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Discover what’s different about the new International Express

Young businesswoman smilingRachel Appleby, co-author of two levels of the new International Express (publishing January 2014), presented a sneak preview of the course during her webinar on Wednesday 6th November.

I wonder how you decide which coursebook you’re going to use with your adult professional learners. Not long ago, the choice seemed a lot easier, but there’s so much out there now that it’s much more difficult, not to mention the fact that contexts are changing, and learners are getting more demanding too!

So, what can we do?

Well, I’m always on the look-out for materials that offer flexibility: I don’t necessarily want to work through them page by page, although having a reliable coursebook structure is certainly comforting. What matters most to me is being able to respond to what my learners want, and what motivates them. So that means dealing with language they might need there and then – language they can use immediately after class – and also making sure that topics are up-to-date and inspiring, and will get them talking!

I’m also keen to get my students using new language as much as possible, especially in speaking activities. I have lots of resource books at home, but quite often I find a task which fits their level, but is totally off-topic, or vice versa, and so not really appropriate. That sort of time-wasting can be incredibly frustrating!

So let me tell you about the new edition of International Express. You probably know the earlier editions. I’ve used the different levels at a number of companies, but such a lot has changed since they came out. Learners these days expect to be able to do more in their own time, or at home, which means, I think, that language in coursebooks needs to be even more clearly presented, guiding learners through really carefully, and giving them plenty of practice too.

The new 5-level International Express series is coming out in January 2014, so in fact no-one’s seen it yet (although I have a hunch the Beginner level might already have escaped!). Rest assured that if you were a fan of International Express before, as I was (for its reliability, clarity of language work, and meaningful practice for students), then you’ll find all this here – and more. The content is 100% new, so of course it’s up to date with contemporary global lifestyle topics, including travel and socializing, but it’s still for the professional. And it offers plenty of bite-sized chunks, and flexibility – music to my ears!

But apart from addressing how students want to study, one of the other things I find especially tough these days is “keeping up with the Jones’s”, in other words, other teachers! It’s happened to me a few times that a colleague has mentioned “a great video-clip” they used in class, and I simply don’t find it easy to select videos that are going to work with my students. I do think this is what learners are wanting, yet we still have to ensure that what we do in class will support and help their learning, and meet their needs.

As luck would have it, one of the exciting new features of the new International Express is the add-on video for each unit, directly related to each unit topic. They’re handled in such a way that, by the end, the learners are really going to get a sense of achievement in watching the clips; and let’s face it, that’s one of the main confidence boosters I know of in language learning!

So, if you want to be one of the first to look inside the third edition of International Express, perhaps check out a video clip, and see how it’s going to help you and your learners, watch a recording of my webinar on Wednesday 6th November, and I’ll show you more.

It would also be great to see you at the BESIG conference in Prague from Friday 8th – Sunday 10th November. On Saturday 9th, I’ll be using hot-off-the-press International Express materials during my talk entitled ‘Does the customer really know best? Getting the most out of in-company training’. Speak soon!


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This house believes that published course materials don’t reflect the lives or needs of learners

Young woman public speakingAhead of the ELT Journal debate at IATEFL Liverpool, Graham Hall, editor of ELT Journal, presents his arguments for and against the need for published course materials.

Teaching and learning materials of one form or another are almost, but not quite, universal in ELT classrooms. And, obviously, the materials available to teachers and learners vary widely according to context; teachers and learners may also use similar materials in different ways depending on, for example, their beliefs, knowledge and skills, and wider social and institutional expectations.

But over time, changing ideas about language learning combined with developments in technology lead to changes in ELT materials. ‘Older’ materials are often replaced by newer resources which, in turn, eventually become outdated or unfashionable. So it can help us as teachers to think through some of the debates surrounding teaching and learning materials to make up our own minds about their strengths and weaknesses.

By way of example, let’s look at some of the debates surrounding textbooks (and here I mean textbooks generally, rather than evaluating a particular book or series). Textbooks are the main source of teaching ideas and materials for many teachers around the world; indeed, it’s almost impossible to imagine ELT without textbooks. But whether they are a help or hindrance to teaching and learning is often a source of heated discussion.

Well-designed textbooks have a number obvious benefits for teachers and learners. They provide language input for learners; they can provide interesting and motivating material, organised in an appealing and logical manner; and they provide a written record of what has been studied, allowing for revision and continued study beyond the classroom. Textbooks also reduce the amount of time teachers’ require for preparation. So, one way of thinking about textbooks is that professional materials writers and teachers have different areas of expertise which complement each other. Using well-presented, professionally published textbooks frees teachers to deal with the day-to-day business of actually teaching.

But there are a number of criticisms of textbooks. Perhaps they create a ‘dependency culture’ in which teachers avoid responsibility and just do ‘what they are told’ by the textbook writers. As a result (so the argument goes), teachers may become ‘de-skilled’, losing their ability to think critically and work independently in the classroom. Textbooks are also said to fail to cater for individual needs, lead to material- rather than person-centred classes, and constrain creativity in the classroom.

