Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Book Review: 'English Grammar in Use Online' by Raymond Murphy

English Grammar in Use (Online)
A self-study reference and practice book for intermediate learners of English
Raymond Murphy
Cambridge University Press 2012
ISBN 9780521189392

Publisher's Website
From the blurb: This new edition with answers:
  • has a fresh, appealing new design and clear layout, with revised and updated examples
  • is arranged in a tried-and-trusted, easy to use format, with explanations of grammar points on each left-hand page and exercises to check understanding on the right
  • is perfect for independent studying and the study guide helps learners to identify which language points to focus on
  • contains lots of additional practice exercises to consolidate learning

"English Grammar in Use Online"

TO ENTER: Easy! Write to competition@hotchpotchenglish.com and say 'ONLINE'!
CLOSING DATE: Sunday, 16th September at MIDNIGHT! ~

Raymond Murphy’s English Grammar in Use hardly needs any introduction. It’s the ‘world’s best-selling grammar book’ according to the cover and who am I to disagree.

The red (Essential Grammar in Use) and blue (this one) ‘Murphys’ have been standard issue in every staff room or teachers' resource cupboard I’ve ever come across and I can’t see that changing any time soon.

The reason for their success is their simplicity. Each double page spread is a unit covering one grammar point or aspect of English. The explanations and examples are on the left and the straightforward exercises are on the right. All well and good and a stunning success, often copied but rarely bettered throughout the English language teaching publishing world.

But that’s not the reason I’m holding a brand new copy of the fourth edition (with answers and CD-ROM) in my sweaty hands today.

No, the reason we’re taking another look at English Grammar in Use doesn’t even need the book, because the entire thing is now on-line in a super-duper interactive version and rather splendid it is too.

To cut a short story even shorter, the whole darn book is there: every unit, every exercise, every supplementary activity and piece of reference material.

Not only that but some lucky people had the task of recording the whole thing orally so you can click next to virtually every sentence and hear it beautifully read in the best RP or something resembling it. I couldn’t have done a better job myself, and doubt that I’d have lasted the course given my attention span.

The interface is crisp and clear – even more so than the book actually. The main reason for this is increased space on the page - the sentences aren't so squished together and this increases readability immensely.

An additional aid to clarity is the ability to hide the details of the examples you are not working on from any page. And finally, the exercises are 'called up' from below the relevant explanation and open in new windows which obviously makes total sense as learners will want to refer back to the explanations as they work.

Other interesting features include the ability to bookmark your favourite (?) grammar exercises to get back to them easily, a search box and a little notepad for your own ideas attached to each page.

There are now a ridiculous number of follow-up exercises, both under the Additional Exercises tab, and in the English Grammar in Use 'Extra' section, which is also supplied as a CD at the back of the paper version with its 300+ extra exercises.

This latter element didn't actually work when I tried it but I'll no doubt get a panicky message as soon as this review goes live assuring me in the nicest possible terms that it does and that the fault is all mine or my computer's, which I'll be perfectly happy to accept. After all, a product this slick wouldn't be let loose with such an important element missing or malfunctioning, for sure.

I was a little sad to see that the handy and colourful little pull-out Grammar Reference booklet at the back of the book has been replaced by an altogether sterner Grammar Words detachable section, also part of the on-line package (but not so easily detachable). The Appendices still cover the basics if learners need them however.

My only slight niggle in all of this excellent adaptation is that the loading of exercises and certain interfaces is sometimes less than instantaneous. That isn't a euphemism for 'bloody slow' but you certainly have a few seconds to wait for most of them. In these times of instant gratification even a couple of seconds can seem like an eternity these days! Cambridge tell me they are aware of this and are working on it so it should speed up soon and isn't a major problem anyway.

I shouldn't forget the Study Guide either, which I've often used as a bit of a diagnostic test with students in the past. This points students in the direction of the units they need, and I should also say that all the units are linked to related pages making it as easy as possible for the user to navigate around the monster.

So a real success I would say, and if something like this existed for French or Spanish I'd certainly get myself a copy forthwith for my own purposes. This product almost makes redundant a thousand on-line ELT resources sites specialising in English language grammar exercises and explanations I'm afraid (for them) and for the self-motivated learner into studying alone and into the Murphy format, the online version of English Grammar In Use is the obvious path forward.

Finally, those nice people at Cambridge are offering five (5 - FIVE!!!!!) year-long subscriptions to English Grammar In Use Online for five lucky winners. See the box below for details, and thanks Cambridge for that.

"English Grammar in Use Online"

TO ENTER: Easy! Write to competition@hotchpotchenglish.com and say 'ONLINE'!
~ CLOSING DATE: Sunday, 16th September at MIDNIGHT! ~


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: "IELTS Express"
© 2012 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English

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