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A Comparative Study between Modals in ESL/EFL Tertiary Textbooks and Actual Use by EFL Teachers

Al-Jaboori, Ali
A Master of Arts Thesis in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages by Ali Al-Jaboori Entitled, "A Comparative Study between Modals in ESL/EFL Tertiary Textbooks and Actual Use by EFL Teachers," June 2008. Available are both Hard and Soft Copies of the Thesis.
Teaching English modals to young adult and adult learners of English as a foreign language (EFL learners) is pedagogically a challenging task because some ESL/EFL tertiary textbooks do not present modals and their uses properly. Because EFL learners are poorly oriented about uses of modals, they mainly depend on their textbooks and teachers to learn about modals. Hence, the way modals are presented in ESL/EFL textbooks and EFL teachers' pedagogical knowledge about modals are crucial sources of information for EFL learners. This study attempts to compare between the way modals are presented in some ESL/EFL tertiary textbooks and the way some native and nonnative EFL teachers explain modals. The comparison is an attempt to unveil assumed shortcomings in some ESL/EFL textbooks and EFL teachers that may hinder EFL learners from learning uses of modals properly. The study began with analysis of 10 ESL/EFL tertiary textbooks. The analysis basically examined modal categories and meanings of modals in grammar models (i.e., the prescribed syntactic and/or semantic details about a particular subject of English language, usually stated separately in frames or tables) across and within the 10 textbooks. The results of the analysis showed some differences across and within some of the textbooks. The textbooks adopted different classifications of modals. In addition, some of the textbooks were inconsistent about meanings of modals. The study also investigated interpretations of modals by some native and nonnative EFL teachers. The investigation was in the form of a questionnaire and structured interviews. 16 native and 10 nonnative EFL teachers responded to the questionnaire. The native and nonnative EFL teachers interpreted modals in 118 items. The items were examples from the 10 ESL/EFL tertiary textbooks. The questionnaire assisted the researcher to compare between the textbooks' and the teachers' interpretations. In addition, three native and three nonnative EFL teachers were interviewed. The structured interviews further investigated the EFL teachers' pedagogical approaches to modals, in addition to their interpretations of some controversial contextualized modals. The EFL teachers were able to explain the different meanings of contextualized modals. However, their interpretations of contextualized modals were sometimes inconsistent with the ESL/EFL textbooks. Moreover, in some cases, there was total disagreement of modal interpretation between the textbooks and the teachers. While referring to some theoretical approaches, the findings of this study suggest that the variation of modal interpretation in the textbooks and by the EFL teachers was basically caused by very short contexts that allowed for a range of modal interpretations. In addition, the analysis revealed that textbooks reflected individual or small groups' perceptions of modal interpretation. Therefore, the textbooks presented different approaches to modal interpretation. The findings produced some useful recommendations such as considering simultaneous interpretations when discussing context instead of prescribing one meaning for a contextualized modal, which could better approach teaching modals to young adult and adult EFL learners than the way some current ESL/EFL textbooks do.
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