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Multimedia Instruction

Prepared by Richard A. Raschio, assisted by Roberta Lavine


Trends in the Use of Illustrations in University Spanish Textbooks

David C. Alley

Georgia Southern University

     Abstract: This study examines the past and present role of illustrations in language learning and presents an analysis of the illustration content of 18 texts for teaching introductory Spanish published during three decades, from 1960 to 1989. It also discusses the appropriate use of illustrations in teaching and considers future prospects.

     Key Words: illustrations, textbooks, realia

     In a visually-oriented society in which everything from sales brochures to religious tracts are illustrated from cover to cover, assessing the role of illustrations as aids to learning should be of special interest to educators. A generation that spends an average of 30 hours a week watching television cannot tolerate for long the absence of visual images (�TV Viewing� 756). Anyone who has served on a committee for text adoption knows that teachers nowadays demand illustrations that are culturally authentic and up to date. Publishers, authors, and designers of foreign-language textbooks likewise recognize the importance of visual materials in language learning. The choice and arrangements of illustrations are critical factors for the marketing and the profitability of any new textbook. However, publishers must weigh the expense associated with the publication of illustrations with competing demands for other ancillary material such as video programs and computer software. In today's competitive market, illustrations can boost a text's sales significantly, but unlimited use of illustrations can quickly price it out of the market.

     Given the need for selectivity, questions regarding the criteria for selection, the functions that illustrations play in language teaching, and trends in their use are of vital interest to teachers and creators of textbooks. To shed some light on these questions, I carried out an investigation of illustrations in 18 textbooks for teaching introductory Spanish published during a period of three decades (see appendix). I chose six textbooks from each of the three decades from 1960 to 1989. The selection was random, but I attempted to include texts from major publishing houses that were widely in use during these periods.

     The term �illustration� in this study includes several types of visuals that are different from other forms of written communication. Taggart defines as �picture� any two-dimensional graphic representation of a concept or physical reality (86). Hartley applies the term �sign� to all written forms of communication, dividing them into two categories: digital and iconic. Digital signs include words, numbers, and Morse code, while iconic signs include photographs and drawings. The key difference between these two categories is that iconic signs resemble their referents while digital signs, in most cases, do not (Hartley 80). Hewings defines �illustration� as everything which would not be considered text, including drawings, photographs, cartoons, and charts (237). In the following discussion, the term �illustration� refers to photographs, drawings, diagrams, maps, graphs, tables, and charts as well as reproductions of authentic documents or realia.

     The first illustrations in foreign language textbooks appeared during the Middle [490] Ages in the form of hand-drawn pictures (Kelly 264-65). Until the first part of the twentieth century, illustrations appeared sparingly and were largely decorative in nature. However, as early as 1923, Guérard was able to declare, �Most modern text books are illustrated with good photos, or with sketches which show genuine French spirit. The non-illustrated method is doomed, and in a few years we shall be as critical of the pictures as we are of the grammar or the phonetic transcription� (260-61). As Guérard predicted, pictures have proliferated in foreign language texts. In few other areas of study is learning so dependent on the use of iconographic means to illustrate orthographic concepts.

     Illustrations affect foreign language learning in four ways, according to Taggart. They (1) provide clues to the global meaning of an utterance by setting the scene and giving background knowledge, (2) specify the meaning of individual words as in a vocabulary list supplemented by appropriate pictures, (3) assist in the explanation of grammatical points, such as stem-changing verb conjugations drawn within a shoe-shaped diagram, and (4) aid proper pronunciation through the use of sagittal sections which indicate the correct position of the lips, tongue, and teeth (90).

     Studies have shown illustrations to be especially effective in teaching the receptive skill areas of reading and listening. Omaggio investigated the effects of illustrations on measures of global reading comprehension and found that Pictures shown prior to the reading task provided valuable contextual clues which ultimately improved reading comprehension (115). In a similar study focusing on listening comprehension, Mueller found that appropriate visuals enhanced global listening comprehension in German especially among students with low proficiency levels in the language (340).

