ML2 – Second Language Literacies

A blog for the Second Language Literacies course from the MA in Learning and Teaching Processes in Second Languages (ML2) at UPB-Medellín

The Quest for a Good Effective English Textbook (Rubén Palacio)

The Quest for a Good Effective English Textbook

Rubén Darío Palacio Mesa

Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana

          Rubén Darío Palacio Mesa, Faculty of Education, Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana.

The Quest for a Good Effective English Textbook

          Critical literacy helps teachers and students expand their reasoning, seek out multiple perspectives, and become active thinkers. (McLaughlin & DeVoogd, 2004)

Education as one’s integral formation, bases its position within the society through a full development that occurs in stages. In this process of training, the student presents a few own evolutionary features, which allow them to manifest certain types of reaction around the process of learning, such as: the mental laziness, characterized by a minimum of effort for the development of their own academic activities. The immediacy, which is the desire to do things faster compared to the responsibility that has been assigned. An opening to the media which has caught most people’s attention, even to the point of absorbing completely one’s time, specially by technological devices which sometimes result in a neglecting of one’s academic responsibilities; and a particular rejection for teaching specifically when it comes to the English teaching as a foreign language. Moreover, due to the increasing need of learning English some informal education institutions have taken a huge advantage of this complex situation by offering programs with the so-called methodologies that allow one to speak English in apparently short time.

Bearing these realities in mind, the informal education institutions and their teachers ask themselves certain questions: for instance, how can one orient and motivate young people, so through the training provided with the teaching of English as an articulating axis of the education, they are able to raise the quality of life? Is the postmodernism, with all its characteristics of speed and lightness but also of despair and instability, the responsible for which the student is unmotivated compared to learning a foreign language? Could it be that the education in a foreign language has not yet been adapted to the youth reality? Are there missing key elements for the teaching of English? Or how can English programs look more attractive so that they may be chosen? Etc.

The assumption is that English teaching is not appropriate to the youth’s reality in Colombia. Therefore, it is necessary to redesign and rewrite a new style of programs (methodology) that is attractive to the youths. These programs must motivate English learners to take an interest in all the elements that are being offered in the educational field, elements that will help them achieve the objectives proposed. In this regard, Edgar Morin (1999) says: “The future of education is confronted to this universal problem because there is an increasingly wide, deep, serious, and inadequate teaching approach. On the one hand it is between our knowledge disunited, divided, and compartmentalized, and on the other hand, realities or problems increasingly poly disciplinary, cross-cutting, multidimensional, transnational, global, and planetary.” (Morin, 1999, p. 15) (My translation)

Responding to these questions is to think about the role of one as an English teacher and also of students who would probably lack reasons for wanting the education provided. Aware of this reality, some informal education institutions have as a principal mission to accompany, motivate, and interest people to enroll in their English programs by using a very accessible methodology proved to be suitable for the needs of those wanting to learn. Although, one must add that this is sometimes deceptive advertisement because the time for learning English is rather short, which results in programs which offer a very limited package of the language. Obviously, one would have to look at the education from an optical, integral formation, knowingly that Colombia has entered the era of the bilingualism and therefore their educational structures tend increasingly to implement policies that facilitate the training in another language such as English is; in fact, the Colombian Ministry of Education (CME) with its National Program of Bilingualism 2004-2019 and the Law 115 of 1994 in their objectives for Higher Education, demand “the acquisition of elements of conversation, reading, understanding and ability to express oneself at least in one foreign language”  (CME, 2005).

According to the CME, it is noted that the need for English increases, because Colombia is a country where the domain of the English becomes increasingly important due to the constant cultural, commercial and social relations with the United States, the European Union and the rest of the world. Therefore, it stresses the importance of learning English as a foreign language and as an essential skill to be able to cope and compete not only in the field of labor, but in the academic, trade and tourism. However, there is a number of adverse situations that students express and that, according to them, it prevents them from learning this language.

On the other hand, among adults and young people, there is a rejection toward the acquisition of English. This rejection occurs when the community declares their lack of motivation, attitude and willingness, because for them the acquisition of English is of utmost importance, however the conditions, under which it is required, are not the most appropriate. In other words, there is an overall discontent with the teaching methods, a meaningful learning to acquire a foreign language and the lack of a context that fits in with the learning of the language and the culture. In this sense, some informal education institutions have decided to step forward by offering attractive methodologies in which the learners leave behind the passive role the assume in the teaching and learning scenario to become the protagonists, assuming the role of knowledge constructor and experiencing an autonomous, critical, reflective point of view and proposing solutions to difficult situations of English language learning they might encounter. (McLaughing & DeVoogd, 2004)

