Thursday, February 20, 2014

Media Discourse Analysis: Approaches to Analyzing Media Texts.

Media Discourse Analysis:
Approaches to Analyzing Media Texts

Nada Mrabet


This paper discusses the possible approaches to analyzing media texts. It intends the cover some of the most important and most developed methods of media discourse analysis, starting from the early quantitative content analysis, originally developed by sociologists, social scientists and communication researchers. Then, critical analysts like Fairclough and van Dijk came to prove these quantitative methods insufficient. After that, my paper will discuss the approach of other researchers like Schroder who found gaps in the concepts concerned with the production/consumption processes. She suggests, along with van Dijk, an empirical, ethnographic approach to media texts to fill in those gaps.
    Keywords: CDA, ethnography, encoding, and decoding.

     In regard of the importance of media discourse one of the four main registers of the English language (O’Keeffee, 2006), my paper will cover some of the key approaches, methods and tools of analysis of media discourse that analysts can adopt to analyze either small-scale or large-scale corpora. The quantitative content analysis has been first adopted to carry out objective observations and interpretations. Many software tools were brought to the table to serve quantitative and statistical needs. However, these quantitative tools were later proved inadequate, the thing that smoothed the path for critical analysts to introduce Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) to the world of media text analysis. Then, I will focus on the importance of ethnography in media discourse analysis which is still under growth.

Quantitative Content Analysis of Media Texts
Quantitative Content Analysis and Mass Media Research 
     Quantitative content analysis has first submerged in the 1950s as a major research tool of analysis of media texts in mass communication studies and social sciences. Lasswell (1948) describes media content analysis as ‘who says what, through which channel, to whom, with what effect.’ The quantitative research techniques are used for the conduct of ‘objective, systematic and quantitative’ descriptions of the manifest content of media texts. This makes quantitative content analysis the most scientific and unbiased method that can be used for the analysis of media content.
     Mass communication researchers have offered a lot to the analysis of media content. Their findings give clear definitions to the content analysis of communication events and provide clear outlines to follow, not only for the objective interpretations, but also for the gathering of media content samples. Neuendorf (2002) suggests seven elements that will assure that the scientific quantitative content analysis of media texts will not get ruined by the subjective orientations of the researchers: objectivity-intersubjectivity, a priori design, reliability, validity, generalizability, replicability, and hypothesis testing. Berelson (1952) suggests five elements of content analysis that every researcher should focus on: substance of message content, form of message content, producers of content, audiences of content, and effects of content on audiences.
     Similar findings were later on found in the field of applied linguistics. Even van Dijk (1985) admitted that before the 1960s, linguistics had little to offer to those who were interested to analyze media discourse, and that it is within social sciences that mass media research has initially emerged.
Implication of Quantitative Content Analysis in Applied Linguistics
     Quantitative content analysis is used for large scale corpora to summarize patterns and regularities in texts. In the 1960s, the analysis of media discourse was approached through quantitative methods. In the field of applied linguistics, the importance of the quantitative approach to texts was highlighted by the Gerbner et al. book and the Holsti introduction. Then, it was further emphasized in the General Inquirer project, where the help of computers were brought about.
     Computational algorithms can help researchers conduct all sorts of quantitative analyses, from the most limited and automatic, to the most complicated, e.g. analyzing statistical data and results. The quantitative methods are the best to use for large scale projects, if the researcher’s aim is to identify widespread language patterns that could be missed when applying a small-scale analysis. The large-scale analysis will help researchers to highlight patterns of association so that they unveil, for instance, the most lexical items that tend to co-occur with keywords derived from the issues they intend to investigate. Sometimes, without this quantitative approach, analysts cannot be aware of the existence of some crucial lexical items, due to the fact that they cannot be observed with the naked eye. Noteworthy, the quantitative approach was carried out by a good number of researchers, such as Gerbner (1968), Krishnamurthy (1996), Flowerdew (1997), Fairclough (2000), Piper (2000), Teubert (2000) and Baker et al. (2013).
Software for Quantitative Content Analysis
     Ever since the recognition of the role of computational algorithm in conducting a scientific objective analysis, a good number of software tools were created to fulfill the purposes of the texts analysts. A software tool for content analysis can be divided into three major categories: dictionary-based content analysis (word counting, sorting, simple statistical tests), development environments (do not analyze but automate the construction of dictionaries, grammars, and other text analysis tools), and annotation aids (an electronic version of the set of marginal notes researchers generate when analyzing texts by hand).
     The most commonly used software that has been acknowledged as the most reliable one by many researchers is the WORDSMITH. It is ‘an integrated suite of programs for looking at how words behave in texts.’ It ‘controls’ the programs it contains: Concord (makes a concordance using plain texts or web text files), KeyWords (locate and identify key words in a given corpora), and WordList (generate word lists based shown in alphabetical and frequency order).
     Since there are plenty of software tools to choose from, there are some choice criteria that analysts can follow in order to determine which software will meet their research studies’ ultimate goals. Some of the criteria are: complexity of analysis, language constraint, licensing issues and user base, and platforms.
Downsides of Quantitative Content Analysis
      Content can be divided into two categories: Manifest content (explicit information) and latent content (implicit information). Quantitative content analysis can only be used for the manifest content of media texts. Berelson (1952) says that using a quantitative method to analyze ‘what-is-said’ will force the researchers to turn a blind eye to ‘why-the-content-is-like-that’ and ‘how people react’, i.e. the latent content. Therefore, reducing large corpora into quantitative texts, looking for keywords, and making concordances is not enough to build a complete picture of the meanings intended from producing the text. Drawing conclusions from mere figures and simple statistical data is neither the only way nor enough to determine the intentions of the producers of media texts or the impact of these texts on the audience.
     One of the other aspects that a quantitative content analysis of media texts failed to cover is, for instance, the syntactic analysis of sentences, e.g. agency of social actions; the use of the passive voice instead of the active voice to withdraw the attention from the agent of the action. For example, “The man got killed during the revolution” is different from “Police agents killed the man during the revolution.” Instead of looking for the most frequent words that co-occur with the verb ‘kill’ in media texts about the revolution, it seems more important to know the agent of this violent action. The fact that some media text producers choose to use the passive or the active voice have different interpretations.

Qualitative Content Analysis of Media Texts
     No one can deny the importance of the quantitative method as an ‘objective, replicable and quantitative’ tool of analysis of the manifest content of media texts. Ever since the 1960s, much focus had been put on the ‘classical’, ‘quantitative, American, stimulus-response’ approaches to media texts. Van Dijk (1985) stated that in order to establish an ‘adequate analysis of the relations between media texts and contexts’, we need to go beyond the ‘surface’ level of texts to the investigation of the ‘underlying’ meanings. In the same context, Wodak & Busch (2004) spoke of what some observers like Jensen & Jankawski (1991) labeled “qualitative turn” from the quantitative content analysis of the study of media texts. By the second half of the 1970s, different suggestions of a ‘more explicit and systematic account of media discourse’ were brought to light  primarily by the Glasgow University Media group which has published ‘Bad News’ (1976) and ‘More Bad News’ (1980), and the Center For Contemporary Cultural Studies (1980) under the direction of Stuart Hall. Further contributions were made by Schelesinger & Lumley, Dowing, Husband & Chouhan, and Hartley & Montgomery.
Discourse Analysis
     Richardson (2007) states that there are two main approaches to media texts: the formalistic approach, also called the structuralist approach, and the functionalist approach. The formalistic approach deals with the structural level of the media texts, including these four characteristics: cohesion, narrative, causality and motivation. Here, discourse analysis deals with ‘language above the sentence.’ The functionalist approach deals with ‘language in use’ rather than ‘language above the sentence’. The language use and text interpretation cannot be fully and adequately analyzed without the social component. Both the formalistic and functionalistic approaches can contribute to a more adequate analysis of media texts, built upon a consideration of meaning (assigning of sense) and context (assigning of reference).
Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA)
     CDA was first derived from the Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) developed by Halliday. Then, it got enhanced thanks to contributions made by Fairclough (1995), Fowler (1991) and Boyd-Barret (1994). Despite the similarities, the founding fathers and mothers of CDA, van Dijk, Wodak, and Fairclough, had a lot to offer to this qualitative approach to media texts. CDA follows the functionalist approach, which advocates the analysis of texts as ‘language in use.’ Its aim is to ‘link linguistic analysis to social analysis’ (Wodak & Kroger, 2000). It is concerned with: social problems, power relations, how society and culture are shaped by discourse, and the investigation of texts, their interpretation, reception and social effects (Titscher et al. 2000).
     Fairclough’s model of CDA. Fairclough’s approach draws upon SFL. Fairclough’s method of analysis is conducted according to: (1) text, (2) discursive practice, and (3) social practice.
(1) A text consists of representations, identities and social relations, cohesion and coherence. There are two levels of textual analysis: the sentence, and what is above the sentence. At the level of the sentence, analysts examine vocabulary, semantics, grammar, and even the sound system and the writing system. At the level that is above the sentence, analysts examine cohesion, the organization of turn-taking in interviews during talk-shows, and the overall structure of newspaper articles.
(2) It is at this stage when analysis turns from textual analysis to discourse analysis. Texts should be analyzed as the ‘outcome of a discourse practice’ for a more competent assessment of the ‘news practice, news values, and audience role’ (Cotter, 2001). Too much focus on the text will depict analysts as ignorant of the processes of news gathering, encoding, shaping of belief, encoding and decoding, etc. Analysts also need to know the producers’ level of credibility, and the types of relationships they have with the audience they are writing for and the communities they are covering (Cotter, 2001). This can deeply affect analysts’ examination of the meanings of the texts.
(3) An adequate analysis of media texts must also include the socio-cultural practice that is part of the communicative event to be covered. Therefore, the textual analysis and the discourse analysis of media texts must be linked to the socio-cultural goings where the event took place.
     Van Dijk’s Model of CDA. Van Dijk’s and Fairclough’s approach to CDA are ‘similar in conception,’ but different in naming. However, the former has one special conception, which is the socio-cognitive model. Van Dijk’s method of analysis is conducted according to: the structural nature of texts, production processes, and reception processes. His analysis takes place at two levels: microstructure, and macrostructure. At the micro-structural level, he focuses on the semantic relations between propositions, syntactic and lexical elements, coherence, quotations, and direct/indirect reporting. At the macro-structural level, he focuses on the overall level of description of media texts, from themes, topics, to news schemata (summary, story, and consequences).
     Van Dijk’s work also gives a great deal of importance to ideology analysis which is based on social analysis, cognitive analysis, and discourse analysis. The cognitive analysis consists of mental models, intended to mediate between discourse practices and the social component. It helps analysts examine the cognitive processes involved in the encoding and decoding of texts. In order to reveal the implicitly-stated ideological dichotomy in media texts, van Dijk (1998b) suggests that analysts must (1) examine the context of the discourse, the participants and their background, (2) analyze the concerned communities, their power relations, and conflicts, (3) cover as many opinions as possible about, what he calls, ‘US versus THEM’, (4) reveal all what is stated implicitly, and (5) examine the formal structure of the texts.
Wodak’s Method in CDA. Discourse sociolinguistics is one of the directions of CDA developed by Wodak. She developed an approach to analyzing media texts that she called the discourse historical method, where all the available background information should be included in the analysis of the audience of written or spoken media texts. There is a similarity between her approach and the steps that van Dijk suggested in order to unveil the ideological dichotomy, where he says that analysts must examine the ‘historical, political, and social backgrounds’ of the main participants in the discourse (the text producers, the people who were involved in the event, and the audience). Through many research studies conducted by Wodak and her colleagues, Wodak attested that the context of the discourse has an important impact on the structure and form of the discourse.
Ethnographic Discourse Analysis
     The search for the most adequate method of media texts analysis did not end with CDA or any other quantitative methods or qualitative frameworks. Many analysts adopted a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods to achieve a holistic analysis, namely Halloran et al. (1970), Hartmann & Husband (1974), Ter Wal (2002), Backer & McEnery (2005), Backer et al. (2013), etc. However, what some researchers, like van Dijk, suggest to do is to put into consideration the ethnographic observations that need to be done ‘about the production and uses of communicative events […] ‘in’ the media and ‘by’ the media’ (van Dijk, 1985). A general definition of the term ‘ethnography’ is ‘the description of people and their culture’ (Denzin & Lincoln, 1994). The concept in relation to content analysis will be broadened in the following parts.
Qualitative Content Analysis and Ethnographic Discourse Analysis
     Schroder (2007) criticized what she called ‘the half-hearted holism of CDA’, because it ‘suffers from a number of self-imposed methodological limitations.’ She states that at the surface level, CDA is holistic. It examines all of the three dimensions of media discourse in relation to each other: text, discourse practice (text production/consumption), and the socio-cultural practice. However, in a statement made by Fairclough (1995) in which he says ‘[…] the ways in which texts are produced and consumed, which is realized in the feature of texts,’ Schroder (2007) draws our attention to the fact that in CDA, discourse practices are not studied ‘independently or empirically.’ They are simply observed through the text. Schroder supports her argument with a study conducted by Swales & Rogers (1995), where they state that conducting an ethnographic fieldwork among media text producers and consumers will increase the validity and reliability of the analysis, and minimize the subjectivity of the researchers’ analyses. Another argument she uses is that of Cotter (2001), where he suggests a ‘holistic and ethnographically oriented approach’ that examines the ‘community of coverage’ as well as the ‘community of practice’. As an example, Schroder mentions the framework of investigation used by David Deacon, Natalie Feuton and Alan Bryman. They argue that media production/reception studies have made it possible for analysts to produce more reliable interpretations, and to achieve a more objective view of the power relations between the audiences and producers of media texts. Schroder claims that her approach to media texts is empirical rather than merely critical, and that critical discourse analysts should start analyzing the encoding and decoding processes of media discourse in an empirical manner if they ever want to add more credibility and objectivity to their findings and interpretations.

