Where teachers meet and learn

The Oxford ESOL Handbook

Book Review: ETAS Journal Volume 30 No. 1 Winter 2012                                                               

Philida Schellekens                                                   

Oxford University Press (2007)

ISBN 978-0-19-442281-9     

236 pages

This handbook provides an overview of TESOL teaching for new teachers and their trainers and is simultaneously a reference work for experienced TESOL teachers. It comprises eight chapters (each ending with annotated suggestions for further reading), a brief glossary, a full bibliography, and an index. This practical guide is written for teachers tutoring people who are settling permanently in English-speaking countries. Despite the fact that the book is UK-centered, it provides a lot of internationally valid information and globally applicable contents. The English language needs of migrants and refugees are complex because this clientele has a great variety of skills, countries of origin, first languages, and individual characteristics. Given that, it is both exciting and demanding to work with students for whom English is their second or third language.

For Schellekens, promoting the development of language skills requires the teacher to create opportunities for learning which are based on observation and language analysis. Therefore, she favors teachers who reflect on the language use of their learners. The classroom activities, which she explains and discusses in her companion handbook, are designed for the acquisition and practice of everyday English that enables the language learners to function in their new environment. This includes finding friends and work. In the opinion of Schellekens, it is crucial that students learn not only from the teacher but also from each other, for example, in pair or groupwork, or when they compare each other’s, scripts.

She recommends looking at language from the perspective of word, sentence, and text level. Specific advice, approaches, and strategies for teaching problem areas in English are provided. There is reference to recent research and discussion of specific techniques. When using case studies, the author helpfully explains step by step how a good result has been achieved and, thus, can be repeated. Schellekens considers grammar, the way language is organized, to be primarily a tool for the teacher to observe and describe language when teaching or preparing lessons. Yet teaching verb tenses (how the concept of time is expressed in English) is important because the tenses carry meaning. She argues convincingly that the successful acquisition and the correct use of new vocabulary is mainly about learning collocations and word strings. She emphasizes that language cannot and should not only be analyzed in terms of grammar and vocabulary or lexis, but also in terms of function and pragmatics. She advocates individual learning plans also for groups.

The handbook also instructs profitably on aspects of learning management including lesson planning, giving feedback, and conducting assessment and evaluation. In addition to treating standard themes such as listening and reading for detail and gist, the section on the four skills also explores the development of skills that underpin communication and comprehension such as being able to individuate words in listening exercises (lexical segmentation).

Ruth Burch