However, criticisms of textbooks extend beyond these classroom-focused concerns. As well as being an teaching resource, textbooks are commercial products, which, it is claimed, are innately conservative in order to sell as widely as possible. This caution might be methodological, or it might be reflected in the cultural images that textbooks present. Most textbooks, for example, continue to focus on native-speaker lives, lifestyles and language varieties, and images of successful L2 learners are absent from many ELT materials; likewise, images of poverty, disability and many other aspects of ‘real life’ are difficult to find in many textbooks. Thus, it is argued, textbooks are not ‘neutral’, but reflect a particular view of social order and particular sets of values.

Of course, it is would unfair to suggest that textbooks writers and publishers are not aware of, or concerned about, these issues; yet producing a marketable product which does not ignore global and local realities and contexts is a difficult challenge.

These issues will be discussed and debated in more detail in the ELT Journal debate, held at the IATEFL Conference in Liverpool on Thursday 11th April (17:05-18:20 UK time). There, Scott Thornbury will propose the motion ‘This house believes that published course materials don’t reflect the lives or needs of learners’; Catherine Walter will oppose the motion. For more information about the conference, and to access the debate via Liverpool online, go to http://www.iatefl.org/.

Graham Hall is editor of ELT Journal and works at Northumbria University in the UK, where he teaches on Northumbria’s MA in Applied Linguistics for TESOL and MA TESOL programmes.


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Let’s Share: answers to your questions

Let's Share: Your Questions AnsweredOur Let’s Go authors answer questions from teachers about teaching young learners. Do you have a question? Visit our Let’s Share page to ask our experts.

1. What is the most effective program for teaching phonics to Japanese students?

There are many different ways to teach reading, some of which don’t even involve phonics. And teachers find each approach effective because their students learn to read. What is probably more useful is to look at the overall purpose of phonics approaches and then show how we’ve tried to incorporate them in Let’s Go. Even if you aren’t using our books, you can still use this information to help you evaluate other phonics programs in terms of whether or not they are likely to work for your students.

First, the purpose of phonics is to help children attach symbols to sounds in words. A combination of phonics words (which children can sound out based on patterns) and common sight words (like the, a, is, are) usually provide students with enough tools to get started reading independently. English-speaking children typically know between 2,500 and 5,000 words when they start using phonics to attach letters to sounds. Children learning to read English in their foreign language class know far fewer words, so it’s important to teach phonics patterns to children using words that they’ve already learned orally.

That’s one of the reasons that vocabulary in Let’s Go is so carefully controlled. We want to make sure that students have learned to say and understand the meaning of words before we ask them to read them. So, for example, when students learn that one way to show the long A sound is a__e (in Let’s Go 2), we use words learned in earlier levels: cake, make, and game. We also make sure that students can find other words in Let’s Go that fit this pattern so that they can try applying the phonics rule and develop confidence in sounding out less familiar words that are decodable. The sight words students first learn to read are the same words they’ve been using in language practice in every lesson.

We think it’s most effective if students can focus on one new thing at a time. Learning to read familiar words is a small step. Asking students to learn both the sound and meaning of new words at the same time in order to introduce new phonics patterns is too much, and ineffective in the long run.

2. What is the ideal time allotted for teaching phonics and teaching using textbooks?

Ideally, we should try to include reading practice in every lesson. Depending on the length of your classes and the number of times you see students each week, you might have a lesson focusing on phonics skills once a week or once a month, but it’s easy to incorporate reading skills in other lessons as well. For example, with very young students, you can:

  • ask them to count how many times a specific word appears in a chant or song (which builds scanning skills and reinforces the idea that spaces help us identify words)
  • have a treasure hunt asking students to find words that begin with specific sounds
  • write the words from the language pattern on cards and let students practice building sentences with a combination of word cards and picture cards.

The less contact time we have with our students, the more important it is to incorporate reading skills whenever we can.

3. Most textbooks introduce a lot of vocabulary but with little emphasis on the phonics program. What is the ideal method for allowing or injecting a learning opportunity for a phonics program, while using a textbook, to maximize the time?

You can use the vocabulary in your textbook to teach phonics. It takes a bit more effort to do this if your textbook hasn’t already planned the syllabus to teach the words students will use for phonics from the beginning, but it can be done. All you need to do is look at the words your students are learning and identify some common phonics patterns. Do your students learn vocabulary words like cat, bat, map, bag, and man? After students have learned the words and their meaning, use them to teach the short /a/ sound. Help students learn to identify initial and ending sounds by looking at the words in their lessons. Use repetitive song and chant lyrics to build sight reading skills. Teaching sounds in the context of words and reading in the context of sentences helps us make the most effective use of our class time.

4. How can I get my students to do their homework each week?

If parents are willing to work with you, it’s relatively easy as long as you keep parents informed. Some teachers send notes home, or if they use the Let’s Go parent guides, they write the week’s homework assignment at the bottom of the weekly summary. Some teachers maintain a class wiki or blog where they post homework assignments, and others send email or text messages to parents.