     No researchers from the field of linguistics have approached media discourse directly or developed theories implicating media discourse to linguistics. Instead, methods that are originally developed in sociology, social science, mass communication, discourse analysis, critical discourse analysis, and ethnographic analysis have been adapted to fit the analysis of media texts. Still, relying on the findings of researchers working on the latter fields will definitely accelerate the process of producing a specially-made theory of media discourse analysis by linguists.

Baker, P. & McEnery, T. (2005). A Corpus-based approach to discourses of refugees and asylum seekers in UN and newspaper texts. Journal of Language and Politics, pp. 197-226.
Cotter, C. (2001). Discourse and Media. In: D. Schiffrin, D. Tannen and H. E. Hamilton. (eds). The Handbook of Discourse Analysis. London: Blackwell, 352-371.
E. Richardson, J. (2007). Analysing Newspapers: An Approach from Critical Discourse Analysis. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
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Schroder, K. (2007). Media Discourse Analysis: Researching Cultural Meanings from Inception to Reception. Textual Cultures, Vol. 2, No.2, pp. 77-99.
Van Dijk, T. (1985). Introduction: Discourse Analysis in (mass) Communication Research. In: (Ed.) Discourse and Communication , 69-93. (C.5.)
Wodak, R. Busch, B. (2004).  'Approaches to media texts'. In The Sage handbook of media studies. London: Sage.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Memorable Teachers.

School is over. I'm 23 now and I've been going to school for 18 years. WOW! I've never counted that before. 18 whole years. Getting up almost every morning. Walking to school or taking the bus. Meeting new people, new teachers, new friends. Ditching class (rarely). But all in all I'm a good student. Sometimes the top of my class. Other times not. But all in all I made it. I never gave up. I never dropped out or repeated a grade. 

