How To Teach English

Title: How To Teach English
Author: Jeremy Harmer
Publisher: Pearson Education
Reviewed by: Jesus Garcia Laborda
Review date: June 2007
Summary: Language teaching skills and methodology book not only for teacher trainees who are either studying or beginning but also for practitioners who want to improve their teaching skills

How To Teach English When I first saw that there was a new edition of How To Teach English two main thoughts came to my mind: "Would there be anything new?" and "Why another edition?" When I opened the book I noticed that there was a DVD. That was something extra that I was not expecting but I thought would certainly enhance the already positive values of the book. The DVD was from a language school in England and was about how the classes were taught and how teachers managed themselves in the classroom. But, can you imagine my surprise when I saw one of my own students in the scenes recorded in class? Anecdotes apart, this DVD is a great and welcome extra that will be addressed later in this review.

The How To...Series by Longman is mainly aimed at new teachers who may either be in college or beginning their professional careers. However, I have found that this series also includes a large amount of material that may be either new to or forgotten by even experienced practitioners (Garcia Laborda, 2007). How To Teach English also provides ideas and activities for English Language Teaching (ELT) practitioners who may be interested in revising or questioning their own classroom ways and processes. Thus, this is a reader-friendly book written in a reflexive but informative register, that is full of strategies, well documented and easy to follow. The book can be used in the language teaching training situation or can be used for self-study. This was also a feature that could be found in the preceding edition (Harmer, 1998). The book is also well balanced between theory and practice, and theory is presented in a very simple way so that, except on a few occasions, it can be easily understood and inferred by the reader. Rather than giving a lesson, Harmer presents basic information about the key issues in language teaching that can influence any reader.

Overall, the book can be divided into three parts: fundamentals in language acquisition (chapters 1-5), teaching language skills (chapters 6-9), and considerations in language management (chapters 10-14). After these theory-based chapters, Harmer proposes a number of tasks for people reading the book to try (including the solutions) and a set of tasks based on the DVD recordings. Additionally, the book includes four appendices (classroom equipment, interesting organisations and websites in the field, suggestions for further readings and phonemic symbols). The last two parts are a (quite useful) glossary and the index of the book.

The theoretical information is provided in two different ways: as a whole (chapters 1-5) and at the beginning of each practical chapter. Chapters 1 to 5 illustrate topics such as the learners, the teachers, classroom management, theories of language learning, and language teaching and language description. Chapter 1 addresses the topic of learners and includes topics like reasons for learning, learner differences, motivation and responsibility of learning. Chapter 2 presents the main features of good teachers, stressing the idea that being a good teacher can be something "natural" (almost genetic) for some but also stating that training and practice refinement can play a crucial role for the rest (most of us, in fact). Harmer stresses the features that can be valuable in ELT like rapport, teaching skills, language knowledge, classroom management and more. He even wonders if ELT is "art or science" in the sense of whether teachers are born to be good teachers or they become so through constant training, personal learning and professional experience (p. 32-33). Chapter 3 provides information about classroom management, including the role of the teacher, using the voice, talking to the students, giving instructions, using the student's first language in the classroom, and classroom seating and grouping arrangements. Chapter 4 describes elements and processes of language acquisition, language methodology and ideas about how to sequence the lessons and planning. Chapter 5 refers to the ideas of meaning in language, the relationship between forms and speech, discourse, language functions and markers. As opposed to Dickey, who believes that these first chapters were fairly standard in the previous edition, I would say that this text offers a good opportunity for those who may lack the knowledge in the field of language acquisition or applied linguistics to learn about these unavoidable factors that also influence language teaching.

The second part of the book (chapters 7-10) includes ideas about teaching the four traditional skills: reading (chapter 7), writing (chapter 8), speaking (chapter 9) and listening (chapter 10). The third part deals with classroom management: using course books (chapter 11), planning lessons (chapter 12), a remarkable and exhaustive chapter on testing (13) and a brilliant chapter on special difficulties (chapter 14). The last includes issues such as mixed ability and large classes, use of L1 in the classroom, effects of and need for homework, cooperative language learning, classroom behaviour and classroom dynamics, including early finishers.

Each chapter presents the same structure: learning goals, introduction, methodology or theory and some examples to guide the activities suggested later in the book. Also, every chapter concludes with a summary of the key issues in each chapter.

I certainly agree to some extent with Dickey that the author, who positions himself in the post-method era, ignores in most content chapters his own list of elements of successful language learning (pp. 51-53). However, I disagree with Dickey that these chapters necessarily need to address this theory because these elements (Engage, Study, Activate) are only ideal elements to implement any teaching model or teacher's action. Thus, the chapters and content can be independently explained and presented.

Moving on to the DVD, as I pointed out at the beginning of this review, in my opinion it is a valuable asset. Indeed, the recordings plus the activities especially designed to be used with it are enough reason in themselves to buy this book. Traditionally, videos of this type have been sold independently from the book. In this case, however, this component enhances the value of the book since the reader can now see real examples of what is suggested in the readings. The contents include: student level (related to mixed ability classes), the teacher in the classroom (how they move and sit while teaching the lesson), giving instructions, grouping, seat arrangements, teaching vocabulary, reading in the classroom, speaking tasks, beginning the lesson and games. Each section begins with what Harmer calls the "classroom sequence", which is set and recorded in a real class in which the viewer sees segments of classes taught by the different teachers who collaborate in the video. This is followed by explanations given by the same teachers or interviews with Harmer in which they analyse the teachers' and students' actions and responses. The DVD can be watched with or without subtitles. Those who watch the video will then be able to proceed to the activities presented. In my opinion, these activities are fairly few, so teacher trainers might need to prepare their own activities to complement those in the book.

Overall, the book will be useful both for trainees but, just as important, also for active teachers who want to reflect on their own practice. As opposed to previous versions, the DVD gives the opportunity for most readers to really experience what they are reading about. Of course, the recordings are set in an ideal language school (most likely in the UK) but nevertheless most topics are real and practical.

In conclusion, readers will find excellent materials both for reflection and new learning. In this sense, those readers of the previous editions will certainly enjoy this even more. How To Teach English certainly deserves a space among the most attractive ELT books in the field of teacher training.

References

  • Dickey, Robert J. Review of How to Teach English - ELT News, retrieved on May, 16, 2007 from http://www.eltnews.com/features/eltbooks/001.shtml
  • Garcia Laborda, J. (2007) Review of How to Teach for Exams: Sally Burgess and Katie Head, TESOL Quarterly, 41 (1): 209-211.
  • Harmer, J. (1998) How To Teach English. Harlow: Longman.

TEFL.net ESL Reviews & ArticlesJesus Garcia Laborda, Polytechnic University of Valencia, Spain