Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Book Review: "The Company Words Keep" by Paul Davis & Hanna Kryszewska

The Company Words Keep
Lexical chunks in language teaching
Paul Davis & Hanna Kryszewska
Delta Publishing 2012
ISBN 9781905085200

Publisher's Website
From the blurb: "The Company Words Keep is a practical guide for teachers, showing how the latest insights into 'language chunks' can lead learners to acquire natural and fluent English. Here is a new methodology based on the Lexical Approach: a theory of language, of learning - and of teaching."

Some girls are bigger than others, said The Smiths. Some girls' mothers are bigger than other girls' mothers, they concluded in the same song. And I never understood what they were on about. Well, not exactly. But I knew those lines by heart and could sing them from the imaginary sloping rooftops of my mind anytime.

Some ELT titles are also bigger than others, and I have a feeling that The Company Words Keep may be one of them. Slim as it is.

And therein lies the paradox. A little company like Delta Publishing (nibbled, but not yet digested, by a monster like Heinle-National Geographic) producing titles which can still include casual throw-away references to Deep Throat tossed in alongside weighty linguistic head-nods (see Nattinger and DeCarico (1992, Lewis (1993) and Hoey (whoee?) (2005)) and you'll see what I mean.

The Company Words Keep continues Michael Lewis' legacy and is all about chunks of words which we recognise and remember easily. In this much it is a joy, because it validates basically everything we've ever intuitively known or sensed when a really crappy learner one day comes out with a word and intonation-perfect utterance, against all the odds, because it's from one of their favourite songs.

But I'm rambling here, the beer must have got the better of me, which Paul Davis can surely understand, this being one of his declared back cover predilections.

The book comes in three parts. The first is pretty much summed up in its opening volley: "The company words keep. Not grammar. Not words. Word partnerships. Lexical density. Fixed expressions. Bits and pieces. Chunks." This leads into 14 fascinating pages covering all aspects of the topic such as what exactly a 'chunk' is and how long or fixed it is, along with sections on Chunks and language, Chunks and language materials, Chunks and language learners, Chunks and language learning and Chunks and language teaching. Chunks, you will have gathered, are very much the order of the day.

The basic premise is that almost over and above grammar there are more or less set expressions which we would do far better studying and knowing than taking part in your average English lesson. It makes a lot of sense if you think about it. This last paragraph probably contains about five already: basic premise; over and above; more or less; would do far better; a lot of sense; etc. Oops, is my prose that clichéd, really?! Or just that natural. It makes you think, doesn't it?

The guts of the book consists of activities in classic recipe book style divided into sections thus: In the beginning, In the coursebook, In action, In authentic contexts, In data., taking learners through the process of discovering chunks of language for the first time right the way to doing their own research into the topic.

The thing all these activities have in common, over and above concentrating on chunks, is that they're pleasingly fun, for teacher and students, in a way which isn't necessarily habitual for this sort of work.

The last part of the book elaborates on what we know about... you guessed it, chunks, looking specifically and interestingly at Chunks and the coursebook, Chunks and classroom research, Chunks and feedback, Chunks and children, teenagers and adults, and The Web.

The Company Words Keep is one of those books which you can either take with a pinch of salt, or allow to spark an utter paridigm shift in your approach to teaching, which I'm sure Delta and Paul and Hanna would be pleased to hear me say. The middle road is more likely - a lexicalisation of your teaching - including and drawing attention to more expressions and 'off the peg' formulae which can be immediately used to beneficial communicative effect. The book gives you all the tools, both intellectual and practical, to allow you to do this, and with panache.

Go for it, I say. In a manner of speaking, believe it or not, at the end of the day, a large amount of what we say consists of those sacred chunks. Why fight them?


