Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Book Review: "Oxford English Grammar Course" by Michael Swan & Catherine Walter

Oxford English Grammar Course
Michael Swan & Catherine Walter
Oxford University Press 2011
ISBN 9780194420822
Sample blurb: "Learn and practise the grammar you need to speak and write in English: short grammar explanations are easy to remember. Colour makes the grammar clear; clear simple examples show how the grammar works; texts, articles, quotations and poems use the grammar; hundreds of exercises practise the grammar; internet exercises and grammar-and-vocabulary work; tests in the book and online."

In the beginning, there was Raymond Murphy and his legendary In Use series of grammar explanation and exercise books. Well, ok, near the beginning. Then came How English Works and a little later the Good Grammar Book from fellow language gurus Michael Swan and Catherine Walter. And now we have the brand new Oxford English Grammar Course, of all things, from the same team. And just when we thought grammar had gone out of fashion forever.

So, so much for the communicative approach; there are some quarters, such as every serious student's book shelf, where a practical grammar book still very much has its place. And let's not be mistaken; the market is still huge, hence the publisher's obvious commitment to the hefty three-level Oxford English Grammar Course.

Now, Michael Swan and Catherine Walter have great senses of humour, and the cartoons they love to collect are again in evidence throughout this volume, along with colourful rule-highlighting and illustrations to liven things up. But that's about as far as the 'fun' aspect of the book goes. Make no mistake about it; underlying it all is the rigour you would expect from such an esteemed publisher and established couple of grammar gurus.

But where exactly does the Oxford English Grammar Course fall in between your standard course book and a straightforward grammar book like Murphy? After all, they do call it a course, so I assume we should treat it as one.

Well, to be honest, and much more so than their highly accessible previous volumes, and despite what I said about the cartoons and colours, this is serious stuff. Heavy grammar practice backing up highly concise and easy to absorb grammar rules. Indeed, the rules are never longer than a line or two before examples and exercises kick in.

When I say 'heavy' grammar practice, I mean lots of it, exercise after exercise, for the motivated student who enjoys learning, at least in part, in this rather regimented and repetitive way. This is a book for those who are taking their studies very seriously indeed and expect their materials to match their commitment.

Of course, it could be used just to dip into to sort out a point which is causing difficulty, or a unit could be photocopied by a teacher to complement whatever is being covered in class but somehow I don't see the Oxford English Grammar Course being used so much in this way. Perhaps pages could be given for homework I suppose. But although I see this more as a self-study book for the serious student, even the authors are not expecting learners to work through it from beginning to end, and of course they are right.

Back to the basics of the book then, and it's split into 22 fairly standard grammar sections, such as perfect tenses or infinitives and -ing forms. Each of these starts with a grammar summary suitable for this particular level and some Revise the basics exercises to consolidate what the students already know and set them up for what's to follow. Then come the units on the grammar points themselves. These are followed by yet more practice and a revision test at the end of the unit. There's an impressive amount of material there, I can tell you. Answers are at the back, as are appendices on usual stuff like irregular verbs, punctuation, contractions, word order and numbers.

Then there's the obligatory CD-ROM. What's on it? Let me see... ahh yes, more exercises. A handful for each of the 22 units. Surprisingly few actually, in comparison to the book itself, but then there are plenty of opportunities to practise your pronunciation by listening and recording your voice and listening back. And that's the whole point of the CD really - it's actually called the Pronunciation for Grammar CD-ROM - and the element which is often missing from traditional grammar courses. The exercises cover listening to identify what you hear, distinguishing between a question and a statement using intonation, strong and weak forms, and back chaining for rhythm (one of my favourite exercises with my own students!).

So hopefully that's given you a flavour for this major publication, and I haven't even seen the basic or advanced levels. Is it better than Murphy? It depends what you prefer. For me Murphy remains the reference and the gold standard in the field, and in terms of straightforwardness and clarity is still second to none. It has all the practice you want, but shoved at the end or into supplementary practice books (but hey, the OEGC also has a web site with even more online exercises to play with...).

The Oxford English Grammar Course is a different, weightier, more complex beast, even attempting to incorporate two different levels into the one book from what I understand. This may impress some but appear unnecessarily complicated to others. In any case, its pedigree is impeccable, the explanations beautifully clear and the exercises legion and very possibly legendary! One for the serious student looking for top-notch tuition, backed up by practice and tons of it. A very imposing new kid on the grammar block.


