Culture in English as a Foreign Language (EFL) Textbooks: A Semiotic Approach



This article problematizes current, quantitative approaches to the analysis of culture in foreign language textbooks as objectifying culture, and offers an alternative, semiotic framework that examines texts, images, and tasks as merely engendering particular meanings in the act of semiosis. The authors take as a point of departure developments within the social sciences that have questioned monolithic conceptualizations of culture as well as recent arguments that stress intercultural citizenship and global cultural consciousness as key goals of (foreign) language learning. The authors argue that such transformative pedagogic agendas require a more dynamic understanding of how culture figures in teaching materials and of the processes through which learners engage with those materials. Through excerpts from two English as a foreign language textbooks written by and for Hungarians, the authors illustrate a semiotic analytic approach that underscores two key insights: (1) that learners' meaning making in the classroom tends to be heavily guided and (2) that images and texts, even those with supposed cultural meaning or focus, seem to foster mainly linguistic competence. The article makes the case that images and texts should be harnessed more explicitly to develop a critical and reflexive understanding of culture, self, and other.