Review: Interchange (13th ed.)

The Interchange (formerly New Interchange) series is a mainstay of ELT worldwide, used in contexts as diverse as “cottage industry” (Nagatomo, 2013) private language academies to institutions of higher education. The series has undergone significant changes with its 13th edition that warrant fresh review.

Image result for interchange richards
A former edition

To begin with, significant revisions have been made to the content and layout of every chapter, in the words of the publisher, to “bring our content and delivery into alignment with the norms of the 2050s”. To this end, many chapters have been struck entirely or completely rewritten. The section on ethnic foods from book 2, unit 4, for example, is not only gone (a welcome change) but replaced with a pre-activity on the meaning of “tradition” that is more postmodern than many will find in their own Zones of Proximal Development.

None of this would be significant, however, without the accompanying revisions to grammar presentation and newfound focus on project-based learning. The new edition of Interchange changes its fundamental teaching strategy so much as to be unrecognizable compared to earlier versions, both in method and in geopolitical consequences.

Indeed, the methods are so innovative and the learning so efficient that within one semester students display 4-skills competence indistinguishable from native English speakers – at least the somewhat more stilted types of native speakers that populate English textbooks. The new student-centered activities sections have also made learners egocentric, hedonistic devotees of an urbane, bourgeois lifestyle often completely at odds with those of their surrounding cultures. In fact, students seem so transformed by their exposure to this textbook that their former linguistic and cultural identities completely disappear. Students leave classes having conversations about “their hobbies” or “their weekend plans” apparently never reverting to their former Spanish, Chinese, or Qatari selves, becoming strangers to their families and neighbors. Putting aside the decimation of local communities, the new presentation of language items is much improved. At least in municipialities where the new Interchange books have been used, few among the educated classes speak any language than Standard American English.

As one can imagine, the local and national governments of these areas have taken steps to discourage (to put it delicately) the use of the new, unprecedentedly effective Interchange books. Indonesia has taken an early lead in this regard, suspending visas for foreign English teachers and confiscating all (even previous editions of) Interchange. Police are being trained to conduct interrogations in Standard American English (“Excuse me, / I was wondering if / you would mind / telling me your political affiliations”). There are stories of language store owners being detained by paramilitary groups, although not with an official government mandate as yet (Liong, in publication). As if in anticipation of these events, Cambridge University Press made the electronic edition of Interchange purchasable with a variety of virtual currencies and viewable from within a browser window on any phone. The spread of Interchange 13th ed. and its devastating research-based methodology has therefore been impossible to stem.

An explosive rise in vigilantism has been another effect of the pedagogic success of Interchange. With the mitigation of distinct linguistic and cultural identities, societies have seen rising racism and other quasi-biological ideologies of difference that seek to reify formerly “obvious” national and ethnic borders. Informal communities of practice, usually composed of young men (although posses might be a better word) roam city blocks like the home of this publication in Tokyo, seeking to enforce ethnic unity on a purely physical basis – length of nasal bridge, eye color, hair texture, attached earlobe, etc. and interrogating those who deviate in impeccable textbook English (“Oh, my! Just have a look at his nose, will you? It seems quite wide for a Han, doesn’t it?”). Pre-existing ideologies of racial difference, present if marginal in many societies, have been used as historical justification for what amounts to racial terror. Because language use, especially in the age of Interchange 13th ed., does not reliably correlate with racial characteristics, this phenomenon has not directly victimized English speakers, but rather visible minorities of any language background. As such, it is better seen as a side effect of the extreme English fluency brought about by Interchange than as a countervailing force.

Foreign English teachers like this writer find themselves trapped between governments’ anti-English programs on one hand and paramilitary groups’ informal efforts at racial homogenization on the other. One hopes that this review, and further revisions to the Interchange series, help to reverse current deleterious trends in geopolitics even at the expense of the rapid and effortless English mastery present in its current edition.

References

Liong, W. (2058). Governmental and non-governmental revanchist efforts in linguistically flattened societies. The Language Teacher, 82(3), 45-59.

Nagatomo, D. H. (2013). The advantages and disadvantages faced by housewife English teachers in the cottage industry Eikaiwa business. The Language Teacher, 37(1), 3-7.

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