An A-Z of ELT

Title: An A-Z of ELT
Author: Scott Thornbury
Publisher: Macmillan
Components: Teacher's resource book
Reviewed by: Dax Thomas
Review date: January 2008
Summary: An ELT dictionary that is more than just a reference book, Thornbury's An A-Z of ELT is practical, readable and an excellent addition to the collection of any ESL/EFL teacher.

An A-Z of ELTThis new teacher's reference book by Scott Thornbury is worthy of a place on the book shelf of any language teacher, veteran and beginner alike. For veterans, the book is an excellent reference. For beginners, it's also a resource book, going beyond mere dictionary definitions and offering a number of useful tips and suggestions for actual teaching situations.

As dictionaries go, it's slim when held up against its more weighty applied linguistics brethren -- compare its 376 entries to the nearly 3000 entries of Longman's Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics, and you might find yourself doubting its value. However, readers will find that it fleshes out many of the areas that the Longman's does not, and in many ways it is a much more useful reference to the "in the trenches" teacher.

Firstly, being written entirely with the ESL/EFL teacher in mind, it focuses on terms relating directly to life in the classroom. So while not completely devoid of theory (it mentions Chomsky and Krashen, for example) it sticks mainly to the practical elements of classroom teaching. This means that you get entries on topics like: dialogue, culture, drama, feedback, memorization, mixed ability classes, one-to-one teaching, and substitution tables.In nearly every entry in this book you can count on the author to "take it to the classroom" with teaching suggestions and advice on how the entry relates to real teaching situations. It is perhaps this feature that makes this book so valuable to the beginner.

Secondly, each entry is tagged with one of twelve different classification subheadings. These include: discourse/pragmatics, functions/notions, grammar, linguistics, phonology, sociolinguistics, vocabulary, psychology/psycholinguistics, SLA, methodology, professional development, and testing. This system allows the reader to scan the page and quickly "sort" the entries according to interest, thus greatly adding to the readability of the book and pushing it further along the cline away from "dictionary proper" towards "full-fledged resource book".

Finally, where other dictionaries include entries mainly on grammar, lexis, SLA and other traditional features of language teaching, Thornbury's book adds something new and useful to the ELT training literature by also including entries for commonly taught functions/notions. Some of these functional/notional entries include: offering, permission, requesting, comparison, futurity, hypothetical meaning, information exchanging, possibility, and warning.

There's not much to complain about in this book, but the careful reader might notice a slightly "European" leaning where a more global perspective would have been desirable. This is particularly noticeable in any of the commentaries relating to standardised language testing. Specifically, the Common European Framework (CEF) test is allotted one entire entry of its own and is mentioned frequently throughout the book. Its entry also includes detailed references to both ALTE and Cambridge ESOL (both European-based tests). This is in stark contrast to the other, non-European-focused, tests such as TOEFL (one passing reference in the entire book) and TOEIC (not mentioned at all).

Another area that should have been given more attention is references. While the author does explicitly state that he tried to keep citations to a minimum, this is something of a disservice to those of his readers who might like a find out more about a specific topic. Relegating references to endnotes is a common tactic for writers wishing to be friendly to the lay person. Perhaps that technique could have been used here.

Having said that though, the value of what's in the book far, far outweighs what has been left out, and overall, this is a useful addition to any ESL/EFL teacher's resource/reference collection, even more so to those just starting out on their teaching adventure. It's sharp, very readable and, above all, practical.

TEFL.net ESL Reviews & ArticlesDax Thomas