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

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