Who are the non-native speakers of English? A critical discourse analysis of global ELT textbooks

¿Quiénes son los anglohablantes no-nativos? Un Análisis Crítico del Discurso de libros de texto ELT de distribución global

Zulma Xiomara Rueda García

Universidad Industrial de Santander, Colombia


Encarna Atienza Cerezo

Universitat Pompeu Fabra, España


Recibido: Diciembre 2019 Aceptado: Agosto 2020 Publicado: Diciembre 2020

Citación: Rueda García, Z. X. & Atienza Cerezo, E. (2020). Who are the non-native speakers of English? A critical discourse analysis of global ELT textbooks. Logos: Revista de Lingüística, Filosofía y Literatura, 30(2), 281-296. doi.org/10.15443/RL3022

Dirección Postal: Cra 27 Calle 9 Ciudad Universitaria, Bucaramanga, Santander, Colombia.

Abstract: As the demand for English language skills among non-native speakers globally has grown steadily so too has the number of ‘global textbooks’ for ELT aimed at a world market. Concurrently, critical perspectives of the expansion of English have begun to challenge the view that native speaker contexts ‘own’ English. Based on the aforementioned, and on reflective approaches to culture, our objective is to analyze critically the representations of speakers of English as a second or foreign language offered by two global ELT textbooks, to discuss the issues of essentialization and reproduction of stereotypes about the “non-native” speakers of English and their sociocultural characteristics in the constructed image. To achieve this purpose, we apply a methodology based on a sociocognitive approach to Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) (Van Dijk, 2013), the concept of sociocultural knowledge as stated by the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), and critical perspectives of culture according to Holliday, Kullman, and Hyde (2004). Our findings indicate that, though the books include ‘non-native’ speakers in an attempt to address multiculturalism, their representation is generic, portraying a reified image of their sociocultural traits and presenting diversity mostly through national labels.

Keywords: global textbooks - world Englishes - EIL - CDA - non-native speakers

Resumen: A medida que se han intensificado los requerimientos de habilidades en la lengua inglesa para los hablantes no-nativos de esta, también ha crecido la oferta de “libros ELT de distribución global” en el mercado mundial. A su vez, perspectivas críticas de la expansión del inglés han cuestionado el sentido de “propiedad” de la lengua por parte de los contextos nativos. Con base en esto y en enfoques reflexivos de la cultura, nuestro objetivo es analizar críticamente las representaciones que ofrecen dos libros de texto EFL de los hablantes del inglés como segunda lengua y como lengua extranjera. Específicamente, esperamos discutir problemas de escencialización y de reproducción de estereotipos sobre los hablantes no nativos del inglés y sus características socioculturales a través de dicha imagen construida. Para ello, utilizamos el enfoque socio-cognitivo del Análisis Crítico del Discurso (Van Dijk, 2013), así como el concepto de conocimiento sociocultural propuesto por el MCER y las perspectivas críticas de Holliday, Kullman, and Hyde (2004). Nuestros resultados indican que, aunque los libros incluyen hablantes “no nativos” en un intento por incorporar ideas de “multiculturalismo”, su representación es genérica y simplista, mostrando una imagen cosificada de sus características socioculturales y presentando la diversidad principalmente por medio de etiquetas de nacionalidad.

Palabras clave: libros de texto de distribución global - world Englishes - EIL - ACD - hablantes no-nativos

1. Introduction

Nowadays it seems to be a popular belief that knowing English is a must-have to gain access to more and better educational and economic opportunities. According to Pennycook (2004), the prestige of English is the result of colonization processes, cultural policies, and the advance of globalization across the world, this latter factor being the biggest ally of the spread of English. The market for English Language Teaching (ELT) has grown commensurately, accompanied by the production and sale on a mass scale of EFL textbooks.

This trend is expected to continue. Already in 2006 the British Council foresaw an increase in the global demand for ELT courses and materials, a prediction that prevails in #EUENGLISH2025 (2018), a more recent report on the development of ELT markets by the British Council. Reasons for this growth are the demands for language certification, the expansion of transnational companies in non-English speaking countries, government language policies, etc. In response, publishing houses have developed ‘global textbooks’, which aim to be suitable for most international English-learning contexts and so are distributed globally.

Simultaneously, the theories of World Englishes (WE) (Kachru, 1985) and English as an International Language (EIL) (Sharifian, 2009; Jenkins, 2006; Dröschel, 2011) have been developed, while these and other authors have discussed the issues surrounding English as a Lingua Franca (Jenkins, 2006; Jenkins, 2009; Seidlhofer, 2005). All three approaches focus on questioning the general view of English as being ‘owned’ by ‘central’ native speaker contexts (Sharifian, 2009; and see below). These critiques have influenced analyses of ELT materials in terms of their inclusion of the diverse users of the language. As a result, a growing body of research has shown that ‘non-native characters’ are increasingly appearing in global textbooks. Such studies have unveiled the ways in which non-native speakers of English are being included in different global textbooks and in what types of contexts.

