Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 1:3 May 2001
Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.


Lori Zabel


We will compare the textbook, Success--Communicating In English, Levels 4A and 4B, published in 1995 by Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, an American publisher, to Spectrum English Course, Level 6, published in 1992 by Samba Publishing Company in Chennai, India. Both were developed to teach English as a second language; but the Indian textbook is for use in India, and the Success textbook is for use in any country. Throughout our analysis, we will refer to the textbooks simply as Success, the American title, and Spectrum, the Indian title.


Differences in philosophy appear within the introductions to both textbooks. The Success introduction states that the book is formatted to resemble a number of American magazines. The aim of the developers of the book is that it not resemble a school textbook. The introduction even says it contains "information and entertainment [italics added]." Educators in other cultures may disapprove of the relatively recent and seemingly American penchant for mixing education and entertainment. Some might point to lower American test scores in international arenas and say that this concept has failed to produce better results. Either way, the writers of the textbook make no apology for mixing entertainment with learning, and apparently believe the mix is the best way to present the material.

The Spectrum introduction says that its aim is to help students "acquire a reasonable command in both spoken and written English." This seems like a modest aim, helping students acquire only a "reasonable" command of English, but we might assume that the authors, presumably second language learners themselves, realize the difficulty their students will face in learning English, and have set their goals realistically. The reasons given for the chosen format of prose and poetry is that prose "provides the learners with a variety of interesting factual and imaginative contexts," and the poems "provide a short course in literature," and will "serve as a respite to the learners." The emphasis is immediately on serious literature, as opposed to the "newspaper/magazine" format of the American textbook.

Both textbooks mention that another workbook is available to accompany the lessons. The companion "Bonus Practice Book" was available to me for the Success textbook, but not the Spectrum workbook. The introduction stated that the Bonus Practice Book contained activities on "listening for information, taking dictation, using grammar in context, researching current events, and writing your own articles and stories." We will look at this workbook in greater detail under a later heading within this paper.


At first glance, the textbooks differ greatly in their presentation. The Success book is filled with full-color photographs and illustrations throughout, and is printed on slick, magazine-type paper, with a thick, shiny cover. The page layout is in columns like a newspaper or magazine with captioned photos and information boxes scattered throughout.

The Spectrum book is printed on ordinary newsprint-type paper with black-and-white illustrations. At first glance, the book appears to be a reading textbook with a very uniform format: stories or poems with questions and writing activities following each.

Without judging the merit of the information and activities included, but based only on sight, the initial impression is that a student would more likely be captivated by or interested in the Success book over the Spectrum book, based upon the color photos, the differing layouts of each page, and the apparent variety of topics covered.


The Success textbook follows a particular pattern of being divided into four sections, each set up to look like a magazine with a different topic (Travel, News, Art). Within each "magazine," are articles that cover topics such as: world news, scientific discoveries, technology, travel, human interest, celebrity news, biographies. There are also poems, essays, short stories, even a recipe! Intermingled with the articles are simulated elements of newspapers and magazines such as advertisements, letters to the editor, horoscopes, and classified ads.

The Spectrum book contains fourteen prose lessons and 8 poems. The stories include subjects ranging from history (particularly Indian history), biographies (Walt Disney, Indira Gandhi), folk and fairy tales, to humorous fiction, and a play. The poems cover subjects such as nature, national pride, and childhood activities like riding a bicycle.

It appeared that many more aspects of English-speaking life and culture were covered in a variety of ways using the magazine format of Success. Students were exposed not only to American history, biography, or literature, but also to current events in the United States and around the world, media personalities and news, and information on handling new technological advances such as "smart cards" or making airline reservations without going through a travel agent. This is information that students would conceivably encounter in everyday life in a native English-speaking country, and it is cleverly woven into their learning experience. The practice of including sample advertisements and asking the students to gather information from the ads to answer relevant questions is a useful skill that the student will use in daily life. A student who has worked through all levels of the Success series would most likely be well-prepared to handle any written media he would encounter in the United States.

The Spectrum text has a narrower focus, with history and biography covering primarily Indian or American topics, and the rest of the content focusing on literature. There were no articles or information on practical matters of everyday living. This is a drawback. Using English for immediate needs does not seem to be sufficiently emphasized. Because the literature chosen was either historical or fictional in nature, a student would not necessarily gain a true perception of everyday life in the United States or other native English-speaking countries, or even India. There was also some use of antiquated language such as "often did he have dreams," or frequent use of the word "shall," further giving a distorted impression of current English usage to the second language learner.


As noted in standard textbooks in teaching English as a second or foreign language, (see for example, An Introduction to TESOL by M.S. Thirumalai), there is a hierarchy of how to teach a language: first focus on listening, secondly on speaking, then reading, and lastly on writing. And integrate these skills in a balanced manner. Using these four components of learning language, we can judge how much emphasis is put on each by the two textbooks.


According to An Introduction to TESOL by M. S. Thirumalai, until the Reformation in Europe, learning a language was synonymous with learning the written language. After that time, teachers began to "focus more on oral aspects of language." These two ends of a spectrum generally sum up the differences between the two textbooks, Success and Spectrum.

The Indian textbook seeks to develop fluency in the written language by focusing on reading and writing English, while the American textbook focuses on oral usage and practical application of language skills to everyday living. In the hands of a creative teacher, both texts could be successful, but the Success textbook has more to offer a teacher by providing more variety of material presented in a more appealing fashion, that can be used or adapted to teach listening, speaking, reading and writing the English language.

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Lori Zabel
Bethany College of Missions
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