Teaching English Worldwide: A New Practical Guide to Teaching English
Paul Lindsay (2000)
Burlingame, CA: Alta Book Center Publisher
Pp. xii + 404
ISBN 1-882483-77-4 (paper)
Designed as a comprehensive introduction to the field of teaching English as a second or foreign language, Teaching English Worldwide is a helpful instrument for both those who need a basic self-training in teaching English and those who are planning to take a pre-service training course in the profession. Not only does the book provide the main points of the theoretical knowledge that would-be teachers need, but it constantly supports theory with procedures, techniques, and activities useful for the teaching of all aspects of the English language.
In his "Note from the Author," Paul Lindsay traces his experience as a teacher of English and claims that an all-purpose teaching method does not exist. Good teachers should be less concerned with methods and approaches than with adapting their teaching to the students, after studying their needs, by choosing suitable materials and practical techniques. His last suggestion is "to keep an open mind on new ideas about teaching and learning. Try interesting new ways but don't get hooked on one method" (page ix).
The book is organized into 21 chapters and 5 appendices, plus an answer key for the review questions and exercises proposed for self-testing at the end of each chapter.
The first two chapters ("Basic Questions" and "Managing your Classroom") focus on basic issues such as: a) the role of the teacher, considered not as a mere explainer but as a sensitive helper and attentive organizer; b) the nature of the four skills, analysed in detail in the central part of the book; c) the communicative needs of students at different levels of language proficiency; and d) the importance of creating a relaxed learning environment and of organizing positive learning relationships and activities.
The third, fourth, fifth, and sixth chapters set out to discuss the preliminary knowledge of language levels that enables teachers to approach the teaching of the four skills: "Presenting Meaning and Context," "Teaching Vocabulary," "Understanding Basic Verb Forms," and "Teaching Pronunciation."
In order to help students understand the meaning of the new language it is necessary that teachers convey in very clear and easy ways the meaning and context. This may be realized through a wide range of techniques, from the use of mimic sounds, gestures, and facial expressions to the exploitation of pictures, photographs, objects (realia), and songs. It goes without saying that the meaning of a lexical item depends on the situation of occurrence, thus teachers should always simulate, as best the classroom facilities can afford, the context of the situation where the word is employed (e.g., authentic material such as magazines and newspapers, or everyday situations in familiar environments such as home, school, friends, shops, and the like). They also should be careful to choose situations that are interesting for their students, since this device helps them remember new words. [-1-]
What has been focused on in the previous paragraph can be easily summarized by observing that the teaching of meaning and context is not merely a matter of transmitting a long list of new words or lexical items, but rather the more complex procedure of teaching the vocabulary of a language. This entails recognizing an item in its spoken and written forms, as well as its grammar and pronunciation; knowing both its denotative and connotative meanings, its collocations, and its registers of use. The author suggests various strategies for the teaching of vocabulary. Lexical sets and semantic networks function well when each word refers to clearly differentiated concepts, and the words are presented via an action, realia, or a visual context. On the other hand, the use of synonyms does not work with beginners because it imposes an overloading task on them. Synonyms are instead useful with intermediate students, as are antonyms, or instructing students to use word formation strategies. Finally, the use of spidergrams or mental maps is helpful in tracing a constellation of relations among items belonging to general categories. I would like to add that making associations, exploring ranges of meaning, or learning words in groups provide cognitive strategies that are helpful in order to understand, categorize, and store new items in the mental lexicon. Moreover, teachers should always make the context of use explicit because this inferencing strategy, involving a greater amount of mental energy, allows better retention of words (Mondria & Wit de-Boer, 1991).
The fifth chapter is meant to make would-be teachers aware of the different uses and meanings that verb forms may have and of the difficulties that students encounter in understanding basic grammar. The author claims that students need to learn the main points of grammatical correctness, but that this alone does not provide them with the skills necessary to communicate appropriately and to participate in communicative situations. The aim of teachers, then, should be to pay attention to the different illocutionary forces that the same speech act may have depending on the situation and the participants. How to enable students to recognize the different communicative functions of utterances is not one of the purposes of the chapter, and, unfortunately, there is nothing of the kind in any other part of the book. However, in the list of recommended readings that closes the chapter, good references are made to authors such as Close (1992) and Ur (1988).
