A blog for the Second Language Literacies course from the MA in Learning and Teaching Processes in Second Languages (ML2) at UPB-Medellín
THE USE OF TEXTBOOKS IN LEARNING AND TEACHING LANGUAGES
ATEHORTÚA ÚSUGA JOSÉ MAURICIO
UNIVERSIDAD PONTIFICIA BOLIVARIANA
Throughout a few years the use of textbooks have taken an important part in the development of Languages classes, both schools and universities. And so many teachers have adopted them simply, because they think, those materials will be useful for their student´s learning, because they have a curriculum to get the classes easier, because they want the pupils achieve good competences, input and output, and also for students have fun themselves and discover the pleasure of learning any language. So many things have been thought at the time of teaching and learning a language, whatever it is, and the real goal is to allow the students a good process for acquiring it, taking into account some abilities that are common in any language: speaking, writing, listening and reading, but are those resources really useful for getting the objective or does exist anyone who is in the counterpart of this opinion, it means, that considers the textbooks as something useless or irrelevant?
Probably textbooks exist everywhere, or at least in the case of English learning and teaching; in countries where this one is not considered as the mother tongue. Some publishing companies have the idea or the challenge in order for Institutions get them, and so to say “we got it, we sold them! For example in our Colombian context, books have been brought from United States, England and other countries. On the one hand with different and beautiful colors for kids to capture the attention of theirs, with easy words, or why not to say it, common words that have the purpose to attain a good knowledge. On the other hand more complicated codes, unknown vocabulary, and sometimes with images or without them, depending the Level of students; for teenagers or adults. And have been certainly publishing companies like: Cambridge, Richmond, Mac Millan, Pearson, Express publishing and so on, with books as: New Interchange, champions, friends, lifestyle and others that have let a direct contact with language, in this case English.
Looking over the past years, more or less thirty of forty years ago, probably people didn´t feel any pleasure for learning a language, or perhaps a little bit. Hence they didn´t think about getting books for that. But like it was explained at the beginning, are the textbooks really important which let an enough knowledge of a language? Can we find something worthy on them? or can we talk about advantages or disadvantages regarding their use? Let´s gauge some author´s points of view of this issue and Let´s know what they want to say.
Let´s begin with Jack C Richards, one of the authors of New Interchange book. In the article of the role of textbooks in a language program, he says:
“Textbooks are a key component in most language programs. In some situations they serve as the basis for much of the language input learners receive and the language practice that occurs in the classroom. They may provide the basis for the content of the lessons, the balance of skills taught and the kinds of language practice the students take part in. In other situations, the textbook may serve primarily to supplement the teacher’s instruction.”
However he explains are some advantages or disadvantages in this regard. He says:
“The use of commercial textbooks in teaching has both advantages and disadvantages, depending on how they are used and the contexts for their use. Among the principal advantages are”:
– They provide structure and a syllabus for a program.
Without textbooks a program may have no central core and learners may not receive a syllabus that has been systematically planned and developed.
– They help standardize instruction.
The use of a textbook in a program can ensure that the students in different classes receive similar content and therefore can be tested in the same way.
– They maintain quality.
If a well developed textbook is used students are exposed to materials that have been tried and tested, that are based on sound learning principles, and that are paced appropriately.
– They provide a variety of learning resources.
Textbooks are often accompanied by workbooks, CDs and cassettes, videos, CD ROMs, and comprehensive teaching guides, providing a rich and varied resource for teachers and learners.
– They are efficient. They save teachers’ time, enabling teachers to devote time to teaching rather than material’s production.
Talking about disadvantages, he expresses:
“They may contain inauthentic language.
-Textbooks sometimes present inauthentic language since texts, dialogs and other aspects of content tend to be specially written to incorporate teaching points and are often not representative of real language use.
– They may distort content.
Textbooks often present an idealized view of the world or fail to represent real issues. In order to make textbooks acceptable in many different contexts controversial topics are avoided and instead an idealized white middle-class view of the world is portrayed as the norm.
– They may not reflect students’ needs.
Since textbooks are often written for global markets, they often do not reflect the interests and needs of students and hence may require adaptation.
– They can deskill teachers.
If teachers use textbooks as the primary source of their teaching leaving the textbook and teacher’s manual to make the major instructional decisions for them the teacher’s role can become reduced to that of a technician whose primarily function is to present materials prepared by others.
– They are expensive.
Commercial textbooks may represent a financial burden for students in many parts of the world.”
Following this line let´s introduce ourselves in other perspectives, which tell us relevant aspects or irrelevant ones of textbooks.
Peter Tze-Ming Chou of Wenzao Ursuline College of Languages (Kaohsiung, Taiwan) says:
“From the school administration and some teachers’ point of view, there are several advantages for basing the curriculum on a series of ESL course books. First, the course books have a clearly identified set of achievement objectives which include what the learners are expected to be able to do and what to expect next. These ready-made syllabi contain carefully planned and balanced selection of language content that can be easily followed by teachers and students (Kayapinar, 2009). Second, when the teachers are teaching each unit in the course books, there is a consistency in the topics and genres in the four skills area (listening, speaking, reading, and writing). This allows for greater autonomy in the learning process. In addition, many inexperienced teachers may find ESL course books to be useful and practical because the ready-made activities and lessons are easy for the teacher to prepare. In many of the ESL course books, the designers even have prepared achievement tests for each units of study and a teacher’s manual to guide the teachers in their instruction. Finally, ESL course books are the cheapest and most convenient ways of providing learning materials to each student (Kayapinar, 2009). All of these reasons make using course books a very popular choice in the English learning curriculum.”
From a perspective less positive, he says:
“From the researcher’s own experiences, there are a number of issues to consider when using ESL course books. First, most course books contain a lot of activities where students do “questions and answers”. After a few lessons, many students may find the learning process boring and uninteresting. In addition, the reading selections in the ESL course books are often quite short and they often fail to present appropriate and realistic language models as well as fostering cultural understanding (Kayapinar, 2009). The lack of challenging reading materials could also slow the students’ language development creating a plateau effect.”
Focusing on the perspectives described above, it is possible to say that textbooks are meaningful for teachers in the way they use them in a proper way, and no find them like the perfect excuse for avoiding to do other things, which have a high relevance in the process of learning a language; like: flashcards, billboards, posters, games of board and elaborated ones, it doesn´t mind if the main population are: children, teenagers or grown up people, but teachers also have to be aware that the use of many resources may qualify their daily task, and fell in love the students of their own methodology. All the teachers have the authority to decide if a textbook is worthy or not when he wants to teach, if so; they have to take the best advantage of it and consequently take the pupils to a good outcome in their learning process.