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: "English for Football"
© 2012 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Book Review: '400 Ideas for Interactive Whiteboards' by Sharma, Barrett, Jones

400 Ideas for Interactive Whiteboards
Instant Activities using Technology
Pete Sharma, Barney Barrett, Francis Jones
MacMillan Education 2011
ISBN 9780230417649

Publisher's Website
From the blurb: 400 Ideas for Interactive Whiteboards provides a wealth of resources to help teachers integrate the digital board into their classrooms. It provides practical ideas for using regular programs and software, for teachers new to this area, as well as suggestions on how to create specifically-tailored resources for teachers with greater levels of expertise. The clear organisation means that activities are categorised according to skills focus, makng them easy to locate. It also contains suggestions for project work, 'learning to learn' activities, and 'the connected classroom'.

Having recently reviewed both 700 Classroom Activities and 500 Activities for the Primary Classroom from the same publisher, I'm getting fairly familiar with the format, as I imagine you are too.

Don't think that means I have nothing to say, however. I'm sure I'll find something!

Indeed, this book sent me scurrying for a book I reviewed two years earlier called Activities for Interactive Whiteboards from Helbling and the differences between the two titles are quite striking. You could almost say that the Macmillan title is a logical progression and complement to the Helbling work, with two more years of whiteboarded-up teachers and classes to call upon for inspiration.

The book's a fairly meaty beast and the best way I imagine using this is as a dipper-into recipe-server when you want something to spice up your standard course book. Having said that, whiteboard-ready course books are one of the topics covered in 400 Ideas for Interactive Whiteboards, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

While the Helbling book was simply divided into three sections for image-based, sound and video-based, and text-based activities, Macmillan's latest offering is an altogether more complex beast.

There are four large chapters, covering Using Regular Programs, Using The Whiteboard Software, Using Published Materials (which I mentioned just above), and Creating and Adapting Your Own Materials. Each of these chapters is then subdivided into sections, including, in most cases, Grammar, Vocabulary, Speaking, Listening, Writing, Reading, Pronunciation and sometimes Games, Learning To Learn and Projects.

'Regular programs' refers to things 'already out there' such as Flickr, Google Maps, Wikipedia, You Tube, Audacity for recording and Word for word processing, to name but a handful of the best known.

The 'whiteboard software' involves exploiting some of the fancy features that come built in such as dragging and dropping, concealing parts of the board, highlighting, zooming or adding notes and links to other web-based content.

'Published materials' is where the course book publishers have created Interactive Whiteboard (IWB, as we say at the chalk..., err, pixelface) editions of their courses, often with neat features such as being able to immediately play recordings by hitting an icon next to the text. These can often be enriched with the aforementioned IWB features.

Finally, 'Creating and adapting materials' is about teachers taking it to the next level of personalisation by using the built-in IWB tools to design worksheets and interactive exercises of their own.

Needless to say, each of these sections contains a lot of suggested activities or 'ideas' - they've got 400 to fit in, after all. Most of these are stand-alone one-hit-wonder types, but because of their clear organisation it's easy to go directly to the section which interests you most and find something to enrich the lesson at hand.

Each item starts with notes on level, interaction pattern, aim, language focus and, importantly, the technology you need to actually do the activity at all.

Then follows what you need to prepare before the class, the procedure to follow, things to do afterwards to extend the activity, variations and comments. And all of this generally on around a page or less but everything you need is there, and as usual with these Macmillan books, the variety of ideas is extremely impressive.

As well as individual chapter introductions there's a useful general intro to the whole book covering the practicalities, features, benefits and even challenges in using an IWB.

One final thing well worth mentioning is the eight case studies we find at the end of the chapters. These allow us to understand how specific teachers in clear contexts have integrated IWBs into their teaching environments.

So 400 Ideas for Interactive Whiteboards proves itself to be an invaluable addition to the rather limited amount of teacher-friendly literature on the matter. Any motivated teacher serious about exploiting this technology to the full owes it to themself to get this book.