It is these avenues of inquiry that this paper intends to pursue. Following works such as those by Risager (1990), Gray (2002), Böcü and Razi (2016), Yuen (2011), and Naji and Pishghadam (2012), the purpose of this article is to analyze critically the representations made in global textbooks of the ‘non-native’ speakers of English and their sociocultural features. In particular, we aim to discuss issues of essentialization and simplification of the non-natives and who they are in the English-speaking world presented in such depiction. By extension, we hope by means of this study to offer insights into the sociocultural challenges involved in teaching a language, especially English, to non-native speakers.

With this in mind, we will discuss some of the concepts and debates related to culture, sociocultural knowledge, and their implications for language teaching and the development of language textbooks.

2. Literature Review

2.1 Sociocultural knowledge in language teaching

As determined by the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), sociocultural knowledge refers to ‘knowledge of the society and culture of the community or communities in which a language is spoken’ (Council of Europe, 2001, p. 102), which comprises daily life, life conditions, personal relationships, values, beliefs and attitudes, body language, social conventions and rituals.

This cultural dimension of language has been of great interest for teachers and academics alike over the last century. Different scholars (e.g. Holliday et al, 2004; Holliday, 2012; Byram, 1997, 2008; Kramsch, 1993, 1998) have based their work on definitions of culture from fields as diverse as anthropology, sociology, political science, and cultural studies as well as linguistic fields such as sociolinguistics, critical discourse analysis, semantics, and pragmatics, among others (Risager, 2007, pp. 18–21).

These influences have impacted the way in which culture is thought to play a role inside the second language classroom, where essentialist views are still a matter of tension and debate. Holliday et al. (2004), for example, critiqued the treatment of culture in language teaching from the essentialist paradigm, arguing that it reduces culture to causal expressions, meaning that it reifies culture and simplifies it to celebrations, clothing, food, dances, and ‘traditional’ artifacts of a certain community. This relates as well to problems identified with the view of culture from a liberal multiculturalist perspective which focuses on the ‘celebration’ of cultural differences, constructing stereotyped ideas of cultural groups and limiting interculturality merely to the knowledge of ‘facts’ (Holliday, 2012, p. 41).

These issues have led scholars to reflect on how people become aware of these connections of culture with foreign language learning. For example, authors like Byram (1997, 2008) and Kramsch (1993, 1998) asserted that intercultural competences in the language classroom should guide students to address others’ and their own cultural identities in order to broaden language instruction’s potential to enhance students’ personal and social voice (Kramsch, 1993).

2.2 English and the globalized world: WE, ELF, and EIL

According to different statistics, the English language is used by 1.5 billion people in the world (Noack & Gamio, 2018), with only about 378 million of those being what can be considered native speakers (Statista.com, 2017). Furthermore, it is estimated that more than one billion internet users employ English as their main communication tool (Internet-worldstats.com, 2017). This remarkable expansion in the use of English is linked to the steady growth of international mobility, contemporary technological possibilities, and globalization, in addition to other political, historical, and economic factors, which have created multiple scenarios in which a wide variety of individuals can communicate (Pennycook, 1994).

This outlook has inspired several scholars to engage in debates regarding the current situation and the possible future of the English language, addressing the challenges that this expansion presents for both research and teaching. One of the most prominent analyses of these themes is that by Kachru (1985), who presented a three-category model labelled ‘World Englishes’ (WE). Using three criteria—the globally expanded varieties of English, the characteristics of the contexts in which the acquisition of English takes place, and the functional purposes to which English is put—Kachru (1985) proposed a model consisting of three circles: the inner circle, contexts where central native-speaker varieties are spoken and from which standards are set (e.g., the U.K., the U.S.A., Australia, Canada); the outer circle, former colonies of the U.K or the U.S.A. (e.g., Singapore, India, Ghana, Kenya, the Philippines, etc.); and the expanding circle of countries where English is increasingly used alongside the native language for business purposes or in popular culture (China, Japan, and Poland, among many others).

Though this theory gained considerable popularity, it has come under attack by a number of scholars, who argue that it simplifies the complex realities in which English is used and point to various issues that arise when one attempts to locate some of the variations of English within this framework. As a result, many other authors have developed their work around the concept of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) (see, among others, Jenkins, 2006; Seidlhofer, 2005). This approach views English as a contact language, with proponents expanding the idea of a lingua franca to include communication among not only nonnative speakers but native speakers as well. Moreover, the alternative conceptualization English as an International Language (EIL) proposes English as an instrument for global communication without national or linguistic boundaries (Jenkins, 2006, p. 160).

