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REL0010.1177/0033688217738817RELC JournalMcKay


RELC Journal

English As an International
2018, Vol. 49(1) 9­–23
© The Author(s) 2018
Reprints and permissions:
Language: What It Is and
DOI: 10.1177/0033688217738817
What It Means For Pedagogy

Sandra Lee McKay

San Francisco State Univeristy, USA

A great deal has been written about what English as an International Language (EIL) actually is
(e.g. Alsagoff et al., 2012; Matsuda, 2012; McKay and Brown, 2016; Sharifian, 2009), ranging from a
view of EIL as the many varieties of English that are spoken today to the use of English by second
language speakers of English. Thus, EIL is viewed both as a type of English and as a way of using
English. The purpose of this article is to (1) grapple with defining the construct of EIL and (2)
elaborate on what this construct means for pedagogy. The article begins by discussing various
terms and definitions associated with EIL and positing an alternative definition. Following this,
the majority of the article will be devoted to elaborating on what such a definition suggests for a
sensitive and effective EIL pedagogy.

English as an international language, World Englishes, English as a lingual franca, EIL Pedagogy,
EIL Curriculum

Defining English as an International Language

As Jenkins (2006) points out, attention to the term English as an International Language
(EIL) is relatively new to the TESOL profession. She notes that in the 1991 anniversary
of the TESOL Quarterly, almost no attention was given to the idea of World Englishes
and at that time the term English as a Lingua Franca was not yet even coined. Yet by the
40th anniversary of the journal both terms were assigned a dedicated slot. Although on
occasion the three terms – World Englishes, English as a Lingua Franca and English as
an International Language – are used interchangeably, it is important to distinguish their
different assumptions and focus.

Corresponding author:
Sandra Lee McKay, San Francisco State University, 142 Sand Hill Circle, Menlo Park, California 94025, USA.
10 RELC Journal 49(1)

World Englishes (WE) is often viewed in one of three perspectives (Bolton, 2004). The
first is a broad definition, which includes all varieties of English spoken around the world,
including Englishes spoken in what Kachru (1985) refers to as the Inner Circle (where
English is spoken as a first language), the Outer Circle (where English is one of several offi-
cial languages of the country) and the Expanding Circle (where English is required as a for-
eign language but has no special status as an official language). This definition of World
Englishes is often used interchangeably with international English and global English
(Jenkins, 2006). The second definition of World Englishes is a narrow definition that includes
only those varieties of English spoken in what Kachru terms the outer circle, including such
varieties as Nigerian English, Jamaican English and Malaysian English. This definition of
World Englishes is at times also labelled as nativized, indigenized or institutionalized English.
The third definition overlaps with the second view, but it emphasizes the pluricentric view of
English in which equal respect is given to all varieties of English. However, it is important to
note that all three perspectives share a view of the study of English as an investigation of the
linguistic features that particular speakers typically employ.
What does such a perspective imply for pedagogy? In general, classrooms that focus
on this perspective devote the majority of their curriculum to distinguishing the particu-
lar linguistic features of English spoken in specific areas of the world. These localized
varieties are sometimes viewed as the target learning model or linguistic norm for the
area, resulting in endonormative standards. Some also emphasize the fact that while
these varieties differ in certain phonological, morphological, syntactic and semantic fea-
tures, all should be accorded equal status and respect.
English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) has traditionally been defined as ‘interactions
between members of two or more different linguacultures in English, for none of whom
English is the mother tongue’ (House, 1999: 74). In other words, ELF is the study of the
type of language that is used when second language speakers from different linguistic and
cultural backgrounds interact. By definition, all first language speakers of English are
excluded from the focus of ELF investigations. Jenkins (2006) argues quite strongly that
the purpose of ELF research is essentially to document the features of interactions between
second language speakers of English and in no way is meant to depict a particular variety
of English that should become the standard for second language speakers. As she puts it:

The existence of ELF is not intended to imply that learners should aim for an English that is
identical in all respects. ELF researchers do not believe any such monolithic variety of English
does or ever will exist. Rather, they believe that anyone participating in international communication
needs to be familiar with, and have in their linguistic repertoire for use, as and when appropriate,
certain forms (phonological, lexicogrammatical, etc.) that are widely used and widely intelligible
across groups of English speakers from different first language backgrounds. That is why
accommodation is so highly valued in ELF research. At the same time, ELF does not at all
discourage speakers from learning and using their local variety in local communicative contexts,
regardless of whether this is an inner, outer, or expanding circle English (Jenkins, 2006: 161).

This perspective has several pedagogical implications. First, it focusses on both the
features of second language speakers’ interactions but it also highlights the importance
of developing strategies to remedy breakdowns in communication. It also encourages
second language speakers to be bidialectal in their use of English, mastering both local
McKay 11

and more international varieties of English. Hence, Singaporeans, for example, would be
encouraged to master and use both Standard Singaporean English and Singlish and to use
each when and where appropriate.
In what ways does EIL differ from these two perspectives? First, it is important to
note the essential features of each. As noted above, the focus of WE is to define the dis-
tinctive features of various varieties of English. It is thus concerned with content and not
interaction. ELF, on the other hand, is concerned both with content (though unlike WE
its focus is on the features of interaction between second language speakers of English
and not on the linguistic/cultural background of the speaker) and with interaction. In this
article, I intend to argue that while EIL is concerned with both content and interaction, its
main focus is on particular principles.
EIL scholars recognize the existence of various varieties of English that are used around
the world. These varieties are factors both of the first language and culture of the speaker
(as described by World Englishes scholars), as well as the speaker’s level of language
expertise (as is evident in ELF interactions). In this way, EIL is concerned with content. In
addition, EIL scholars also recognize that what language is used and how it is used is a fac-
tor both of the purpose of the communication and the speaker’s first language, culture, and
level of expertise in English. In other words, EIL takes into account the fact that the lan-
guage used in any interaction will depend on the speaker’s investment in being understood,
his/her level of expertise in English and the listener’s English competency. In this way EIL
also focusses on process. However, EIL differs from both World Englishes and English as
a lingua franca in insisting that the use of English for international communication must be
based on a set of specific principles. Some of the major principles are as follows:

1. Given the varieties of English spoken today and the diversity of L2 learning con-
texts, all pedagogical decisions regarding standards and curriculum should be made
in reference to local language needs and local social and educational factors.
2. The widely accepted belief that an English-only classroom is the most productive
for language learning needs to be fully examined; in addition, careful thought
should be given to how best to use the L1 in developing language proficiency.
3. Attention to the development of strategic intercultural competence should exist
in all EIL classrooms.
4. EIL is not linked to a particular social/cultural context in the same way that
French, Korean or Japanese are intricately associated with a particular culture. In
this way EIL is or should be culturally neutral.

What do these principles suggest for

•• The variety of English that is promoted in EIL classrooms?

•• The use of students’ other languages in learning English?
•• The knowledge and strategies needed to use English?
•• The cultural basis of EIL curriculum?

These are the questions that we turn to now (this discussion is further elaborated on in
McKay and Brown, 2016).
12 RELC Journal 49(1)

EIL and the Variety of English that is Promoted in

One fact that WE research has made clear is that because of the global reach of English,
there are many varieties of English (see for example, Jenkins, 2003; Kirkpatrick, 2007;
McKay and Bokhorst-Heng, 2008; Platt et al., 1984). WE scholars argue convincingly
that all such varieties are equal and should be recognized as valid. Kachru maintains that
English has ‘blended itself with the cultural and social complex’ (1983: 139) of the coun-
try and has thereby become ‘culture-bound’ (1983: 140) in it. Therefore, he argues, new
Englishes cannot be judged by the norms of English in Inner Circle countries. Rather, the
form and function of new Englishes must be considered according to ‘the context of situ-
ation which is appropriate to the variety, its uses and users’ (1983: 215).
Research in World Englishes has sought to document the unique features of particular
varieties of English. In most cases these features are far more prevalent in spoken, infor-
mal English, although they can be used in some professional formal spoken contexts
such as call centres. Formal written English, on the other hand, tends to display far fewer
of these features and in many ways comes closest to what might be thought of as a uni-
versal standard of English usage. This is a fairly consistent standard that is displayed in
the writing of most academic, professional, and diplomatic writing. Seidlhofer makes the
point that the standardization of formal written texts is a factor of its uses.

