Learning to Teach English

Title: Learning to Teach English
Author: Peter Watkins
Publisher: Delta Publishing
Reviewed by: Carmen Pilar Serrano Boyer
Review date: May 2005

Learning to Teach EnglishLearning to Teach English, published in February 2005, is a commendable new title from Delta Publishing. The author of this useful book, Peter Watkins, highlights two facts:

  • not everybody can become an English teacher (despite their fluency in the English language, English teachers should master a number of specific skills; some of them will sooner or later be learned by novices to the language teaching profession)
  • language teachers need to update their knowledge about issues related to the target language, methodology and so forth

As an EFL teacher I have always read this type of publication with some kind of curiosity and a number of questions in mind: 'Am I doing the right thing?', 'How can I improve my way of teaching English?', etc. In this case the book is supposed to be aimed at a special audience: people with little or no teaching experience. Nevertheless I am sure every teacher, novice or not, can get plenty of really helpful ideas as well as multiple perspectives and recommendations from Peter Watkins' 144-page book.

This practical book contains 18 easy-to-follow chapters. Each one is divided into three sections: theory and activities or questions, a brief summary and lastly what the author calls "commentary", which provides answers to the questions or activities in the chapter and sometimes even further information. Every chapter in the book deals with a different topic, though they could be grouped as follows:

  • Chapters 1 and 2 focus on the nature of language, how it is usually learned and taught, as well as the roles of teachers and learners.
  • Chapter 3 centres on classroom management and discipline; though the author makes clear that "this book is designed to help people who want to become teachers of English to adults" (p. 4) and, obviously, discipline "is not usually a problem with most groups of adult learners" (p. 22). Were the reader a primary or secondary-school teacher, s/he would have to look for more detailed advice somewhere else.
  • Chapters 4-7 deal with teaching vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation.
  • Chapters 8-11 are devoted to the four skills: reading, listening, writing and speaking.
  • Chapter 12 covers fluency and accuracy, as well as how to develop these two abilities.
  • Chapters 13-15 concentrate on correcting students, learners' independence and learner variation (age, learning styles, etc).
  • Finally, chapters 16-18 include advice on lesson planning, teaching ESOL and the importance of professional development.

Unlike many other authors, Peter Watkins puts himself in the place of a novice English teacher and does his best in summarizing basic teaching techniques, common problems and possible solutions to those problems.

A minor drawback might be the fact that the future or novice English teacher might feel overwhelmed by so many questions, but I am sure it is one of the strategies used by the author as a way to guide new language teachers to think about different issues that will be challenging in their professional life.

From the first pages of the book it is clear that Peter Watkins is trying to describe "a way to teach, not the way to teach" (p.5); this means that there is not only one way to teach a language and, obviously, the teachers can or will have to change and adapt the advice given in the book to the different circumstances they will come across.

The book also contains 4 useful appendices entitled "Basic grammar terminology", "Verb forms and their common uses", "Phonemes of English" and "Materials for use with example lesson plans".

Had the author included an index and a bibliography section, it would have been beneficial for those people interested in going on to read more. The addition of an index would have been a minor effort on the part of the author compared to the enormous amount of help it could have provided readers. Taking into account that this is a book for newcomers to the teaching profession, Peter Watkins could have offered wider advice on instructional materials or even resource lists.

All things considered, Learning to Teach English is a really enlightening work. I certainly appreciated the author's effort to make the book accessible to the new English teacher and yet still a useful resource for the experienced one. This comprehensible book is written in easy-to-understand, jargon-free language.

I strongly recommend other EFL colleagues to read Learning to Teach English.

TEFL.net ESL Reviews & ArticlesCarmen-Pilar Serrano-Boyer is an English teacher at IES Torreón del Alcázar, a state secondary school in Ciudad Real, Spain.