All my life I've been studying and preparing for exams. I don't know what good did education in Tunisia do to me. Have I learnt anything from school? Maybe. I don't know. My favorite subject was the English language, da! Always having really good marks. My love for the English language started when this really brilliant girl was talking in English and she was pretty good. Good vocab. Good accent. She said that she learnt that from movies and TV shows. So I started watching MBC2, MBC4 and Dubai One day and night. I fell in love with the language. I started writing in my diary in English. I started to have good marks. And even though I chose natural sciences as a specialty, all what I could care about is English. In the Baccalaureate exam I passed. I didn't get that great of a mark. But I got the best mark in the English subject in my department. I was thrilled. I didn't give an inch of a damn about the overall mark as for me English is all there is. 

The day I got accepted into college to study English I said to myself "hell yeah Nada, time to make all your dreams come true." People told me really bad things about the faculty I enrolled in. I remember them calling it "a hole that I will never manage to get out of". Again, I didn't give an inch of a damn. A year later I figured out that it's totally up to me to make that faculty a hole or a haven. And for me, my faculty (FLSHK) was my haven. I went through a lot in there. I experienced the good, the bad and the ugly. And even though it was my haven, I managed to get out of it and live a different experience in a different institution (ISLT). Till this day I still feel attached to FLSHK. I always wish that someday I'll become this really good teacher and go back to that place and try to make things right in there.

I never realized how things are bad in FLSHK till I studied in ISLT. I had some of the best teachers in ISLT. Don't get me wrong, there are some good teachers in FLSHK, but very few. I remember writing a couple of articles about two strikes that occurred in FLSHK and then some people thought of me as this ungrateful and bad student who disrespects her teachers. I'm not. I do not need to prove them wrong. My history as a student is more than enough to prove them wrong.

One of the reasons I'm writing this blog post is to say thank you to some of the good teachers that I have met during my long educational journey. I might forget some names. I'll try not to. So starting from primary school onward: Mrs. Emna, Mr. Falfoul (French-language teacher), Mr. Ayari, Mr. Guizani, Mrs. Hayet (history teacher), Mrs. Hlioui (English-language teacher), Mr. Romdhani (Math teacher), Mrs. Zheni (English-language teacher whom everybody disliked because she's a tough cookie, but I ADORED), Mr. Abd Afou (English-language teacher), Mr. Masoud Romdhani (whom I used to have a crush on, first time I confess this in public), Mr. Barrek (physics teacher), Mr. ? (science teacher, I forgot your name but I truly respect you), Mr. Achour, Mr. Mahfoudhi, Mr. Khsibi (never was my teacher inside the classroom but outside!), Mr. Ben Slimane, Dr. Kallel, Mr. Badis Ben Rjeb, Dr. Hermessi, Prof. Daoud, Dr. Jabeur, Prof. Ghazzeli, Dr. Hlila.. The list is longer than this one. But I can't recall all the names. 

I hate teachers who don't care about the greater good of their students; who beat their students not because they made a mistake but because they're angry and needed to let go of their anger; who give bad marks when their students don't deserve ones; who prepare tests with no consideration of what have been taught during the course and put questions that were never encountered during class; who hit on their students; and who simply have no ethics and know nothing about professional conscience. If you are one of these, then you sir or madam will rot in hell because teaching is a holy profession and you have besmirched it with your misdeeds. Fortunately for you, you still have a chance to set things right. Hopefully you will take that chance. 

As I have said earlier, thankfully I got out of what other students called a "hole" and met different teachers and students, teachers who care about their students and students who actually work hard enough. What I love about my MA teachers is that every now and then they share their experiences and opinions with us, as if they're trying to teach us a different lesson than those we have in the curriculum, a lesson that will actually benefit us in life. I take notes whenever they do that. I'm going to share some of their statements along with the names of the teachers who said them. I'm sure they wouldn't mind me putting their names. 

"It's a miracle to be able to go through this and succeed under these conditions, and I really appreciate your efforts (addressing the students)." - Dr. Jabeur

"Keep the university system out of politics. Let's preserve the university. The university is not a place to practice politics. Science can only flourish when it is independent from others." - Dr. Jabeur

"We're not providing you with the kind of education that will turn you into citizens. We're only teaching you. And teaching is only one component of the educational system. Educators themselves have become mere teachers too." -Dr. Jabeur

"A school is not only a place where people learn. It is also a place where people become citizens." - Dr. Jabeur

"I have studied in a British university. I had support and people to talk to whenever I needed help. We even had a hotline that we can use to talk to people who are students like us whenever we wanted to." - Dr. Jabeur

"The whole system must provide support to the students. If we do not reform our educational system as soon as possible, we will probably face more severe problems." - Dr. Jabeur

"If a teacher says that you are being lazy, and you know that you are working hard, ignore him."- Prof. Daoud

"People in charge want to reach a high percentage of success among the students while education is not good enough in Tunisia." - Prof. Daoud

"People here are not academically friendly. I once proposed having a reading group in the American Center once a month in the afternoon for a couple of hours. I would distribute good articles in the students' boxes and in the next session we would discuss them. First people showed up. Then they stopped attending." - Prof. Daoud