It stands to reason that in written language use, where there is no possibility of the overt
reciprocal negotiation of meaning typical of spoken interaction, there is more reliance on
established norms, and these are naturally maintained by a process of self-regulation whereby
these norms are adhered to in the interest of maintaining global mutual intelligibility
(Seidlhofer, 2007: 146).

Whenever possible, EIL teachers should help interested students develop expertise in
this standard written English since this is the variety of English that has the most global
currency and power.
However, there are instances when this will not be possible nor perhaps desirable.
Blommaert (2010), for example, describes the standard of English that is taught in a
housing project in the Western Cape of South Africa. All of the learners here have prob-
lems with basic literacy displaying the following features in their writing:

(i) erratic use of capitals (not using them where needed, using them where not needed);
(ii) difficulties with singular and plural markers;
(iii) difficulties with verb inflections, esp. plural marking and tense marking;
(iv) problems with the use of definite and indefinite articles (not using them where
(v) a wide range of spelling problems, mostly a result of phonetic spelling (writing
according to pronunciation);
(vi) a tendency to aestheticize writing, even when struggling with basic writing skills
– writing as drawing.
(Blommaert, 2010: 84).
McKay 13

Since many of the English teachers in the school display the same features in their
writing and hence, promote these standards in their classroom, Blommaert contends that
the community displays a ‘grassroot’ literacy that is widespread in Africa and elsewhere
in the world. The norms then that are applied in this context are what might be termed
peripheral norms rather than a universal or singular norm, a norm which neither the stu-
dents nor the teachers have access to. And as Blommaert notes, as a consequence, ‘doing
well in school means doing well by local standards’ (2010: 93).
While the localized standards may provide a productive learning environment for
learners in a difficult social environment, ‘the localization of norms also involves a move
away from the norms of the ‘centre’. And these norms, as we know, are hegemonic in the
end’ (Blommaert, 2010: 96). Ultimately:

some skills offer a very low degree of mobility while others offer a considerably larger degree
of mobility and transferability across social and spatial domains. “Standard” literacy usually
falls in the second category, while “non-standard” literacy falls in the first category, even if
from one perspective it can be seen as “full”, developed, complex literacy within a restricted
repertoire of literacy skills and resources (Blommaert, 2010:100).

The point is that English today is:

a multiplex item composed of at least two different objects: English1 [i.e., standard literacy] an
ideologically conceived homogenous and idealized notion of “English-the-language-of-
success”, and English2, [i.e. grassroot literacy] a situationally and locally organized pragmatics
of using “English” in ways rather distant from English (Blommaert, 2010:100).

The existence of many varieties of English has significant ramifications for teaching
and assessment. The existence of grassroot literacy standards demonstrates that in many
English-speaking contexts, students will bring to the classroom varieties of English that
serve important purposes in their community in establishing a sense of community and
rapport with other local speakers. Teachers need to be aware of these varieties and the
functions they serve in the local community. In some cases, teachers will be able to add
to the students’ English repertoire other varieties of English, ones that often have a
greater range of acceptability. In other instances, however, due to students’ limited access
to education and mobility, it may be more important to work on developing students’
general education and knowledge, rather than to focus on developing a far-removed
standard of English. Such decisions can only be made by local teachers and administra-
tors who are well aware of the students’ goals and needs.