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: "Oxford Word Skills"
© 2012 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English

Monday, 19 November 2012

Book Review: "Oxford Word Skills Intermediate" by Ruth Gairns and Stuart Redman

Oxford Word Skills Intermediate
Learn and practise English vocabulary
Ruth Gairns and Stuart Redman
Oxford University Press 2008
ISBN 9780194620079
Sample blurb: "Learn and practise English vocabulary: learn the words you need to know at each level (Basic, Intermediate, Advanced); see how the words and phrases are used in spoken and written English; practise using the vocabulary; revise what you've learned; improve your vocabulary-learning skills; learn the words as preparation for the major exams."

Admittedly this isn't a new book, but it's new to me and Oxford have just given it to me so here are my thoughts.

It's basically a vocabulary practice book in the tradition of Cambridge's Vocabulary in Use series, and a very nice one it is too.

Each double-paged unit is based around the ability to do something, along the lines of 'I can talk about books' and 'I can describe animals and insects'. Variations include 'I can write a formal letter', 'I can express place and time', the slightly ironic 'I can get through exams' and the worthy 'I can understand American English'.

This positive approach is backed up by very cheerful units with plenty of  straightforward illustrations, vocabulary, lots of exercises and sometimes a glossary.

The book's divided into sections, as follows: Learning; People; The world around us; Daily life; Getting things done; Describing things; Social and political issues; Media and entertainment; Work and study; Business; Social English; Language; and Styles of English. Each section has a review unit at the end.

There are little 'Spotlight' boxes sprinkled throughout the text helping us with tricky points such as the difference between steal and rob, or between wedding and marriage, or the fact that crime can be countable and uncountable.

The book's big high-tech innovation, which they proudly tout on the back cover, seems to be a piece of rather nice purple card with 'Oxford University Press' written on it which you can use to cover up the definitions of words in the units and test yourself!

Joking aside though, Oxford Word Skills comes with a CD-ROM which is again utterly straightforward and pleasant to use. A variety of exercises allow you to listen (and repeat) to all the main vocabulary and phrases from the book, and tests your understanding with drag-and-drops, gap-fills and so on.

The wide variety of topics covered make this a very interesting and engaging book, with something for everyone, from kids to business people, although it's unlikely someone's going to go through it from cover to cover, unless they are extremely rigorous and committed.

I noticed that in the 'I can talk about art and photography' section, which is one of my passions, there was no mention of acrylic paint (just oils and watercolours) and that film and negatives seemed to be mixed in rather incongruously with digital cameras. These are small points which nevertheless do point out the limitations of such a book, but at intermediate level a wide-ranging approach is probably more appropriate than lots of arcane detail which would probably be unnecessary anyway.

So all in all a very pleasant book to have on the book shelf, either in a learner's bedroom or a teacher's resource cupboard. Or should that be closet? I'm not very sure any more.


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: "Oxford Word Skills"
© 2012 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Book Review: "Macmillan 'Global' English Course" by Lindsay Clandfield et al

Clandfield, Robb Benne, Jeffries, Pickering, McAvoy
Macmillan 2010
Sample blurb: "global is a ground-breaking 6-level adult course for today's learners of English. It enables you to learn English as it is used in our globalised world, to learn through English using information-rich topics and texts, and to learn about English as an international language."

As Macmillan's prime offering in the highly competitive general English for adults arena, Global (let's capitalise that 'g' for them for once and for all) had to be pretty special. And it is. A huge undertaking has produced a huge course with all the elements in place over six comprehensive levels, from Beginner to Advanced, to tick practically all the boxes. And there are a lot of boxes to tick these days.

Before getting on to the course itself, let me just tell you that each level includes, in addition to the course book itself, an online version of said book, an eWorkbook, audio CDs, a teacher's book and resourse disc, and a website.

So is Global any different from all the other general English courses out there? Well the publishers believe it is.

At the start of the Beginner's level is a list of six things the authors say they wanted for Global: real lives; international voices; intellectual curiosity; cultural knowledge; a global outlook; a different book.

