Analysis of Junior High English Textbooks
from the Perspective of Strategic Competence

Chiaki IWAI
Hiroshima City University

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[Abstract] Teachability of communication strategies (CS), i.e., whether or not CS-based instruction brings about desirable effects in second language acquisition, is a contentious issue in CS studies. This paper first indicates three major problems of empirical CS studies which have attempted to provide evidence for a positive view of teachability. One of them is concerned with lack of comprehensive examinations of teaching materials. To discuss and illustrate this problem, 21 English textbooks currently used in Japanese junior high schools were analyzed, referring to the theoretical and empirical outcomes of CS studies in the past. The result reveals that no systematic attempts to apply research results of CS studies are made in the analyzed textbooks. Based on this analysis, this study further discusses needed conditions to resolve the teachability issue and concludes that more examinations of teaching materials, observational studies, and empirical studies are required to predict precisely when and how to introduce CS-based teaching into classrooms.

1. Introduction

Despite the undeniable fact that strategic competence is an essential component of communicative competence (e.g., Canale & Swain 1980), we still know little about whether this competence can be actually taught or not and, if so, when and how it should be incorporated into classroom activities. For the past two decades, researchers of communication strategies (CS) have been struggling with foreign or second language (L2) learners' hidden capacity to complement their inadequate knowledge of the target language. Contrary to the theoretical maturity and cumulative empirical CS studies, no confirming evidence has emerged from them. This is not because CS researchers have been indifferent to actual classroom applications, but because the wall obstructing them is much more intricate than CS researchers have anticipated.

Some optimistic researchers have concluded plausible effects of CS training from experimental studies; however, this study claims that there still remain three problems that need to be solved before determining the pros and cons of CS teachability. The primary focus of the present study is placed on one of these problems necessary to rationalize teaching effects of CS, and the solution to this problem is sought by analyzing English textbooks.

2. CS Teachability Issue

Theoretical controversies of CS in the 1980s have brought two contrasting approaches to empirical examinations of strategic L2 use. It is important here to note that these two approaches have ultimately led to the teachability issue of CS and triggered two conflicting pedagogical points of view.

One approach was promoted by a group of researchers who tried to reveal strategic use of the language from L2 learners' utterance outcomes; thus, their studies are referred to as being product-oriented. Harshly criticizing this approach, such researchers as Poulisse (1990) and Bialystok (1990) advocated an alternative approach which emphasizes the necessity of clarifying underlying psychological processes of L2 learners' compensatory use of L2. (See Iwai (2000) for further discussion of these theoretical CS issues.)

It was, however, not until the beginning of the 1990s that CS researchers shifted their profound interest in CS studies from theoretical constructions to applications. The first, forthright negative claim by Bialystok (1990) was rather sensational. Rejecting tacit expectancy for fruitful effects of CS training, Bialystok mentioned that "The more language the learner knows, the more possibilities exist for the system to be flexible and to adjust itself to meet the demands of the learner. What one must teach students of a language is not strategy, but language" (p. 147, emphasis added). Kellerman (1991), another process-oriented CS researcher, supported Bialystok's view and stressed that CS training would simply provide opportunities to practice メtheir [L2 learnersユ] competence, rather than build it up" (p. 160, see also Kellerman 1998 for a similar indication).

Contrary to these negative remarks on CS training, promising views have been expressed by many CS researchers, especially by upholders of product-oriented CS studies (e.g., Dornyei and Thurrell 1991, Yule and Tarone 1997). In addition, empirical evidence obtained from experimental CS training in L2 classes (e.g., Dornyei 1995, Senda 1996, Kitajima 1997, Iwa 1998) or from longitudinal observation of L2 learners (e.g., Kobayashi 1995) accords with these optimistic opinions. Some Japanese scholars have admired values of CS training and suggested introducing strategy-based exercises into the Japanese EFL teaching context. Hirano (1993), for instance, advised that explicit training in strategic competence would raise learners' fluency and foster their active learning behaviors (p. 12). In the same direction, Takatsuka (1995) made a more concrete proposal, using the term 'strategic syllabus', and illustrated a sample design of this syllabus (Takatsuka 1996).

