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Practical English Language Teaching

David Nunan, Ed.
McGraw-Hill/Contemporary, 2003
pp. ix +342

Reviewed by :

To the Profile PageRobert J. Dickey
Gyeongju University, Korea

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A language teaching primer
In this, the 30th ELT books review, we revisit an issue first raised in review #1 and revisited in review #21: initial ELT training program books. In Practical English Language Teaching, David Nunan ably demonstrates why he is the dean of teacher education authors/editors through a highly readable and enjoyable tour of what makes for good language pedagogy.

Organized like an MATESOL curriculum, each chapter is written by names we know discussing a single topic area concisely yet clearly.

A methodology-based design
Different from most other ELT training manuals, this book starts right in with substance and proceeds directly: no "why become a teacher" or the glorification of "your new career." Organized like an MATESOL curriculum, each chapter is written by names we know discussing a single topic area concisely yet clearly. Topic areas are an introduction to the concept of methodology, the four skills (listening / speaking / reading / writing), four language systems (pronunciation / vocabulary / grammar / discourse), and learning supports (content-based instruction / coursebooks / computer-assisted language learning / learning styles and strategies / learner autonomy / classroom-based assessment).

The clear advantage of such an approach is that it well-prepares teachers for further readings/studies in any single area of interest. Nunan has ensured that there are helpful cross-references between chapters, so the divisions are less artificial than might be feared.

Practical English Language Teaching (PELT) is quite a contrast from Scrivener (1994) or Hubbard et al (1983), which are much more oriented towards "teaching techniques" or Snow's (1996) "classroom survival," all of which plod slowly and surely from an assumption that a novice can hardly find the chalkboard to a level where the trainee can handle the next week's lessons (perhaps). Nunan's book is not about classroom tips and tricks, but about understanding what we do as English language teachers.

The mechanics
Each chapter is broken down into consistent sections: one page of 3-6 discrete learning goals, a brief introduction to the chapter, background to the topic area (a summary of the scholarly literature), principles for the topic area (general teaching aims), techniques and tasks (a few sample lesson activities), the topic area "in the classroom" (how this design affects the classroom environments), conclusion, further readings, useful websites, and references. Frequently these sections are subdivided further, which is something that makes the book easier to handle around interruptions and helps in analyzing where you've been. I like this design – for those who have some familiarity with a concept, they can skim one section and delve deeply into another.

Newly selected as the coursebook for the TEFL International certificate program, this book, like many other contemporary TEFL texts, has only one shortcoming for the self-study reader. Unlike Scrivener's book there are very few reflective/observational checklists and forms/rubrics for trainees. As most all organized training programs incorporate teaching observations, one must presume they prepare such materials as supplements. In this regard Harmer's (1998) book stands rather midway between Scrivener's workbook-like resources and PELT's overview of methodology.

Especially helpful
Unusual for a book of articles written by many famous names, this book hangs together very well. Chapters follow a similar design, but more than that, they "feel joined" while still allowing each author's own voice to come through. We learn why each author likes or dislikes a particular approach while fitting within the general trainee framework. Such constancy makes the transition from chapter to chapter much easier, yet gives each a special flavor.

PELT gets reflections and actions (tasks) right. Nunan is to be congratulated for a good balance, nicely mixed through the readings, rather than all dumped at chapter beginning and end as so many other books do. The websites listed at the end of each chapter are a great launching pad for all kinds of teacher work, and the in-text boldface ties in to a good glossary.

Closing Comments
Chapter 11 (coursebooks) gets my personal "hooray" for standing up for the rights of coursebooks... I did my initial TEFL certificate program back in the time where teachers were expected to pick and choose lessons from a dozen different coursebooks on hand (classroom sets). I'm tired of hearing "only unskilled or lazy teachers teach through a coursebook." Discourse (chapter 9) is another area that seldom gets much notice in initial teacher training materials, it's nice to see it get full coverage in Practical English Language Teaching.

Harmer, J. (1998). How to teach English. NY: Longman ELT.
Hubbard, P., Jones, H., Thornton, B., & Wheeler, R. (1983) A training course for TEFL. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Scrivener, J. (1994). Learning Teaching. Oxford: Heinneman.
Snow, D. (1996). More than a native speaker: An introduction for volunteers teaching English abroad. Alexandria, VA: TESOL Inc.

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