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How to Teach English

Jeremy Harmer
Longman ELT, 1998
Pp. x + 198


Reviewed by :

Robert J. Dickey
Kyongju University, Korea

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This book is for new or entry-level teachers, quite fitting for the first book to be reviewed in this new ELT News column. The focus of this column will be on teacher manuals, references, and teaching support materials (such as classroom supplementals).

Teacher Training
Sooner or later, most EFL practitioners study Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language. In fact, unlike in East Asia, in most areas of Europe and Africa, a recognized TEFL certificate is required, most preferably a 120 hour 'Trinity' or 'Cambridge/RSA/UCLES' certificate. Understandably, book publishers have developed trainee textbooks for these courses. How to Teach English is one such book and Harmer's is among the most current books oriented to the new CELTA and Cert-TESOL.

Self-Study Friendly
Unlike some of the other entry-level training books, Harmer's text is conducive to self-study outside of a formal training program. Each chapter starts with a number of bullet points -- often questions -- which focus the reader before the first introductory words of each chapter are read. The conclusions for each chapter encapsulate the main points, however it might have been nice if they were designed to answer the questions posed in the opening bullets. Looking ahead, the last section of each chapter, builds a bridge to the next chapter by pointing out how they are tied, which helps pull the full book together.

Unlike James Scrivener's well known Learning Teaching (Heinemann, 1994), Harmer's work is not filled with worksheets, such as would be used in observing a class taught by a skilled teachers to identify various teaching and learning activities during a lesson. This book is rather more of a reader, though far from being a dry theoretical tome. It is written for the novice, perhaps without the support of a tutor, and so offers those same opening bullets along the margins of the text to help point out the focus of the discussion. These margins provide lots of room for notes too!

The tasks provided for the reader are very useful, similar to those offered in most teaching books of this type. Somewhat differently, however, they are all arranged in the back of the book as 'Task Files.' While this is a bit less convenient for one who just wants to work through the book, page i-198, these task are organized together because they are photocopiable!

Page by Page...
The first four chapters of How to Teach English are fairly standard: "How to be a good teacher," "How to be a good learner," "How to manage teaching and learning," and "How to describe teaching and learning." Harmer offers his own concept for facilitating learning in this fourth chapter: Engage, Study, and Activate (ESA). It allows for variation from the PPP and Test-Teach-Test doctrines, and seems particularly in-tune with the desires of Asian students. The steps aim to "arouse the students' interests," then "to focus on language (or information) and how it is constructed," and finally to have students "using language as freely and communicatively' as they can" (pp.25-26). Harmer also points out the many permutations of this system, to address the preferences of teachers, learners, and the nature of the learning points, proposing a "boomerang" method where students don't "study" until they show a need for it (similar to Test-Teach-Test).

Chapters 6-10 focus on teaching particular aspects of the "Study" component: Language, Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening. Appendix B offers ideas for further reading in these and all other units. Chapter 11, "How to use textbooks" discusses how to constructively deviate from a coursebook to maximize student learning, as well as how to choose a textbook. In both regards, Chapter 11 can be quite useful to experienced and highly trained teachers as well as novices.

Chapter 12's "How to plan lessons" has two significant problems, it does not spend enough time discussing and explaining a model lesson plan, and it comes rather late in the book. The model lesson plan included in the tasks file lacks indications of Harmer's own ESA method. "What if?," the final chapter, offers some quick tips for some of the recurring problems in teaching: if the class is too large, if the students won't speak, etc.

Summing Up
While it has numerous aspects that would be useful to any teacher, this book would be very useful for untrained teachers who have spent more than 6 months in the classroom and plan to continue in ELT. Non-native speakers will like this book as well. It makes no assumptions -- the language is direct, without the heavy jargon and lack of practicality that many graduate school texts are filled with. Also helpful is Appendix A "Equipment in the classroom," which offers a short reference to utilizing teaching aids, ranging from the chalkboard/whiteboard to computers and audio-visuals.



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