Friday, 16 November 2012

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

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