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Teaching English Through English

Jane Willis
Longman, 1981
pp. xvi +192

Reviewed by :

Robert J. Dickey
Kyongju University, Korea

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Choosing English
The underlying assumption in books of this type is that it is better to teach the "language" of English through the medium of English. This review does not attempt to argue the merits of using L1 (student's language) or L2 (a foreign language) ­ such a discussion merits hundreds of pages, and dozens of hours of discussion.

teaching English through English (TETE): "speaking and using English in the classroom as often as you possibly can"

Many do choose to use English to teach English, and others may have little choice in the matter (no fluency in the learner's first language, or edicts from authorities). This is the book for those who plan to teach English through English, even if not using English exclusively.

The lineup
Several books are available to the classroom teacher on this topic. Willis' book is over 20 years old, but is still widely available (now in the 20th printing). This in itself is a pretty good indicator of quality. Hughes' Handbook on Classroom English (Oxford, 1981) is a contemporary to the Willis book, is also still available, and tackles the issue in a somewhat different fashion.

Salaberri's Classroom Language (Heinemann, 1995) and Gardner & Gardner's Classroom English (Oxford, 2000) are thin workbooks designed more for inservice workshops ­ Salaberri's book is now available as a free download from This is by no means an exhaustive list, and many governmental units and teacher training organizations have developed their own materials. I'll argue here that, for what it does, Willis' book is best.

Practitioner focus
The issue goes far beyond a simplistic "local (non-native speaker of English) teachers should speak English more, and here is how to do it." Native-speaker of English teachers also would do well to study how to improve their communicating with students along with teaching through English. And even though Willis offers my favorite of all definitions of teaching English through English (TETE): "speaking and using English in the classroom as often as you possibly can," there really is a bit more to it than that. TETE demands that teachers teach, and learners learn, the curriculum through the medium of English. Challenge enough in any language! However, rather than lofty theory or judgemental directives, this book fulfills the premise of the opening sentence: "This is a practical training course for teachers or intending teachers…".

Praise before correction
I'll follow one of Willis' precepts here. This book does a number of things "right" for teachers. It is designed as a coursebook (with an accompanying cassette tape), and includes a brief note for course tutors. It includes an introductory unit for non-native speakers of English. It has lots of graphics, questions, and learning points, and the chapters are broken down into bite-sized functional sections. The language is reader-friendly, and the book overall is easy to work through.

On the other hand, in several ways this book is a bit out of the norm (though consistent with other titles in the Longman Handbooks for Teachers series). The type size is too small. There is an overuse of bold type on pages. The page size is too wide (so the book sticks out in your bookcase) and the paper is too thin. All this makes the book less convenient. The appendices are rather brief, and references are dated. A revised edition would certainly seem to be in order.

Superior overall
Those who haven't studied classroom discourse need to consider their teaching language. Additionally, many non-native speaker of English teachers lack confidence in their English conversational abilities, and therefore lack confidence in teaching in the TETE classroom. Willis' Teaching English Through English is the book for all these teachers. Although the book is "terribly British" in the language offered, the principle focus here is not on model sentences. Those can be found in Gardner & Gardner, Hughes, and Salaberri.

Willis provides us with numerous models of classroom events, and how they may be addressed. While largely based on the Presentation-Practice-Production teaching framework, the classroom extracts and scenarios provide a sense of the larger picture. This what makes the book invaluable. Furthermore, where language is offered, it is presented in a simple matrix that shows clearly how numerous options are available in developing an appropriate utterance.

This "coursebook" can definitely be used for self-study, or working in informal groups (even at a distance). Even those who have completed master's courses in teaching English and have been teaching for decades will find useful points within.

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