Up to date, however, no one has provided decisive evidence to judge the winner of this debate, even though many empirical studies as quoted above have been conducted. Regarding these empirical studies, at least three problems can be pointed out. The first problem is methodological. Most of these studies compared the students' task performance in carefully constructed experimental conditions, but the period of CS training was fairly short (even the longest one was 10 class sessions in one school term in Iwa's (1998) study), and the trained CS were mostly lexical strategies. Furthermore, L2 learners' performance data was collected immediately after the training program when their abnormal attention was being paid to a strategic solution of communication problems; thus, it is no wonder that their use of idiomatic expressions (Senda 1996) or fillers (Dornyei 1995) increased or the amount of speech soared (Iwa 1998).

The second problem is more theoretical and noteworthy. Even though these studies investigated the effectiveness of information delivery (Kitajima 1997) or qualities and quantities of adopted strategies (Dornyei 1995, Iwa 1998), none of them scrutinized to what extent CS training contributed to L2 learners' linguistic competence; in other words, how accurately in a grammatical sense the learners could verbalize their intended concepts. As Swain (1996) indicated clearly and precisely (against Krashen's Input Hypothesis), well-formed output is indispensable to enhance L2 learners' interlanguage competence, and recent studies on conversational interactions (e.g., Foster 1998) show that it is not strengthened only by getting meanings across. From a pedagogical viewpoint of CS, Konishi (Forthcoming) also states the importance of revealing grammatical structures of utterances derived from the use of CS.

The third problem, which is the primary concern of the present study, is that these empirical studies as well as the studies proclaiming fertile effects of CS training are sporadic. That is to say, they were carried out at a certain time with a certain method, regardless of how much strategic competence L2 learners had gained directly or indirectly from teaching materials, especially from the textbooks, and from exposed learning contexts. Consequently, we cannot judge if the experimental CS training in these studies was most suitable to the learners and if the strategies taught to these learners were most appropriate to them. (This problem will be discussed further in the last section.)

3. The Study

The present study aims at making up for the third problem indicated above. For this purpose, 21 junior high English textbooks published by seven publishers (i.e., 3 textbooks from each publisher) were analyzed from the perspective of CS in regard to 1) strategic expressions in the main body of the textbooks, including dialogs and reading passages, and 2) exercises for learning activities. They are referred below to as Analysis A and Analysis B, respectively. In addition, due to the lack of space, only necessary findings for the main discussion of this study will be shown below.
The research questions raised in this study are as follows:
1) To what extent do these textbooks deal systematically with strategic expressions which belong to a representative CS taxonomy derived from CS studies?
2) To what extent do these textbooks consist of exercises which would encourage the learners to use English strategically?

Analysis A
  A CS taxonomy by Dornyei and Scott (1997), the most exhaustive taxonomy in CS studies, was used to find strategic expressions from the main passages of the textbooks.1) Among various substrategies, 14 items below were chosen for analysis, and the target expressions were encoded one by one using the codes in parentheses.2) In order to make a list of strategic expressions for each category, the encoded corpus was processed by a concordance computer program called MonoConc Pro.

Circumlocution (CI) Self-rephrasing (RP) Appeal for help (AH) Use of fillers (F)
Approximation (AX) Self-repair (SR) Comprehension check (CC)
Word-coinage (WC) Other-repair (OR) Asking for repetition (AR)
Literal translation (LT) Asking for clarification (CL)
Asking for confirmation (Con)
Expressing nonunderstanding (NU)

Table 1 summarizes the results of Analysis A.3) Total numbers of strategic expressions are shown in each publisher's row, which consists of three textbooks for three different academic grades; thus, the actual average numbers of such expressions in each textbook are at the bottom of the table. At a glance, we notice that strategic expressions are surprisingly uncommon in these textbooks. In fact, strategic expressions appear less than once on average in 8 of the 14 subcategories.

As regards lexical CS, expressions of literal translation are more common than any other subcategory; however, all of them are actually lexical borrowings from Japanese. Excluding Japanese words listed in an English dictionary (the third edition of American Heritage Dictionary), 1.7 Japanese words on average are used in each textbook as shown under the category of LT*. They include such words as chankonabe (a sumo wrestlerユs meal), fuki-no-to (a flower of the butterbur), gekiga (comic strips), and kamishibai (a picture-story show).
Strategic expressions of circumlocution and approximation, two of the major lexical strategies frequently investigated in CS studies, are rare. The following two examples represent them:

(Example 1) Circumlocution (Example 2) Approximation
A: This picture shows a kangaroo bar.
B: <CL>What's a kangaroo bar?
A: <CI>It's a special bumpe for a car.
A: What is she doing now?
B: She's practicing 'gateball'.
A: <CL>'Gateball'? What is it?
B: <AX>It's a sport like croquet.