EIL and the Use of Students’ Other Languages in Learning

Many EIL classrooms have a valuable resource to use in classroom interaction, namely
the use of the L1. Yet, two widely accepted ELT tenets are:

•• English is best taught monolingually

14 RELC Journal 49(1)

•• If other languages are used much, standards of English will drop

(Phillipson, 1992: 185).

Given how widely these assumptions are accepted in EIL classes, particularly in
Expanding Circle countries, it is important to examine these tenets.
Korea, like many Expanding Circle countries, has a teaching English through English
(TETE) policy. According to Kim (2002), TETE involves ‘speaking and using English as
often as you possibly can, for example, when organizing teaching activities or chatting
to students socially. It means establishing English as the main language of communica-
tion between students and instructors’ (2002: 132). Several rationales have been offered
for the implementation of such a policy. One rationale is Krashen’s (1985) Input
Hypothesis which holds that if learners are provided with input +1, that is, input a little
above their level of comprehension, they will be able to comprehend the language used.
Hence, if teachers would merely simplify their English use to a level slightly above what
the student knows, they would be understood.
Krashen’s hypothesis is based on an analogy between first and second language
acquisition. It assumes that second language learning should be based on the principles
of first language learning in which caretakers consistently fine-tune their input to the
needs of the learner. Yet, L1 and L2 learning contexts are quite different. First of all,
much of L1 learning takes place in a one-to-one context rather than a formal learning
context with learners at various levels of proficiency. In addition, L2 learners after the
age of five or six have a well-developed sense of their first language, and therefore of
how (at least one) language works. There is no reason why this resource should not be
drawn on in the classroom.
Another rationale for the implementation of TETE is based on Long’s (1983) Interaction
Hypothesis, which maintains that learners need to engage in meaningful negotiation to
develop their L2 proficiency. However, it is often difficult and unnatural for L2 learners
with little L2 language proficiency to interact in meaningful negotiation in their L2. While
such interaction is more feasible with relatively advanced learners, it is still unnatural for
speakers who share a native language to interact in their second language.
One of the major questions that needs to be raised in the implementation of TETE is
the appropriateness of the social context for the policy. TETE originated in Inner Circle
countries with the teaching of immigrants. In these contexts, teachers often do not know
the L1 of the learners and the learners come from different language backgrounds. The
social context of immigrant classrooms is quite different from that of foreign language
classes in Expanding Circle countries. These differences are summarized in the Table 1.
The uniqueness of each EIL classroom means that a methodology that is suitable for
one context may not be suitable at all for another context. Hence, while an English-only
policy may be necessary and in some ways beneficial in an ESL context, that by no
means suggests it will be suitable for an EFL context. Still many teachers struggle to
implement a TETE policy, even though they experience high levels of anxiety in doing
so (Kim, 2002; Kim, 2008).
Rather than categorically rejecting the use of the L1 in EIL classrooms, it is useful to
consider what contextual factors warrant the use of L1. The following are some princi-
ples that are useful in determining whether or not to use the L1.
McKay 15

Table 1.  A Comparison of ESL and EFL Learning Contexts.

ESL Context EFL Context

•• Learning takes place in an English-speaking •• Learning takes place in a non-English-
environment. speaking environment.
•• Students need to acquire English to use in •• There is little opportunity to use English
the immediate social context. in the immediate social context.
•• There is not a common L1 to use in the •• There is a common L1 to use in the
classroom. classroom.

•• Students’ Proficiency Level

In general, it is more productive to strive for an English-only classroom with more advanced
learners who have the necessary resources to negotiate meaningfully in English. This
suggests that more and more English be used in language classes as students become more

•• Teachers’ Proficiency Level

Teachers with less proficiency in English will certainly find it more challenging to
implement an English-only classroom than will more proficient teachers. Less proficient
teachers would benefit from opportunities to develop their English proficiency so they
have the skill and confidence to use English in their classes. Until they receive the support
to do this, it makes little sense to require them to implement an English-only classroom.

