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The Three Most Critical Factors in ELT
by Neil McBeath
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Materials

At the 12th TESOL Arabia Conference I presented a paper (McBeath 2006/7) severely criticizing the Royal Air Force of Oman’s in-house publication Target – the Sultan’s Armed Forces General English Course.

I now have good news and bad news. The good news is that the Target course is now being completely revised, and that the triumvirate responsible for its publication have all left RAFO.

Unfortunately, before they left, they produced Target- Student’s Book 3.  If anything, this is the worst volume to date. The self-indulgent, weakly plotted, badly constructed, unmotivating, plagiarized and pointless materials that were so obvious in the first two books, reappear in Book 3.

One section, entitled Snakes in Oman (Pp. 60-63) has been plagiarized from Gallagher’s (1990/1993) Snakes of the Arabian Gulf and Oman, while the passage on Shabab Oman (Pp. 13-14) begins “Shabab Oman is one of the world’s tallest ships and she often takes part in the Round the World Tall Ships Race.”

She is not, and she does not.

The sentence is part of a passage that has been downloaded, without checking, from two or three different websites. The first clause comes from an incorrect Wikipedia entry, and later information comes from either the Omani Ministry of Information’s website or the more general Nizwanet. It is an example of what Unissa (2006; 85) describes as “cut and paste plagiarism.”

At the end of October 2007, one of my undergraduate students at Sultan Qaboos University gave an excellent presentation about Shabab Oman, linking it with the fact that his brother was serving as a musician in the Royal Navy of Oman.

Plagiarism from the internet is a major problem at Arab Gulf Universities. Paper after paper has been devoted to this problem, both at TESOL Arabia and other Arab Gulf ELT Conferences (Birks; Hunt; Mandalios and Remondi 2001; Birks; Hunt and Mandalios 2003; McBeath 2004; Owen 2006/2007; Kershaw 2007). My student avoided plagiarism.
 
It is deeply embarrassing that so-called professional materials writers, working on a prestige project, did not.

Even professional writers, however, are capable of producing materials that our learners regard as artificial or irrelevant.

Phillips (2005a; 2005b) has produced a series of skills courses containing exercises that are both artificial and irrelevant. In Speaking Level 2 (P. 12) we meet Vera, who is distressed because her friend Phyllis said she “was stu-pid, in front of my pa-rents. I was up-set.” Judging by the triviality of the complaint, and the pace and intonation of Vera’s delivery on the accompanying CD, one feels that Phyllis was probably correct.

In the same Unit, moreover, Phillips ignores extensive work on sociolinguistics (Rampton 2004) and discourse analysis (Tannen 1994), offering a dialogue in which two teenage boys not only talk to each other about how they feel, but manage to do so without muttering in embarrassment or employing expletives.

Equally unreal, in Speaking Level 3, is a dialogue between Alan and Gopal (P. 28). Gopal comes from Mumbai, but sounds exactly like a native speaker from Southern England. Garnet Publishing undermine the credibility of their own CD by failing to use a speaker of Indian accented English. Students from the Arab Gulf are familiar with Indian pronunciation, and are disconcerted when what they hear contradicts their expectations.

They are also disconcerted when they encounter materials based on alien cultural assumptions. Clark (1996) emphasizes that successful communication cannot take place unless there is mutual or shared background knowledge, but in Kisslinger’s (2002) Contemporary Topics 2, the cultural assumptions are entirely American.

To Kisslinger, it may be a genuine concern that DNA profiling could lead to insurance companies refusing to cover to people if they have a propensity to certain types of illness. The Arab Gulf and Europe, however, have national health systems. Those who enjoy this “social safety net” (Askari and Arfaa; 2007) find difficulty understanding the full implications of dependency on health insurance, and Kisslinger does nothing to help students bridge this gap in understanding.

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