, the cultural aspect among learners especially high school learners is clearly embedded in the learning process. According to Jenkins, the learning process involves both formal and informal processes that aim at preserving the Iranian culture.  Similarly, the system emphasizes the importance of the cultural aspect even in the teaching of foreign languages.

Jenkins (2009) also adds that there is concern among course drafters in Iran that any foreign language teaching in Iran is tantamount to adopting the culture that the language represents and, therefore, recommends the incorporation of the local cultural aspect so that learners can learn the foreign language while appreciating their own culture.

It is not to say that western culture is inappropriate for Iranians; rather, Iranians may consider some elements of western culture such as the modes of dress that may be considered offensive and, therefore, not desirable. For instance, a woman wearing trousers and exposing her hair will be considered offensive in the Iranian culture, as will words that describe the undergarments worn by both men and women that have been developed by the dynamic nature of commerce these words include ‘pants’, ‘Lingerie’.

However, it would be wrong to assume that any incorporation of British cultural aspects into teaching English in Iran using the new textbook is not appropriate. The research will, therefore, explore both sides of the argument to determine what merits and demerits accompany whatever approach high school learning takes in Iran.

Aims and objectives of the research

The main aim of the research will be to evaluate the cultural content of New Headway with a view to evaluating the degree to which it is appropriate for Iranian high school learners. Cultural content here refers to all the elements in the book that refer to culture as defined at the beginning of this paper. It is important to note that high school learners are students aged between 15-18.

The system in Iran separates women from men, even in learning institutions. Students are introduced to English as a second language from grade 7. The students are expected to follow academic/general or technical/vocational training. The research will also aim to determine the learner attitudes towards increasing or decreasing the observance of cultural aspects in English teaching.

Concisely, therefore, the research will seek to determine whether the new textbook is suitable for teachers and students in the culturally sensitive environment of Iran. Other objectives of the research will include:

  • An investigation of learner attitudes on the suitability of the book among Iranian high school students through the use of qualitative studies of 15-18 year olds and evaluating this within the context of New Headway Intermediate (Soars and Soars, 1996).
  • An evaluation of the content of New Headway Intermediate (Soars and Soars 1996) as a learning medium for Iranian EFL students between the ages of 15-18 in the culturally sensitive environment of Iran.

Research questions

According to Slavin (1995), research questions will provide a platform for answers to be arrived at.

The research will seek to answer the following questions:

  • What are the attitudes of learners in Iran regarding English language teaching (ELT) materials such as New Headway to containing English culture or not?
  • How important is it for ELT materials like New Headway to reflect the learners’ culture?
  • Is New Headway suitable for ELT in the culturally sensitive environment of Iran?

Rationale

According to McGrath (2002), designing language programmes must take into consideration the cultural aspect of the learners. The books that they use, therefore, should have a considerable element of the native culture; otherwise, it is only an assimilation of the English culture that ELT gives.

Additionally, Cunningsworth (2011) believes that materials should be the basis of ELT. According to him, good preparation of materials will incorporate a sound cultural element in teaching English for foreigners and in this case, Iran. The materials will need a considerable degree of authenticity in terms of local cultural content.

In fact, his opinion supports some sort of revision of the book to ensure it specifically suits Iranian high school learners. On the other hand, Sifakis (2004: 89) has a different view from the rest. He thinks that the incorporation of the culture of the learners into teaching English should be used sparingly, depending on the reason for learning.

In other words, sometimes, it is necessary to include an element of culture in the teaching of English. For instance, while teaching students in Iran, teachers may use real life examples that make use of Iranian culture or British culture. According to Krashen (1982), it is important to ensure the avoidance of negative feelings towards the first culture.

The first language should, therefore, be used in helping learners and, if necessary, be incorporated into the learning materials. He adds that learners develop a significantly better understanding of their culture when learning materials contain unfamiliar materials, in this case, English. Books like New Headway, therefore, that are used in teaching English in Iran should bear more Iranian cultural content.

This should be in form of illustrations that talk exclusively about Iranian culture. For that reason, therefore, it will be imperative for New Headway to include real life examples that touch on the culture of the learners in Iran. For instance, the book can have exercises that instruct students to write essays on the history and culture of Iran.

New Headway has been in use in Iran for a long time. Though the content of the book does not have many cultural perspectives, teachers in the country have always incorporated the element. It is important to note that perspective here means specific Iranian examples and illustrations that reflect the day to day life of the country.

To highlight the rationale behind this study, we will look at a number of points that shed some light on the topic of the study. According to Edge (2006), Newton and Adams (2009) and Cunningsworth (1984), teaching materials as in textbooks such as New Headway used for teaching English in Iran are greatly influenced by the students’ culture and upbringing.

