Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head

Normalising normal life in EFL materials


EfL-speakingB2-largeWhen I was writing my Speaking Skills book, I had the standard list of things not to include. No opposite sex co-habiting, no shopping for shorts or miniskirts, avoid dogs. It never said anywhere not to have anything depicting gay relationships but, this is ELT, I know how this works.

The funny thing is, showing people living together that are same sex….well they could just be friends. A narrow-minded, homophobe will assume that and it will just breeze past them. And it is always pretty cheesy when a “controversial” ELT book puts in a really obvious discussion point about gay marriage or something so I didn’t want to do anything like that either.

It seems better to me, and others** to just treat the topic like the non-topic it is. It isn’t an issue of discretion or saving anyone’s embarrassment, nor even, my book contract. It’s just for me, really, are we still talking about this? I realise there is still a lot to talk about in terms of gay rights and places like Russia or South Africa where the social consequences of being gay are still in the dark ages but I  think part of confronting that also lies in simply not treating it as something that warrants special consideration.***

So, in this dialogue from Unit 6, Interruptions, I think it’s clear which of the two characters a) co-habit b) are in a relationship. In itself. that’s quite interesting: how the way we speak to someone shows we’re romantically involved even though there are no endearments or explicit mentions.

I’d describe this conversation as slight bickering and that’s something almost exclusive to family and significant others.

Pierre: Josh, I’m home. And Regan’s here!
Josh: Hey, Regan!
Pierre: Hey, this place is a tip!
Josh: Um, I think you’ll find it’s your gym stuff all over the floor not mine!
Regan: So guys, what’s for dinner?
Pierre: So, whose trainers are these then, huh?
Josh: Okay, and this towel? And those shorts? And that …
Regan: If I can get a word in edgewise …
Pierre: Oh! Really sorry, Regan. How rude of us! Go ahead.
Josh: Sorry, got carried away there.
Regan: I was just wondering, seeing as you’ve invited me round for dinner, what you’re planning to cook me since all I can see in the fridge are three bananas and a load of tomatoes.
Pierre: I thought you were getting groceries!
Josh: I did! I just haven’t unpacked the car yet.

**I can’t find the actual article, but this is what Scott Thornbury also thinks as referenced in this post.

Now Scott Thornbury ends his article with a request: “Can I ask publishers to do us a favour? If you can’t include overt gayness, how about a few covert signs that you really do care? How about a few same-sex flatmates? Unmarried uncles? Holiday postcards from Lesbos or Sitges? You don’t have to say they’re gay. Maybe they’re not. Who cares?

Window-dressing vs cross-dressing in the EFL sub-culture, Folio 5/2 Autumn 1999.

***Also I realised this year, to my surprise, that the two Graded Readers I
have out and the one I am still hawking to no avail, all feature single mothers. Just because that is my childhood and it never occurs to me to think of it as anything other than normal even though I know in many countries it really isn’t. I didn’t even notice I always portrayed family life in this way.


11 comments on “Normalising normal life in EFL materials

  1. helenwaldron
    October 16, 2014

    Very interesting, Nicola. I had no idea theat publishers were so conservative.They’re thinking of the international market, of course.

    • Nicola
      October 17, 2014

      Hi Helen, I can’t tell if you teach or not
      but I’m guessing not as after a couple of lessons with any EFL book you’d see just how conservative!

      • helenwaldron
        October 22, 2014

        I do teach, Nicola, but obviously in an even more conservative environment than ELT publishing. I actually make a point of showing the students the token black woman, the female boss etc.Still very young, pretty and perfect looking, though.

  2. timothyhampson
    October 17, 2014

    I was shopping for a textbook for my business English class yesterday. Some of the books’ pictures gave the impression that only men do business. Publishing houses need to up their game.

    • Nicola
      October 17, 2014

      I’m surprised by that. Publishers are hyper aware of trying to make sure they represent a mix of gender and ethnicity –often to the extent that the world they portray is too equal compared with reality, where many industries are actually dominated by white men. If you can be bothered, count the number of women vs men in audio and in pics. I bet they’ll be roughly half and half but I’d be very curious if any are not. Report back!

      • timothyhampson
        October 19, 2014

        I wish I’d scribbled down the name. There were only three series of books in the EFL section and one of the series seemed full of men doing business in really bad ties. On reflection it might have been an older book, the selection at that bookshop is really bad. If I’m in that area I’ll try and have a proper look. I’ll also have a look at the book I bought and maybe have a count there.

  3. mbenevides
    October 17, 2014

    “I think part of confronting that also lies in simply not treating it as something that warrants special consideration.”

    I absolutely agree, and also that “special consideration” can come across as cheesy, or worse–patronising. In my current graded reader series, I’ve been making an effort to be “matter-of-fact” inclusive about a variety of issues. One title we have in production now, for instance, shows a character’s bedroom door with a pro-gay marriage sticker on it. It’s just a background shot, and the plot has nothing at all to do with relationships of any kind, but I see it as the sort of covert sign that Scott suggests.

    Beyond that, it’s a rather nice way to add depth to graded reader stories without adding to the word count or the cognitive load of the plot. If you can make characters feel more lifelike by simply suggesting that they have a backstory and motivations beyond the strict requirements of the plot, then so much the better!

    • Nicola
      October 17, 2014

      You’re absolutely right about adding depth to characters by suggesting back story without explicit reference — that’s great writing!

  4. impreston
    November 24, 2014

    Reblogged this on impreston.

  5. sophiarawr
    November 27, 2014

    I teach in Brighton and I’ve had to pull a few students up on homophobic language that they have used when they are describing what they see when they go out. It’s not very often though, thankfully.

    I remember one situation when we could’ve gone on a school outing to Pride in Brighton but I didn’t want to take them out and assume that they were all okay with it so I did an anonymous survey for whether we should go or not. Only 1/17 of my students said no.

    • Nicola
      December 1, 2014

      I suppose I have not heard those comments often, but the times I have have been shocking and I am very angry with myself that I never directly confronted them because it was awkward to handle in class and that in someway I condoned what had been said. I don’t spend much time teaching nowadays but if I did, I’d like to think I’d tell the ignorant to leave and find another teacher.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


This entry was posted on October 16, 2014 by in ELT and tagged , , , , , .
%d bloggers like this: