Revisiting the notion of ESL: A corpus-based analysis of English textbook instructional language

Hang CHAN*, Hiu Ngai Jessica Cheuk

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
34 Downloads (Pure)


Learning English as a second language in the inner circle (ESL) is usually contrasted with learning it as a foreign language in the expanding circle (EFL). The notional landscape of ESL conjures up many positive images about ‘inner-circle pedagogy’, whereas, in fact, our knowledge about ESL activities and tasks is often unspoken, unanalysed and limited. In this paper, the researchers revisit this age-old problem by conducting bottom-up searches of a 154,681-word textbook corpus consisting solely of textbook instructional language. These sections declare task purposes and actions to be done, and are suitable for understanding ESL teaching practices. The study was conducted from an etic perspective of two researchers from the expanding circle. We retrace how we encountered a major impasse during this process, which then prompted a revision of our view of ESL. The Results section presents our corpus findings: There was an imbalance between the four skills, a strong emphasis on grammar, a large number of group/pair work requests and a narrowly-defined approach to literacy training. These findings add details to existing qualitatively-based ESL textbook studies. From expectation to realisation, this research calls for a preparedness in regard to enlarging our current understanding of what counts as ESL pedagogy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100066
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jun 2020

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language

User-Defined Keywords

  • Corpus linguistics
  • EAL
  • ESL
  • ESOL
  • Etic and emic viewpoints
  • Learning acts
  • Lexical collocations
  • Textbook pedagogies
  • The four skills


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