In English Starter
English Teacher, July 2004
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Book I've Used
Viney name on this course is an obvious attraction, bringing with
it the promise of the humour of the Grapevine series, and
the user-friendliness of the Streamline books. The fact
that it's at starter level is also an attraction, as we've been
looking for an alternative to our current starter level books for
in Bangkok we have what can be called “false beginners” with real
conviction. They are not beginners at all. In fact many of them
have been studying English at school and / or university for a number
of years. Unfortunately for them, the Thai school system is terribly
underfunded and they have been struggling in a class with about
sixty other kids and a teacher with no real ELT training.
is making a real effort to remedy this, and education is high on
the list of government priorities, as is improving the quality of
English language teaching in the country. However, there are still
a lot of young adults who have a real desire to communicate in English,
but who have failed to make much progress under the school system.
of the main problems that we have come across is that students have
been exposed to quite a bit of English on the page, but have almost
no idea how it sounds in real life, which means that not only do
they find it difficult to understand spoken English but they are
often unable to pronounce English intelligibly.
therefore, in choosing a new starter coursebook, thorough listening
and pronunciation work was an essential component. We had other
criteria, too. Some derived from teachers, some from students, such
as colourful pictures, fun activities, modern interesting topics,
realistic contexts, and a lack of Eurocentrism.
starter level has a pocket-sized Student's Book, and a pack containing
the Vocabulary Practice Book, Grammar Practice Book and Student's
CD, and a red plastic ‘test yourself tool' for use with the Vocabulary
Practice Book. This is a transparent plastic square, which makes
words disappear when you put it over them.
Teacher's Book has 30 photocopiable practice activities at the back,
and photocopiable teacher's notes. Many of these are unusual and
fun. For example, number and letter practice consists of a mobile
phone, a computer keyboard and a calculator with blank keys so that
students can work together labelling with letters and numbers. Quite
tricky, actually. It really got my classes going, and rivalry was
authors say they have taken into account three important issues
in the book: the students' need for progress, their desire for completion
and the need to avoid overload. This really ties in with our priorities.
It is very discouraging for someone who has been studying English
for at least five years to take a placement test and be told that
they need to start at the lowest level offered. We need to show
them that this time it is different.
ensure rapid progress, this course leaves some deliberate holes
in the syllabus which will be picked up at later levels. The assumption
is that students want to get far enough into the syllabus to reach
the past tense. However, these areas have been deliberately avoided:
a full account of countable and uncountable nouns, frequency adverbs,
adverbs of manner and possessive pronouns. Personally speaking,
I approve of this.
with regard to some and any, In English makes
it clear that Would you like some wine? is an offer not
a question. The book is also good about teaching I'd like …
before I like … to stop students saying Do you
like a coffee?
feature of the course design is the desire to avoid splitting language
items into unnatural chunks, e.g. I, you, we, they in one
unit, and he, she, it in the next. As they point out, this
leads to silly situations in the classroom with the teacher unnaturally
avoiding the 3rd person. They think that students can't wait to
get the whole picture, so, for the same reason, they introduce affirmative,
negative and question forms together. I've used the book with two
classes during the trial, and colleagues have used it with other
classes. None of them seemed overloaded or confused because of these
listening and pronunciation were so high on our list of priorities,
we liked the audio exercises in the Grammar Practice Book. The student
is given the cue on tape, e.g. some water , and prompted
to say I'd like some water. This is then modelled on the
tape. One student enthusiastically put the CD in his Walkman and
carried it about.
students have very little opportunity to interact with native speakers
outside the classroom and they found the CD a very manageable aid
to pronunciation work in their free time.
recordings have a reasonable range of accents, and are spoken at
the lower end of natural speed. They are quite short, as you would
expect, and are often quite funny, which students appreciated.
particularly liked the picture dictionary in the Vocabulary Practice
Book. The pictures are bright colour photographs, not the dodgy
drawings you sometimes get, where even the teacher can't tell if
it's meant to be a potato or an egg. Some of our students, who are
usually reluctant to study at home, liked the look of the book and
said it encouraged them to study more often. A big plus. The context
of all the photographs is modern and recognisable to Thai students,
or at least our city dwellers. There are also photos of Asians looking
cool and fashionable, just like the self image of our students in
the time of the trial in Bangkok, only the Starter Level of the
series was available, but the Elementary has now come out, although
I have not yet seen a copy of the Student's Book. I cannot report
that we have chosen to adopt the course, as we are still trialling.
However, I am very impressed with it, and strongly supportive of
the aims of the authors. In my view, it is the best of the Starter
Level books we have trialled so far.
Audrey Aitken is the Head of Adult
English Programmes at The British Council, Bangkok. She has wide-ranging
experience in teaching and teacher-training in Asia and the Middle