Connect, Grow, Thrive

English for Public Relations in Higher Education Studies

Book Review: ETAS Journal Volume 30 No. 3 Summer 2013

Marie McLisky

Garnet Education (2012)

ISBN: 978185964532-1

260 pages, Coursebook and Teacher’s Book with two Audio CDs

English for Public Relations is part of Garnet Education’s ESAP (English for Specific Academic Purposes) series, which is designed to prepare B2 – C2 level students to study a particular subject at tertiary level in English. I would advocate its use as a generic academic skills course for all Business students, not only students of Public Relations, for reasons I will explain below.

The course comprises the Student Coursebook, the Teacher’s Book, and two Audio CDs. Each of the 12 units provides 4 - 6 hours of classroom study plus 2 - 4 hours of extra study. It is suggested that it could be suitable as a foundation course of between 50 and 80 hours, which would fit the requirements for a Swiss Bachelor’s level 2 - 3 credit point course. The course focuses mainly on vocabulary skills (in every unit), listening skills (in the odd-numbered units) and reading skills (in the even-numbered units). Speaking and writing skills are offered in alternate units as extension activities of the receptive skills.

Vocabulary skills: each of the 12 units begins with vocabulary skills related to Public Relations and Academic English. Vocabulary topic areas introduced are broader than PR terms and include the global economy, the non-profit sector, marketing, finance, investor relations, legal matters, and communication and technological change. Examples of skills taught are word building, use of affixes, guessing words in context, and learning fixed phrases from the field. A lot of thought has gone into the approach and I find it well done. I particularly like the way students are given practice in applying the learning strategies, for example, in finding synonyms for terms and then practising paraphrasing. I see this as a key skill to help students rephrase text excerpts in their academic writing, and thereby avoid plagiarism. General English courses offered parallel to their studies in English may not help them sufficiently with this paraphrasing challenge.

Listening skills: the backbone of the listening component of the course is a set of introductory lectures on PR history, definitions, programmes, research, and practice, with some clever integrated skills activities built around these. As an example, students listen to a lecture and make notes on it. To extend their skills, they examine seven different note-taking methods, such as tree diagrams, columns, tables, and a timeline. Next, they listen to five lectures and practise note-taking. They then compare their notes with model notes provided and reconstruct one of the five lectures in pairs, based on the model notes.

Reading and writing skills: many of the reading texts are of the genre you might find in a Public Relations coursebook. These complement the listening texts in providing a general introduction to PR. Others are academic texts, e.g. excerpts from published case studies and journal articles. Again, an integrated skills approach is taken, to good effect, with reading leading to academic writing skills. For example, students examine topic sentences in a text and identify their function in indicating what is coming in the rest of the paragraph. They then practise writing their own topic sentences to help them to structure their writing. Other useful skills include comparing essay types, learning to recognise a writer’s stance, leading to building an argument. Writing introductions and conclusions, presenting findings, quoting, and writing a bibliography are also practised briefly. Extension work may be needed.

Vocabulary and skills banks: these are provided at the end of each unit. They are intended to provide a summary of the unit content, but I found they often introduced additional material. I was pleased to note the skills bank touched on linguistic pragmatics related to lecturer/student relations, e.g. how to ask the lecturer questions in a polite or tentative way: “I wonder if you could repeat x, y, z.” How delightful. Student/student relations are also addressed with expressions provided to help smooth communication in groupwork, e.g. agreeing and disagreeing. 

Introduction to research: the topic of conducting research is threaded through the course, touching on quantitative and qualitative methods and data collection techniques. Students are also given a little practice in reporting on research findings, evaluating internet search results, and reporting findings from other sources. If required, further extension activities could be offered to provide additional practice in these skills.

Recommendation: I find this course very well designed, and would recommend it to help Business students develop good study skills as well as vocabulary building skills. With regard to the Public Relations topic itself, few business students in Switzerland study this subject alone at university. However, I find they are very interested in PR, not least as they constantly negotiate and renegotiate their private and professional public images via social media. I predict that the subject matter would draw them in and make the relatively dry subject of academic skills more attractive to them.

Margaret Oertig