Thursday, 24 December 2009

Book Review: 'Macbeth - the ELT Graphic Novel'


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Macbeth - The ELT Graphic Novel
William Shakespeare
Script by John McDonald / Adapted for ELT by Brigit Viney
Heinle Cengage Learning 2009
ISBN 9781424028702

Publisher's Website
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From the blurb: "This full colour graphic novel presents 'The Scottish Play' adapted so that intermediate language learners can enjoy Shakespeare too.
Macbeth is one of the most dramatic of Shakespeare's tragedies and this version will give learners a new and satisfying view of the genius of Shakespeare's story telling."
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Discovering Macbeth - The ELT Graphic Novel from Heinle Cengage reminds me of the first time I saw Wallace & Gromit in 'The Wrong Trousers' adapted to English teaching. It was as though the heavens had opened and rays of happiness, joy and nice bits of cheddar and stilton were pouring down on tired English teachers everywhere.

Once again the ELT clouds seem to have parted and I can already imagine cackling curses from wicked witches (in simplified English, of course) echoing around creepy classrooms even as I type.

At least three target readerships immediately spring to mind:

First of all, any foreign language class with a bit of English literature on the syllabus is a no-brainer: they need this book!


Then there's the native speakers who are obliged to tackle the classics but who are finding the Shakespearian idiom less and less accessible. This could be an excellent way to fire up today's youth to appreciating the timeless lessons of life and human folly within the Bard's plays without tears.

I don't see why adult learners shouldn't also find this book both accessible and stimulating. The increasing popularity of the adult-themed graphic novel (as opposed to the more immature-sounding 'comic'), linked to the gravitas of Shakespeare, means that a more mature audience could be within this title's sights.

And to be honest, to the categories above I could quite seriously add 'and everyone else', such is the pleasure to be had in (re)discovering this marvellous classic in such an enjoyable way. I sat on the train and read it right the way through the other day, and am secretly hoping it's going to be a trilogy...

The illustrations are truly sumptuous. Although I'm no expert in the art of the graphic novel (practically considered a true art form where I live in France, by the way), we are talking stunning layout, glossy colours, punchy illustrations, superb printing quality and production. This book is a beauty by any standards, and I'm afraid I have to say that it puts most of the 'for ELT' produced equivalents to shame.


Macbeth - The ELT Graphic Novel is actually an ELT adaptation of a publication from Classical Comics who themselves produced three versions of the play in this richly illustrated form. One of these versions actually squeezes all of Shakespeare's original speech into the bubbles. The next converts it to modern English without shortening the speeches. And the third pares down the modern English version to the absolute minimum while still retaining the full essence of the story. The ELT version goes yet another stage further in the simplification process, but actually manages to still keep the excitement up, as well as adding ELT-appropriate descriptions of plot, character sketches and a useful three page glossary.


Particularly fascinating are the comparisons between the original text and the ELT version with a useful 'Meaning' column which allows even those of us who haven't got a clue what he was on about to nod wisely as we explain to our students the 'deeper meaning' of the text and pretend we knew all along. An example:

Act 1 Scene 5 - Page 20

Shakespeare's Original: 'Yet do I fear thy nature: It is too full o' the milk of human kindness.'

ELT Version: 'But you're too kind to do what you have to do to become king.'

Meaning: Lady Macbeth says this as she reads a letter from her husband. In it, he is telling his wife about how the three witches predicted that he will be king. However, Lady Macbeth believes her husband is too weak, too kind and too gentle to do what he must do to become king: murder Duncan.
Another interesting feature of this edition is a page on 'The Real Macbeth'. As an avowed philistine I enjoyed learning more about the truth behind one of Shakespeare's most famous characters and also the history of the country of my birth - Scotland. Macbeth is often referred to amongst cognoscenti as simply 'The Scottish Play'. Here's a sample:

"Scotland in the eleventh century was a cruel land to live in. It had many wars and mass killings occurred often. Whoever ruled Scotland had to protect family, community and the land from any enemies. However, many of a ruler's enemies were actually the people closest to him. These enemies were usually unhappy and jealous relatives, who wanted to be king themselves."

The 'Real Macbeth' family tree enlightens us as to the true context of the happenings described in the play, and a 'Link Map of Characters in Shakespeare's Macbeth' makes the sometimes opaque relationships clearer to the lay reader.

An audio CD accompanies this title and again manages to avoid the too-common cheesiness of many ELT recordings. Speech is natural and heartfelt, the sound effects are just right (horses braying, clashing of swords during fights).

Most of the characters have gentle Scottish lilts with the witches being slightly more exaggerated, which gives a nice sense of atmosphere, and only the narrator wields an albeit conspiratorial neutral southern English accent. All in all, there's not much to tell you that it's an ELT adaptation of a super-simplified English adaptation of a modernised English version of the original Shakespearian text. Well done to all concerned at Heinle Cengage and the actors too!

As you can see, I couldn't resist including quite a few shots of the book I took myself, before I realised that there were loads of graphics available on the Classical Comics site, if not the actual Heinle site - come on Heinle - don't hide your light under a bushel and get some visuals out there!

