New Headway Advanced
The various editions of Headway are "probably the most popular course ever written", so it's always interesting to see a new addition to the range come out. It is especially interesting this time as the "old" Headway Advanced was by far the least teachable component of the series, and is also the last to be replaced. In fact, a second edition of New Headway Intermediate had already come out before this. So, did John and Liz Soars realize they couldn't write and Advanced book and avoid it as long as possible until forced to by the publishers? Read on and find out!
When I first opened the book and started looking through, I was instantly interested in some of the texts, such as the reading on immigrants to Ellis Island in Unit 1 or on vastly contrasting islands in Unit 11. This could be because it is so long since I've seen a British Sunday newspaper, which is where the texts mainly seem to come from. Ditto with the BBC World Service and BBC Radio 4 perhaps, because reaching the end of the book I found the tapescripts (such as an eyewitness account of 9/11 and an interview about pilgrims to Lourdes) more interesting still. My students' reaction to the texts we used was somewhat similar to mine, in that they found the topics of the listenings more interesting than the readings. They also found the editorial-style "opinion piece" articles (e.g. The Cult of Celebrity) the least stimulating. The main problem my students had with the listenings was that they were over-long. They are lengthy compared to Proficiency-level textbooks and even compared to exam texts- one tapescript takes up nearly a whole page! The reading texts were also fairly long and complex (none of them are simplified in any way), but the initial reading tasks are well enough set up that students can read through quickly and ignore most of the difficult language. The main problem my classes had with some of the reading texts was that they completely lacked the requisite cultural knowledge. My Japanese students were completely unaware of the existence of Iris Murdoch, for example, and nothing about the article gave them any reason to care. The same was somewhat true of the listening on the Christmas truce during the First World War (the only text that has been kept from the old edition) and the listening on Anita Roddick of Body Shop. These are only some examples of how surpringly Anglocentric the book is. Another is the fact that when it eventually mentions American English, it does so in a very patronizing way.
Despite the massive improvement in appearance and the almost complete change in topics compared to the old edition of Headway Advanced, the greatest change in this new edition is in how much time and effort is given in the book to the presentation and practise of language. Where the old book often seemed simply like a skills book with the occasional language point (often unrelated to the rest of the unit), this book fully exploits the texts for language work. Along with grammar often dealt with in Advanced-level books and exams, such as "relatives and participles" and "adjective order", there are points usually done at proficiency level, e.g. "ways of adding emphasis", and things I have never seen covered as thoroughly as here such as "distancing the facts", "adverb collocation", "euphemisms" and "avoiding repetition". All in all, something that will keep a student challenged, however high their level. And therein lies the problem for my students, who do not especially feel they need to be pushed into new areas such as this, or that they need to be able to cope with the totally unfamiliar world of British tabloids when they spend most of their time communicating with other non-native speakers or reading locally-produced English-language publications. They also found that many of the topics they were asked to talk about and debate were not things they had much to say about (e.g. the role of sport in the modern world). Whilst extremely high level learners and exam students can be told that they have to learn to talk about such things, most of my post-Upper Intermediate level learners still find more than enough challenge and new vocabulary involved in talking about topics they would naturally talk about in their own language.
I would recommend this book for students who have already passed a high level exam such as Cambridge Advanced, ToEFL or IELTS and want something that is going to keep pushing them and introduces them to something "novel" in each unit. It is especially suitable for students studying in the UK or whose interest in things British is partly what it motivating them to study. For such classes, the Students' Book is supplemented by many well-written and useful components: such as the Teacher's Book, photocopiable Teacher's Resource Book, writing file at the back of the students' book and Workbook- all of which adds up to a very flexible and teachable course. For students who are moving straight on from an Upper Intermediate course, or who have had no exposure to ungraded texts in English, using "a challenge" to describe this book would be a euphemism for something else.*
*"impossible"Alex Case has worked as an EFL Teacher, Teacher Trainer, Director of Studies and EFL Editor in Turkey, Thailand, Spain, Greece, the UK and Japan. Alex Case is Reviews Editor of TEFL.net.