     In addition to their value as linguistic aids, textbooks provide important cultural information through the reproduction of authentic documents. This category of illustrations includes such cultural realia as printed advertisements, restaurant menus, and television schedules. Such illustrations are a direct link to the culture of the language and help to dispel stereotypes as well as encourage interest in the language (Berwald 3). Photographs and cartoons from popular magazines present a wide array of cultural themes, including politics, the family, religion, food, sports, art, music, and humor (Griffin 400-401). Scanlan proposes using photographs to distinguish between scenes that are uniquely American (watching a rodeo), uniquely foreign (buying tokens in order to use a public telephone), or scenes that could occur in either culture such as going to the movies (418).

     Illustrations can be a powerful aid to memory, which is, as Burling emphasizes, vital to foreign language learning: �It may well be that an important difference between those students who learn language quickly and those who do not lies quite simply in the superior strategies by which the faster learners memorize. Any kind of trick that helps students fix words in memory and thereby speeds up the process of language learning deserves to be explored� (114). One, such �trick� mentioned by Turnbull and Baird is the linking of words and visual presentations through the effective use of illustrations (28). Cole points out, however, that different words have different degrees of picturability, a fact illustrated by comparing a word like �orange� with a word like �strength� (341).

     For Stevick the process of transforming words and concepts into images is valuable because it activates old networks of memory as well as establishes new ones. It is the consolidation of these memory networks that facilitates foreign language learning (51). Pressley found that comprehension and memory increase when students use or create visual images (358). Human ability to remember previously-seen illustrations is extraordinary. Shepard showed a series of 612 random pictures to 34 subjects. The subjects' subsequent recall of the pictures was tested at intervals of two hours, three days, seven days and 120 days. With a delay of two hours the median rate of correct response [491] was 98. 5%. Even after a delay of one week, the rate of correct response was nearly equivalent to that found for a similar experiment which used words as the stimulus and tested recall immediately after the verbal prompts (159-160).

     The increasing awareness of the importance of quality illustrations has resulted in significant changes in the visual design of foreign language textbooks over the years. To better define some of the quantitative and qualitative aspects of these changes, I selected 18 college texts for introductory Spanish published over three decades and classified them into three groups of six texts each, corresponding to 1960-1969, 1970-1979, and 1980-1989.

     The analysis took into consideration five aspects of the illustration content of these texts: (1) the percentage of illustrated pages within a text, (2) the size of illustrations as measured by the percentage of the page area the illustration occupies, (3) the percentage of color versus black and white illustrations, (4) the frequency of use of different types of illustrations such as drawings, photographs and maps, and (5) the relation between the illustration and the surrounding text.

Percentage of Illustrated Pages

     The most obvious difference between a typical 1960s foreign language text with its 1980s counterpart, is the sheer increase in the number of illustrations over the 30-year period. As shown in Fig. 1 the percentage of illustrated pages has steadily increased from an average of 28% in the 1960s to 35% in the 1970s, and 44% in the 1980s.

Size of Illustration

     Significant changes have occurred in the size of illustrations as well. Three categories emerged, based on the amount of page space they occupied relative to the text. �Large� illustrations are those which occupy most of the page; �medium� illustrations cover between one half and three quarters of the page space, and �small� illustrations are those which occupy less than half the page. Texts of the 1960s typically contained one or two separate sections of full-page, glossy color photographs. Frequently, these photographs depicted cultural masterpieces, such as cathedrals, castles, and works of art. The location of these �color signatures� was arbitrary and the cultural information they provided was generally unrelated to the surrounding text.

     For example, in a 1985 edition of En contacto, eight color photographs entitled �Música, baile y teatro� are located between a pronunciation activity and an exercise on telling time (Valencia 182-83). More recent textbook design has greatly reduced the number of full-page illustrations. Figure 2 shows that large illustrations decreased from an average of 56% in the 1960s to 32% in the most recent decade of the sample. Concurrent with the decrease in full-page illustrations has been a corresponding increase in smaller illustrations occupying less than 50% of the page. The figure shows that the number of small illustrations declined throughout the 1960s and 1970s but rebounded vigorously in the 1980s. At the end of the most recent decade there was a remarkable balance in the distribution of large, medium, and small illustrations in the textbooks sampled.

     The decrease of 24% in large, full-page illustrations and an increase of 13% in small illustrations may be due to an attempt to enhance the attractiveness of texts by including more illustrations at regular intervals throughout the text. Smaller photographs [492] and drawings cost less to produce and print than full-page illustrations and can be more readily accommodated into the overall text design.

Color vs. Monochrome Illustrations

     Color illustrations were prominent in Spanish language texts during all three decades. Figure 3 shows a relatively high percentage (35%) of color illustrations in the texts published during the 1960s as compared to 32% in the texts of the 1980s. It is important to keep in mind, however, that the percentage of total illustrations in the texts surveyed from the 1960s was only 28%, and most illustrations from this time period were full-page photographs. By the 1980s, the percentage of pages illustrated in the texts surveyed had risen to 44% and consisted of a balanced mix of large, medium and small illustrations. The shifting trends in the use of color can largely be attributed to an increased competitiveness among publishers to market their products to students and teachers no longer content with black and white. The general public now demands color in its television, its newspapers and magazines and its textbooks. In the competitive world of textbook publishing, color illustrations are indispensable.

Types of Illustrations

     The types of illustrations used in foreign language texts have also changed significantly over the past three decades. For purposes of this analysis illustrations were grouped into six categories: (1) photographs, (2) drawings or line art, 3) realia or authentic documents from the target culture, (4) graphs and diagrams, (5) maps, and (6) reproductions of works of art. Figure 4 reveals little change in the frequency of use of illustrations from the latter three categories over the 30-year period. Maps, for example, comprised an average of three percent of the total number of illustrations during the 1960s, and two decades later, that average remained unchanged.

     More significant changes emerge in the categories of photographs, line drawings and realia. As mentioned previously, illustrations in earlier texts were almost exclusively photographs. Figure 4 shows that during the 1960s. 59% of the illustrations sampled were photographs. That percentage actually rose during the decade of the 1970s to 67%. However, during the 1980s the use of photographs steadily decreased to an average of 29%.

     Publishers have largely replaced photographs with drawings and realia. Drawings [493] accounted for only 31% of the total number of illustrations in the texts corresponding to the 1960s, while realia represented only one percent. During the 1970s the percentage of drawings decreased even further, to 12%, while illustrations of realia rose to seven percent. A complete reversal in illustration design took place in the following decade as drawings increased fourfold to 51% and realia registered a modest increase to 11 percent.

     The substitution of drawings and realia for photographs may be due to the fact that drawings offer an advantage in terms of flexibility and ease of production. It is much easier, for example, for an artist to render a wide variety of clearly defined physical characteristics than it is for a photographer to capture a similar image on film.

Relation Between Illustration and Text

     The degree to which illustrations are related to and reinforce the surrounding text is one of the most important characteristics of effective textbook design. Hartley points out that if illustrations are separated from the text to which they refer, readers are less likely to look at them and study their content (84). Cole also emphasizes the importance of text-embedded illustrations: �The use of a series of closely-knit visuals to convey the meaning of words which are found in frequent collocation is but the external reflection of the notion of linguistic context, where words are defined by the company they keep� (342).

     A final analysis considered text relevance by grouping illustrations of each text into one of three categories: �Directly Related to Text�, �Peripheral Relation to Text�, and �No Relation to Text�. In order to be considered directly related to the text, the illustration had to have a textual referent on the same page, either within the text itself or in the form of a caption. An example of the first category would be a picture of a man looking at a pair of pants with a $25.00 price tag. Below the picture would be the question, ��Cuánto cuestan los pantalones?�

     Peripherally related illustrations were pertinent to the theme of the surrounding text but lacked a direct reference. An example of the second category would be a picture of a group of dancers followed by a vocabulary section dealing with favorite pastimes. Although bailar would be included in the vocabulary list, there would be many other words not represented by pictures.

     In the third category were those illustrations whose subjects were completely unrelated to the surrounding text, as a picture of a cathedral on a page of text about the differences between the preterit and imperfect.

     The percentage of illustrations directly related to the surrounding text shows a steady increase over the 30-year period (Fig. 5). In the 1960s, only 48% of the illustrations were text-embedded. This percentage grew to 54% in the 1970s and 64% in the following decade. These data show progressive coordination of visual and textual content. However, with over a third of the illustrations counted in the most recent sample either unrelated or peripherally related, there is still room for improvement.


     The preceding data reflect a significant shift in both the quality and quantity of illustrations in a representative sample of introductory Spanish texts over three decades. This trend parallels the general shift in foreign language pedagogy from abstract, mechanical exercises to more meaningful, student-centered material. Terrell, in his study of six editions of a single Spanish [494] text spanning 24 years, identifies one characteristic of this shift as the increasing contextualization of textbook exercises and activities (202). As Omaggio points out, illustrations play an important role in the contextualization process providing learners with an advance organizer which facilitates the use and comprehension of textbook activities (107). Scanlan highlights the individual nature of illustrations, in that each student has a personal copy of the visual, which encourages the creation of a variety of hypotheses and images (417). Stevick considers the creation of these idiosyncratic images the key to effective second language instruction (51).

     Despite their many advantages, illustrations also have the potential to confuse the learner. Poage found that questions containing pictures on a standardized test were missed by a higher percentage of students than comparable questions without pictures (413). Hewings (243) and Reid and Miller (68) agree that students often lack the necessary skills to make sense of visual information, so that teachers must guide their interpretation. There is a difference between merely seeing an illustration and understanding its attributes and significance.

     Unfortunately, students lack this guidance if their teachers neglect the textbook illustrations or have little idea of how to use them effectively. In fairness, teachers have received little encouragement to integrate illustrations into their lessons, given the virtual absence of empirical evidence for promoting the use of visuals as aids in learning a second language (Omaggio 107). Textbook publishers tend to base decisions about the design and organization of illustrations on intuition rather than research. As Evans, Watson, and Willows point out in their summary of interviews with publishing representatives: �It appears that research plays little role in the decision-making process. All (publishing representatives) stated that trial and error, past experience, personal intuition, or what had sold previously play a major role� (89-90).

     The results of this study emphasize the integral role that illustrations play in the teaching of Spanish, and undoubtedly other foreign languages as well. However, many questions remain unanswered about the optimum number, composition and arrangement of illustrations in foreign language texts, and about how teachers can effectively utilize textbook illustrations. Of course, there is the possibility that textbooks will disappear altogether in the 21st century, to be replaced by interactive videodiscs or other as yet unimagined technology. Nevertheless, the goal of all foreign language instruction has been, and will continue to be, to lead the student beyond the printed page and out into the real world. The success of future textbooks in this endeavor hinges, at least partially, on the quality and application of their illustrations.


Texts Analyzed

     Adams, Nicholson B. and Hershel J. Frey. Spanish for Today. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964.

     Allen, Edward David, Brenda Wegmann, Teresa Méndez-Faith and M. McVey Gill. �Habla Español?, 1st ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1976.

     ALM Spanish, Level One, 1st ed. New York: Harcourt, Brace World, 1962.

     Brenes, Edin, Margaret Adey, George E. Smith and James E. McKinney. Learning Spanish: The Modern Way, Book One, 2nd Ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 1963.

     Christensen, Clay B., David E. Wolfe and Clemens L. Hallman. Vistas Hispánicas: Introducción a la Lengua y La Cultura, 1st ed. Chicago: Rand McNally College Publishing Company, 1977.

     DaSilva, Zenia Sacks. Beginning Spanish. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.

     Dawson, Laila M. and Albert. C. Dawson. Dicho y Hecho, 3rd ed. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1989.

     Hendrickson, James M. Poco a Poco: Spanish for Proficiency, 1st ed. Boston: Heinle and Heinle, 1986.

     Higgs, Theodore V., Judith E. Liskin- [495] Gasparro and Frank W. Medley Jr. Entradas: El Español por Etapas, 1st ed. Boston: Heinle and Heinle, 1989.

     Keller, Gary D., Nancy A. Sebastiani and Francisco Jiménez. Spanish Here and Now, New York: Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich, 1978.

     LaGrane, Gregory G., Andrea Sendón McHenry and Patricia O'Connor. Entender y Hablar, 2nd ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968

     Modern Spanish, 1st ed. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1960.

     Samaniego, Fabián A., Thomas J. Blommers, Magaly Lagunas-Carvacho, Tina Castillo, Viviane Sardán and Emma Sepúlveda Pulvirenti. �Dímelo Tú! A Competency Approach, 1st ed. Fort Worth: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1989.

     Segreda, Guillermo and James W. Harris. Spanish: Speaking, Reading, Writing, 1st ed. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1976.

     Staubach, Charles N. and John W. Walsh, First Year Spanish, 3rd ed. Boston: Ginn and Company, 1961.

     Turk, Laurel H. and Aurelio M. Espinosa Jr. Foundation Course in Spanish, 2nd ed Lexington, MA: D. C. Heath and Company, 1970.

     Valencia, Pablo, Franca Merlonghi and Thomas W. Kelly. En Contacto, 1st ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1985.

     Woehr, Richard, Fausto Vergara and Bárbara Mujica. Pasaporte, 1st ed. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1980.


     Berwald, Jean-Pierre. Teaching Foreign Languages with Realia and Other Authentic Materials. ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics, Washington, D. C. 1987, ED 289367 FLO17081.

     Burling, Robbins. Sounding Right. Rowley, MA: Newbury House, 1982.

     �Relationships between Visual Presentations and Linguistic Items in Second-Language Teaching�. International Review of Applied Linguistics. Vol. 14.4 (1976): 339-50.

     Evans, Mary Ann., Catherine Watson, and Dale M. Willows. �A Naturalistic Inquiry into Illustration in Instructional Textbooks�, The Psychology of Illustration. Ed. Harvey A. Houghton and Dale M. Willows. Vol. 2, New York: Springer-Verlag, 1987: 87-111. 2 vols.

     Griffin, Robert J. �Using Current Magazines as a Resource for Teaching Culture�. Hispania 70 (1987): 400-02.

     Guérard, A. C. �The Teaching of French Civilization�. Modern Language Journal 7 (1923): 257-67.

     Hartley, James. Designing Instructional Text. London: Kogan Page, 1985.

     Hewirigs, Martin. �'The Interpretation of Illustrations in ELT Materials�. ELT Journal 45 (1991): 237-43.

     Kelly, Louis G. 25 Centuries of Language Teaching. Rowley, MA: Newbury House, 1969.

     Mueller, Gunther A. �Visual Contextual Cues and Listening Comprehension: An Experiment�. Modern Language & Journal 64 (1980): 335-40.

     Omaggio, Alice C. �Pictures and Second Language Comprehension: Do They Help?� Foreign Language Annals 12 (1979): 107-16.

     Poage, Melvin and Ester G. Poage. �Is One Picture Worth One-Thousand Words?� The Arithmetic Teacher 24 (1977): 408-14.

     Pressley, Michael. �Mental Imagery Helps 8 Year Olds Remember What they Read�. Journal of Educational Psychology 68 (1976): 355-59.

     Reid, D. J. and G. J. A. Miller. �Pupils' Perception of Biological Pictures and Its Implications for Readability Studies of Biology Textbooks�. Journal of Biological Education 14 (1980): 59-69.

     Scanlan, Timothy M. �A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words? Then Let's Hear Them! Canadian Modern Language Review 32 (1976); 415-2 1.

     Shepard, Roger N. �Recognition Memory for Words, Sentences an d Pictures. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behaviour 6 (1967): 156-63.

     Stevick, Earl W. Images and Options in the Language Classroom Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986.

     Taggart, Gilbert. �Pictures in Second Language Teaching�. The Canadian Modern Language Review 30, (1974): 86-93.

     Terrell, Tracy David. �Trends in the Teaching of Grammar in Spanish Language Textbooks. Hispania 73 (1990): 201-09.

     Turnbull, Arthur T. and Russell N. Baird. The Graphics of Communication. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1975.

     �TV Viewing Habits�. Information Please Almanac. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1993.