In this sense, the teaching English practices have not been explicit, relevant and related to life within the Colombian context, making it hard to get achievements that demonstrate advances in the English acquisition process. For this reason, it is urgent and necessary to recognize that this difficulty prevents the development of an open and dynamic mind, as well as the economic, social, cultural and intellectual transformation of the active subject (learner) and the country. Therefore, the informal education institutions have sought to reprocess curricular and institutional empowerment that will contribute to the solution of the problems related to the methodological strategies used by some teachers in class, the noninterest and the little sense of belonging for students in certain areas. (Olajide, 2010)

That is why, informal education English institutions such as EASY-ENGLISH has been in the market since 1970. By using their logo, “the methodology EASY-ENGLISH facilitates and accelerates one’s learning, making it increasingly pleasant, because the development of the language is based on the process of automation with repetitive processes of the grammatical structures and it is grounded not only in knowledge but in the ability of the student.” (The Institution Manager) According to their advertisement, they assure an effective methodology that when applied consciously one can say without any doubt that any normal person can get to know a foreign language with the same perfection of a native speaker, as evidenced by countless cases own by them for the past 43 years (1970 to 2013). Likewise, they say that their methodology based strongly on their textbook (I Like English) differs radically from all those currently prevailing in the academic world because it has been already based primarily on actual experiences lived and identified by its creator in the flesh and not on assumptions issued by any theorist. The methodology consists of ten modules including 8 different teaching methods; each one is defined as a different set of learning exercises. All methods are complementary to each other and differ from the others in its form, nature and didactic goal.

The 8 methods are:

  1. 1.             Basic structural (Paragraphs in levels 1 and 2).
  2. 2.             Situational (transparencies from 1 to 6).
  3. 3.             Audio-visual (Charts 1 to 4).
  4. 4.             Intuitive Assimilation (paragraphs 3 to 8).
  5. 5.             Acceleration (substitution and transformation from 5 to 8).
  6. 6.             Stimulated Conversation (transparencies from 7 to 10).
  7. 7.             Free conversation (idem from 7 to 10).
  8. 8.             Idiomatic Expressions (‘Idioms’ of the 9 and 10).

Every hour of class emphasizes its own component:

  • Paragraphs: in this mode the student opens the ear canal and helps the sense of hearing learn. It is done through understanding the reading and listening.
  • Transparencies: oral production through the correct pronunciation and writing.
  • Charts: it is based on the language thought.

In this sense the three components implement constantly an oral production and their tools in each of the modules consist of:

  • Paragraphs: the students are given a text for it to finish and structure the grammar sentence in order to make their own speech in the words substitutions.
  • Transparencies: the student is presented only with the text without the proportion of pictures help.
  • Charts: provides the student posters to begin oral production without the implementation of text. In this case the student watches the image and develops the structure that the graph suggests.

However, one must recognize that each institution that shapes and emphasizes its students in learning a second language develops its own teaching methodology created exclusively for that particular student (client). Nevertheless, “when we were in school, we believed everything we read. We never questioned who was writing the text, who was determining what topics would be included, or who was deciding what would be excluded. We never questioned if there was any perspective other than the one presented in the daily newspaper, on the evening news, or in our textbooks (McLaughing & DeVoogd, 2004). This is precisely what happens with the textbooks “I Like English & I Know English” used by the institute EASY-ENGLISH. It contains some material which it is complicated to comprehend. Moreover, some of their sentences especially those of their higher levels are quite difficult to memorize due to their length besides memorizing those sentences does not represent one has result in knowledge itself. For instance this sentence taken from their level 8 textbook “though she feared the fading of her physical beauty she wanted to be respected for her artistic quality. Later, in 1954, she married Joe DiMaggio, the famous baseball player, but he wanted her to give up her movie to be a full time wife” (Santos, 1998). As one can see, this long sentence becomes a struggle for students to mechanically memorize it. Furthermore, by doing this action to an object it does not necessarily entails one is knowing the object. “That is why reading a text as a pure description of an object and memorizing it, is neither real reading nor does it result in knowledge of the object to which the text refers,” (Freire & Macedo 1987).

To develop this program in English, its author was supported by a personal conviction that the brain and the phonic apparatus of human beings can absorb in a relatively short time any living language if only they are ‘injected’ methodically a sufficient dose of what he calls “real phraseology” taking into account the following didactic order: clear meaning, detailed and accurate pronunciation, deep memorization and careful training of linguistic habits (speak fluently, understand ‘listening’ and ‘reading’, and finally write well). The feature that most accentuates the great difference between the English Program in EASY – ENGLISH and ‘all the others’ it is a perfect combination of classroom training (teacher and students in the classroom) and special recordings of triple effect (meaning the times one must repeat the recordings in order to mechanically, memorize the lessons) ‘listen to’ outside the classroom. Nevertheless, as it is pointed out by Freire and Macedo (1987), “the act of reading imposed by professors it is a mechanical act rather than internalized reading in which students need to report it.” That is to say, what teachers ought to do is to help their students to be critical and make sense out of what they reading rather than eradicating their sense of creativity for acquiring their own reading and writing style.