"(talking about tests and marks) When I used to have a big class, I used to calculate the mean and standard deviation (SD) of the scores of my students and see if the scores make a smooth curve (for example: mean=11 and SD=2). If that's the case, then OK. My test is valid. But if the mean is for example equal to 8, which means their scores are not good enough, then I won't put the blame on them especially if they attend their classes and do their homework. I would give them +2 simply because it'd be my fault (not giving a valid test). There are some mean teachers who don't give scores above 6 or 7 (out of 20) and you're lucky that they retired (class laughs out loud because they knew whom the teacher is talking about)." - Prof. Ghazzeli 

I'm deeply grateful to these teachers. I respect these teachers. And I hope that one day I will be as good as they are.

My father and sister, who are both French-language teachers, set a good example to me. They're dedicated to their work, they're ethical and they have professional conscience. I guess teaching runs in our blood. I'm not saying this because they're my dad and sis. This blog is almost the only space where I can be true to myself. 

So THANK YOU to all my good teachers. You will always be the teachers whom I look up to and whose words will forever be carved in my memory. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Post-method Era (TEFL)

The aim of methodologists is manifested in finding a single, ideal method that can lead to the successful teaching of all types of foreign language learners in a classroom. Each method is based on a particular theory of language and language learning. It contains detailed specifications of objectives, teacher/learner roles, and teaching procedures and techniques. It leaves no room for creativity or individualism. The teachers find themselves enslaved by a certain method and obliged to follow its rules word by word and apply its practices in their classrooms. They are regarded as good and successful teachers only when they go by the rules dictated in the teachers’ book.

One of the misconceptions introduced by Harper and De Job (2004) about English Language Learners (ELLs) states that they all “learn English in the same way at the same rate.” This misconception views the foreign learners of English as the submissive recipients of any given method. They need to accept their passive roles in the method era.  Methodologists ignored the fact that learners have different learning styles and approaches to the learning process, and that teaching methods must mainly put into consideration the learners’ needs and interests.

There is a study that was conducted to survey classroom reality from teachers’ perspective and examines how Japanese EFL teachers view CLT and whether they are making use of it. The study’s end-results state that almost all Japanese EFL teachers have their own conception of what CLT is and what they should do ideally. Even their actual classroom practices are different from their understanding of CLT. It is based on such studies and conclusions drawn from practitioners’ views that linguists came to realize that none of the teaching methods can be applied in their purest form in the actual classroom. They are not derived from classroom experiences and research studies but are imposed upon both teachers and learners. They do not reflect the diverse classroom realities.

In a paper presented during the 1989 Annual Convention of TESOL, the authors demonstrated that “Methods like the TPR, Suggestopedia and counseling learning presume many facts that are realities in the West but not quite so in many parts of the world. […] In short, the fact remains that except for possible isolated cases, these methods do not have either consistent universality of appeal or feasibility of application.”

We can safely conclude that teaching methods have failed (a) to offer creativity and individualism to teachers, (b) to respect the multicolored learning styles of learners, and (c) to produce a context-relevant “Language Program Design”.

Post-method Era (PM Era)
The identification of the complexity of the current worldwide  foreign English teaching situation and the diversity of the learning styles among foreign English learners has led some practitioners to the conclusion that we have moved to the post-method era, suggesting the abandonment of the “prolonged preoccupation [with methods] that has been increasingly unproductive and misguided.” (Stern 1985)

Principled Pragmatism. Unlike eclecticism, which is a characteristic feature of what Stern (1895) called the “century-old obsession”, the “post-method era” is based on principled pragmatism, where the “relationship between theory and practice, ideas and their actualization, can only be realized within the domain of application” (Widdowson 1990). Since the post-method pedagogy is considered to be derived on the local level from CLT, some post-methodologists suggest that rather than finding an alternative to methods, the post-method pedagogy may be understood as synthesis of various methods under the umbrella of CLT.

PM Era and Teachers. The post-method condition enables practitioners to create location-specific, classroom-oriented, innovative practices. It enables teachers to use approaches and methods creatively, based on their own judgment, and interchangeably according to their learners’ needs. In order for the post-method pedagogy to be productive for both teachers and learners, teachers need to gain experiences and knowledge to develop individual practices and techniques that will reflect their individual beliefs, values, principles, and experiences. These practices and techniques will be used interchangeably by the teachers, depending on the type of class or learners they are teaching. Teachers also need to “theorize from practice and practice what they theorize.” This is what we call “teacher autonomy”. Brown (2002) suggests a “principled approach” towards teaching where EFL teachers (a) diagnose the needs of their students, (b) treat students with successful pedagogical techniques, and (c) assess the outcome of those treatments.

PM Era and Learners. Kumaravadivelu (2001) says that “the post-method learner is an autonomous learner,” someone who is independent, self-directed, self-motivated, critically reflective, and collaborative. Thanks to the post-method era, learners have been given the chance to focus on their learning processes, first by defining their learning styles, and then by developing appropriate strategies for the accurate production and comprehension of the foreign language. Nunan (1999), however, classifies learners into concrete learners, analytical learners, and authority-oriented learners. Concrete learners are those who prefer learning by games, pictures, films and video, talking in pairs, learning through the use of cassette and going on excursions. Analytical learners are the opposite of communicative learners. They like studying grammar, studying independently, finding their own mistakes, always having homework, and learning through reading newspapers. Authority-oriented learners are those who like their teachers explaining everything for them, writing everything in a notebook, and sticking to their own textbook.

