Does your English teacher have an allergy to coursebooks?
I know some ‘language hackers’ out there say how coursebooks are, like, totally boring and have absolutely nothing to do with ‘real English’, but coursebooks can in fact be good for your learning!
And at a time when quite a few other bloggers are out there bagging coursebooks, I thought I’d let you know how they can indeed aid your learning:
Just what the doctor ordered
Imagine that you’re not feeling well and so you head off to the doctor. After checking you out, he might just advise that you stay at home for a few days, rest, and drink plenty of water.
Alternatively, he might say you really need to take some medicine, which he believes is essential for your unique condition.
Learning English with coursebooks is pretty much the same thing.
Coursebooks are part of the diagnosis that we teachers, as language doctors, have at our disposal.
They are one thing, one tool, a teacher can use to design an integrated learning programme for you.
In some cases, just like a doctor might not subscribe you any pills, your English teacher might not recommend a book for you. For example, someone in Prague contacted me today wanting to brush up on their English and to have one hour of conversation a week with me. In this person’s case, I might not recommend a book, at least not to start with.
However, picture the potential client who calls me up and says that they really need to improve their overall English communication skills, and that they’d like 2 sessions a week. They might need to improve their emailing for work, and enlarge their vocabulary so that they speak more naturally, using some idiomatic expressions and phrasal verbs.
In this case, I’m almost always going to recommend a book as part of their learning programme.
Either way, often I like to wait a few weeks before making a decision. Why? It’s pretty hard to prescribe medicine to a client before you’ve even met and got to know them.
Popping the pill
Want an example of a book I’ve used and enjoyed? Here are a few benefits of a coursebook which I’ve used with quite a few advanced-level students, the new Pearson Longman Speak Out:
- the articles come from authentic sources like the BBC, Guardian and various novels and publishers
- each chapter has video material from the BBC, such as short news and travel reports or a profile of a famous person
- there is some traditional grammar and vocabulary relating to different topics, as well as tons of phrases and lexical chunks we use in natural spoken English and writing
- there’s a DVD inside, so the coursebook can be read at home on your computer and you can listen to the dialogues and revise what you did in class that day
- there’s also some video podcasts with interviews of people in the street on a whole range of topics
- the topics include travel, art, future trends, and talking about memories, which is plenty to start a lively class discussion from
So just from this short description, I hope you can see there is a lot of potential there for some interesting and even fun class discussion!
Keep coursebooks on the table
Here’s what I say to you – don’t let your teacher take something off the table that might help you in some way.
As I said above, your coursebook is ONE tool which you and your teacher can use to help you improve your English.
On top of having a coursebook, you should of course still mix things up and do a variety of activities to improve your English. But you already knew that, didn’t you..?
All the language schools I’ve ever worked at promoted the coursebook as being part of a course programme. We were also encouraged to use other materials and technology, and to design a course that met the needs of a particular student.
In a group situation, we were urged to do our best to balance out activities so that we did as much as we could to satisfy each student’s individual needs and personalities.
No school director ever told us to use a coursebook for the full 90 minutes and do every single exercise until the students (or the teacher) went crazy:
Coursebook overdose is a teacher or school problem
One argument against coursebooks is that it’s torture to go through a book page by page, exercise by exercise.
But is a doctor going to tell you to take one anti-biotic every hour until you faint and collapse in a heap? No, and likewise today’s modern teacher training courses promote a communicative, integrated, flexible approach.
If your teacher is in fact only using the book each and every minute, then either it’s the best coursebook on the planet OR more likely, they aren’t using the book the way it’s designed for today’s modern courses.
We don’t always get it right, but I’d say most of my students have been happy with the books I’ve presented to them.
Remember that bookshops like Luxor in the centre of Prague have a massive collection of possible coursebooks. Yeah, some books may not suit you, a few suck, and indeed some books can be boring. So don’t use them.
There’s still plenty of interesting ones which can be used as a nice basis for your learning programme!
Ultimately, as it’s your learning, you’re the boss – it’s up to you to do your homework and choose a teacher (or school) who you feel can best help you get to the next level. They’ll have their favourite coursebooks already in mind, and may even be keeping a lookout on what’s new on the market.
In a nutshell, here are the top 10 advantages of using a cool coursebook
- These days many coursebooks have a DVD, so you can watch a short story or report in English and answer some questions even when you’re on holiday. For example, Speak Out has materials from the BBC, while Life has materials from National Geographic.
- Some coursebook DVDs have an ‘active book’ inside them, meaning that you can load up the coursebook to your computer. You can read through the pages as you wish, and easily click on the listening activities which you did in class last week. This is good for reviewing what you’ve done, and for double-checking a few cool phrases you might have covered in class
- You will be able to talk about a whole variety of topics which are used in everyday small talk
- You’ll be able to talk about a variety of issues, and be able to present a coherent short talk
- You’ll be exposed to a range of phrasal verbs and idiomatic expressions which are used a lot in spoken English
- You’ll be able to do tasks which match the grammar you are looking at (eg you’ll look at past tenses for telling a story)
- You’ll have speaking tasks throughout the whole course to practise interacting with a friend or colleague
- You’ll learn some functional language to use in your life – phrases for apologising, making arrangements, explaining an idea, and so on
- You’ll have some practice in real-world writing tasks (writing emails is a good practical example)
- Many coursebooks these days use authentic sources for their articles and stories (eg the British or American media), which means you’re reading something ‘real’, with questions to check you understand and to focus on some naturally-occurring patterns
And if I can add one more – usually the listening activities in coursebooks include accents from different nationalities and regions, which give you practise in being able to follow a dialogue between different speakers.
Over to you
Do you have a coursebook which you like? How did it help make your course better..?
And what is your favourite nightmare coursebook?! I bet it’s either Headway or English File 🙂
to bag someone or something – to criticise
brush up on – to improve your skills, often after having a break from practising something
input – thoughts, ideas
faint – lose consciousness
torture – something a little unpleasant that the Americans do to spread freedom and democracy around the world
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