Academic journal article American Studies International

The Representation of the USA in EFL Textbooks in the Soviet Union and Russia

Academic journal article American Studies International

The Representation of the USA in EFL Textbooks in the Soviet Union and Russia

Article excerpt

Introduction

As is widely known, totalitarian states attempt to filter political information in such a way that, in the main, the population receives exposure to sources, materials, and presentations that serve and reinforce the goals and ideals of the state. Employing restrictive political practices, the state attempts to interdict information sources of which it does not officially approve. The state also essays to provide guidance in the selection and organization of materials from approved sources.

One can assume that before 1989 in the Soviet Union, the materials utilized in schools and other educational institutions fulfilled the criteria described above. The teaching of the English language proved an especially delicate yet critical field in this regard, since it provided a mediated introduction to the (capitalist) English-speaking world. In learning the language of the military and ideological competitors of the Soviet Union, students unavoidably also learned about the culture and society of those competitors. In an effort to ascertain better the Soviet image of the English-speaking world, the first section of our article examines the fashion in which Soviet EFL textbooks represented the United States. We investigate the selection and arrangement of topics in order to discuss what kinds of knowledge, and what kinds of judgments those Soviet textbooks attempted to impart. For the sake of comparison, we examine in the second part Russian EFL textbooks that appeared after the political changes in Russia. This allows us to present a snapshot of the ongoing changes in the Russian view of the United States.

With these articles we hope to contribute to political-historical knowledge of the Soviet Union and Russia. On a more immediate and practical level, we trust these examinations will be of value to English speakers engaged in educational or even business ventures in the former Soviet Union.

I

EFL progam developers and textbook writers agree that textbooks that continue to be structured according to certain linguistic and pragmatic elements of increasing difficulty cannot provide a comprehensive depiction of a foreign society and its culture, a depiction that would include background information and contextual material. The challenge is to create, despite the necessary limitations imposed by selectivity, the most representative depiction possible. To this end, scholars have suggested numerous selection criteria, but these are irrelevant for our task, which is to provide a descriptive representation of the "reality" these textbooks construct.

Equally irrelevant would be a reference to most recent learning goals such as intercultural learning or intercultural competence, since it would be unfair to apply learning goals that in the Soviet Union possessed little or no validity. Therefore we do not intend to utilize these goals as a tool to judge positions that may differ from our own, particularly those that may be deemed outmoded. The focus will rather be on the description of cultural aspects and content regarding the USA and the image conveyed. We examine the following textbooks:

Starkov, A.P. et al.: English, volumes 7 and 8, ed, by E.G.

Kopyl et al., Moscow: Provescenie Press, 1989.

Starkov, A.P. et al., English, volumes 9 and 11, ed. by B.S.

Ostrovskij, Moscow: Provescenie Press, 1989.

The publication year of 1989 is especially interesting in that it allows us to investigate the immanent judgment of the United States at a time when the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc were in a process of dissolution.

Methodology in EFL Texts:

From the textbooks cited above we have selected all relevant texts about the USA and have printed them in their entirety to render an impression of the texts and to facilitate understanding of our commentary. In order to provide a clearer outline of the depiction of the United States in these texts, we are not reproducing them in their original textbook progression, but according to thematic elements. …

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