The textbook carries several functions in the classroom. For generations, foreign language teachers have followed the outlines, learning progressions and tasks as they appear in textbooks which are usually replaced by new editions once or twice per decade. Of course, state-issued curricula have always been the underlying foundation of teaching. Textbooks, however, are still not only the content but also the guideline, the schedule that many modern teachers follow. Consequently, and accompanying the increasing importance of intercultural learning and the growing relevance of intercultural competence (ICC), language textbooks in recent years have also begun to pay attention to intercultural or global issues.
And it was about time! The language classroom has always been a space of intercultural learning and interaction. Textbooks, however, have received only little attention in how they approach foreign cultures. This surprises, not only because of the proximity between foreign language and foreign culture learning but also because of the interconnectedness between school textbooks and a society’s knowledge culture in general. Lässig (2009), for example, has described schoolbooks as reflecting knowledge and values “by a given society and particularly its political elites” (Lässig, 2009, p. 2). In this context, foreign language textbook knowledge has been claimed to be “the result of a multi-layered and complex process of negotiating”(Bönkost, 2014, p. 8, Fuchs et al., 2014, p. 12). It is this complexity as well as the influence of these processes of shaping and negotiating knowledge in learners which deserve a closer look.
So what is the role of a foreign language textbook when it comes to intercultural learning? For once, it offers learners a negotiated image of cultures, ideally reference cultures of, for example, the English as a Foreign Language (EFL) curriculum, which often includes the UK and the USA, but also South Africa or Australia. In its everyday practice, the textbook not only communicates a certain knowledge about these cultures to learners but also encourages and leads them to construct their own individual understanding of the world based on the (selected) information it offers them. In this regard, school textbooks are not only representations of the world but also forge new representations of the world and its cultures in the minds of the learners and future citizens.
Recent analyses of textbooks, however, have shown that that a Eurocentric discourse of the construction of a (Post-Colonial) Other is present and continues to draw binarisms that appear to prevent rather than foster the development of intercultural competence in learners. In fact, there still is a widespread “convergence of and competition between Eurocentric perceptions of Self and Other in school textbooks ” (Fuchs et al., 2014, p. 27) resulting in a Manichean Duality of a civilized and developed First World opposed to a primitive, non-developed Third World, usually referring to examples from the African or Asian continents and often focusing on former colonies of European empires.