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' ~ Book Review: "400 Ideas for Interactive Whiteboards"
© 2012 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Book Review: 'English for Football' by Boyle & Chersan

English for Football
Alan Redmond & Sean Warren
Oxford University Press 2012
ISBN 9780194579728

Publisher's Website
From the blurb: "English for Football is... the ideal quick course for anyone who needs to communicate in English with players, coaching staff, journalists, agents and fans. It is also suitable for students interested in a career in the football industry as a player, an official, an administrator, or a trainer. [It] will help you communicate effectively across the world's favourite sport."

I was over the moon when I discovered the existence of this book, although, to be honest, at first I thought it must be some sort of joke. English for Football? Who are they trying to kid. I imagined a book of two halves, the first devoted to classic footballing clichés and metaphors, and the second a sing-along section to the fans' favourite off-colour chants.

How wrong I was, and naive too, as I realised upon reading the blurb above, the About The Book section and especially Sir Alex Ferguson's Foreword. So, conceding that there are no easy reviews, I'll risk feeling sick as a parrot, not just being here to make up the numbers and, well, at the end of the day, put this thing under the microscope. Brian.

As Ferguson says, "Just as in business or science, in football too, people increasingly tend to use English to communicate." I must say there's an interview with him in an old ELT course book and most of my students haven't got a clue what he's saying, but that's beside the point.

The point is, football is international - probably one of the most fluid international environments you can imagine actually - and the interest in and scope of the profession is vast. I really hadn't thought of the countless thousands of students doing sports oriented courses where football terminology could be highly relevant, never mind the communication problems of foreign players and managers trying to get their messages across to groups of bemused, slack-jawed interlocuters.

I still have a problem imagining your average international footballer sitting in an English class going through this book, but I guess the self-study approach could work very well for a newcomer to an English speaking environment, and the book is well suited to this.

To do things backwards somewhat, there's a CD-ROM (at the back) with both all the listenings from the book and interactive exercises covering grammar, vocabulary and useful footballing expressions. There are transcripts for all the recordings, each of the eight units has its own test/consolidation page and the answers are given too. There is, therefore, no teacher's book or additional CD to purchase, but Oxford do claim to provide 'teacher's notes and extra resources' on the web, although I couldn't find any for this title.

There's a good range of accents on the CD, both native speaker and foreign, and the speech is surprisingly natural for this fairly basic level. The interactive part is basically a set of three multiple choice and gap fill exercises for each unit. Standard consolidation stuff.

And as to the book itself. There are eight frighteningly colourful units, as I said, and what at first glance looks like a bit of a mish-mash of material turns out to be fairly well organised under the following chapter headings: It's My Club; Defender; Midfielder; Striker; Goalkeeper; Scout; Manager; The Greatest.

Each of the eight-page units has a trio of themes, such as Midfielder: Formations; Midfield maestros; Number 10, Manager: A manager's job; Manager or coach; Goalkeeping coach. The first three or four pages deal with these topics and the second half of the unit gets into the language and skills needed to flesh out the student's English abilities with a bit of grammar and functional language thrown in for good measure.

The joyful presentation (all those colours and boxes and photos) almost takes over from the pedagogical aims of the units, but I suppose they must have done in-depth studies on what was going to keep a footballiing student's attention focused and gone with what they concluded.

I should say it's bang up to date too, with Leo Messi and Christiano Ronaldo featuring prominently. Anything less would seriously damage its credibility if you ask me.

As for my conclusion, well first of all I think this book is in a group of one - it's the first of its kind that I've seen - so it'll be interesting to see what the other major ELT publishers come up with if they decide to take their ESP offerings in this direction. Knowing them it shouldn't take them long if they do. If there's one thing they hate its their competitors having something they haven't got. I imagine we could expect golf, tennis, sailing, horseriding, judo, and why not tiddly-winks titles in the foreseeable future. Is this the start of a new ESP goldrush I wonder?

I was slightly disappointed in the end not to find any footballing clichés or chants, but the Express series is far too professional to include such frivolity, and the final result, as one would expect from a publisher of the calibre of Oxford, is very pleasing indeed.

