What ELT books influenced you most as a teacher?
ELT News Japan, 2005
The books that influenced you as a teacher betray your age, because surely some of the most influential ones must come early on. I’ve restricted it to ELT books (textbooks, applied linguistics, teacher training, grammar, dictionaries etc). So here are my five choices.
1) Julian Dakin ‘The Language Laboratory & Language Learning’ (Longman 1973) Out-of-print.
I just started looking through my bookshelves to get the information, and this has now attained legendary status, because I haven’t even got a copy. (Make note: NEVER lend books … either give them away or offer to buy copies for people, but loaning is the same as disposing of). So its contents grow in my mind like the songs on an album you remember from your youth, but have never been able to find a copy of.
First of all, it hasn’t got much to do with language laboratories. Labs were universally popular at the time of publication and he does look at the techniques for various types of oral exercise. What fascinated me most was the invented language he uses as examples of exercise types, Novish. The reader has to work out the rules of Novish from the direct method exercises and every rule is based on a real rule in one language or another. You can try out an exercise in Novish by following this link:
What the book did most was make me think about English grammar from the learner’s point of view. However, I can’t say I’ve looked at it regularly because I hadn’t noticed its loss!
2) Robert O’Neill, English in Situations (Oxford University Press, 1968)
My agenda becomes apparent. I believe that textbooks have had vastly more influence on what happens in the classroom than applied linguistics books, because they are the filter through which teachers get the new ideas. Headway has had more influence on what happens on a daily basis than Krashen. O’Neill’s English in Situations lasted around 35 years, but seems to be out of print now. It had no illustrations. It was in three sections and presented problem areas of grammar in neat contrastive pairs at different levels. It was an ideal stand-by because whenever a question came up in class you could find a short, clever contextualization with a careful set of questions that led students to the contrast. English in Situations set a whole approach and its strong influences can be seen in the selection and ordering of structures in a wide range of current intermediate textbooks.
On the negative side, it tended to avoid those areas of grammar which did not contrast neatly, and that’s something which has continued. It emphasized the teachable over everything else. Teachability is a criterion for selection that you can get away with at the middle levels, but which leaves dangerous gaps lower down, and is irrelevant higher up. For example, I maintain that most coursebooks devote far more space to comparatives than they’re worth communicatively, because they’re easy to teach and codify and students give a satisfying “Ah!” after explanations.
3) L.G. Alexander, First Things First, Teacher’s Book (Longman, 1967)
It was already looking old when I started teaching, and at first I hated this book. But the teacher’s book introduction and interleaved notes were highly influential. It wasn’t the first interleaved teacher’s book (I think that was Realistic English, OUP, which was also spiral bound, which First Things First wasn’t.) The notes and summaries were very basic and were unashamedly dull, but for a novice teacher they provided a get up and do it possibility. The introduction was a compact mini training course. The student book was never a favourite (awful illustration, wooden recordings), but the very short illustrated dialogues put the onus on the teacher and the teacher’s book to provide an active lesson using the student book as a springboard. You didn’t just plow through a range of activities on the page, YOU the teacher provided them from the teacher’s book, which the students hadn’t seen, so it kept the lesson lively and active. You never had to say ‘Turn to Module 4, Section A, Listening, Exercise 4, Part 2.’ either. As for the student book, Alexander had analyzed structural progression for beginners, with only one new structural item per lesson, more thoroughly than anyone else. He was not a great contextualizer but he was a superb analyst. Later, Louis Alexander worked with W. Stannard-Allen and R.A. Close and Robert O’Neill to produce English Grammatical Structure (Longman, 1975), a reference book which broke the language into six stages, with thirty logical steps within each stage, complete with a lexicon for each stage. It was a course designer’s dream and it made no attempt at frequency or usefulness, just a bare bones structural index. The course designer had to rework it in terms of function, vocabulary and usefulness, but at least one major task had been done.
4) Michael Lewis, The English Verb (LTP, 1986)
Michael Lewis is best known for The Lexical Approach (LTP, 1993), but this earlier volume is equally essential, if less well-known. Michael Lewis rethinks the structure and meaning of the verb system, and comes up with novel and fascinating practical ‘rules’. For example, he defines the use of some and any more accurately than any of the grammar books I have on my shelves. He can write too, which makes a change.
5) Jennifer Jenkins, The Phonology of English as an International Language (Oxford University Press, 2000)
If The Lexical Approach was the most read and quoted book of the 1990s, I’d like to think that Jennifer Jenkins will be the most influential of the 2000s, in spite of a less than catchy title, and that mutual intelligibility will follow on from collocation as the buzz word. This is one you have to read. I’ve had unease about nit-picking pronunciation points based on native speaker examples for years and I found myself nodding in agreement again and again. Negative point – far too many initials – IL, ILT, NS, NNS, MDH, DL1, SABE which could have been replaced with words by doing a search and change and adding ten pages or so.