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More than a Native Speaker An Introduction for Volunteers Teaching English Abroad

Don Snow
TESOL Inc., 1996
pp. 322


Reviewed by :

Robert J. Dickey
Kyongju University, Korea

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A first guide
Many of us entered the profession of teaching English with little or no formal preparation, and no long-term plan. No doubt some of the readers of ELT News are in their first or second year of teaching, or even yet to teach a first class. Fear not, there is a survival guide for you!

Ideal to help in preparation prior to leaving the home country, it is also an excellent choice as a first guide once in country.

Teacher as Learner
The subtitle to this book pretty well sums up the design. The main title describes the aim, though novices to EFL might not recognize the implication. Noted scholar and author Jack Richards has stated on numerous occasions that many native-speaker of English teachers in EFL settings are viewed as not much more than a "walking tape recorder" that spews out "good English" on command. Thus, the aim of Don Snow's book is to be "More than a Native Speaker."

Although many native speakers come to EFL settings for a decent wage, rather than as "pure" volunteers, the setting is often essentially the same, and the basic qualifications much the same. Snow's book serves as a solid introduction for those with no teaching background, no teaching qualification, no overseas experience -- or any one of these. Ideal to help in preparation prior to leaving the home country, it is also an excellent choice as a first guide once in country.

The setting
Snow is upfront - most of his own experience was in Asia, particularly Taiwan and China. Many of his examples come from that setting, which is ideal for those of us working in Asia. His first job was in the Taipei YMCA, with only a chalkboard, and textbooks he didn't like. Sound familiar? His teaching approach is unashamedly communicative, and he discusses many situations where a native speaker would need to tread carefully in interactions with local teachers of English who may be more comfortable with other teaching approaches. This guidance is important: too many teachers have fallen into disrepute because of troubles with indigenous faculty.

The book suggests a teacher orient his work towards a student's "breakthrough point," where he will become a self-motivated learner through ability to actually use any one of the basic language skills for a useful or rewarding purpose.

More than a Native Speaker avoids the acronyms and jargon in EFL, and declares on page two that the book is a "practical introduction to the range of issues involved in learning to teach English abroad rather than a scholarly introduction to the language teaching profession as a whole." I think Snow has rather overshot his target, however, and the book would be more useful were it to incorporate a few more references and buzzwords (perhaps as footnotes). Books to consider taking with you (Appendix C) includes rather nice summaries of those titles, and augmented with the References section, forms a good reading list for those with interest. Still, an index would be nice.

Each chapter in the book discusses different areas of concern for teachers, and will be very helpful to teachers facing situations such as "how to teach writing."

The Competition
This book is about 7 years old, rather dated for ELT, and references are still older. While the general situation is still current, other titles have come along since that seem to narrow the playing field. As but two examples:

Riddell's Teaching English as a Foreign/Second Language is very much in the popular press "teach yourself" vein. As a pocket-sized paperback (279 pages), it's the kind of friendly read one could race through on a sleepy trans-pacific flight. Filled with the buzzwords from Teacher Certificate courses and ELT conferences, it doesn't really prepare a teacher for anything other than coffee-machine chats. But after some weeks of experience, its checklists could help one discover what has gone wrong.

Baker and Westrup's The English Language Teacher's Handbook goes in the opposite direction by providing specific activities, and more importantly, the rationale and method of developing similar activities. Interestingly, this VSO book allows for free or "at cost" unlimited copies of any parts of the book, provided the copies are made available free of charge. However, there isn't that much one would want to copy, and for lesson design it recommends the old PPP (presentation-practice-production) method, which is no longer the key framework for most teachers.

More than language
The chapter on Living Abroad, and indeed the general nature of the book, is very much oriented to fitting in and becoming comfortable in the "host culture." Far too many teachers try to maintain a homeland bubble, and miss out on one of the chief benefits of living abroad.

Culture is very much a theme of the book, and the chapter on Teaching Culture is basically an amplification of much that is said or inferred in earlier pages. These things ought to be said, and one of the examples makes it clear -- students should read "The Tortoise and the Hare" rather than "Harold the Lazy Badger" simply because the former offers insights to the western culture that the latter does not.

Final Grade
Experienced teachers holding advanced degrees in ELT won't get much out of this, but those newer to the field can find a number of insights within. An excellent choice for a school that hires "new teachers."


References

  • Baker, J. & Westrup, H. (2000). The English Language Teacher's Handbook. VSO/Continuum.
  • Riddell, D. (2001). Teaching English as a Foreign/Second Language. Teach Yourself Books.



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