PM Era and Teaching Materials. Although linguists, methodologists, and practitioners have admitted that we have moved beyond the search for “an alternative method” to the “search for an alternative to methods,” the problem of teaching materials is hard to settle. In some countries, teachers are still confined by the Teacher Book components and are never considered good teachers by the inspectors unless they go by the book. They also need to teach using the implied textbooks, especially in countries where the two concepts of method and textbook are regarded as one. Here we give the example of the Spanish-speaking world where method and textbook share a single name, “métado”.  They can, however, use extra learning materials that suit their learners’ needs, whether use pictures and films (concrete learners), give homework that is not taken from the textbook (analytical learners), or just stick to the textbook and give hand-outs (authority-oriented learners). They can also “adopt, adapt, [and] develop” any method and create different teaching materials according to their learners’ socioeconomic and linguistic characteristics, cultural backgrounds, and needs. In this context, Kumaravadivelu (2006) calls for a “pedagogy of particularity,” by which he means being “sensitive to a particular group of teachers teaching a particular group of learners pursuing a particular set of goals within a particular institutional context embedded in a particular social milieu.”

Are Teaching Methods Universal or Culture-specific?

Are Teaching Methods Universal or Culture-specific?
Nada Mrabet

This paper discusses the appropriateness of the application of the Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) approach in EFL classrooms, with a focus on Tunisian secondary teachers and students. The paper begins with an introduction of teaching methods, the teacher versus learner centeredness dichotomy, how methods failed to account for cultural diversity, and the birth of the post-method era. I will be focusing on two contexts, China and Singapore. Then, I will apply their findings to the Tunisian context to see whether I will find the same results. Therefore, I prepared two questionnaires, one for 11 secondary teachers, and another for 70 secondary students from different parts of Tunisia. According to the quantitative data I got, Tunisian teachers do not adopt CLT to the fullest. They make adjustments depending on their learners’ needs and expectations.  As for the students, they were divided into two categories: those living in the rural area prefer a teacher-centered approach, and those living in the urban area prefer a learner-centered approach. The universality hypothesis is refuted.
                    Keywords: CLT, teacher-centered, learner-centered, cultural diversity, post-method.

CLT is the most recognizable and adopted humanistic approach in EFL classrooms around the world. At first, despite the fact that, like the rest of the teaching-methods, CLT is the product of the West, some non-West countries, which have different cultural teaching and learning backgrounds than the West, are applying CLT in their English-language classrooms. These cultural differences were later on acknowledged by many countries, e.g. China, Singapore, Egypt, and Japan, the thing that led them to either stop adopting CLT and create their own approach to EFL teaching, or make some adjustments to CLT. In this paper we will discover whether the cultural differences between the West and Tunisia will lead the latter to stop applying CLT to their English-language classrooms and create a specially-made approach for the Tunisian context. 

Theoretical Part
Teaching Methods
Definition of Teaching Methods. In their “Dictionary of Language and Applied Linguistics” (2002), Richards and Schmidt claim that different methods of language teaching are based upon: “(a) the nature of language, (b) the nature of second language learning, (c) goals and objectives in teaching, (d) the type of syllabus to use, (e) the role of teachers, learners, instructional material, and (f) the activities, techniques, and procedures to use” (p. 330)
The characteristic feature of teaching methods is eclecticism. It has been used (a) to overcome the limitations of any teaching method and (b) to promote “the careful, principled combination of sound ideas from sound sources into a harmonious whole that yields the best results.”  That is why the search of methodologists was focused on a single, ideal method, which can be generalized across widely varying audiences, and which would successfully teach students a foreign language in the classroom.