P.S. Am I still allowed to publish this review if I say that I can't stand the game..? Only kidding, my son, only kidding.


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: "English for Football"
© 2012 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English

Book Review: 'English for Law Enforcement' by Boyle & Chersan

English for Law Enforcement
Charles Boyle & Ileana Chersan
Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2009
ISBN 9780230732551

Publisher's Website
From the blurb: English for Law Enforcement is a language course designed to meet the communication needs of 21st century law enforcers, including customs officers, military police, security personnel and police officers. Starting at CEF level A2, it equips students with the langage they need to operate effectively in English in a range of standard law enforcement contexts.

"Task 2: Listen again. Write the names of the speaker(s) who:
1) was beaten and locked up by their captors... 3) is afraid that their family could be in danger... 6) was forced to work as a prostitute..."

The last time I opened up an ELT book to be confronted with such surreally hard-hitting topics was LTP's ground-breaking and controversial Taboos and Issues back in 2001 which still remains a quirky classic in my eyes.

That was before the days of highly career-specific ESP publications like Macmillan's English for Law Enforcement, however. Nowadays the least likely of industries are getting their own specialised titles and this is a great example.

Of course, questionnaires on human trafficking or cartoon strips about getting beaten up are the most gruesome side of the topic. The vast majority of the book covers less scary subjects, with chapter headings such as Traffic and Vehicles, Out in the Community, and At the Police Station showing the more mundane side of the profession. Other chapters like Drugs and Alcohol, Civil Disorder and Organised Crime don't shy away from the grim realities of the work of a modern law enforcement officer though.

English for Law Enforcement is a sister title to English for the Military, which I reviewed recently, and much of what I said then goes for this title too. It's beautifully laid out, with tons of variety and colour making it quite the jolly read, despite some of the less than joyful topics being covered.

Each chapter again follows the rather cool Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta structure of four double-page spreads, covering all the language skills and a great deal of fascinating profession-specific topics in detail with great variety and panache. As an idea of the breadth of the material included, opening the book at random reveals sections on Interpol Notices, Protective Equipment, Identity Parades, Domestic Abuse, Assault at an ATM, The Big Match (football), and Kebab Shop Attack, to name but a few.

There's a 12-page set of Pairwork Files at the back, which emphasises the interactive nature of the course and I can imagine this stimulating lively exchanges between participants and I'm quite sorry I won't have the opportunity to use the book myself in the foreseeable future. So interesting is it, I'm tempted to wonder if any of the units could be included in a more general English language course, but I fear the topics are a bit to profession-focused for this to be the case, unlike the more abstract approach of a book like Taboos and Issues, which I mentioned earlier.

But highly specific professional titles are all the rage at the moment, and I can't see the trend slowing down for the time being. For example, if you wished to come at football from another angle than hooliganism and crowd unrest, you could check out a new English for Football title from Oxford I'm excited to be reviewing shortly. But I digress.

I almost didn't slip what I though was just the CD of the recordings for the exercises in the book into the player. When I did, though, I realised that is was, in fact, an 'integrated self-study CD-ROM including interactive language practice and consolidation of key language points', no less. It has a good variety of straightforward language comprehension and testing exercises and is a worthwhile addition to the package. As for the actual recording for the exercises, I only have the tapescripts at the back to go on, so I can't tell you how realistic or otherwise they are. I assume they are actors reading them, judging by the slightly slower than natural and crystal clear presentation of the recordings on the CD-ROM I do have to go on.

Macmillan's English For Law Enforcement is a model of its kind and I can fully understand why it won a prize for innovation as it proudly touts on its front cover. If I were teaching any of the individuals mentioned in the blurb (customs officers, military police, security personnel, police officers...) I'd definitely be including English for Law Enforcement in my armoury.


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: "English For Law Enforcement"
© 2012 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English
Related Posts with Thumbnails