At the beginning of the other volumes are 'six quotes that inspired Global', the last of which reads "If you are going to write another coursebook for the English language, please try to do something a bit different," from an English teacher who, curiously, wishes to remain anonymous. They could have quoted me!

Anyway, you're starting to get the idea. Here are the other five quote, for the record:

"True education means fostering the ability to be interested in something." - Sumio Iijima, Japanese physicist

"It is books that are the key to the wide world; if you can't do anything else, read all that you can." - Jane Hamilton, American author

"The English language is nobody's special property. It is the property of the imagination..." - Derek Walcott, Caribbean poet

"The important thing is not to stop questioning." - Albert Einstein, German-American physicist

"The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled." - Plutarch, Greek historian

Very good. And not the sort of thing you find at the beginning of every English course. So how have they translated all of that into good solid language learning? By providing content, and tons of it. By creating an incredibly comprehensive package full of fresh, everyday and yes, global items of interest. By covering all the skills, grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation and functional language as any modern course is expected to today. And by choosing topics based on real people and real lives for us to discover and perhaps identify with.

All of this results in a book which is fairly dense and intense, but very pleasant to look at nevertheless. Check out the page shots from the three levels to see if you agree.

My French contact in Macmillan was very happy to tell me that this series has just been adopted by the British Council here in Paris, and I can see why. The international and resoundingly modern and environmentally aware approach would be right up their street.

The influence of modern lives and five-second attention spans can be felt in their snapshots of each book, such as 'Global Intermediate by numbers: 10 units, 160 pages, 10 extracts from famous novels, 46 vocabulary sections, 37 explanations of English grammar, 10 functional English lessons, 15 accents from around the world in Global voices, 200 audio clips, 30 video clips, 150 interactive activities, 100s of curious and interesting facts'.

And if there's something I like, it's curious and interesting facts. There is something about Global that does make it feel a bit different from the other courses out there at the moment. A certain freshness blowing through its pages which is hard to pin down. Take the contents and chapter headings.

Each chapter is entitled 'Something & Something'. That is to say, from the Beginner's level we have Name & Address, Big & Small, Places & People, Day & Night, Life & Times. The Intermediate levels titles include Language & Culture, Lives & Legends, Supply & Demand, Love & Hate. The most advanced level offers us Fact & Fiction, Heroes & Villains, Time & Motion, and finally Local & Global. They must have had fun dreaming them all up.

It's a cute device and allows the first eight pages of each unit - oh yeah, count 'em - to be split into two double spreads on, for example, people who know each other (Friends) and two double spreads on people who don't (Strangers), two double spreads on internal organs and love (Hearts), and two double spreads on concentration, mindfulness, nature versus nurture and so on (Minds).

Admittedly, a few of the topics are a bit arbitrary, but hey, the idea's quite cute as I said and as good as any of the other publishers' offerings and far more imaginative than some.

The last four pages of each 12-page unit are devoted to functional language, global language issues and voices, writing, a unit review and a study skills section. Unfortunately, I didn't have the student's book recordings so I can't comment on their authenticity (but see below). The functional language sections cover all the usual areas  such as requests and offers, giving opinions, starting a conversation, offering advice, making  phone calls and expressing sympathy in the intermediate level, for example.

Probably most interesting is the Global English and Global Voices sections which appear in alternate chapters. The voices allow us to hear some of those 15 accents from around the world I suppose (21 at beginner's level, 16 at advanced). The global English part is based on a fascinating series of articles by  language guru David Crystal covering all sorts of things, from Caribbean English to changing English to a global language for business to a world of Englishes, and much more.

I should mention than the Beginner's level has 15 chapters of six pages, with one page per unit devoted alternately to reading, global voices and a game. The unit review gets the last page.

Let me also mention the Global eWorkbook, which gets its own instruction booklet and comes cellophane wrapped with the student's book, or at least mine did. This part of what the blurb describes as 'a comprehensive range of interactive digital components for use in class, out of class or even on the move. These include extra listening, video material and online practice'.

The presentation is super-slick and worked perfectly after a short installation procedure and entering of an activation code. When all's said and done, of course, it's really just a glorified workbook, but quite glorious at that, with lots to listen to, watch and interactive exercises to complete. Some of the elements in the main menu left me just slightly baffled though.

Upon clicking on Portfolio, for example, we (the students) are offered some pretty scary self-assessment checklists and ominous Common European Framework can-do charts which I can't imagine many students spending a lot of time on. The Dictionary button sails us off to the web and Macmillan's online offering, while the Word Lists, Grammar Help and Writing Tips buttons all lead to the same little box of same. 

The Language Practice button (are you still with me?) allows us to navigate through the exercises by unit or by language skill. Print and Work lets us to print stuff off and work with good old paper and pen. Listen and Watch buttons lead to what you would expect, On The Move offers some more recordings called Listen On The Move, the Watch button again, and oh my goodness, would you believe it, I've found the Class Recordings from the Student's book - oh happy day!

Then there's a Tests button which allows you to choose timed tests or set-number-of-question tests which seem to ask you to chose the test based on how many you think you will get right. And there's a huge Contents Map with various links to listenings, downloads, and PDFs. Hmm

I'd be interested to hear from students who use this eWorkbook, as it may be I'm finding it more complicated than it really is. My guess is that students will choose the sections they like best and work through those, slowing checking out the other sections when they're ready. It seems the richness of the material has tripped Macmillan up a bit, as this is the most complicated and least coherent main menu I've seen on a DVD of this type. They'll probably kill me for saying that, but it's also the only one I've seen with such a comprehensive instruction manual - because it sure needs it? - beautifully produced as it is. This is also available from the bottom menu by clicking the question mark.

Oh, I should mention that it keeps track of your progress too, which is pretty cool.

I've also checked out the web site, but not the online version of the book which I'd be interested in perusing also, to compare it with other publishers' efforts as much as anything else. I'm a big fan of the ones I've already seen. The site has quite a few resources as well as the expected commercial aspects, and interesting podcasts with authors and videos with David Crystal to name but some of the riches within. The author blogs seem to have had their hayday back in 2010 when the course was winning Duke of Edinburgh awards and suchlike but there remains useful content there today if you have a few minutes for a browse.

A recently released Business Class eWorkbook has been added to the suite for, well, business classes, but more on that later when I receive my copy...

And I think that'll about do it! A great, fresh course absolutely jam-packed with interesting content for the truly open-minded and enquiring global learner (and teacher) of today. Check it.


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: "Macmillan Global English Course"
© 2012 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English

Friday, 16 November 2012

Book Review: "Macmillan Readers" Editor John Milne

Macmillan Readers
Micheal Jackson
Nelson Mandela
I, Robot
Slumdog Millionaire
Much Ado About Nothing
Founding Editor: John Milne
Macmillan 2008-2011
Sample blurb: "Michael Jackson changed the face of modern pop music and dance. Over twenty years after it was first produced, Thriller is still the best-selling album of all time. This Macmillan Biography looks at Jackson's early life from becoming a child star with the Jackson 5 to the height of his career as an international superstar."

There are plenty of readers for learners of English out there and among the best collections are the Macmillan readers we are looking at today.

In their own words, 'This series provides a wide variety of enjoyable reading material for all learners of English. Macmillan Readers are retold versions of popular classic and contemporary titles as well as specially written stories, published at six levels.'

Macmillan have supplied me with one classic (Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing), one contemporary classic (Asimov's I, Robot) and a modern best-seller and hit film of course (Vikas Swarup's Slumdog Millionaire).

In addition I asked to see two biographies, one from the political field (Nelson Mandela) and one from popular culture (Michael Jackson).

The books are very straightforward and fairly 'meaty', without any in-text help or notes at the bottom of the page for understanding. I know that some people want notes and others abhor them, so it comes down to personal choice in the end.

Each chapter has a series of simple questions along the lines of 'Why was Michael angry with Berry Gordy?' and 'What happened when Michael was filming a Pepsi commercial?'. These are followed by a few pages of glossary and around ten pages of different exercises based on the text. These can be used in class or as homework if the book is being used by a teacher. In addition the story is recorded on CDs which come with each title.

The stories are illustrated with a few pictures and written in a clear, easy to follow style. The strong point of this series is its well-chosen titles and range of topics: classics, modern, biographies, sporting histories and the latest films; the new James Bond movie, Skyfall, is just out! The solid text without interwoven exercises, however, would make these volumes more suitable for the more mature, serious reader who enjoys feeling they are reading a 'real' English book and not one 'dumbed down' for learners.