•• Grammatical Rules

Regular grammar rules are easier to teach inductively with the use of English consciousness-
raising activities than are complex rules. For example, whereas tasks can be designed to
help students induce the rules that apply to the formation of the regular past tense in
English, this would be more difficult to do with the use of articles. As such, at times it is
beneficial for teachers to explain grammatical points in the L1 for efficient learning to take

•• Lexical Development

There are various ways to make the meaning of concrete vocabulary items clear through
the use of English, whereas this is quite difficult to do with more abstract items. For
example, pictures can easily be used to clarify the meaning of concrete words such as boy,
tree, car, and so on. Visuals would be much less helpful in introducing vocabulary items
such as liberty, happiness, patriotism, and so on. In the latter case, the use of translation
could save a great deal of classroom time.

•• Group Work

As was pointed out earlier, it is unnatural for individuals who share an L1 to use their L2 in
face-to-face interactions. As such, rather than insist that students avoid the use of their L1
16 RELC Journal 49(1)

in small group interaction, teachers might encourage students to use their L1 for specific
purposes. For example, students could be allowed to use their L1 to write a short role-play
that they must then perform in English.

In sum, it makes little sense to categorically prohibit the use of the L1 in language
classrooms in order to achieve an English only classroom. Rather the L1 should be
viewed as a valuable resource that should be used with discretion based on the profi-
ciency level of the students and teacher and on the purpose and focus of the task.

EIL and the Knowledge and Strategies Needed to Use

Expectations as to what is appropriate language use can differ because most exchanges
in EIL involve individuals from different cultural backgrounds. To make this clear, let us
consider the following situation based on an ELT exercise in which students are asked to
answer the question below.
When someone compliments the watch you are wearing, you would:

1. Say, ‘Oh this cheap thing?’

2. Give it to him.
3. Say, ‘Thanks’ and smile.
4. Say, ‘Would you like to have it?’

For some, the ‘correct’ choice might be number three since it tends to be the most
commonly chosen option in exchanges in American English. However, item number one,
what is termed a downplay, is a frequent choice in many Asian cultures. Should learners
then be encouraged to adhere to the pragmatics of their own culture or an Inner Circle
country? Clearly, English users should be allowed/encouraged to use English in ways
that support their own sense of identity and cultural affiliation. Whereas this option is
certainly in keeping with the view of English as an international language, pragmatic
choices do have repercussions for intercultural communication.
Take, for example, research on receiving compliments in a South African context.
Chick (1996), in researching compliments on a newly-integrated college campus in
South Africa, found that how a compliment was received depended to a large extent on
the ethnic background of the students. Specifically he found the following differences in
how different groups of students received a compliment.

•• Black South Africans – No acknowledgment (32%); Comment acceptance (e.g. ‘I

bought it on campus’) (14%).
•• Indian South Africans – Appreciation token (e.g. ‘Thank you’) (33%); no acknowl-
edgment (11%).
•• White South Africans – Appreciation token (36%); question (e.g. ‘What colour is
yours?’) (13%) (Chick, 1996).

As Chick points out, such differences can hinder cross-cultural understanding because they
reflect different beliefs about what is appropriate to say when receiving a compliment.
McKay 17

It is difficult to overemphasize the importance of pragmatic competence in EIL

exchanges. In the majority of EIL exchanges, speakers have different levels of compe-
tence in the grammar of English, as well as differences in their sense of pragmatic appro-
priateness. As Canagarajah (2007) notes, in most EIL exchanges,

the form of English is negotiated by each set of speakers for their purposes. The speakers are
able to monitor each other’s language proficiency to determine mutually the appropriate
grammar, phonology, lexical range, and pragmatic conventions that would ensure intelligibility.
Therefore, it is difficult to describe this language a priori (Canagarajah, 2007: 925).

