Textbook English: A Corpus-Based Analysis of the Language of EFL textbooks used in Secondary Schools in France, Germany and Spain

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Title: Textbook English: A Corpus-Based Analysis of the Language of EFL textbooks used in Secondary Schools in France, Germany and Spain
Authors: Le Foll, Elen
ORCID of the author: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5839-8010
Thesis advisor: Prof. Dr. Dirk Siepmann
Thesis referee: Dr. Peter Uhrig
Abstract: In secondary English as a Foreign Language (EFL) instructional contexts, textbooks constitute a major and highly influential vector of foreign language input. To date, numerous studies of the language of EFL textbooks have examined textbooks’ representations of one or at most a handful of individual linguistic features each. Taken together, these studies provide valuable insights into “the kind of synthetic English” (Römer 2004a: 185) that pupils are exposed to via their school textbooks. However, the literature review in Chapter 2 makes clear that three crucial aspects have so far been neglected. First, previous research has failed to consider interactions between the frequencies of individual linguistic features. Thus, whilst some influential studies have helped us understand how English learners can be misled by their textbooks into making unidiomatic use of specific linguistic features (e.g., progressive aspect; Römer 2005), only a multivariable approach can paint the full picture as to how “Textbook English” – as a whole – differs from the English that language learners will encounter outside the classroom. Second, prior scholarship has mostly ignored register differences between the various types of texts typically included in school foreign language textbooks. Given that school EFL textbooks frequently feature, for example, extracts from short stories, dialogues, instructions, and exercises on a single double page, this thesis argues that a meaningful analysis of Textbook English requires a register-based approach. Thirdly, previous quantitative corpus-based studies have usually been undertaken at the corpus level, e.g., comparing frequencies across an entire textbook corpus with those from a reference corpus, and have therefore failed to account for the effects of varying textbook proficiency levels or of any potential textbook author, editor, or publisher idiosyncrasies. The present study therefore sets out to describe the linguistic content of secondary school EFL textbooks and to survey the similarities and most striking differences between the various registers of “Textbook English” and naturally occurring English of situationally similar registers with respect to a wide range of lexico-grammatical features. To this end, the Textbook English Corpus (TEC) was compiled. It comprises nine series of secondary school EFL textbooks (42 textbook volumes) used at lower secondary level in France, Germany and Spain and was manually annotated for six text registers: Conversation, Fiction, Informative texts, Instructional language, Personal correspondence and Poetry & rhyme. In addition, three reference corpora (Spoken BNC2014, Info Teens and Youth Fiction) are used as baselines for comparisons between the language of the TEC and the kind of naturally occurring English that learners can be expected to encounter, engage with, and produce themselves outside the EFL classroom. The compilation of the corpora is outlined in Chapter 3. Methodologically, a contrastive corpus-based approach is adopted. Chapter 4 reports on a replication of Römer’s (2005: Ch. 5–6) study on how the progressive aspect is represented in textbook dialogues compared to naturally occurring conversation, extended to a) include lexical and semantic analyses of the verbs featured in the progressive, and b) cover textbook fiction in addition to conversation. In a second in-depth case study, Chapter 5 explores the lexico-grammatical patterns and semantics of the verb MAKE in textbook conversation and fiction as compared to the two corresponding target reference corpora. Both chapters point to notable disparities in the use of these features between the Conversation subcorpus of the TEC and the reference conversation corpus. By contrast, Textbook fiction is shown to present these much more authentically. Chapters 6 and 7 explore the use of multi-dimensional analysis (MDA; Biber 1988; 1995) to model the linguistic specificities of Textbook English. Chapter 6 presents the results of two ‘additive’ MDAs based on Biber’s (1988) model of General Spoken and Written English. The first shows that register accounts for, by far, the greatest proportion of linguistic variation within Textbook English, thus demonstrating that the language of EFL textbooks cannot be adequately modelled without considering register-based variation. By contrast, additional factors such as textbook proficiency level, series, and country of publication/use only play a marginal role in mediating intra-textbook variation. Instructional language is also shown to have very specific linguistic characteristics that set it apart from other textbook registers. The second, contrastive, additive MDA points to a major gap between Textbook Conversation and naturally occurring conversation across all textbook proficiency levels. This is followed by a methodological discussion about the limitations of the traditional MDA framework for the present study. On the basis of these, Chapter 7 proposes a revised MDA framework based on Principal Component Analysis (PCA) and extensive visualisations of the results (inspired by Neumann & Evert 2021). It is trialled with the same data to arrive at a more fine-grained and robust multi-dimensional model of Textbook English. The results of mixed-effects linear regressions modelling the dimension scores of textbook texts and of their corresponding reference corpora largely corroborate those of the two additive MDAs. Together with multi-dimensional visualisations, they are used to explain and illustrate the linguistic specificities of Textbook English. Chapter 8 provides a summary and general discussion of the results of the four analysis chapters. Lexico-grammatical aspects of Textbook English that substantially diverge from the target reference corpora are highlighted with examples before turning to the study’s pedagogical and methodological implications. Suggestions are made as to how teachers, textbook authors and editors could use freely available corpus data and tools to source and modify authentic texts. The case is made for a register approach (see also Rühlemann 2008) to EFL teaching and learning, and implications for teacher training and materials design are discussed. Finally, future research avenues are outlined. These include the triangulation of the present results with learner corpus data to investigate the impact of Textbook English on EFL learners’ productive competences.
URL: https://doi.org/10.48693/278
Subject Keywords: English Language Teaching; Englischdidaktik; Corpus linguistics; Korpuslinguistik; Teaching materials; Lehrbücher; Multi-dimensional analysis; Collostructional analysis; English as a foreign language; Englisch als Fremdsprache; Coursebooks; Lehrwerkanalyse; Lehrwerkforschung; Progressive aspect; Register analysis
Issue Date: 13-Mar-2023
License name: Attribution 3.0 Germany
License url: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/de/
Type of publication: Dissertation oder Habilitation [doctoralThesis]
Appears in Collections:FB07 - E-Dissertationen

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