Sunday, 9 October 2011

Book Review: 'Practical Grammar Level 3' by John Hughes & Ceri Jones

Practical Grammar
Level 3
John Hughes & Ceri Jones
Heinle Cengage Learning2011
ISBN 9781424018079

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."
I'm happy to see level 3 of Practical Grammar from Heinle coming out at last, but I'm not sure how to review it. Having covered levels 1 and 2 in some depth a few months ago on this very blog, it's a little tricky to find an original angle and the temptation is to just quote the back cover blurb or simply file it on the shelf and review a more original title instead.

But that would be betraying my hard won reputation for reviews which spit syllables in the face of other boring ELT web site critiques, so let me think about this for a moment...

No, on second thoughts I'll just quote the back cover blurb and file it so I can get on with reviewing a more original title instead.. ;-D

I loved the first two books in any case, and this one is equally pleasing. Apart from being a welcome alternative to the venerable Murphys, Hewings and Swan & Walters of this world, Practical Grammar is fresh-looking, well thought out, and full of funny coloured illustrations, which gives it a ton of brownie points in my book.

What often happens as grammar books mount the echelons is that they get wordy, weighty, dense and terribly dry. Whilst no doubt purists and pedants will claim that the depth and substance isn't there in PG3, I'm always sceptical as to how many people actually plough through every last example in these things anyway.

So to the blurb. There are 100 double spreads, divided into groups of five, with every fifth unit being a test of the last four. And just for that I like this book a lot.

Each set of five units covers a specific area of English grammar, such as adjectives and adverbs, if clauses, verb + something or other, modal auxiliaries, reported speech, passives or prepositions. And the fun doesn't stop there either! At the back of the book you'll find ten more progress tests covering ten units each, with is a real boon for teachers. And as Stephen Fry so rightly said in this seminal sketch, 'We're always on the lookout for enormous boons'...

Back to the blurb though, as I desperately struggle to keep this 'review' on track... the language is presented through realistic conversations, newspaper articles and the aforementioned ubiquitous cartoons. And is the language 'natural', as the back cover claims? It's not bad.

The level of this member of the Practical Grammar series is given as 'Intermediate to Upper Intermediate', B1 to B2 in the Common European Framework system, and corresponding more or less to the Cambridge FCE exam. The first two levels covered the KET and PET exams so I'm detecting a pattern here.

Apart from the usual carefully structured series of examples, explanations and exercises given in each unit, what else is there that might potentially make Practical Grammar Level 3 stand out from the crowd?

Well there are two audio CDs which are great for listening practice and pronunciation work, but probably the most interesting 'extra' is the exciting pin code which 'allows access to MyPG for extensive additional online practice for use at home or in self-access centres'.

OK then! I'm sitting at home on the sofa on a rainy Sunday evening and I'm going to see with you, as I type, if this thing actually works, here I go!

22.12: Open front cover and peel away label to reveal pin code. First attempt FAIL! I succeed in removing the first layer of the label, which is what I thought I was supposed to do, without revealing any pin code at all. Will now attempt to peel off the remaining thick and jolly well stuck part without destroying the book completely in case the secret code is lurking there.

22.16: SUCCESS! It was there right underneath the whole thing! Shall now try to find the web site address.

22.19: Have discovered that the instructions are on the inside front cover just above the label, having scoured the rest of the book for them. What a silly place to put them, I ask you...

22.21: I've made it through the first part, entering as an independent student, but am now faced with a rather scary form to fill in; good job I'm an upper-intermediate student, what? ;-)

22.26: SUCCESS. Err, kind of. I made it through the password creation and secret question and all that stuff, but a rather worrying message is now telling me that System Check has found some problems with my browser - Safari (Version 535.1). 'We're sorry. The system check of your computer has identified one or more items that need further attention before you can enjoy all of MyELT's features. Don't you just love computers. Aparently I need to update my version of Mozilla. Which is strange considering I'm currently using a product called Google Chrome. Oh well, I'll click the button marked 'Enter MyELT' anyway and hope for the best...

22.42: SUCCESS! I got in all right in the end despite the doom-laden message and had some moderate fun sampling bits of the exercises based on the first five units. And they're not bad at all. It's all fairly straight forward stuff, but that's probably exactly what learners want. And I was pleased to find both listenings and opportunities to record your voice, with a much appreciated absence of totally useless voice oscillation graphs: you just listen to an example, record your voice and then compare it to the original - much more sensible.

Oh, and you get grades and everything, and can do the exercises as often as you like. And there's lots of them.

So there you have it. My hopefully somewhat less than utterly boring review of Heinle Cengage Learning's latest grammar practice book offering. And I like it. If you're in the market for such an item I think you should seriously check it out. Now where's that funky book on teaching on-line I really wanted to get my darting digits into..?

Sab Will is, or has been, a freelance teacher, teacher trainer, director of studies, ELT writer, fanatical blogger, Facebook freak and website weirdo. He is also a well-known street photographer, abstract artist, poet and Paris city chronicler. The 'well-known' bit only applies to those who know him well, however.
Hotch Potch English: 'The ELT Resources Review Blog' ~ Book Review: 'Practical English Level 3'
© 2011 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English

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