In order for communication to proceed smoothly, speakers have to work to negotiate

understanding and adjust the form of their language so that the listener is able to compre-
hend and interpret the intent of the message.
Canagarajah (2007) goes so far as to argue that in EIL exchanges, form can in some
ways be less important than meaning and use, pointing out that in such exchanges,

form receives reduced significance, or, rather, form gets shaped according to the contexts and
participants in an interaction. More important are the range of other skills, abilities, and
awareness that enable multilingual speakers to negotiate grammar. In addition to grammatical
competence, we have to give equal importance to language awareness that enables speakers to
make instantaneous inferences about the norms and conventions of their multilingual
interlocutors; strategic competence to negotiate interpersonal relationships effectively; and
pragmatic competence to adopt communicative conventions that are appropriate for the
interlocutor, purpose and situation (Canagarajah, 2007: 928).

Given the importance of strategic and pragmatic competence in EIL exchanges, an

essential aspect of EIL classes should be to develop these competencies. McKay (2011)
maintains that all EIL curricula should give attention to the following components of
language use.

1. Explicit attention should be given to introducing and practicing repair strategies

such as asking for clarification and repetition, rephrasing, and allowing wait
2. A variety of conversational gambits or routines should be introduced and prac-
ticed including such items as expressing disagreement and disagreement, manag-
ing turn-taking, and taking leave.
3. The curricula should seek to promote students’ understanding of how pragmatic
norms can differ cross-culturally.
4. Students should be free to express and explain their own pragmatic norms but to
recognize that to the extent these differ from the norms expected by their listener,
there may be cross-cultural misunderstandings (McKay, 2011: 133).

EIL and the Cultural Basis of the Curriculum

As noted above, one of the basic assumptions of EIL is that EIL is not linked to a par-
ticular social/cultural context in the same way that French, Korean or Japanese are
18 RELC Journal 49(1)

intricately associated with a particular culture. In this way EIL is, or should be, cultur-
ally neutral. In other words, the idea that somehow the cultural target for English is
Western culture, specifically British or American culture, is not in keeping with a view
of English as an international language in which English belongs to speakers of any
culture who hope to share knowledge about their culture with others. While EIL should
be culturally neutral, that does not mean EIL does not address cultural issues. Rather
EIL strives to make the cultural assumptions of any text clear and to encourage learners
of English to compare the cultural assumptions inherent in the texts they read with their
own cultural assumptions.
Often the cultural knowledge in a text is captured in schemas. In an early article on
schema theory and L2 reading, Carrell and Eisterhold (1983) argued that a text does not
by itself carry meaning. Rather what a text does is provide directions for readers to con-
struct meaning based on their own acquired knowledge. This previously acquired knowl-
edge is called background knowledge and the structures of this knowledge are called
schemas. For example a reader may have experienced American baseball and hence,
have a schema of the game – the rules, the players, the fans, and so on. In schema theory,
reading is viewed as an interactive process between the reader’s background cultural
knowledge and the text.
In order to clarify the meaning of schema theory, consider the following text from
Rummelhart (1991).

Mary heard the ice cream truck coming down the street. She remembered her birthday money
and rushed into the house (Rummelhart, 1991: 257).

In interpreting this text, many Americans would draw on their schema of ice cream
trucks coming into neighborhoods on hot summer days and selling ice cream to children
in the neighborhood. They would also draw on their schema of birthday money, that is,
money given to children on their birthday. They would assume that Mary is rushing into
the house to get her birthday money to buy some ice cream.
Now assume that the text instead read as follows.

Mary heard the ice cream truck coming down the street. She remembered her birthday money
and locked the door (Carrell and Eisterhold, 1983: 559).

