American Perceptions of Italian Youth: A Study of Photographs in Foreign Language Textbooks
Angelyn Balodimas Bartolomei, North Park University (United States)
Over the past few decades, numerous studies have been performed on textbooks. Such studies have revealed that several texts contain unfavorable and inaccurate depictions of individuals. Since textbooks are created by specific groups, the official knowledge and cultural picture is often distorted leaving individuals and minority and/or cultural groups with little control over how they are illustrated in print. As a result these "others" are often eliminated, scarcely represented, or completely misrepresented in school textbooks.
In the foreign language classroom, the textbook is central to the process of learning both the target language and culture. The textbook is often the student's primary source of cultural exposure, particularly since many foreign language teachers have not lived in the country of the language that they teach. Students often come to a greater understanding of the new culture and people through the use of attractive textbook photographs. Although textbook photographs may have a longer lasting impact than written textual materials, researchers and educators claim that about 71 percent of such photos are simply ornaments which publishers hope will enhance the appeal of the book.. When they fail to present languages, people, and cultures as they are in real life, students are often left with a false perception of identity.
Whereas Italian language instruction has been on the rise in American high schools, very few studies have been performed on the cultural representation and identity of Italians in Italian foreign language textbooks. The perception that American students have of Italian youth based on textbook photographs is limited. Such research is needed in the areas of Italian studies, language teaching, and curriculum development. The current study aims to contribute to these areas by examining the photographs of a popular high school textbook series entitled Ecco. According to the publisher, the exciting photography, fun cartoon stories, and authentic language make learning Italian an engaging and rewarding experience while also helping students to embrace a modern and exciting Italy. In addition to analzying the textbook photographs, the study also investigates how teachers and student teachers perceive the Italian youth represented in the material.