Friday, 21 May 2010

Book Review: 'Practical Grammar - Levels 1 & 2' (Heinle Cengage)

Practical Grammar
Level 1

by David Riley & John Hughes
Helbling Languages 2010
ISBN 9781424018086

Practical Grammar
Level 2

by John Hughes & Ceri Jones
Helbling Languages 2011
ISBN 9781424018055

Publisher's Website
From the Blurb:
"Practical Grammar is a three-level British English Grammar course for self study or use in the classroom. The series takes students through key aspects of English grammar from Elementary to Upper Intermediate levels.



Will Heinle's brand new Practical Grammar series finally be the one to dethrown the venerable (and long in the tooth?) Murphy from the top of the grammar exercise book ratings? Only time will tell. But if they fancy themselves as the ultimate Murphy-mashers they have some serious work to do.

At first glance, Practical Grammar looks to have a lot going for it: attractive, fresh approach; regular review units; ten progress tests; the almost obligatory full CD-ROM and on-line back up package.

A closer investigation reveals a stack of positive features counterbalanced by only a couple of points, probably subjective, which I'll mention just so you know. I'll tell you straightaway, unusually, that I like the look of this package so much I'm immediately going to show it to my teacher trainees and suggest they put it on their list of highly recommened grammar exercise books for their students.

Well let's get right back to the significant challenge any new grammar exercise book has to face these days: that of distinguising itself from the well-established and respected titles already on the market. How does Practical Grammar shape up against the competition?


No, I mean it shapes up well! It really does. To be honest, it follows a well-worn format too: left-hand page - introduction of grammar point through a usually visual context followed by a presentation of the structure; right-hand side - exercises to practise what was studied on the left-hand page.

This is not new. But I think it still works well, and Heinle obviously think there's life left in this type of essentially self-study volume. Indeed, as with English course books, they are simply evolving. There is an exercise in practically all of the 100 units which involves listening to the audio CD (no fancy multi-media shenanigans just yet), and a book purchase also gets you a code which allows you to access a special companion website.

I must  be very special because my copy of Practical Grammar 2 didn't have a special code where it said it should have, but level 1 did, and I duly went through the rather boring process of signing in and logging on for a series of exercises I'm never going to do - such is the dedication of this reviewer.

The on-line exercises themselves are not very spectacular, and to be honest I'd just stick with the book and the audio CDs unless you're a fan of the usual drag and drop rearranging of words, gap fills, and so on. What was interesting was a little glimpse I got of the teacher's area, where you can run entire classes and see how the students are progressing which seemed to have lots of potential. You might want to check it out here if you can suffer the EX-TREM-LY clear and slow Middle American narration.

Back to the book then, and let's just finish with highlighting a few more key features, as claimed by Heinle!

Real language in natural situations: it's true that some of the exchanges are refreshingly natural as opposed to awful unrealistic ELTese:

Sam! Telephone! - Who is is? - It's Greta. - Can I call her back? I'm having a shower. - Greta? Sam's having a shower. Can he call you back?

And that's in Unit 31 (Present continuous) of level 1.

Listening and pronunciation: the two audio CDs are well recorded and not spoken painfully slowly, but naturally, and provide a valuable aural element to the units.

Key vocabulary: most units have a 'Key vocabulary' box somewhere highlighting, well, you guessed it...

Tips: these regularly point out typical features of English and common mistakes.

Regular review and progress tests: as mentioned before, these are a boon for teachers and valuable for consolidating and testing progress.

Apart from that, let's mention the use of real pictures as well as those cute little cartoons, and thoroughly up-to-date icons of modern culture such as iPhones and blogs and shots which look suspiciously like Apple computer windows.

If I had to make a criticism, it's perhaps that there aren't so many crystal clear examples and diagrams for each grammar point. The intros to each unit are always eye-catching and illustrate the points in a non-condescending way, but the rest of the explanations are not always paragons of clarity in the way the established titles are. But this is the price you pay I guess for trying to introduce new approaches to people who will always be comparing you to the status quo. And change, as we all know, is both necessary and inevitable. I think another word for it is progress.

Curiously, as a sign of how far ahead of the times they are, the level 1 book, which I received way back in 2009, is copyrighted 2010. and the level 2 book, which has just been published, is copyright 2011, whereas I do believe I'm typing these words on the 20th of May, 2010. Can a friendly publisher tell me what that's about..? Not trying to make our books seem newer than they really are, are we? I'm sure there's a perfectly rational explanation!

So if you're looking for a very fresh new presentation of the major grammar points of English, for beginners and intermediate level students, I would certainly give Practical Grammar from Heinle a go. Level 3 will be coming out in a few months. And see below for our great new competition to win five copies of level 2, simply by leaving a comment here! Thanks for reading, and see you soon.