With this text, a whole new interpretation would arise based on the schema of locking a
door. In this case, the reader would likely assume that there was some reason to fear the
ice cream truck. As Carrell and Eisterhold (1983) point out, as long as the bottom-up
processing that is occurring through decoding the text on the page and the top-down
conceptual processing are consistent, readers proceed with their interpretation of a text.
However, when readers encounter inconsistency between the top-down predictions and
bottom-up information, readers are forced to revise their interpretations so as to make the
two compatible. They conclude that:

the basic point is that much of the meaning understood from a text is really not actually in the
text, per se, but in the reader, in the background or schematic knowledge of the reader. What is
McKay 19

understood from a text is a function of the particular schema that is activated at the time of the
processing (i.e., reading) the text (Carrell and Eisterhold, 1983: 559).

The difficulty of processing a text in an EIL context is that readers may not have the
background cultural knowledge needed to interpret the text. In the case of the example
above, readers may not be familiar with ice cream trucks or with birthday money.
Consider the following second example from an ESL reading text:

By voting against mass transportation, voters have chosen to continue on a road to ruin. Our
interstate highways, those much praised golden avenues built to whisk suburban travelers in
and out of downtown have turned into the world’s most expensive parking lots. That expense is
not only economic – it is social. These highways have created great walls, separating
neighborhood from neighborhood, disrupting the complex social connections that make a city
livable (Baudoin et al., 1977: 159 as cited in Carrell and Eisterhold, 1983: 563).

The meaning in this text is dependent on sharing a culture-specific schema of cars and
mass transportation. If readers view highways as vehicles for mass transportation rather
than for individual mobility, the passage makes little sense. Furthermore, unless readers
share the schema of crowded highways, they would have difficulty comprehending the
phrase ‘the world’s most expensive parking lot’. Without such cultural background
knowledge, readers will not be able to interpret the author’s view on mass transportation.
What does this discussion suggest for curriculum content in EIL contexts?
To begin, EIL teachers need to devote time to explaining and analysing content sche-
mas in texts. This is particularly called for in EIL classes where students read texts that
are based on cultural content schemas they are not familiar with. One way to provide
students with these content schemas is to explain relevant background knowledge before
students read a text. Hence, for example, in preparing students to read the text above on
highways and mass transportation, information could be provided on the situation of
American mass transit and highway use. Teachers also need to deal with the specialized
vocabulary needed to interpret a particular text so that in the example above students can
understand what is meant by ‘road to ruin’ and ‘the world’s most expensive parking lot’.
Another valuable technique for dealing with content schema is what Krashen (1981)
terms narrow reading or reading several articles on the same topic in order to build the
readers’ background knowledge on the topic. This is particularly valuable in advanced
EIL classes where students have the necessary reading level to be able to deal with unfa-
miliar schemas. With less proficient English learners, teachers might select texts on
familiar content schemas so that students can concentrate on acquiring the structure and
vocabulary of English. Finally, students can be encouraged to engage in extensive read-
ing so that learners select reading texts that they are interested in and that match their
level of proficiency and content schemas (for a full discussion of the use and advantages
of extensive reading, see Day et al., 1998). Understanding the content schema embedded
in a printed text is an essential first step in becoming critical EIL readers but critical read-
ing involves much more.
According to Wallace, critical reading involves considering ‘texts from a perspective
of power’ (2012: 267) so that readers can determine to what extent their values and per-
spectives match those of the assumed reader of the text. This is especially necessary with
20 RELC Journal 49(1)

EIL readers who read texts based on the assumptions and values of a culture other than
their own. One of the great advantages of being able to read texts in English is that learn-
ers can participate in the ‘global debates of the age’ (Wallace, 2012: 261) such as immi-
gration, dwindling global resources, changes in national governments, and climate
change. However, when reading about these topics from different cultural perspectives,
learners may encounter new schemas and assumptions for, as Wallace points out,

there are culturally recognizable ways of talking/writing about marriage, the relationship
between men and women, the family, work, medicine, and education. These discourses are
routinely embedded in texts of all kinds, including the English language textbooks which, for
many learners of English, may be the first introduction to the supposed values, attitudes, and
behavior of members of English speaking societies (Wallace, 2012: 262).