This first set of observations closes with a focus on how to teach pronunciation. After devoting a few notes to sound, stress, and intonation, the author offers some tasks to practice phonemic transcription, so that teachers can become aware of the difficulties students meet when they try to learn correct pronunciation. For each task good pieces of advice are given. A complex matter such as the teaching of pronunciation cannot be approached thoroughly in a few pages. Here again, a useful list of further readings is given for both theoretical references and practical activities. In the teaching of pronunciation I have found a real help in proverbs because they are usually built on rhetorical devices such as rhyme and repetition. They represent a relaxing way of learning new sounds and can later be exploited in speaking and writing activities.
The next chapters center on the four skills in the commonly accepted sequence: "Teaching Listening," "Teaching Speaking," "Teaching Reading," and "Teaching Writing."
To develop listening skills, Lindsay provides some useful tips. Teachers should exploit different listening strategies, and select appropriate materials with a specific listening purpose in mind. The main tip the author gives is the need to help students develop listening skills rather than testing their listening ability. To do so, he suggests that teachers should make students more confident about the listening task by introducing the chosen material with global understanding questions and by dividing students into pairs or small groups so that they can share difficulties in finding answers to the proposed activities. Common tasks are listed: putting events or items in the right order, true/false statements, multiple choice questions, note-taking. It is worth emphasizing the importance of teachers being familiar with the crucial role that different types or stages of memory (e.g., echoic, working, long-term memory) play in the development of listening abilities (see Cohen et al, 1986; Smyth & Wing, 1987 ). [-2-]
Speaking is introduced through three stages: elicitation of appropriate functional language, intensive oral practice, and developing oral fluency. The first goal may be reached by asking questions, using synonyms and antonyms, giving instructions, using realia and visual aids, gestures, and mime. Intensive practice involves repetition, echo questions, simple substitutions of dialogue prompts, or combining sentences. These activities enable students to become more accurate in specific language structures. Fluency is undoubtedly the most difficult skill to develop since it is highly dependent on interest in the topic and preparation of required vocabulary. Thus it is good practice to let students choose the topics and let them break the ice by starting with warm-up activities. Role-play, games, and information-gap activities are suitable for the development of oral fluency. As for accuracy, Allan (1991) suggested the use of taping a ten-minute talk from notes for self-correction of errors.
Reading is seen as an additional exposure to the foreign language, and it contributes to the development and updating of vocabulary. I may add that it is a good device to increase systemic knowledge (syntactic and morphological) as well as schematic knowledge (encyclopaedic, socio-cultural, topic, and genre). Intensive reading is useful in the language classroom to analyse grammatical features, to learn how discourse markers are used to connect parts of text, and to infer the meanings of new words and lexical items relying on the context. These aspects may be elicited by true/false activities, questions, or cloze exercises. Lindsay emphasizes the importance of extensive reading, which has the great value of letting students feel more at ease when they have to develop their writing skills.
Teachers should become aware that writing is useful to their students only when this activity involves tasks that are realistic and relevant to students' lives. In order to help students build confidence in their writing abilities, teachers should make wide use of guided tasks: e.g., giving cue and items, using substitution tables to form sentences, providing model texts, asking students to write a simple letter or a postcard. Advanced students may write longer letters, biographies, diaries, stories and fables, topic subjects, articles for the school magazine. Since writing involves a set of complex cognitive processes, good teachers would help their students, in my opinion, to generate ideas and to direct them towards guided techniques. They should also enable students to develop effective planning procedures and to produce receiver-based compositions. The use of the word processor assists students in learning spelling, in the generation of rapid drafting, and in the easy correction of texts, thanks to the revision facilities that any writing software offers.