These last two approaches have in turn received criticism because they seem to promote a single standard of English, thus oversimplifying the complex social, economic, and contextual impact of the spread of English in the world (Pennycook, 2004, p. 31). In response to these criticisms, several authors (see Sharifian, 2009; Jenkins, 2006; Dröschel, 2011; Canagarajah, 2013) have argued that the purpose behind both approaches is to decentralize the ideal of the native speaker by redefining what English is and who its speakers are, thereby acknowledging the great diversity they represent.

All in all, these considerations prove the need to reflect on what English has become and the repercussions it has for those involved in its use. Consequently, these conceptualizations (WE, ELF, and EIL) have influenced paradigms of language teaching as well and have opened up spaces for debates around what English varieties should be considered ‘correct’ to teach, what kind of sociocultural knowledge should be included in the ELT curriculum, and what approaches to teaching will most effectively achieve the desired goals. Furthermore, the so-called ideology of ‘native-speakerism’ (Holliday, 2014, 2015) promotes a distorted representation of the world in which hegemonic cultures are portrayed as superior and ideal. According to Holliday (2014, p. 1), this has been the central element from which the native-speaking ELT ‘industry’ based around native speaker cultural institutions and ELT teacher education programs has exported English as a global product.

2.3 Textbooks and global textbooks

Textbooks are (and most likely will continue to be) widely used inside ELT classrooms. In recent years, there has been an evolution towards what Gray (2002, p. 151) called the ‘global textbook’ phenomenon. The author defined this kind of textbook as a type of book genre mainly produced in native-speaking countries but designed to be used as main elements inside ELT classrooms worldwide, independent of the local language or languages of students. As a result, these books have achieved extensive distribution (Gray, 2002, p. 151).

In 1994, Pennycook speculated that the annual value of sales in the ELT textbook market was between £70 million and £170 million. More recent statistics published by the Publishers Association (2017) stated that, of the £4.4 billion that the publishing sector earned in the U.K. in 2016, two thirds came from the sale of ELT textbooks, proof of the huge importance of this segment to the industry.

2.4 What does research on language-teaching textbooks say?

Language-teaching textbooks have been the subject of a number of scholarly studies, which have focused in particular on their design and their role in language teaching. One influential work along these lines is that by Risager (1990), who offered a diachronic analysis of the changes in the treatment and inclusion of sociocultural issues in European language textbooks published in the fifty years previous to the study. Her findings correspond with what Bori and Cassany (2015) concluded from their critical conversation analysis of oral interactions in textbooks teaching Catalan as a second language. Both studies argue that, in avoiding interactions that might prove controversial for particular reader audiences, textbooks end up oversimplifying the diversity that actually exists among users of the books in question, reducing their portrayal of the language learner to an imaginary ‘archetypical’ foreign student.

With respect to the ELT field, several authors have undertaken similar examinations of the sociocultural components of global textbooks. One noteworthy example is Gray (2010), which described how English is ‘constructed’ in global ELT textbooks based on cultural representations of British culture. Like Bori and Cassany (2015), Gray (2010) found the contexts presented in textbooks to be generic. It seems that textbooks, in general, struggle with the inclusion of controversial topics or interactions that could potentially enrich the teaching of intercultural skills and which are closer to the contexts in which foreign languages are actually used. Gray (2010) suggested that this may result from tensions between authors and publishing houses, who prefer to avoid contentious topics related to race, gender, and class (pp. 8–11).

Other studies have focused on the portrayals offered in global textbooks of non-native speakers through their sociocultural content. Authors such as Böcü and Razi (2016), Yuen (2011), and Meidani and Pishghadam (2012) have discerned similar patterns in the way that sociocultural traits are depicted. They concluded that, though textbooks have over the years tended to insert more non-native contexts and people, these elements are usually based on a tourist perspective which is in most cases stereotyped and fragmented.

2.5 The sociocognitive approach to CDA: mental models and the construction of sociocultural knowledge

From the view of critical discourse analysis (CDA), language is a means of social construction; this being the case, the analysis of language involves not only language itself but also the social and cultural factors implied in it (Machin & Mayr, 2012, p. 4). This perspective allows textbooks to be analyzed in a way that fully accommodates their complexities; thus, CDA is the most suitable methodology to apply for the purposes of this paper.

In this case, we decided to adopt the sociocognitive approach proposed by Van Dijk (1999, 2014), which focuses on the interrelationship between three elements: discourse, society, and cognition. These three elements make up a triangle that has at its base discursive and social structures. The relationships between these two dimensions go from the microstructure of discourses to their social contextualization, which includes the participants as agents in society, the places where discourse occurs, and social conventions. At the top of the triangle is the cognitive dimension, which acts as a mediator within the discursive and social dimensions. It is because of the cognitive dimension that meanings are formed and explained to the participants and, as a result, comprehension, intentions, knowledge, and attitudes come into existence (Van Dijk, 2014, pp. 12–13.) According to this framework, cognition plays a major role both in how discourses are constructed and interpreted and in how the different configurations of social life and social conventions are structured. All of this is possible thanks to mental models, stated Van Dijk (2014, pp. 49–51).