For example, in reading the text on mass transportation shown above, EIL readers need
to understand the assumptions many Americans hold regarding mass transportation ver-
sus private cars, assumptions and values that may be quite different from their own.
Since many ELT textbooks are published in Western English-speaking countries,
these books often reflect the Western values of those countries. Gray (2012), who has
investigated in depth some of the values depicted in textbooks published in Inner Circle
countries, contends that ELT course books are in many ways ambassadors for a particular
way of life. One of the major themes he has investigated in United Kingdom published
ELT textbooks is the theme of the celebrity. For Gray, a celebrity is someone who is well-
known as a result of media attention.
In his intensive examination of popular United Kingdom ELT textbook series such as
Headway and Streamline, Gray (2012) seeks to determine how celebrities are dealt with
in these books. He points out that attention to celebrities began in the late 1970s increas-
ing dramatically from the 1980s onward. He contends that ‘celebrity characters tend to
be presented to students as worthy of their approval on account of their single-minded
dedication to a chosen path in life and distinction in their field’ (2012: 99). Not only is
their dedication foregrounded but also their wealth. This focus on wealth increases over
time so that while the 1996 version of Headway includes an excerpt on the achievements
of a fictional writer, Joanna Hardy, by the 2009 edition this excerpt is replaced with one
on Calvin Klein describing his humble start to his creation of a billion dollar business.
This focus on wealth continues to increase with an emphasis on celebrities from the
world of entertainment and successful entrepreneurs.
At the same time, students are encouraged to think about their own lives and career
paths in reference to such celebrities. For example, in the 2003 New Headway Advanced,
students are given a speaking activity entitled ‘How to become an A-list celebrity’.
Groups of students are given cards that the students are to discuss. The first card reads:

It is time to start your journey on the road to fame and fortune. You want to make it to the big
time as quickly as possible. You have identified two routes that could find you a way to join the
rich and famous.

Invent an interesting new past for yourself – become a new person! One that could make you
newsworthy. Go to 7.
McKay 21

Work your way into the elite groups of famous people by hanging out in the right places.
Basically you will party your way to the top. Go to 2.

(Soars and Soars, 2003a: 44, as quoted in Gray, 2012: 105).

Let us consider this text from the perspective of cultural content schemas. To begin,
the text is based on the schema of rags to riches, that is, someone getting rich either by
doing things in their early life or by making friends with rich and famous people, a
schema that may not be shared by all EIL readers. Second, the text includes several
semantic phrases that may or may not be shared with the EIL reader such as ‘the road to
fame and fortune’, ‘to make it to the big time’, ‘hanging out in the right places’, and
‘party your way to the top’. This is all cultural background knowledge that the reader
must have to understand the intent of the text. In terms of being a critical reader, EIL
readers need to understand the assumptions that are being made about them, namely that
they want to get on the path to fame and fortune. In addition, they need to decide whether
or not they want to accept that assumption about themselves. In other words, do they
wish to accept or contest the schema of rags to riches and work towards becoming rich
and famous? In short, one of the main aims of introducing cultural content of any culture
into an EIL classroom is to develop what Kramsch (1993) terms a sphere of intercultural-
ity in which students consider their own culture in relation to another so that the learning
about another culture entails reflection on one’s own culture.

English is undoubtedly one of the most challenging languages to teach due to its many
varieties, its use in cross-cultural exchanges and its lack of a clear cultural basis. Yet at
the same time it is the most rewarding to teach since it is a language with great geo-
graphical and cultural reach that allows people to engage in cross-cultural exchanges and
to access a wide array of knowledge. As I have argued in this article, the defining features
of EIL are that it is informed by basic principles that support a pluricentric view of stand-
ards, recognizes the value of students’ other languages, endeavours to promote pragmatic
sensitivity and respects the various cultures from which its speakers come. Given the
complexity of the linguistic and cultural basis of English, it is imperative that all peda-
gogical decisions be based on the local linguistic and cultural context and be made by
informed teachers who adhere to the principles discussed in this article.

The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this

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