In the category of interactive strategies, we also find very few cases. Although clarification requests and confirmation checks are ordinary strategies in conversational interactions, they appear only 1.6 times and 1.3 times in each textbook, even including such simple negotiations as the next examples:

(Sample 3) Clarification Request (Sample 4) Confirmation Check
A: Where are you from?
B: New York.
C: <CL>The big apple? What's that?
B: It's the nickname for New York City.
A: A hot dog, please.
B: <Con>A hot dog?
A: Yes.

The more incredible fact is that strategic expressions of asking for repetition and appeal for help are very rare or nonexistent even though their importance for L2 learners has been frequently discussed in CS studies. Asking for repetition can be verbalized in such simple formulaic expressions as "Pardon?" or "Excuse me?"; however, even these idiomatic expressions appeared only once each in two textbooks and not at all in the other 19 textbooks.
Next, in the category of rephrasing strategies, a fairly large number of examples were found only in the category of self-rephrasing. All of them, however, merely insert additional information to the preceding noun phrases, so they may not be regarded as self-rephrasing in a strict sense.

Finally, the most popular category was use of fillers. Dornyei (1995) underscored the central role of fillers as "time-gaining strategies" (p. 57). To assess the roles of fillers displayed in the textbooks, they are analyzed in terms of their kinds and their positions, and the result of this analysis is displayed in Table 2.

The most frequent filler is 'well' (about 76%), and each textbook illustrates fillers about 4.5 times on average. Furthermore, they are placed predominantly at the sentence initial position (93%), and most of them (70%) are, in fact, used at the beginning of an utterance right next to the preceding interlocutor's utterance as shown in the next example:

(Example 5) Use of fillers
A: Tell me about your school.
B: <F>Well, in that town they have a middle school.

Fillers are certainly used at utterance or sentence initial positions, but they are also frequently used at other places in structuring ideas or solving communication problems strategically. Thus, these limited resources of fillers in the textbooks do not seem adequate for the learners to acquire their central function of time-gaining.

Analysis B
In this analysis, exercises in the textbooks were examined by classifying them into the subcategories of each one of the following four items: intended skills (speaking, listening, reading, writing, speaking or writing), focuses (grammar, vocabulary, expressions, miscellaneous), styles (individual, interactive, both), and types (13 subcategories such as substitution and multiple choice).4) Table 3 summarizes the numbers and percentages of exercises classified into four skill areas and their averages by academic grade. The averages are also shown in the graph.

It is obvious from Table 3 and the graph that speaking is the most emphasized skill area. Even though speaking exercises (S) decrease in the second and third years, the number of speaking/writing exercises (S/W) in these years increases up to about 40% of all exercises. Combining these two kinds of exercises, their proportion of the total accounts for more than or almost 50% throughout the three academic grades.

In addition, it became clear from the analysis of exercise styles that interactive activities were required in the majority of S exercises (60.1%, 92.1%, and 92.7%) and many of the S/W exercises (15.9%, 3.9%, and 16.8%).5) Despite their heavy weight on speaking, main focuses of S and S/W exercises are placed on learning discrete grammatical rules, i.e., forms rather than meanings, and these exercises are constructed to practice them in more than 80% of S exercises and more than 90% of S/W exercises.

Finally, the practice formats of S and S/W exercises were analyzed in the category of exercise types, and it was found that most exercises offered opportunities to practice oral skills by rote. Thus, simple substitution exercises dominate S exercises (77.6%, 65.8%, and 61.0%), which is followed by sentence-rewriting exercises (2.4%, 7.9%, and 7.3%) or a fill-in-the-blank type of exercises (5.7%, 6.6%, and 4.9%). In S/W exercises, the number of substitution exercises is fewer than S exercises (47.6%, 48.9%, and 41.6%), but the number of the other two types is much larger (sentence-rewriting: 30.2%, 17.4%, and 8.7%; fill-in-the-blank: 9.5%, 14.9%, and 8.7%). In the analysis of the exercise type category, the ratios of exercises in which the learners can practice expressing their own ideas were also examined. The results obtained were surprisingly low (S exercises: 1.2%, 1.3%, and 7.3%; S/W exercises: 1.6%, 1.7%, and 2.7%). These figures would be shocking to CS researchers since almost no opportunities are offered by these exercises for the learners to practice formulating their own concepts in the target language, which is the central concern for CS researchers.