Mental models are part of people’s cognition and are constructed through experience, observation, and participation in the different situations. Based on these experiences, explained Van Dijk (2014, p. 51), users build both oral and written texts. It is worth mentioning that these mental models are not individually conceived, but shared with other members of society. Thus, it is through them that social conventions are conceived (what Van Dijk calls ‘contextual models’), that is, what social groups consider knowledge as well as attitudes and ideologies from which their own identity and the identities of others are conceptualized (‘situational models’).

In addition, in this discourse-society-cognition triangle framework, the social dimension is regarded as the holder of power relationships, with power being understood as the control one group has over the actions of another group or groups. This being the case, Van Dijk (2014) suggested that, as discourse is one form of social action, one way a group can exercise control over another is by controlling the ways discourses are constructed—for instance, by setting up and regulating the contexts (time, place), participants (identities, roles, and relationships), knowledge, or the structures of oral and written communication (discourse genres, topics, and lexical resources) (pp. 155–166).

Van Dijk (2014) made two final points. Firstly, discourse, as the central element of CDA, is explained in terms of its relationship with the sociocognitive factors and not as an autonomous, isolated element; and secondly, discourse is not directly related to social structures but is mediated by the cognitive dimension (p. 12).

3. Data and method

The data for this analysis consists of fourteen (14) short texts taken from the elementary-level books of two widely used global ELT textbook series, Life (National Geographic Learning CENGAGE) (Hughes, Stephenson, & Dummett, 2014) and Cutting Edge, Third Edition (Pearson Longman) (Cunningham, Moor, & Carr, 2014). These books were chosen based on their publication date (not older than fifteen years), their official description (claimed to be ‘multicultural’ and ‘based on the real use of English’), and their intended reader audience (adults and young adults). Here it is important to mention that both books correspond to the A1 level according to the CEFR (‘elementary level’), where in principle formal language instruction starts.

Due to the broad content making up each of the books, we decided to select for analysis several short self-contained texts that form part of the material included in particular teaching units. To select our texts, we applied the following criteria:

- The text is used for reading comprehension and/or writing production exercises.

· The text includes, directly or indirectly, at least one person whose mother tongue is not English.

· This person is regarded in the text, explicitly or implicitly, as a user of English.

As can be seen in Table 1, each text was assigned a code made up of a number reflecting its order of selection (and appearance in the book) and the first letter of the title of the book from which it was taken (‘L’ for Life and ‘C’ for Cutting Edge). Thus, for example, the text labeled ‘T4-L’ is the fourth text selected and was taken from Life, while text ‘T12-C’ is the twelfth text selected and was taken from Cutting Edge.

With respect to the method used for our analysis, we created a set of guiding questions based mainly on the sociocognitive approach to CDA proposed by Van Dijk (1997, 2013). We also took into account the concepts related to sociocultural knowledge developed by Byram (1997), Kramsch (1993), and Holliday et al. (2004) as well as the classification that the CEFR proposes for sociocultural knowledge in language teaching (Council of Europe, 2010).

Table 1. Texts selected for the analysis

Texts taken from LIFE

Texts taken from Cutting Edge

- ‘The face of seven billion people’ (T1-L)

- ‘Introduce yourself’ (T2-L)

- ‘Places Languages’ (T3-L)

- ‘Describing a Place: Why I love Moscow’ (T4-L)

- ‘Free time at work: Norbert Rosing’ (T5-L)

- ‘Extreme Sports’ (T6-L)

- ‘Gap Year Volunteer Work’ (T7-L)

- ‘How R U? :) Tks’ (T8-L)

- ‘Information for Tourists and Visitors in


- ‘Employee Personal Information’ (T10-L)

- ‘Your Life’ (T11-C)

- ‘Your visit to London’ (T12-C)

- ‘From slates to ipads… language learning the, now, and in the future’ (T13-C )

- ‘A dream come true. Write up your research’ (T14- C)

The textbook analysis questionnaire was intended to elicit information for analysis within the three broad categories listed below. Naturally, these categories were not examined separately, but rather, consistent with the sociocognitive approach to CDA, were triangulated with the purpose of exposing the relationship between text and context (Van Dijk, 2013).

- Global and local meanings that build up the text: Social context(s) of the text (geographical and situational), roles of the participants, and domain(s) in which the communication is situated (personal, public, professional, or educational). We also evaluated the elements of the sociocultural knowledge that were presented in each text.

- Discursive structures relevant to representations of people: Categories such as indexicality and its relationship with the context of the text, implicatures and presuppositions related to the non-native speakers of English featuring in the text, comparisons between people and cultures, descriptions and quantifications.

- Mental models (both contextual and situational) that are evident: Discourse genres of the texts, social roles and agency of the participants (i.e., if they have an active voice or not), knowledge, attitudes, opinions, and generalizations that can be drawn from the previous categories mentioned.

4. Analysis

In this section we present the results derived from the analysis of the extracts. Firstly, we cover the sociocultural domains presented generally among the collection of texts and the ways in which their related topics are included. Secondly, we explain the representations of the non-native characters linked to aspects such as geographical and communicative places, agency, and roles performed. Finally, we draw on the implications and presuppositions that are constructed throughout the texts according to the previous aspects analyzed.

4.1 The sociocultural domains

Following the framework of CDA, our starting point is a set of topics, which provide a general idea of the contents that are developed throughout the texts and direct other aspects of discourse (Van Dijk, 2001, p. 102). For such purposes, we sought to identify the four sociocultural domains (personal, public, professional, or educational) present in the texts overall. This analysis was specially focused on the headings and subheadings in each of the texts. Additionally, we analyzed the tasks that the texts are linked to and the units in which these are located.

Our analysis showed that the four sociocultural domains appear overlapping across the various texts. The most frequent is the personal and the least frequent the educational. Both the professional and the public domains appear in at least half of the texts analyzed, commonly overlapping with the personal domain.

The topics in which the personal domain is presented are related to social conditions and references to socioeconomic status, the relationships between friends and family members, and personal preferences for free time and leisure activities. With regard to social conditions, these are referred to both collectively and individually, and this aspect usually overlaps with the public domain. When social conditions are discussed in collective terms, the information tends to be general and merely descriptive, in the format of short fact summaries, as seen in (1). The title of the text talks about ‘the face of seven billion people’, ‘face’ being a metaphor for the social aspects of people’s lives. The text itself discusses seven such different aspects, separated by subheadings.


Regarding the social conditions of individuals, the topics also center on descriptions without much associated discussion. This is illustrated by one of the short texts (T11-C) called ‘Your life’ which directs students to focus on the living conditions (live in a house, study in a school, go to university, have dinner) and the daily routines of the people described. This is especially driven by one of the exercises in the text, answers to which are polar True/False options.

Other topics found are those related to the relationships between friends and acquaintances. One example is observed in text T8-L, whose title ‘How R U :) TKS’ typifies the abbreviations and emoticons of digital texting between friends, suggesting the closeness and informality of the interaction.

The personal domain is presented simultaneously with the professional. In one text, personal information is presented in a general way, in a type of a personal information card that requests information about an ‘employee’ (T10-L.) This overlap between personal and professional can also be seen in texts like ‘A dream come true’ (T14-C), where students are instructed to look at the personal information of people who are defined with the adjective famous as part of the task related to the text. Even the title itself, which implies the actual realization of a personal ideal (‘a dream’), clearly indicates that the people on which the text is based are people who have experienced ‘success’.

When the personal and public domains overlap, we find the topic of personal preferences for leisure and free time. For example, in the text ‘Why I love Moscow’, a posting on a travel website about the most popular places in Moscow for leisure (public domain), the use of the verb ‘love’ along with the direct position of the enunciator (‘I’) in the title makes explicit the subjectivity in the preferences of the writer (personal domain), a non-native English speaker.

The public domain is found in one text (T9-L) centered on the process of getting a visa to visit Australia. Here the student is given the key facts to take into account when visiting Australia, as well as the legal requirements to obtain a visa.

Finally, as we mentioned above, the domain that is the least present overall in the texts is the educational. One text, ‘From slates to ipads: Language learning now, then and in the future’ (T13-C), deals specifically with the learning of languages, the title directly situating readers in the topic. The text also invites readers to talk about the learning of languages through questions designed to be discussed before reading the text, such as ‘Do most people in your country learn foreign languages?

4.2 The construction of the ‘non-native’: contexts, agency, and roles

After identifying the global meanings and topics in the texts, we analyzed the different ways in which the ‘figure’ of the non-native speaker is constructed within each text in order to have gain a broader idea of the sociocultural features of the ‘non-natives’ as they are depicted.

4.2.1 Context: geographical places and communicative situations.

There are two types of contextual spaces which are relevant to the representation of non-natives in the textbooks: the geographical locations and the situations where communication takes place. Regarding the geographical spaces, the texts tend to make use of the global status of English, so that when non-native speakers are mentioned as a collective no specific or particular geographical place is named; this implies that non-native speakers may be found anywhere around the globe. One interesting contrast to this is seen in (2) (T3-L), where languages such as Mandarin Chinese and Hindi are situated in China and India, respectively, whereas for English no specific country or countries are mentioned. This implicitly reinforces the idea of English as a global language, a feature that is later highlighted explicitly in the same text by the subtitle ‘English as a global language’.

