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Second Language Teaching & Learning

David Nunan
Heinle & Heinle, 1999
Pp. vi + 330

Reviewed by :

Robert J. Dickey
Kyongju University, Korea

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A book for real teachers
Far too many "Teach English" books tell us about the ideal, what we should strive for, without the dust and dirt of a real EFL classroom. Sure, they may include glimpses of learners (most often in pristine US or UK ESL settings), but these are often prototypical facsimiles of students, producing predictable errors. David Nunan's "Second Language Teaching & Learning" takes us into the real world faced by real teachers of English in EFL settings. It is all the more valuable to us in Asia, because we too teach students who aren't surrounded by English, who don't need English to survive.

Books that balance and integrate theory with practice are, unfortunately, rather less common than we would wish. Here we see that the ideal does exist.

Not Shy
Many of us have heard Nunan speak at conferences. His approach rings throughout this book — he is not afraid to identify where he differs from others. The book often includes "first person I" statements, which can be a bit disconcerting at first. You know, "scholarship isn't written like this." This orientation is hinted at in the introduction, where Nunan advises that "this is a personal account... [it] reflects my own struggles... and illustrates the practical solutions I have sought to the challenges posed by my learners." But you'll come to appreciate the personal nature of this discussion when Nunan introduces his classes and students, with all their flaws and peculiarities. That includes student comments that could be construed as less positive.

There comes a time (especially during the summer) when I've read enough theory. There are, of course, plenty of "photocopiables" and "survival tips" books out there, we have even reviewed a few in this column, but they have limited scope beyond the specifics they offer. Books that balance and integrate theory with practice are, unfortunately, rather less common than we would wish. Here we see that the ideal does exist. Most readers would agree that Nunan has done an excellent job in weaving theory and classroom realities throughout the book, particularly in Chapter 5 (Focus on the learner).

Unlike many texts, Second Language Teaching & Learning offers both opening and closing outlines for each chapter. Of still greater interest, the closing outlines are "concept maps." These could be really useful for those with that type of learning style, though it isn't mine. More importantly, Nunan is integrating one of his "teaching points" into his product, an approach that is unfortunately rare. (Consider the classic saying "Do as I say, not as I do," and how it often applies to books on teaching!) There are also references at the end of each chapter (though there is not a compiled list at the end of the book), and the inevitable questions/tasks for readers. The index at the back of the book is useful, the glossary very much so. Interestingly, the index points to both the in-text introduction of a term, and the glossary listing—this is a very useful feature.

Three major sections organize the presentation: the first three chapters are more theoretical, "setting the table" as it were. Part II ties learning theories to language learning realities. And chapters 7 - 10 are discuss the discrete skills in language: listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

There are lots of neat ideas we can apply in our classes scattered throughout the text. The book is filled with examples from classroom textbooks, and even if you find some of those student exercises to be uninteresting, they are, at least, concrete examples of the concept under discussion. I particularly like the learning styles worksheets for students in Chapters 5, 6, and the appendix, several of which I intend to use next semester. Teaching the four skills are dealt with in some detail, this is roughly 1/3 of the text. Teachers will finish each of the chapters in this book with new ideas to try: perhaps specific tasks for learners, but also general pedagogical concepts to reorient themselves as teachers.

I began the book with some trepidation: it is a required text in many graduate school programs. Chapters 1 and 2 cover ground that many books address, and can be a slow start for more well-read teachers. Things take off with Chapter 3, Nunan presents things interestingly and clearly throughout. If you are skimming or scanning the text in your bookstore, be sure to spend some time in the middle chapters. These will convince you that this is a book you'll want to read.

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