The complete program consisted of 10 modules of 60 hours each one (600 hours in total) of intensive study in the classroom under the guidance of 3 instructors (English teachers) most times the teachers are not properly educated in a formal education institution setting. For example, when I taught at EASY – ENGLISH institute, I met two teachers: Mr. Ramirez and Mr. Alvarez, they were both empirical English teachers who lack any training and English teaching methods which makes them an excellent target for such institution. As it is well known by these institutions, (the less training the teachers have, the less salary they make). What is more, those kind of teachers never asked or argue with or about the program. It seems like they are on a zone of comfort. Which means, they know the program and the methodology by heart as for instance Mr. Ramirez had been a teacher there for over 20 years. It was unbelievable how well he knew all the books there were in the material included in them besides they felt at ease because when introducing the methodology students were warned never to ask questions starting with “Why.” This was because some of those questions could endanger the program. In contrast to this, what critical literacy offers “it is an important strategic, practical alternative that allows teachers and students to reconnect literacy with everyday life and with an education that entails debate, argument, over social, cultural, and economic issues that matter. It is not a single unified method or approach.” (Luke, & Woods, 2009).

According to the EASY – ENGLISH program, the ideal intensity for obtaining good results is 3 hours of class daily, each one of them dictated by one of these teachers. This helps the course to be stimulating and varied, in addition to this, the students learn to understand different people and not only to their last teacher. In a nutshell, in the first hour the main emphasis of the exercises in the classroom is designed to develop the ability to “understand the spoken English at a normal speed,” in the second one, the efforts are focused to create the ability to ‘speak naturally’ and on the third one, the main goal is to teach ‘to think in English.’ In contrast to that, Iyer (2007) argues that beyond the acquisition of material one can analyze and reflect upon texts that is the teacher, and students as a group, can engage in postcritical negotiations of the text, contribute to new meaning possibilities and adopt an ongoing critical stance.

To sum up, the gradual intertwining of the three objectives at EASY – ENGLISH institute are added to some principles of industrial engineering (listed in the instructions that are being taught to the teachers during their special training week) to ensure that each student can obtain a high level of learning performance per hour of class. With the systematic application of these standards the program seeks to achieve by multiplying the performance of the time about a dozen times, that is to say, that with this methodology in a single hour, each student can absorb effectively, and without any kind of duress, what with other methodologies could be achieved within 12 hours of class. However, in order to achieve this goal, one must go back to the traditional schooling, where students’ lives, cultures, and knowledge were treated as tabula rasa, (Luke, & Woods, 2009). On the other hand, one of the main aims of critical literacy “it is to have students examine the power relationships inherent in language use, recognize that language is not neutral, and confront their own values in the production and reception of language,” (Behrman, 2006). That is to say, students should be critical and analyst as to what kind of “product” – English Textbook they are acquiring and not only sit there passively receiving a lesson which resembles someone else’s ideas which are not necessarily their own.


Behrman, H. E., (2006). Teaching about Language, Power, and Text: A Review of Classroom Practices that Support Critical Literacy. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 49, 490–498. doi:10.1598/JAAL.

Freire, P. & Macedo, D. (1987). Literacy: Reading the word and the world. London, UK: Routledge.

Iyer, R. (2007). Negotiating Critical, Postcritical Literacy: The Problematic of Text Analysis, 41, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. 8

Luke, A. & Woods, A. (2009). Critical literacies in schools: A primer. Voices from the Middle, 17(2), 9-18.

McLaughlin, M., & DeVoogd, G. (2004). Critical Literacy as Comprehension: Expanding Reader Response. Journal of adolescent & adult literacy, 48, 52-62. doi:10.1598/JAAL.48.1.

Ministerio de Educación Nacional Republica de Colombia (2005). Altablero un periódico de un país que educa y que se educa: Bases para una nación bilingüe y competitiva, de URL:

Morin, E. (1999) Los siete saberes necesarios para la educación (p. 15). Paris: UNESCO. Santillana Ed.

Olajide, S. B., (2010). A Critical Assessment of the Cultural Content of Two Primary English Textbooks Used in Nigeria. Journal of Language Teaching and Research, 1, 656-661. doi:10.4304/jltr.1.5.656-661.

Santos, L. J., (1998) I Like English. An Easy – English Series. Book 2.

Santos, L. J., (1998) I Know English. An Easy – English Series. Book 8.

2789 words


One comment on “The Quest for a Good Effective English Textbook (Rubén Palacio)

  1. Beatriz Garcés
    September 18, 2013

    Answering one of the questions you state, I consider the MEN in this bilingualism policy must contextualize standards, this is to my concern what is being missing for teaching English at Colombian institutions. The target focus must point to those realities we face while presenting English to our students. Bearing this in mind, having established concrete policies, it avoids that certain instituions use the language as a business and in contrast can give a meaningful and creative use to the language.

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This entry was posted on September 10, 2013 by in Assignments.
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