(2) (...) In first place is China.2 There are over one billion speakers of Mandarin Chinese. In second place is India with speakers of Hindi. (...) As a first language, English is in fourth place. (...) But English is in first place as a second language for many other people. Over a billion people speak English (...) (T3-L).

Individual non-natives are differentiated, however. In eight of the texts non-native speakers are situated geographically, in seven cases outside their home country, city, or town, while in the other six texts the non-natives are situated in places where English is used as a native language such as the U.K., the U.S.A., or Australia (countries which belong to the ‘central circles’ of WE, according to Kachru’s WE model).

Now, regarding the situations of communication in which they participate, the digital environment is the most frequent communicative context. This is made explicit through the mention of the digital genres the texts belong to such as ‘website’, ‘online’, or ‘blog’ in the instructions to each task. The texts contain less frequent evidence—whether explicit or implicit—of non-native speakers of English participating in other types of communicative spaces such as the mass media or spaces of an academic nature.

4.2.2 Agency: the voices of non-native speakers.

In the texts analyzed the users of English as a second or foreign language are included implicitly and explicitly in a variety of ways, having in some cases more active agency than in others. In six of the fourteen short texts analyzed they are shown using English, in other words, using their own voices to express themselves or communicate in that language. However, they are not involved to the same degree in all cases. In some instances, they are active participants in the communicative event, as evidenced by the fact that they make use of deictic expressions of the first person (‘I’; ‘We’). On the other hand, in two of the texts their presence is elicited through the use of quoted speech and different reference verbs such as ‘say’ or ‘explain’, as seen in (3). The implication of the speakers in this type of inclusion is of a lesser degree than in texts where they actively speak for themselves.

(3) (...) He can jump from any high place. ‘I cliff dive because I don’t like soccer, I like the adrenaline,’ he says. (T6-L)

For the remaining texts, the non-native speakers are there as objects of description or comparison, that is, they are part of the content that is being discussed and presented through the authors’ voices. We find two ways in which non-natives are thus included: as a collective or as individuals, the latter being less frequent than the former. It is interesting that as a collective, when the non-native speakers are regarded explicitly as users of the English language, their portrayal tends to be heavily focused on how many there are of them through the use of quantifiers such as ‘many’ or the number ‘one billion’, presenting them as one large group with no reference to their diversity (e.g. in terms of language level, purposes for language use, etc.).

Furthermore, when they are included as individuals, descriptions of these participants are either short or general, and often special focus is placed on their professional success. For example, in text T14-C, in which the world-famous ballet dancer Carlos Acosta is the center of the topic, emphasis is placed on his successful career through a heavy use of superlatives (‘one of the most famous ballet dancers…’) and the naming of prestigious institutions such as the Houston Ballet and the Royal Ballet of London.

4.2.3 Individuals and the big collective.

We have already discussed some of the discursive elements that the texts use to represent non-native speakers of English as individuals and as a collective. However, in the course of our analysis we found other important aspects that deserve to be discussed. The first is the fact that, overall, whether through their own voices or not, the non-native speakers are present as both individuals and as a collective in the texts analyzed. That said, in many of the instances where they are presented as individuals they are then affiliated to a collective identity, their nationality being the most common.

It is of interest to note that national labels are constant in both cases and are given considerable attention, being usually one of the first characteristics mentioned. Examples of this can be seen in texts T5-L and T12-C, excerpts of which can be seen in (4) and (5), where the two main topics are the character’s job and the visit of a friend, respectively. In both cases, the descriptions of people start with their nationality.

(4) Norbert Rosing comes from northern Germany. His hobby is photography,

but his hobby is also his job (T5-L)

(5) Hello, Anna!

When you go to London, phone my friend Takashi! He loves having visitors. Takashi comes from Japan, but now he lives in London (...) (T12-C)

Another interesting example occurs in text T2-L (6), where we see a contrast between the presentations of a non-native and a native speaker of English.


Hi! My name is Gary and I’m a science lecturer. I am from the UK but I live in the USA. I’m married and I have two children.


Hello, I’m Valérie Moreau and I’m from New Caledonia. It’s a beautiful island in the Pacific Ocean. We speak French in New Caledonia, but I also speak English and Spanish (...)


In this text two characters, Gary Laurens and Valérie Moreau, introduce themselves personally on what appears to be a company website. Although in both cases their nationality is mentioned, in the case of Gary, a native speaker of English, his professional identity comes first (science lecturer). Furthermore, he is allowed to mention two further personal identity descriptors, spouse and parent (I am married and have two children.) By contrast, the description of Valérie, a non-native speaker of English, is centered mostly on her nationality (New Caledonia), which is followed by a description of the country and its geographical location (a beautiful island in the Pacific Ocean). No references to profession or family are made.

Though not as frequently as nationality, affiliation with speech communities is also commonly noted. In three of the texts, this involves describing the number of speakers in each speech community and then comparing it to the number of English speakers. As mentioned above, quantifiers and numbers are used here to emphasize the large number of English speakers relative to the speakers of other languages. In addition, other discursive strategies can be seen to strengthen the message, as seen in T1-L (7), whose topic centers around the number of speakers of major languages. For the speakers of Mandarin, Spanish, and English as a first language percentages of the world population are used (thirteen percent, five percent), whereas for non-native speakers of English a number is offered (one billion), which accentuates the difference in quantity.

(7) (...) LANGUAGE

Thirteen percent of the world’s population speak Mandarin as their first language. Five percent speak Spanish as their first language. Five percent also speak English as their first language, but English is a second language for one billion people (...) (T1-L)

4.2.4 Interpersonal and professional roles

Here we will mention the two types of roles which are most visible, the interpersonal and the professional, the latter being the more frequent of the two.

In the texts that were analyzed, professional roles are usually related to jobs that are recognized as being of higher social status such as business people, scholars, professional sports people, and professional artists. In some cases, professional success is highlighted through the use of adjectives such as professional, famous, or expert.

We also observed that professions which are considered to be of lower social status such as jobs in services, agriculture, or manufacturing are not usual, and when they are mentioned, they are not connected to the use of English. One interesting example is seen in the excerpt from text T11-C shown in (8) which presents a text written by Amrita, a non-native speaker of English who contrasts her lifestyle with that of her family members, who—as we are made to understand—are not speakers of English. In this case, the occupations of both Amrita and her father are mentioned; while Amrita is a university student, her father is a fisherman. The contrast between their daily routines is made clear, with Amrita and her partner having short workdays, easy access to public transport, and meals at restaurants, unlike the more rudimentary conditions experienced by her family.

(8) We study computer studies at the same university, we get up at 7:30 a.m. and we go to the university by bus. We start classes at 9:00 a.m. and then finish at 4:30 p.m. In the evenings we go out a lot. We don’t have dinner at home, we go to restaurant with friends. (...)

They get up very early at 5:30 a.m. My father and his friends are fishermen. They work for a small company, and they work very long hours. They don’t go to work by bus. They walk to the river. In the evenings, they have dinner at home with their families. (T11-C)

This text also exemplifies how interpersonal roles among non-native speakers are presented. In general, in comparison to what we learn about the interpersonal roles of native English speakers, they receive less attention and more superficial treatment. Family roles and relationships are mentioned in three of the texts, but without any information about their dynamics. By contrast, we do get details about friends and acquaintances of the non-native speakers, relationships which are portrayed as friendly and cordial. In most cases their dynamics center around leisure activities.

4.3 Common knowledge: discourse genres, presuppositions, and implications

In this section we will examine the aspects that articulate what is considered knowledge through the elements that can indicate it, such as discourse genres, presuppositions, and implications (Van Dijk, 2014).

First, among the fourteen texts under analysis, the most commonly occurring types of discourse genre are the informative and the descriptive, with half of them presented as objective through the use of descriptions based on numerical facts and an avoidance of qualifying adjectives. Nevertheless, none of the texts indicates a date of publication or author’s name or provides references.

Digital texts are present through discourse genres such as emails, blog entries, text messages, or websites, texts in which the non-natives show greater participation as English speakers (defined by the use of deictic expressions), use an informal register, and give explicit opinions and evaluations, which are usually positive, especially when they are talking about other people. Other less frequent genres, seen in two texts, are personal introductions and brochures in which general information is provided.

As for implications and presuppositions, they can be summarized as follows:

· Non-native speakers of English constitute a vast population. This is expressed through numerical facts and classifications (‘one billion people’, T1-L, T13-C; ‘English is in first place as a second language’, T3-L) which give the impression of being objective and factual.

· Non-native speakers are a diverse multinational group. In nine of the texts different nationalities are mentioned, this being one of the first aspects of the speakers noted. In other cases, the international use of English is explicitly highlighted (‘English as a global language’, T3-L; ‘teach English: work with children in schools all over the world’, T7-L.)

· Being an English speaker allows wider access to information and better academic and financial opportunities. This presupposition is constructed through the connection of the use of English with professional fields of recognized high social status (‘professional photographer’,T5-L; ‘expert cliff diver’, T6-L; ‘science lecturer’, T2-L; ‘computer studies’, T11-C; ‘science and medicine’, T3-L; ‘ballet dancer’, T14-C), the possibility of access to information (‘reading the news’, T3-L), and statements that highlight the importance of English in educational and institutional contexts.

