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Understanding English across Cultures

Writer(s): 
Matthew W. Turner, Rikkyo University
Publisher: 
Tokyo: Kinseido Publishing

[Nobuyuki Honna, Yuko Takeshita, & James D’Angelo. Tokyo: Kinseido Publishing, 2012. pp. 90. ¥1,900. ISBN: 978-4-7647-3942-0.] 

The English language continues to prevail as an international auxiliary language, as a lingua franca used to facilitate global communication amongst communities of users (Seidlhofer, 2005). Yet, in some learning contexts, English is still presented as a language spoken by and inherent of a limited group of native-speaking nations (Holliday, 1994). This is often perpetuated in English learning materials, and maintained by students, schools, and teachers alike. In Japan, this largely remains the case, where the identity of English is prolonged as a property of speakers from inner-circle nations (Seargeant, 2009; Yamanaka, 2006). Understanding English across Cultures attempts to readdress English as a global concern by raising awareness of the intercultural characteristics of this world vernacular. 

Set over fifteen units, the textbook explores the status of English over a host of world settings, and encourages its target Japanese tertiary learner audience to engage with various related issues. For example, in Unit 7, learners are introduced to the English variety spoken in Singapore: Singlish. While Unit 8 focuses the reader’s attention on the situation with English in India. 

Each unit begins with a brief introduction of the topic in Japanese, this is then followed with a list of vocabulary items together with their Japanese equivalents in a simple matching activity in the Words to Learn section. Reading sections follow, which serve as introductory passages about the topic of interest. Each passage is further accompanied by additional vocabulary items bolded in the margin with coordinating translations and an occasional diagram or table related to the content of the reading. Multiple choice questions follow which are designed to test the learners’ comprehension of the previous reading passages. On completion of the Comprehension task, learners are challenged to discuss the issues presented by way of a series of questions written in Japanese. Each section provides a writing activity in the form of a set of open-ended questions that encourage the learners to meaningfully connect with the unit’s subject. Finally, each section culminates with a passage, again written entirely in Japanese titled Food for Thought. This is intended to add colour to the unit’s subject and provide further opinions on the matter. 

In sampling this textbook, the reviewer brought together a small group of Japanese undergraduate learners who were majoring in global business studies, and all of whom were undertaking an English discussion-based course. After completing a lively extended discussion in English, making use of the Let’s Think and Discuss questions, the group were asked to reflect on the textbook. The group remarked that the reading level of the passage sampled had a few difficult areas. However, the participants’ responses largely showed that it was written at the right level for an intermediate to upper-intermediate proficiency of English. This was also made easier with the added vocabulary support. Some learners reflected that the sample unit (Unit 6) was not of benefit to their lives personally, citing the historical nature of the reading passage. Other learners felt that the unit had the ability to give students a better direction in the way they study.

One of this textbook’s apparent aims is to promote the development of Intercultural Communicative Competence amongst its audience. Intercultural Communication Competence is a multi-faceted concept, yet, this textbook appears to be attending to Japanese learners’ level of knowledge and flexibility (Ting-Toomey, 1999), by raising awareness of World Englishes issues. Nonetheless, this textbook could perhaps have gone one further and incorporated these varieties into the content itself, namely through the accompanying audio CD, which unfortunately appears to contradict the overall purposes of the textbook by using speakers from inner-circle nations. These shortcomings are reflected more generally by Houghton (2014), and Hino (2014) who note that similar attempts lack a distinct framework for incorporating more diverse English varieties into the content, or opportunities for actively participating in the World Englishes community.

Understanding English across Cultures should be commended for opening up the discussion of World Englishes to undergraduate learners, and for promoting a post-native-speakerist pedagogy in Japan. While the progressive and vibrant subject matter of the book is slightly muted by bland design, this text serves as a welcome introduction to undergraduate courses dealing with such global issues. I suggest this textbook would be better suited to a lecture-style, or even seminar-based contexts given the bilingual nature, nevertheless, this title certainly has the potential of being adapted for more communication-driven environments, owing to the debate it is striving to raise. 

References 

Hino, N. (2014, September). Pedagogy for the post-native-speakerist of English. Paper presented at the 2nd International Symposium on Native-Speakerism, Saga, Japan.

Holliday, A. (1994). Appropriate methodology and social context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Houghton, S. (Speaker). (2014, October). TEFLology: ‘Teflologists’ discussing TEFL [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from <http://teflology.libsyn.com>

Seargeant, P. (2009). The idea of English in Japan. Bristol: Multilingual Matters. 

Seidlhofer, B. (2005). English as a lingua franca. ELT Journal, 59(4), pp. 339-341. 

Ting-Toomey, S. (1999). Communicating across cultures. New York: Guildford Press.

Yamanaka, N. (2006). An evaluation of English textbooks in Japan from the viewpoint of nations in the inner, outer, and expanding circles. JALT Journal, 28(1), pp. 57-76. 

 
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