"How to Correct Errors" is supplementary to the previous four chapters about the basic language skills. Strategies are presented to point out learners' errors. After making a distinction between errors and mistakes, and listing sources of errors, the main types of correction are explained, and for each of them a list of advantages and disadvantages is provided. The chapter ends with useful suggestions about the positive and negative effects that correction has on learners. [-3-]
The next set of chapters ("Teaching with Visual Aids," "Teaching with Games," "Teaching with Drama," "Teaching with Songs," and "Learning with Self-Access") places the focus on a wide group of activities that can be used in everyday teaching in an amusing manner. They include: a) visual aids (e.g., substitution tables, timelines, realia, videos), b) games (from warm-up games, action and mime, and vocabulary to games suitable for the development of the four specific skills), c) drama (in its main procedures--mime, improvisation, role-play, and simulation), and d) songs (used for both listening and writing activities). The basic reason for the use of these tools is the need to vary the learning pace, arouse the learners' interest and diminish the students' anxiety. A description of the facilities required for a self-access center is followed by a list of materials which are more effective, especially when this procedure is used as supplementary learning to the classroom. The teacher can ask students to complete individual activities in the self-access center in those areas of language in which they most need practice.
The seventeenth chapter ("Testing") describes the main types of tests and ways of testing, e.g., fill-in-the-blanks, cloze, matching, scrambled sentences, and dictation. The chapter closes with a useful grid of the international examination in ESL/EFL together with the abilities each examination is designed to test.
The last four chapters ("Using Textbooks," "Planning Lessons," "Teaching Monolingual Classes," and "Key Concepts in Language Teaching") provide: a) a list of advantages and disadvantages of using books and ways to choose a textbook that meets learners' needs; b) suggestions for do's and do not's of lesson planning, with examples of how to make students practice the four skills; c) a stimulus for would-be teachers to reflect on the differences between teaching multilingual vs. monolingual classes; d) a brief overview of the basic concepts in language teaching and the methods and approaches exploited during the twentieth century.
Five appendices close the book. The first one outlines a "General Description of Levels," from zero beginners through false beginners, beginning, high-beginning, low-intermediate, intermediate, high intermediate, and professional users, to expert users. Next, a specimen outline for a beginning level class is provided in "Performance Objectives." The third appendix illustrates a "First Lesson to Zero Beginners." Then a "Placement Test" is provided. Finally, charts of "Phonemic Symbols," both standard American English and standard British English, are offered. The book closes with the "Answer Key" for the review questions that each chapter provides for both revision and self-testing.
On the whole the book serves as a practical guide suitable for providing would-be teachers with the basic knowledge and techniques needed for the teaching of most aspects of foreign language. I would no doubt suggest this book to my teacher trainees. What I would like to find, even in a book which explicitly claims to be practical, is a wider discussion of the different cognitive styles and cognitive plus meta-cognitive strategies that students put into use in their learning (Rubin & Wenden, 1997; Ellis & Sinclair, 1989). The teaching of a language is comparable to a re-shaping of mental processes as far as communication is concerned. And this cannot be done, in my opinion, without a constant reflection on the way in which the mind of each student attending our classes works and on the preferential cognitive paths he or she follows. This profound familiarity with all students' cognitive resources enables us to choose among techniques and procedures suitable for each of them individually, and to group students in a way that proves helpful for better and more complete learning. It goes without saying that the author does know very well how important the recognition of cognitive styles in language teaching is. What I want to say is that a constant correlation between activities and cognition is essential even in practical guides, so that would-be teachers are always encouraged to reflect on the particularity that their difficult profession involves. [-4-]
Allan, D. (1991). Tape journals: Bridging the gap between communication and correction. ELT Journal, 45(1), 61-66.
Cohen, G., Eysenck, M., & Le Voi, M. (1986). Memory: A cognitive approach. Philadelphia: Open University Press.
Close, R. A. (1992). A teacher's grammar. Hove, England: Language Teaching Publications.
Ellis, G. & Sinclair, B. (1989). Learning to learn English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Mondria, J. A. & Wit de-Boer, M. (1991). The effects of contextual richness on the guessability and the retention of words in a foreign language. Applied Linguistics 12(3), 249-267.
Rubin, J. & Wenden, A. (1997). Learner strategies in language learning. London: Longman.
Smyth, M. & Wing, A. (1987). Cognition in action. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Ur, P. (1988). Grammar practice activities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
University of Pisa
© Copyright rests with authors. Please cite TESL-EJ appropriately.
Editor's Note: Dashed numbers in square brackets indicate the end of each page for purposes of citation..