>Do textbooks reflect language teaching theory? Maybe not

>Rod Ellis said: “The zero grammar approach was flirted with but never really took hold, as is evident in both the current textbook materials emanating from publishing houses and in current theories of L2 acquisition.”

Rod Ellis says he’s hedging his bets. For example, it sounds like he says he believes in just about everything except, of course, zero grammar. The same can be said about Krashen who also does not believe in zero grammar. The key is how much grammar.

While I don’t subscribe to the zero grammar approach, I find that this statement can be very misleading. Many people may not realize that the type of textbook that is published may have nothing to do with current research and theory.

Jack Richards should know as much as there is to know about textbooks. He tells us,
“…it must be recognized that any set of working principles so derived must be compatible with the local context. Principles derived entirely from research and theory might not always fit well with the school teaching and learning culture….Both top down and bottom source of information are needed, or in publishing terms what can be called product-driven as well as market-driven factors.”[1]

For example, zero grammar enthusiasts or people like Krashen, who is nearly zero, usually support Voluntary Free Reading[2], Extensive Reading and theories on the positive affects of massive amounts of Comprehensible Input. The idea is that the student will read lots of books that he chooses himself according to his interests. There will be no textbook for this and never will be so it is easy for “grammar” books to be more pervasive.

Although there are no textbooks, nor can there be, there is a lot of current research and activity going on about the positive effects of FVR, ER and CI. Yesterday I was reading a research paper called “Vocabulary acquisition from extensive reading: A case study” and published in Reading in a Foreign Language, April 2006.[3] Though it was focused on vocabulary it did discuss grammar and how both are acquired by reading without grammar study.

Krashen even hinted at something which almost sounds similar to Eisenhower’s Military-Industrial Complex relationship,

“It could be the case that researchers are defending their own economic interests. They continue to search for a role for grammar not because they believe in it but because they have sold out to big publishers who make profits from grammar-based materials. I have no evidence that scholars have been deliberately dishonest, but the potential for conflict of interest exists.”[4]

I don’t think this alludes to a conspiracy theory. It’s a fact that if you’ve built your life and livelihood around something that you will naturally wish to protect it. Teachers who promote FVR, ER and CI are striking at their own livelihood. They are promoting themselves out of a job.
Some people say, for example, cancer research is a big business and that there is much more
economic incentive to not find a cure for cancer than there is to find one.

So a few questions about publishers. Given a choice between publishing grammar textbooks or no textbooks, which would the publisher opt for? Is the publisher’s primary concern language acquisition for students or is it profits through publishing? If a non-book solution to learning English appeared to be more effective than a textbook approach to learning English, would publishers invest in researching and promoting it?

Although most of the time publishers are the teachers’ allies, we must bear in mind that they have their own priorities which may diverge from the priorities of the teachers and students.

[1] http://www.professorjackrichards.com/pdfs/materials-development-making-connection.pdf
[2] http://www.sdkrashen.com/handouts/88Generalizations/01.html
And http://www.sdkrashen.com/articles/pac5/all.html
[3] http://nflrc.hawaii.edu/rfl/April2006/pigada/pigada.html
[4] http://www.sdkrashen.com/articles/why_support/03.html