There are actually a few other ELT graphic novel adaptations of English classics in the same series, but I'm going to keep mum about them until I get my grubby hands on some review copies of my own.

Which brings me to thinking that I should reintroduce some sort of awards ceremony for titles we've review over the course of the year. I say 'reintroduce' because those of you old enough to remember will remember the legendary TEFL Farm (my first web site for English teachers more than ten years ago and its coveted 'Golden Cowpat'! Bring back the Golden Cowpat, I hear you all cry! I do believe that Wallace & Gromit - The Wrong Trousers was the first official winner too!

I'm thinking of potential categories and I guess Macbeth - The ELT Graphic Novel would fall into the Best ELT Adaptation category (and immediately win it too, I imagine).

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Hotch Potch English: 'The English Language Teaching Review Blog" ~ Book Review: 'Macbeth - The ELT Graphic Novel'
Created & written by Sab Will
Copyright 2009 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English
_________________________________________________________________
Visit Hotch Potch English ~ The Unique English Teaching Website
http://www.hotchpotchenglish.com/

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Book Review: 'Cambridge English for Nursing'

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Cambridge English for Nursing
by Virginia Allum & Patricia McGarr

Cambridge University Press 2008
ISBN 9780521715409
Publisher's Website
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From the blurb: "Cambridge English for Nursing is for intermediate to upper-intermediate level (B1-B2) learners of English who need to use English in a nursing environment. The course can be used in the classroom or for self-study.

Cambridge English for Nursing is designed to improve communication skills and specialist language knowledge, enabling healthcare professionals to work more confidently and effectively."
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One of the great joys of teaching English to adult professionals is that you come into contact with a vast array of different people, personalities and working lifestyles. The stories I've had shared with me from air traffic controllers, Africa-based oil-company reps and international glue salesmen in the course of my English teaching career would probably fill a book in their own right.

And as English language teaching materials get more and more industry specific, we are having to deal with a lot of very specialised terms and in particular functional language of the sort offered by one of Cambridge University Press' latest books, Cambridge English for Nursing.

Having given quite a detailed description of the style of this series when reviewing the Cambridge English for Job-hunting title, I'll allow myself a rather more anecdotal approach here if you don't mind.

I was a bit harsh in the aforementioned review, complaining that its six long and rather unexciting units with their equally laborious listenings could have been made a bit more accessible and snappy. Cambridge English for Nursing, with its ten 8-page units (as opposed to six 13-page slogs) and the colourful medical diagrams and pictures immediately make it more accessible.

The job-hunting title struggled to jolly up its pages with assorted stock pics of pens hovering over pads and people looking pensive. Cambridge English for Nursing gets right to the nitty-gritty with juicy diagrams of the inner workings of the pancreas, a universal pain assessment tool and a pretty graphic set of gruesome wounds to admire. Oh, and there are a couple of photos of pens poised pensively over pads for good measure...

The exercises themselves are as excellently imagined as ever from Cambridge, and the scope of language and medical situations covered is almost mindboggling to the lay English teacher. I don't know for sure, but I imagine that this title will be extremely well received by teachers working in hospitals or for university-level nursing courses where the students need to be able to cope competently in a wide range of medical situations.

The page layout is particularly successful in this title, always colourful and nice to look at, with a great variety of tables, boxes, drop-shadowed notebook pages and so on to keep the learners interest levels up.

The listening material is as comprehensive as it is eye-opening for the non-specialist teacher. I'd love to have been a fly on the editor's wall as they discussed just what sort of conversation would most naturally illustrate all the necessary language involved in giving a urine sample or cleaning someone's bowels out. A sample of what they came up with:
Frances: ...That's why it's called a midstream urine sample. Do you understand what I mean?
Mrs Faisal: Yes, I think so. Let me repeat what I have to do so I'm sure I've got it right. I pass some urine into the toilet and then some more urine into the container.

Frances: Yes, that's exactly what I want you to do. We want to get the middle part of the stream of urine. Just one more thing. - tighten the lid before you give me the specimen container, please.

Mrs Faisal: Oh right, I can see why that's important.
While it's rather cringe worthy to listen to the obviously contrived exchanges like this, plaudits to the authors for just managing to imagine scenarios where these sorts of conversations don't sound totally ridiculous.

The ten units in the book cover Patient admissions, Respiratory problems, Wound care, Diabetes care, Medical specimens, Medications, Intravenous infusions, Pre- and Post-operative patient assessment, and Discharge planning.

The focus is firmly on real-life communicative skills needed by nurses, with bang up to date material organised sensibly. Each unit contains, and I quote:
  • discussion of the nursing topic
  • listening activities reflecting everyday nursing scenarios
  • a focus on communication, for example giving advice sensitively
  • a medical focus, for example describing how the heart works
  • charting and documentation - medical forms and how to use them
  • abbreviations and acronyms used in healthcare
  • an online glossary with a pronunciation guide

Cambridge English for Nursing can be used if studying alone and the units are stand-alone and can be done in any order. It would also make a good course book as part of a nursing qualification where English is important.

A great deal of thought and effort has obviously gone into producing this book, and the authors and editor are to be praised for this.