Ideally, you want students to do their homework without needing parent support. Learning to be responsible for assignments is an important skill for students to develop. One of the biggest reasons students don’t do homework is that they don’t understand what they’re expected to do. To prevent this from happening, take the last five minutes of class to go over the homework together. For older children, read the instructions together and confirm that they understand what to do. For younger children, you can even do the exercises orally before they leave class. If they’re expected to write, show them how they can use the Student Book page from the lesson to help them spell words if they’re unsure. A little bit of support in class can help students become independent at home.

Answers supplied by Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto, Karen Frazier Tsai and Ritsuko Kagawa Nakata.

Do you have a question? Would you like free webinars, articles, videos and sample lessons? Visit our Let’s Share page to find out more…

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An interview with the authors of English File, Clive Oxenden and Christina Latham-Koenig

English File third editionEnglish File third edition is here! We went behind the scenes to find out what makes the authors Christina Latham-Koenig and Clive Oxenden tick. They tell us about their inspirations, their own struggle with learning Polish and Spanish, and they muse about the future of English language teaching.

What made you decide to become a teacher?

Christina Latham-KoenigTo be quite honest I hadn’t actually thought of becoming a teacher. I studied Latin and Greek at university, and I knew I didn’t want to teach that. When I left university I got a job at the British Council in London, and that’s where I learned about TEFL, as we had to organise courses for people. I then decided I’d like to go and live abroad for a year, and thought that the easiest way would be to teach English. In fact I loved it right from the start, and realised that I had accidentally found the right career path.

Clive OxendenAfter university I worked as a volunteer for a while in the Middle East with a lot of young people from different countries. It showed the importance of English as Lingua Franca and I found that I enjoyed helping people with their English. When I came home I went to the local library to look up English teaching (this was a few years before the internet was invented!)

Where did the idea of writing English File come from?

Christina Latham-KoenigBasically it responded to a need – we didn’t find that the material we were using as teachers was appropriate for our context, teaching monolingual classes abroad. In particular there was very little material that helped to get students talking, which is why we have always really focused on this aspect of teaching in English File.

Clive OxendenWe wanted to write a book that reflected our view of teaching which was that while learning should, of course, be approached seriously and  in a very professional and organised way it is vital that the experience should also be fun and motivating. If not, students quickly get bored and disheartened.

When you were learning a foreign language, what did you find most challenging?

Clive OxendenPronunciation! I came to live in Spain and at first I had a lot of problems with certain sounds in Spanish, especially ‘r’ and ‘rr’. When I went shopping in the market I sometimes could not make myself understood and I spent several months ordering pork (which I could pronounce) when I really wanted steak (which I couldn’t ). It certainly showed me the importance of pronunciation and how it affects a learner’s confidence and willingness to speak. I think the fact that Christina and I wrote English File while living in a foreign country explains the emphasis we always give to pronunciation.

Christina Latham-KoenigAs I’d studied Latin at university, I have found learning Latin languages relatively easy, in fact I was convinced that I was a very good language learner. Then a few years ago I decided to learn Polish. It was a real shock to learn a language where you couldn’t rely on Latin-based words being the same. It has taken me forever to learn certain basic things, like the months, or telling the time. And the grammar, the different ending for nouns and adjectives, is a nightmare.
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Why use a Teacher’s Book? (Part 1)

Teacher holding a book in classIn the first of a two-part series, Julietta Schoenmann, a teacher and teacher trainer, presents the benefits of using a Teacher’s Book to help plan and execute your lessons. Please note, this article contains references to the New English File Teacher’s Book series.

Do you remember when you first started teaching? Were you like me and treated your teacher’s book like a bible – the all-knowing, multi-purpose guide to all things pedagogical? Did you follow its advice carefully and rarely deviate from what it suggested for….ooh……the first year of your teaching career?! Maybe you did, maybe you didn’t. But there’s no doubt that a good teacher’s book can:

  • save us time when it comes to lesson planning
  • offer ideas for bringing a topic alive
  • provide a wealth of extra materials to give our students practice in the areas of language they find challenging.

What’s more, the introduction to a teacher’s book often has a detailed outline of the methodological approach that the course book takes – very handy for those potentially awkward moments when students come up to you at the end of the lesson and ask why you don’t teach more grammar, etc. You can explain your rationale for teaching in the way that you do, supported by the evidence found in the introduction.

Also useful is the information included on how the student’s book is organised – what you can find in each unit, what other materials are available like CD-ROMs or workbooks and what resources are included at the back of the book. I cringe every time I remember a student who came up to me after about three months of classes and said he hadn’t realised there was a grammar reference section at the back of his course book. After that embarrassing experience I decided to help students on the first day of term find their way round their new course book with an orientation quiz. E.g. What topic can you find on page 76? Or What useful section is located on pages 157-158? This sort of quiz is quick and easy to make if you use the teacher’s book to help you.  

So what do you use your teacher’s book for and how can it help you to plan and deliver effective lessons? Let’s think about lesson planning first….

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