In other words, materials used in teaching English in Iran normally have an overt Iranian cultural perspective and approach. Edge (2006) notes the pedagogic nature of the Persian culture in Iran as having a heavy influence on English teaching in the country. It is, therefore, not alarming to use textbooks such as New Headway.

In addition, Newton and Adams (2009) say that, given the primary language and culture that Iranian children are brought up in, there is bound to be influence of it in ELT. This will include the incorporation of the first language in the learning of the language. Cunningsworth (1984) simply states that it will be difficult to ignore the cultural aspect in ELT in Iran.

These authors, therefore, endorse the use of any book, including New Headway, no matter what cultural content in it may be considered “foreign”. Teachers are important to the successful teaching of English. Though they have little influence on the content of the curriculum, the researcher will actively engage with them to have a firsthand account of what they think of the book.

There is sufficient proof that teachers attitudes, views, culture and opinions contribute greatly to the shaping of their students learning processes and their way of lives (Crystal 1997). Teachers play an important role in the success of ELT. However, according to Cortés et al. (2008), there is lack of consensus on what knowledge teachers should have for them to qualify to teach students.

Similarly, there are a number of teachers who may have limited skills or unrelated educational preparation; hence, they may not be up to speed with what teaching English in a culturally sensitive environment entails (Ferri and Ortiz 2007; González and Quinchía 2003). The last two views point towards the competence of teachers in understanding what their role is and their understanding in using teaching aids such as the new textbook.

The complexity presented by the issues above makes this research important since it will try to come up with the necessary mechanism of sorting the problems around culture in teaching English in Iran. Based on the definition of culture given at the beginning, culture can be described the material and non-material practices that differentiate a particular group of people.

Culture is specific to groups of people based on race and language. The rationale of this research, therefore, is to produce a concise chapter-by-chapter analysis using the content analysis technique. Both relation and concept analysis will be used to study the theme of culture in the book.

Additionally, it is necessary that this research is carried out to aid the development of a comprehensive framework for the effective evaluation of the said book. Furthermore, the findings of the research will be used to analyze both sides of the argument that learning materials such as New Headway-Intermediate be de-culturalised or be valued neutral.

Content Analysis

Content analysis has a long history since its regular use started in the 1940’s. Its use increased when researchers started focusing more on concepts and semantics in texts. Because of the need to have an in-depth look at the book, the analysis will be done on two levels. The two levels will help to establish the concepts of the book and the relationship that they have with culture.

Conceptual analysis

The concept that will be analyzed will be culture. The concept of culture will be examined to determine the frequency of its occurrence in the book. This conceptual analysis will be carried out based on the research questions as determined earlier. Through selective reduction, the content will be grouped to content categories. These categories will be helpful in analyzing certain characteristics of the content which, in this case, will be culture.

Relational analysis

This analysis will focus on the examination of culture in the new book while at the same time relating it to other themes in the text. It will help to discover whether culture dominates the book content. First, there will be determination of the types of the concepts that will be analyzed.

Then the researcher will come up with a method of analyzing the different themes and concepts and how they relate with culture. This way, it will be possible to determine whether or not it is important to have the cultural element in the book.

Methodology

The research will use both the quantitative and qualitative research approach through the administration of questionnaires, as well as interviews. According to Cresswell (2009), the qualitative approach is best suited for exploring and understanding the meanings ascribed to social as well as human problems by individuals.

Bryman (2008: 65) says that the qualitative method is important because it allows the researcher to gain an in-depth understanding of the problem under study. A sample of students will be chosen from among the population from whom data will be collected. The population will be high school students aged 15-18.

The willing students will be chosen from the general student population at different schools and questionnaires will be administered to them. The sample will include both teachers and students who will be active participants in an EFL programme. The questions that will be used in the probe will seek to know their feelings about the use of the book in Iran and whether they are comfortable or not with the cultural perspective present in the content.

In this approach, the researcher is the one tasked with the interpretation of the data after analysis. Perhaps the most important point about the methodological approach that will be used is the fact that it relies on the participants’ view of the problem under study (Pring 2000). According to Seidlhofer (2004), this is important, especially considering that most participants’ views will echo those of the majority on the ground.

The opinion expressed by the participants, therefore, will be used to give recommendations about the use of the book and the feelings of learners and teachers towards it. Bryman (2008) adds that by a qualitative approach, a holistic view and understanding of the role of language in culture and teaching is achieved.

Semi-structured interviews will be used to collect data. The interviews will conducted with the aid of the internet enabled media such as Skype and email. A questionnaire will then be administered to the participants who, in turn, will complete and return it. The questions in the questionnaires will focus on the areas identified under the methodology section.