Talking of movies, or films as us Brits would say, some of the titles are in American English (Michael Jackson, I, Robot), and the rest in British English. An interesting exercise would be to see if students can identify specific Americanisms or Briticisms in the stories and supply the equivalent in the other version. By the time they get up to levels 5 (intermediate) and 6 (upper) they should be well able to do such an exercise.


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: "Macmillan Readers"
© 2012 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English

Book Review: 'Business Advantage Advanced' by Handford, Lisboa

Business Advantage
Advanced Student's Book
Michael Handford & Martin Lisboa
Cambridge University Press 2012
ISBN 9780521181846

Publisher's Website
From the blurb: "Business Advantage is based on a unique syllabus that combines current business theory, business in practice and business skills - all presented using authentic, expert input. The course contains specific business-related outcomes making the material highly relevant and engaging." 

When I wrote an in-depth review of the intermediate and upper-intermediate levels of Cambridge's new Business Advantage series earlier this year, I was pretty excited about it.

Now the advanced level is out and it's just as competently put together as the other two, as you'd expect from Cambridge.

There's no point me writing a full review of it as I pretty much exhausted everything I had to say last time. Suffice it to say that everything I discussed applies here and I'll leave you with some  pretty pictures from the advanced level.

In case you don't pop over to the other long review, I finished it up thus:

"To sum up, then, I find Business Advantage an excellent new course, thoroughly up-to-date, with an inventively authentic business-focused approach. Cambridge describe it as 'the course for university and in-company learners, equipping them with the language they need to succeed in a business environment', and I'd say that's currently just about right. Well worth checking out."

And it's orange.


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: "Business Advantage"
© 2012 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English

Book Review: "A Handbook of Spoken Grammar" by Paterson, Caygill, Sewell

A Handbook of Spoken Grammar
Strategies for Speaking Natural English
Ken Paterson, Caroline Caygill, Rebecca Sewell
Delta Publishing 2011
ISBN 9781905085545

Publisher's Website
From the blurb: "Spoken English is now recognised as having its own 'grammar', which is not covered in traditional language practice material. Using recent corpus research into spoken English A Handbook of Spoken Grammar teaches learners to speak more naturally, through the patterns that native speakers use when speaking English."

'How to use Oh, Ah, Wow, Ouch, etc.' has to be my favourite chapter in Delta's Handbook of Spoken English. I like the units on things and thingies too though. In fact, there's a lot of refreshing new stuff in this volume you wouldn't normally see in a lot of standard English course books.

The thing is, they're treating the way we actually utter English, and it can come as something of a shock to see the way we speak written down. So much so that it could almost be off-puting for traditionalists, so diametrically opposed is it to the typical po-faced grammar and high-brow vocabulary we are used to seeing in student texts.

And yet we really do speak like that. My use of 'stuff' at the start of this review is a case in point. How often would you be taught 'stuff'? Almost never. And how often do we use it in day to day conversation? Loads.

The Handbook of Spoken English, then, is about English like what it is spoke. No, not to the point of introducing bad grammar but certainly covering many extremely common spoken structures which are rarely seen in the written form.

Sort of and kind of, loathed by many, get comprehensive coverage. As do I mean, you see and the ubiquitous you know.

It's not all about idiomatic language and phrases either. The way we really use reported speech is broached, no doubt much to the chagrin of those cute traditional transformation charts we're so fond of dishing out to our students. Learners discover the common and frequent uses of had better, have got to and be supposed to. Natural native speaker use of so, which is so common, is covered, as are genuine ways of expressing interest such as great!, fantastic!, perfect!, absolutely! and the so British brilliant! So you see, there's more to this book than meets the eye.

The Handbook of Spoken English claims to be primarily intended for self-study, but by its very nature I think teachers could easily exploit many of the activities for fun and profitable interactive class work.

Functions such as sounding more polite, exaggerating, making statements work as questions and making short responses to agree or show interest, all covered in-depth in the book, are ideal candiates for pair and group work exercises.

There are twenty four-page units packed with examples and exercises, and the layout is modern and not too dense, considering the amount of material they cover. The book's aimed at intermediate level and above, and I can see even quite advanced students benefitting greatly from this when their experience of actually using their English is limited.