Teaching Methods. Teaching methods can be divided into two types:
(1)   Traditional Approach: The grammar-translation method enables students to read the literature of the target language. The teachers are both decision-makers and translators from the mother-tongue to the target language and vice versa. The learners are passive and not allowed to make mistakes. The textbook codify the grammar of the target language into discrete rules for students to learn and memorize.
The direct method’s main objective is to achieve good pronunciation. The teachers play the role of demonstrators, always leaving the floor for the learners. They use both textbooks and real-life objects and visual materials. The learners are active. They speak to practice their pronunciation skills.
The audio-lingual method intends to build communicative competence. It is a teacher-dominated method where teachers have central and active roles. Thus, the learners have a little control over the content, pace, and learning-style.
(2)   Humanistic Approach: The communicative language teaching approach helps the learners achieve effective communicative skills. The teachers are needs-analysts, counselors, and group process managers. The learner plays the role of a negotiator between the self, the learning process and object of learning. The materials are text-based and task-based with the use of realia.
The total-physical response’s main focus is about teaching oral proficiency at beginning levels. The teachers have a direct and active role. The learners are active as well. They are required to respond in a physical manner, either collectively or individually. For the very first lessons, teaching materials may not be use, only real-life objects and posters.
The main objective of the community language learning is to attain a near-native like mastery of the target language. The teachers are counselors and paraphrasers. The learners are treated as clients and not students. The classroom materials are personalized by the learners.
Each teaching method prescribes for the teachers what to do in the classroom and how to do it, the kind of teachers they are supposed to be, and the type of materials to use. It also specifies the kind of learners all learners must be.
Teacher centeredness Vs. Learner centeredness. The status of teachers in CLT differs from that in traditional methods. In traditional methods, teachers enjoy a high status where they are the source of knowledge, the controllers of their classrooms, and the decision makes. Learners are viewed as the passive recipient of their teachers. They are supposed to listen to their teachers, do whatever they ask them to do, and follow them blindly without challenging or questioning them. However, in CLT, teachers no longer enjoy that high status, and the distance between them and their learners has been narrowed down to a rather equal one. Teachers are no longer the source of knowledge, the controllers of their classrooms, and the decision makers. Learners are the ones who pave the way for knowledge to take place; they are the dominators in the classroom, and the ones who choose which activities to do and which materials to use.
Teaching Methods and Culture
Methods assume too much about a context before the context has even been identified. They are over-generalized in their application to practical situations. Several contexts came to prove later on that the western-methods-makers are ignorant of, and even indifferent to the socio-cultural realities of Afro-Asia. Through these context-differences, practitioners have discovered that even some of the recent humanistic approaches and methods may be unworkable, unproductive or even unwise to be applied in places and under conditions that are quite unlike those that gave birth to them. In Japan, Linju Ogasawara (1983) from the Japanese Ministry of Education warns about the dangers of the over-rated application of “hot from the oven” linguistic theories from the West in the English-language classrooms in Japan. In China, Liu Xian (1988) from Jilin University elucidates how imported humanistic methods are impractical in China and how Chinese teachers of English have turned out better works in the Chinese context, and that they should not rely on foreigners to find the appropriate ways to approach their English-language classrooms. In a paper presented during the 1989 Annual Convention of TESOL, the authors claimed that “methods like the TPR, Suggestopedia and counseling learning presume many facts that are realities in the West but not quite so in many parts of the world. […] In short, the fact remains that except for possible isolated cases, these methods do not have either consistent universality of appeal or feasibility of application.” What Westerners do when developing or giving birth to new methods, is “evaluating other cultures according to preconceptions originally in the standards and customs of [their] own culture.” This leads us to the conclusion that much of the modern knowledge developed in the West will automatically appear ethnocentric to the non-west. Burns (1985) also mentions how countries like Germany, Japan, Egypt, Brazil and India are restructuring English teaching to exclude the contexts (cultural, social, etc), purposes and needs of the West.
Examples of cultural contexts where CLT could not be adapted.
       The Chinese Context. Zhang et al. (2013) examine the appropriateness of CLT from the perspective of the Chinese culture of teaching and learning. Chinese researchers and teachers are required to adopt CLT as the ‘right’ and most appropriate approach for the Chinese English-language classrooms. Chinese researchers argue that since CLT is based on Western settings, it is not culturally appropriate. This is to note that the Chinese culture of teaching and learning which is traditional by definition. Since teachers’ values and teaching behaviors differ from one culture to the other, these values and professed role of Chinese teachers are so rooted that they have kept these Chinese teachers from adopting a new learner-centered methodology. Chinese learners, on the other hand, are finding it hard to adopt CLT because (1) it is difficult for them to change their ways of learning, (2) they depend on their teachers to get knowledge, and (3) they have negative attitudes towards CLT. They regard CLT as games for entertainment and not as a serious approach to efficient learning. To conclude, teachers’ roles and learners’ learning styles and attitudes in China are culturally contradictory to those of CLT. This renders the shortcoming of CLT in neglecting context.
     The Singaporean Context. Tan (2005) examines the appropriateness of CLT from the perspective of the culture of teaching and learning in Singapore. He investigates how the CLT can be culturally inappropriate for primary schoolchildren due to the Asian-Confucian values and practices. The latter is “a system of philosophical and ethical teachings founded by Confucius which do not favor the communicative approach.” Tan (2005) mentions a number of writers like Ellis (1996), Collins (1999), and Critchley (2004) to confirm his argument about the cultural inappropriateness of the communicative approach in the Asian context. To conclude, CLT is only efficient if it is culturally appropriate. Otherwise, it must be wisely adapted to suit the local needs of schoolchildren depending on their cultural backgrounds and contexts. 
Post-method Era
Acknowledging the complexity of the current worldwide foreign English teaching situation and the diversity of the cultural contexts of the foreign English classrooms has led some practitioners to the conclusion that we have moved beyond methods, to the post-method era. In this regard, post-methodologists suggest the abandonment of methods in favor of the recognition of strategies of teaching designed to reflect specific cultural backgrounds, local needs and experiences. Post-methodologists offer an ‘alternative to methods’ which enables practitioners to generate location-specific, classroom-oriented practices. This way, individual teachers may draw on diverse principles at different times applying procedures that best match their own cultural background in teaching. Kumaravadivelu (2006) calls for a “pedagogy of particularity,” by which he means being “sensitive to a particular group of teachers teaching a particular group of learners pursuing a particular set of goals within a particular institutional context embedded in a particular social milieu.”