Hotch Potch English: 'The English Language Teaching (ELT) Review Blog" ~ Book Review: 'Practical Grammar'
Created & written by Sab Will
Copyright 2010 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English
Visit Hotch Potch English ~ The Unique English Teaching Website


Sab Will said...

Welcome to our new 'Practical Grammar' competition!

To enter just leave a short comment on any aspect of this review. It's as easy as that!

Five winners will be picked at random from all 'commenters' and announced on this blog in a few days time.

Good luck, and tell your friends :-)

Helen Herman said...

sounds like a good book, I like the way the review was written, quite realistic sort of down-to-earth approach which I appreciate. I would definitley consider buying the book based on the review as I am looking to own a grammar book. It considers past models and the reviewer actually sounds like a human which is reasurring. Now i just hope I win a copy!
xx Helen Herman

Robin Rodriguez said...

The colour illustrations definitely make the book easy to read and fand stay focussed on the contents. Helps teachers to spend less time searching for the specific material they want to teach.
I would recommend an a graduated scaling of the graphic illustrations as the content get more and more difficult. This will prevent the book from being perceived as a low level grammar book by intermediate students and advance students. A few introductory pages explainaing how to select and mix and match the the various grammar topics for use in different levels would be advantagous for new ESL teachers. In other words what is the starting point of teaching grammar for somebody who already has some basic English ability both written and spoken. I can provide you with even more feedback if I can get a copy of both volumes. Great work and good luck with the next volume.

Robinson Rodriguez

KatyB said...

Thanks for the review sab. I definitely need a well illustrated grammar book to get my head round the mysteries of english. keep your eyes out for ones that get even closer to perfection for us!
Cheers, Katy

Ceri said...

Thanks for the glowing review, Sab! It's good to know the images and texts are appreciated. It was an intense writing experience, and the source of more than one grammar nightmare on the way. But it was also a labour of love - not least because it was designed and conceived by my first ELT materials writing mentor, David Riley, a great all round TEFLer who is still greatly missed.

Sab said...

Hi Ceri, you're welcome! I didn't know David Riley but I would like to have met him.
It would be interesting to hear about the sort of nightmares grammar book writers have - can you give us an example?!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful review, although sometimes figures of speech like "long in tooth," are lost on my American semantics.

After reading the "real language in natural situations" example, I was surprised that a publishing company in Boston would print "having a shower" rather than, "taking a shower."

Those are probably grammar hurdles I will have questions about starting in class Monday.

I think the American and U.K. styles of teaching ESL are impossibly confusing.

As of yet I do not have experience using multimedia techniques in the classroom, so I am interested in the CD-ROM and Audio CD.

Best regards,

Lesli Anne Rarick

Ruth at Heinle ELT said...

Hi Sab!

Great review - thank you! Glad you like the book as much as we do!

Your Level 2 copy didn't have a pincode in as it was a special advance copy for review - rest assured that all the rest have the code inside just like your Level 1!

Bye for now!
Ruth at Heinle ELT

Ruth at Heinle ELT said...

Hi Lesli,

Well spotted - Heinle ELT head offices are in Boston - but our British English titles are created at our UK publishing centre based here in England - which is where Practical Grammar is published - hence the 'having a shower'!

I hope your classes are going well and that you get a chance to use Practical Grammar – the book, CDs and online component!

Ruth at Heinle ELT

Sab Will said...

Hi Ruth at Heinle ELT - great to have your input! I'll put a note in the review about the pin code!

Interesting stuff about the differences between US and UK English - always an issue, and always overblown/over worried about in my experience. We all understand each other, don't we?! :-)

Alex said...

As a TEFL trainee, I don't 'know' Murphy, and after reading this review, for some moments I think I may not need to. Then I realise I should be familiar with Murphy anyway but these books sound attractive, particularly for their realism and modernity. I like the reviewer's quiet wit and clarity.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like an interesting read. Anything that can make learning fun must be a good thing. Moz

Anonymous said...

The most telling point?

"I'm immediately going to show it to my teacher trainees and suggest they put it on their list of highly recommened grammar exercise books for their students"



Jessica said...

Making grammar approachable is so important. I like the nice pictures! I have a French grammar book that I avoid like the plague but maybe I'd reconsider for color.

Anonymous said...

This Grammar book looks really interesting and easy to read. I think using colour diagrams and photos is a great way to make Grammar learning fun. I also like the way the book uses real life situations that the learner can relate to. Good review!

Love said...

it's so great and useful! Like it like it

Anonymous said...

amzing book,

Cristina Tulea said...

Like all the grammar books you present this also an interesting and efficient instrument to use in class. Students are attracted to your books a lot and they even seem to understand better when I use them in class. The real life aspects presented in the books are the most attractive to them. Thank you for existing on the market! You are really our partners!

Best wishes,
Cristina Tulea

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