Hypotheses:

  • Many students feel the new textbook Broadway should contain more elements of Iranian culture.
  • A majority of students think learning English using the new book does not amount to adoption of English culture.
  • A majority of students feel the new book is suitable for teaching English in Iran.
  • Nearly half pf the students think the book should be revised I future but there is no need for a rushed revision at the moment.

Limitations of the study

One of the limitations this study is likely to encounter is language barriers. Considering English is not the first language, some correspondents may have difficulty in expressing themselves on orally and on paper.

Another problem that the research may encounter will be lack of internet unreliability. Some f the correspondents may be unable to access internet connection, which may greatly hamper smooth conduction of the interviews.

A high cost is another problem that the research is likely to face. Respondents will be based in different parts of the country and data collection may involve a nit of traveling. This is likely to contribute to high costs of the study.

Literature review

Cunningsworth (1984) says that teaching ELT should involve the use of authentic materials. To that effect, therefore, Cunningsworth believes that elements of Iranian culture should be incorporated to make the book more authentic and more familiar to Iranian learners. That way, learners will not feel alienated by merely learning foreign concepts and will have a more original touch.

Alienation will occur if the students have a feeling that the book is just bombarding them with foreign culture concepts. The incorporation of elements of local culture, therefore, will make learners develop the feeling that learning English is closely interlinked with their culture, hence, no promotion of foreign concepts.

Edge (2006), for his part, asserts that teaching English elsewhere outside the UK and in Iran for that matter amounts to exporting the British culture to Iran. The use of the book, according to Edge, is that EFL materials such as the New Headway textbook should be adopted wholly without any alteration.

He is of the opinion that ELT should be taught in a standardized way without consideration of the cultural content of the materials. According to him, accepting learning English is tantamount to accepting learning the British culture. On the other hand, Newton and Adams (2009: 76) believe that native culture plays an important role in the success or failure of ELT among foreign learners.

In this case, the authors support the non-use or limited use of English books as New Headway that are not specifically written for Iranian high school learners. Dollerup et al. (1992) say that the use of the book has been under criticism elsewhere apart from Iran.

According to Dollerup et al., some scholars claim that the book does contain anti-male perspectives which in Iran may be taken wrongly considering that the Iranian society is dominantly patriarchal. According to Johnston (2007: 56), the element of culture in teaching EFL is critical to understanding what teaching the language entails. Therefore, understanding the cultural content of New Headway will be important in evaluating the attitudes of Iranian learners towards it.

Johnston (2007) feels that it is important for teaching professionals to understand the importance the above element carries before embarking on teaching. Johnston’s approach is more neutral and does not support either position but a careful analysis of his stand will interpret it to mean that ELT teachers can use the book but should do so cautiously so as not to spread the English culture explicitly as contained in the book.

Crystal (1997: 90) believes that there should be absolutely no cultural element in teaching English. He asserts that teaching English should only concentrate on the purposes of learning the language for the purposes of interaction and instruction. Crystal’s position is the most radical.

He supports the use of materials in EFL that do not have any cultural elements of the foreign language that is being taught. According to Pennycook (1994: 76), English may be taken to represent British culture and/or American culture. Therefore, teaching the language without the cultural aspect, according to Pennycook, is just hiding from reality.

On the other hand, Tan (2005: 47) says that it is important when teaching EFL to incorporate elements of the learner’s culture into it. That way, he believes it will be easy to teach the students and there will be less hostility and suspicion from some interested people who think students are being brainwashed.

Such sentiments may come from the older generation of Iranians, as well as the conservative members of the political and religious classes. It’s important to note that government publications may not be widely used because of the difficulties encountered in accessing them. Besides, most of them are written in Persian and Farsi, which will require interpretation.

Ethical Considerations

According to Saunders et al. (2003), ethical considerations are critical in the success of any research. Saunders et al. (2003: 97) add that the appropriateness of any researcher’s behavior in relation to the privileges and rights of the participants of the study will greatly affect and reflect on the study. Kirkpatrick (2007) adds that all participants must be assured of confidentiality.

Ethical considerations will, therefore, apply to both the researchers and the participants, as well as to the procedures involved in the research. The participants will be allowed to use pseudo names to ensure their anonymity. Furthermore, those that are not willing or comfortable in using any name will be allowed to use none. This is to enhance the element of anonymity for better confidential guarantees.

Participation will be purely voluntary and those that may feel the need to abandon the research will be free to do so at their own will and time of choosing. However, for purposes of credibility, participants may not be allowed to withdraw from the study after the information has been collected and the analyzed participants will also be made aware that the information that they will be giving will be used in the analysis of the research question.

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