I hope you enjoy using this book, and do tell us how you get on with Mrs Clarke's enema in unit 8 - I'm dying to know!

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Hotch Potch English: 'The English Language Teaching Review Blog" ~ Book Review: 'Cambridge English for Nursing'
Created & written by Sab Will
Copyright 2009 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English
___________________________________________________
Visit Hotch Potch English ~ The Unique English Teaching Website
http://www.hotchpotchenglish.com/

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Book Review: 'Cambridge English for Job-hunting'


Cambridge English for Job-hunting
by Colm Downes
Cambridge University Press 2008
ISBN 9780521722155
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From the blurb: "Cambridge English for Job-hunting is for upper-intermediate to advanced level (B2-C1) learners of English who need to use English during the job application process. The course can be used in the classroom or for self-study.

Ideal for working professionals and those new to the world of employment, the course develops the specialist language knowledge and communication skills that job-seekers need to apply for and secure jobs."
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In the relentless specialisationising of the ELT publishing world, the arrival of titles like Cambridge English for Job-hunting is as inevitable as it is intriguing. I'm always fascinated to see what new tricks and twists the big names come up with to keep the money machine ticking over. Cambridge has, of course, been at the leading edge of ELT publishing for many years, and are experts at sniffing out new markets and teaching trends, if they are not actually helping create them themselves.

Cambridge English for Job-hunting is, therefore, worth putting on any non-native speaker's short list, as it were. It's also rather unusual in the English for Specific Purposes (ESP) branch of ELT, in that it doesn't address a certain profession but rather a professional skill which isn't even related to being in work, but rather to getting (back) into work. And in these doom-laden, crisis-ridden days, with companies multinationalising all over the place, goodness knows that this is a valid enough reason for many people to be brushing up their English skills.

So, after the plethora of titles coming out in Cambridge's Professional English in Use series (Marketing, Law, ICT, Finance etc.), we might be tempted to think that English for Job-hunting is just another permutation of the good old Murphy formula of examples and explanations on the left-hand page, and exercises on the right. In fact that would be far from accurate.

What we have here, in fact, is a fully-fledged little one volume course/self-study book, complete with two audio CDs of extensive listening material, exercises, answer key, audioscripts, appendices, the lot! I haven't yet heard of a school using this as a course book, but for the dedicated job-hunter the six very comprehensive units could prove invaluable in the thankless search for the ideal position in an English-speaking world.

The six units are stand-alone - they can be studied in any order, or just skipped over - and cover core aspects of the job-search process, namely: Research and preparation; Writing an impressive CV; Effective cover letters; Successful interviews; Advanced interview techniques; Follow up.

In terms of meatiness, the calibre of the book is unquestionable. It's almost frighteningly complete, with each exercise as thorough and well thought out as we would expect from the Cambridge University Press stable. The appendices have five pages of extremely useful language for writing covering letters and CVs, dealing with pre-interview small talk and the actual event itself of course, and more help with follow-up letters and so on. There's also a list of 50 common interview questions and a typical covering letter which I can imagine being photocopied for a useful handout by many a teacher in the average language school.

And there's the crunch. This book is so stuffed with material - each unit consisting of up to 15 pages of unrelenting, tightly-packed exercises - that I can't imagine anyone, neither teacher nor student, actually doing it all from beginning to end. The audioscripts alone (we don't say 'tapescripts' any more, I've just noticed) take up eleven and a half pages with three columns of tiny dense text in an endless stream of long interviews (nearly two hours'-worth) which would test the best teacher's inventiveness to make them listenable.

Let me stress again that on paper there's nothing wrong with this book, and the content is undoubtedly one of the most comprehensive collections of relevant job-hunting preparation material for non-native speakers on the market.

It's more the claim that this can be used as a course book that needs to be clarified. I'm more inclined to see this as a valuable resource which teachers will use for specific requirements with certain classes, such as those needing to produce a presentable CV or brush up on their interview techniques. Teachers may well adopt favourite exercises or recordings as the ones they always use for a given topic and just for this the book is a worthy addition to the professional English teacher's toolbox.

For self-studiers, the other stated target audience, I feel that attempting the whole book would again be a bit of a slog. There isn't much respite from the heavy content, there are very few pictures to liven things up, and no 'lighter moments' to speak of. Indeed, there's no real English teaching as such - it's all strictly straight-faced functional language and vocabulary building aimed at professionals who are already competent users of English.

Cambridge will no doubt say that this is as it should be, but we here at Hotch Potch English like to smile and snigger from time to time, so while recognising the worthiness of Cambridge English for Job-hunting, and understanding why it is the way it is, we suggest it will be best employed as a valuable addition to the teacher's resource book shelf of well-equipped language schools and discerning teaching professionals will know what to do with it.

_____________________________
Hotch Potch English: 'The English Language Teaching Review Blog" ~ Book Review: 'Cambridge English for Job-hunting'
Created & written by Sab Will
Copyright 2009 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English
___________________________________________________
Visit Hotch Potch English ~ The Unique English Teaching Website
http://www.hotchpotchenglish.com/
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