4. Discussion and Conclusion

L2 learners are, needless to say, not taught by textbooks alone, so the results of this study are by no means conclusive regarding how strategic competence is dealt with in classrooms. However, the results obtained make us hesitant to say that the analyzed textbooks reflect the research results of CS studies. In this sense, the answers for the research questions in this study are, unfortunately, negative, but this is not the main conclusion of this study.

Now let us go back to the real research question underlying this study. As indicated in Section 2, empirical studies to verify CS teachability have been conducted without a full inspection of how strategic competence is treated in textbooks and classroom activities to which the learners are exposed. Without this knowledge, we cannot know if strategic competence of the L2 learners in these studies was strengthened by the CS training or if they simply recalled strategic competence they gained from their acquisition of L1, the latter of which motivates some CS researchers to reject explicit teaching of CS (e.g., Bialystok 1990).

Empirical studies of applied linguistics are not administered for research per se (see Foster 1998 for an invaluable discussion of this), and CS studies are not exceptions. If we really want to make a persuasive proposal to introduce CS-oriented teaching into classrooms, it is first necessary for us to grasp the comprehensive status quo of teaching CS in L2 environments, a sample of which was shown in this study. Our knowledge about this is still very limited, so the research attention of CS studies needs to be directed toward understanding how strategic competence is dealt with in secondary school textbooks, in college textbooks, and in class activities. It should be after we gain adequate knowledge of this that training effects are investigated empirically. In doing so, we have to keep in mind that what we need to clarify is not only how communication problems are solved strategically but how much CS training contributes to the enhancement of grammatical competence (see the second problem indicated in Section 2). And by doing so, we can predict precisely at what interlanguage stage CS training can be most effective and what kinds of CS are most appropriate to teach.

To achieve the last goal, we still need a large number of textbook examinations, classroom observations, and empirical studies both in cross-sectional and longitudinal ways. If we succeed in showing that CS training encourages the learners to develop both their strategic competence and grammatical competence more effectively than any conventional method, then we can say with confidence what one must teach students of a language is not language, but strategy and thus resolve the most shaky question in CS studies.


I would like to express my deepest appreciation to my colleague, Carol Rinnert, who helped me revise this paper and gave me many valuable suggestions. I also want to thank three graduate students at Hiroshima City University, Shinichi Higuchi, Masato Ikegami, and Hitomi Oda, for checking the encoded corpus of this study. Every one of shortcomings of this study is, of course, my own responsibility.


1) The original taxonomy is modified for the purpose of the present study. In addition, expressing nonunderstanding in the taxonomy is included in the category of asking for clarification since a strict distinction turned out to be difficult. (->Back)

2) Encoding was first done by the author of this study. Later, three research assistants checked the encoded data, and segments on which there was disagreement were agreed upon by discussing them. No statistical reliability is tested because controversial segments were very few. (->Back)

3) The textbook names are shown anonymously throughout this study because evaluation of each individual textbook is not the purpose of this study. (->Back)

4) In the category of skill, a strict distinction between speaking and writing was not easy in some exercises because they could be used for either purpose. In such a case, they were classified into the subcategory of speaking/writing (S/W) exercises. (->Back)

5) The three figures in parentheses represent average percentages of the textbooks intended for the students of the first year, of the second year, and of the third year from left to right. To conserve space, the same format is used in the rest of this study. (->Back)


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Analyzed Textbooks

Columbus English Course 1, 2, 3. 光村図書 1995.
Everyday English 1, 2, 3. 中教出版 1994.
New Crown English Series 1, 2, 3. 三省堂 1995.
New Horizon 1, 2, 3. 東京書籍 1995.
One World English Course 1, 2, 3. 教育出版 1995.
Sunshine English Course 1, 2, 3. 開隆堂 1994.
Total English 1, 2, 3. 秀文出版 1995

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