· Non-native English speakers are migrants or visitors to central, native contexts. In six of the texts it is presupposed or implied that non-natives are migrants to native contexts (‘information for tourists and visitors in Australia’, T9-L; ‘Takashi comes from Japan, but now he lives in London’, T12-C; ‘He does a lot of work in the national parks of North America’, T5-L).

5. Conclusions

In this paper we have examined how the figure of non-native speakers of English and their sociocultural features are portrayed in two globally oriented ELT textbooks. An analysis of fourteen short texts selected from these two books allows us to draw the general conclusion that an overarching image is constructed in these texts of non-natives as a major generic group. This portrayal is underlain by the message that the use of English is more or less homogeneous, which simplifies the processes in which English is involved and the uses that are made of it. The texts analyzed show a reified representation of the heterogeneity within non-native speakers through the set of topics, their participation (or lack thereof), their roles, and the generalized way in which their sociocultural features are depicted.

General aspects of lifestyle and living conditions—usually linked to work life and leisure activities—prevail, while the use of English in educational contexts, especially as a contact language, is poorly represented. Aspects such as personal relationships, values, or beliefs receive only superficial attention or are not mentioned at all, and when depicted they are generalized as friendly and harmonious.

When actors are treated individually, they tend to be native and non-native English speakers who are stereotypically viewed as successful cosmopolitan individuals, excluding those who have jobs of lower social (and financial) prestige. This goes along with what Pennycook (2004) referred to as ‘the Myth of English’ as a language of opportunities, a worldview that overlooks the many realities in which English does not equal better quality of life.

Furthermore, our findings align with those of other studies (Böcü & Razi, 2016; Yuen, 2011; Naji & Pishghadam, 2012) which argued that in global ELT textbooks ‘cultural diversity’ is translated into internationality. We would extend this critique to what the texts leave out in terms of diversity, such as diverse sexual orientation, gender, religious beliefs, occupational status, etc. Though we understand this might be due to a concern on the part of publishing houses to avoid controversial topics in order to protect sales (Gray, 2002, p. 159), we agree with Risager (2007) that limiting diversity to a variety of nationalities narrows any discussion of the complexities inherent in the uses of a language by what is an extremely varied community of users.

In addition, our analysis shows that non-native speakers are frequently depicted as dependent on central, native-speaking contexts by their usual localization in these geographical places (e.g. the US and the UK). Moreover, we detect a lack of agency given to non-natives throughout the texts. This is particularly evidenced by the fact that descriptions of non-natives are frequently conveyed by voices other than their own, it being in digital platforms that they are given a voice. These aspects reinforce the image of non-natives subjected to standardized variations and to external representations of who they are.

We must emphasize that the texts analyzed here represent just a small fraction of the ELT materials sold worldwide, and the findings presented here can therefore by no means be taken as comprehensive or conclusive. Nonetheless, with this analysis we hope to contribute to the ongoing discussion around the expansion of English and the role of non-natives in this process. There are clearly important challenges to be addressed regarding the role of culture in the teaching and learning of English and how the increase in English language use by non-native interacts with other complex phenomena. Constructs such as the representation of non-native participants in English-language interactions can offer us clues about the power relationships and other issues present in the spread of the language. Stereotyped constructions about which actors are legitimized as users of the language deserve a great deal more critical analysis, as do the consequences of such legitimizations.

With that in mind, we endorse Kramsch’s (1993) view that in language learning culture is not merely an additional element but rather a fundamental part of it. Hence, a critical approach to language learning is needed, one that is sensitive to the development of agency and identity for all speakers of that language—whether native or non-native—and that critical task should include a questioning of the materials used to teach the language.

Based on these ideas, it is important that publishing houses strengthen their efforts to construct a more complex representation of diversity in ELT materials. A starting point might be the inclusion of diverse stories of non-native users of English told in first person and related to the various sociocultural domains they move through. Likewise, materials could address dimensions of diversity other than nationality beyond stereotypes proper to the crystalized concepts of ‘culture’.

Finally, this analysis leaves open many doors to further analysis. Textbooks are complex materials and much more could be analyzed in them. Such further research might well benefit from a multimodal approach, which could provide more answers about the ways readers are directed to interpret what is presented in them. Also, textbooks are not isolated artifacts; they gain meaning in classrooms where there are teachers and learners with varied experiences, beliefs, and ideologies. Therefore, a potentially rich avenue for research would be to analyze how the meanings proffered textually by a global ELT textbook actually translate into a specific classroom community.


This article is part of the project Discursive competence assessment of plurilingual adults: detection of training needs and guidelines for an autonomous learning. Senior researcher: C. López Ferrero. Department of Translation and Language Sciences, Pompeu Fabra University. MINEICO: EDU2016-75874-P (AEI / FEDER, UE)


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1. Boldface in the original.

2. Boldface in this and all following excerpts is our own.