One of the great problems many students have is feeling confident when using their English to engage in natural conversation and even just having the language to be able to do so. Understanding what is being said by native speakers is another huge stumbling block and the more familiar students can become with natural spoken English the better.

The Handbook of Spoken English can help students get used to all the intricacies of the everyday language not usually covered or insisted upon in their standard course books. As such it would make a useful supplimentary resource for teachers. The package is completed by an answer key and an audio CD so that students can listen and practise for themselves.

This volume is part of Delta Publishing's Natural English series, which is 'a series of language practice books for students who aspire to use natural, fluent English'. I've managed to get my hands on two other titles in the series, covering phrasal verbs and collocations, so look out for reviews of those soon here on the ELT Resources Review.

It's funny that these sorts of titles are still struggling to come out under the big editors, although admittedly Delta comes under the Heinle-National Geographic umbrella nowadays. It's almost as though spoken English, which when all's said and done is where written English originally came from, is still a taboo subject.

I dunno about you, but my students love feeling they are not only understanding what is being said to them but able to produce natural English too. All strength to Delta's editors for their efforts to make that a reality.


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

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Book Review: "Headway Elementary Fourth Edition" by Liz & John Soars

Elementary Student's Book (4th Edition)
Liz and John Soars
Oxford University Press 2011
ISBN 9780194769129

Publisher's Website
From the blurb: "The world's most trusted English course... A perfectly-balanced syllabus with extensive resources at all levels: In-depth treatment of grammar; Integrated skills throughout; Full student and teacher support in print, online, and on disc."

Some things never change. Or not a lot. And if they did we’d be totally thrown. Headway is one of these things. It’s even rather difficult to know why they bother bringing out new editions, so similar are the contents, just the way we like them.

OK, there are changes, and I’m not even going to pretend that I’m familiar or going to make myself familiar with the differences between the third and brand new fourth edition of the Elementary Student’s Book I’m contemplating as I type. There’s very little point.

Either you already know what Headway’s about or you simply need to know that it’s something of a gold standard by which all other ELT course books can be judged.

It’s no longer innovative or ground-breaking, it’s simply… Headway, familiar, reliable, warm and cuddly old Headway just the way we like it. Or not.

Headway is utterly safe and innocuous and is still an Oxford University Press best seller. Its play-safe formula of straightforward explanations and exercises is still striking the right chords today, it would seem, as all those years ago when it first appeared, in a large number of teaching situations.

Granted, it’s now totally inappropriate in an equally large number of contexts, particularly those where English for Specific Purposes (ESP) has taken hold, but that’s fine. Everyone knows when and where Headway will probably work well and where it won’t.

Restless teachers try edgier titles; those who like to play safe stick with what they know best. It’ll always be like this and that’s why Headway still has its role to play, with its heavy focus on the four skills, on grammar and vocabulary and functional language in the most familiar and predictable way possible. It's the Murphy of course books.

Of course, the bit at the back has been updated, with a sizeable writing section amongst all the usual suspects dealing with grammar, pairwork and the quaintly titled ‘Tapescripts’.

Talking of which, there’s an ‘iTutor’ DVD-ROM (but no tape in sight) at the back of the book which is probably the most interesting aspect of the new course for those of us who know it well.

I must admit I was very pleasantly surprised by this. Not only did it open immediately, which is more than can be said for some publishers' offerings which need you to install all sorts of esoteric elements, but it was incredibly easy to use.

You can surf by chapter or by skill, and there are exercises, readings, listenings and video, and a good old everyday English section to boot. This offering seems to be pitched just about right - plenty of things to do, including grammar reference activities, word lists and printable instructions and progress sheets, but not an overwhelming number or level of complexity - it's very easy to get the hang of things and simple and fun to work your way through the units and exercises.

Significantly, however, the student's DVD-ROM doesn’t include the Student’s Book recordings which precludes it somewhat from the increasingly popular self-study market approach. Something for the fifth edition, perhaps.

I haven’t used Headway for ages, but if I had to start a new course with this book tomorrow it would be like slipping on a comfortable old pair of slippers, with just a hint of a toe starting to poke through but nothing to worry about for now. The DVD makes up for any short-comings, which there aren't really, given what I've already said above. See you at the fifth edition!


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: "Headway Elememtary Fourth Edition"
© 2012 Sab Will / Hotch Potch English
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