Practical Part
My study was conducted only on secondary English-language teachers and learners. I can justify my choice by the fact that learners at that level are more aware of their own learning styles and learning processes than basic education learners. They know exactly how they want to learn, how they want their teachers to deliver information, and the type of materials they want to use. This way we will have more concrete results.
CLT is a culturally specific teaching method that cannot be appropriately applied to the Tunisian secondary schools.
Participants. I handed a questionnaire to 11 secondary teachers of English: 5 from Kairouan (urban and rural), 5 from Tunis and 1 from Sousse.
Method. The questionnaire that I prepared contains 5 multiple-choice questions that aimed to (a) know whether Tunisian teachers literally apply CLT in their classrooms, and (b) to see whether they have succeeded or failed to apply it appropriately.


Discussion. First, let me draw your attention to the fact that the Official Language Program implicitly states that Tunisian teachers are required to use the Communicative approach. Some of the fundamental principles of CLT that are mentioned in this book are: (1) ‘the learner is at the core of the learning process’, (2) and ‘language is seen as a means of communication.’ What this chart shows is that the majority of Tunisian teachers: (1) “often” do classroom activities, (2) either use both of the textbook and other materials or do not use the textbook at all, and (3) instruct their learners when solving a problem. This means that their approach to the classroom is CLT-like. CLT advocates the excessive use of activities, reliance on materials other than the textbook, and instruction while solving problems. However, 10 out of 11 teachers said that they change their teaching methods depending on their learners’ needs. And 5 out of 11 teachers think that the teaching method they’re following does not suit all of their learners. This means that they are not completely satisfied with CLT as their sole method to apply in their classrooms.
Conclusion. These findings imply that CLT may be culturally inappropriate to apply to the Tunisian context, perhaps because Tunisian teachers do not feel that CLT is efficient enough to be used with all of their learners or even to be used to the fullest with the learners who are already comfortable with the set of activities and techniques of CLT.
Participants. I handed the questionnaire to 70 secondary students: 40 from Tunis, 29 from Kairouan and 1 from Gafsa.
Data and Method. The questionnaire that I prepared contains 6 multiple-choice questions that aimed to (a) diagnose the type of teaching techniques that learners are being exposed to, (b) observe how learners actually prefer to be taught, and (c) see whether they have the same learning style as the one imposed on them by CLT.


Discussion and Conclusion.
     On the Global level. The majority of learners: (1) said that teachers do most of the talking, (2) want to always do activities and discussions, (3) said that they mostly rely on the textbook to do activities, (4) said that their teachers instruct them while solving problems, and that they prefer doing tasks with their teachers’ instruction, and (5) attested that when they are about to correct a task, they discuss the answers either with their teachers and other learners, or both. Some of these answers contradict with CLT. For example, in CLT teachers must use materials other than the textbook. To conclude, the fact that the teachers are the ones who do most of the talking, and that they mostly rely on the textbook means that the teachers do not apply CLT to the fullest. They still moderate some of its major aspects to make them fit their own cultural background as well as their learners’, which is mostly traditional, i.e. teacher-centered.
     On the Local Level. When I separated the answers of the learners from the rural area of Kairouan from the answers of the learners from the urban area of Tunis, I got totally different results for questions 1, 3 and 6. On the one hand, the majority of learners from Tunis said that : (1) they do most of the talking in the classroom, (2) their teachers use both of the textbook and other teaching materials, and (3) when it is time to correct a task, they discuss the answers with fellow learners. On the other hand, learners from Kairouan said that: (1) their teachers are the ones who do most of the talking, and (2) when it is time to correct a task, they refer to their teachers to discuss the answers. To conclude, learners from the rural area of Kairouan are following a teacher-centered approach. They are still stick to the old-fashioned, traditional approach to learning where the teacher enjoys a high status as the knowledge holder and the learners as the vessel that receives that knowledge. However, learners from the urban area of Tunis are following a learner-centered approach. The teachers share the same status with their learners. They are no longer the source of knowledge. The learners seek for information from each other.

Methodologists develop methods with the ultimate aim of producing one single, ideal method that will fit all English-language classrooms around the world. This quest for universality has led these methodologists to turn a blind eye, whether intentionally or unintentionally, to the possibility that their methods cannot be appropriately applicable to the non-West contexts. Research studies conducted about the appropriateness of CLT in the Chinese and Singaporean contexts led us to the conclusion that the applicability of certain teaching-methods, more precisely CLT, is determined by the cultural teaching and learning background of the context. The same was proved following my study of the appropriateness of CLT in the Tunisian context. CLT is not fully appropriate to be applied to the Tunisian English-language classrooms. Sometimes teachers change some CLT techniques to make them suit their learners’ needs and cultural background. Tunisian learners do not share the same cultural background, neither with the West, nor with the non-West, and not even other Tunisians from different area. Learners in the rural areas prefer the traditional teacher-centered approach, while learners in the urban areas prefer the trendy learner-centered approach.

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Zhang, D., Li, Y., & Wang, Y. (2013). How Culturally Appropriate Is the Communicative Approach with Reference to the Chinese Context? Creative Education. Vol.4, No.10A, 1-5.

Tan, Ch. (2005). How Culturally Appropriate is the Communicative Approach for Primary School Children in Singapore ? The Reading Matrix. Vol. 5, No. 1, 21-35.