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

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