Handshake: a course in communication
Peter Viney and Karen Viney
Oxford University Press
This book fits neatly into the space that exists in (Business) English teaching materials between the general 'theme based' type course books covering issues such as marketing, team-building, management styles etc. on the one hand and functional/skill based materials, such as presenting, negotiating, meetings etc. on the other hand.
It does this by using 'communication skills' rather than structures of functions as the basis for the syllabus. Combined with a learning awareness raising approach, the aim is to get students thinking about all aspects of communicating and, through a wide range of hands-on activities, doing it. There is little explicit grammar work in the main part of each unit, although it does have an underlying graded structural content and each of the eight units has a language focus section at the end dealing briefly with specific grammar topics. It also introduces a limited amount of new vocabulary around the functional themes used to develop each communication skill. There is no attempt at balanced use of all the language skills, the focus being clearly on oral communication, to the almost complete exclusion of writing.
Who is it for? The target users are low-level, roughly pre-intermediate, adults in work situations and it would be suitable for a wide range of classes, not just Business English situations, but anywhere that a focus on active communications is needed. It would suit learners who would benefit from a fresh approach to the language, rather then simply progressing up the ladder of language levels.
It is ambitious in introducing a whole range of elements of communication skills and strategies that are normally only found at higher levels. For this reason, as well as the minimal grammar presentation, I think the book requires very careful use by teachers who are flexible and experienced enough to know how and when to supplement it. Because role-playing and improvisation are central to using Handshake, the guidance given in the teacher's book, interleaved with the students book pages, is essential and provides many ideas for fully exploiting the material.
Each unit is divided into 7-10 one or two page sections. For example Unit 1. Openings and Closings contains: Greetings; Culture questionnaire; Introducing yourself; Introductions; Introducing other people; Shaking hands; Re-introducing yourself; Forms of address; Starting a conversation; Asking questions; Closing a conversation. Much of the input material is cassette based, so considerable listening practice is provided.
It is full of interesting, varied and often amusing texts and dialogues and, providing students realise it is not a traditional grammar course, it can provide a lot of stimulating language practice.
Reviewer: Chris Murray, Business English Teacher, British Council, Prague