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Volume 17 Number 2, Summer 2020, Pages 319-757   

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Letting Students Choose: How Culture Influences Text Selection in EFL Reading Courses

    Robert Sheridan & Barry Condon

Past research has suggested the use of culturally familiar reading texts increases language acquisition and student interest in the EFL classroom. The present study was conducted to investigate whether L2 learners prefer reading culturally familiar texts over culturally unfamiliar ones. A second prong of this study clarified which topics students are most interested in studying. As part of an elective EFL course, 43 Japanese university students were asked to select and read one simplified English newspaper article each week over a 12-week period from six topic categories: environmental issues, pop culture, tourism, sports, crime, and food. Each topic category consisted of 13 culturally familiar and 13 culturally unfamiliar simplified newspaper articles. Results revealed participants preferred culturally familiar texts to a statistically significant degree, and selected “lighter” topics more frequently than “heavier” topics. Further analyses revealed L2 proficiency had a significant effect on the cultural context that learners selected, and gender had a significant effect on the topics they chose. These findings provide important insights to EFL educators and material designers as they show learners strongly prefer culturally familiar materials, and the results further indicate broadly the kinds of cultural topics students find most interesting.

Keywords: culturally familiar materials, culturally unfamiliar materials, choice in EFL reading courses, self-selected topics, EFL material development