Total English Advanced

Title: Total English Advanced
Author: Students' book by JJ Wilson with Antonia Clare;
Teacher's Resource Book by Will Moreton;
Workbook by Antonia Clare and JJ Wilson
Publisher: Pearson Longman
Reviewed by: Christian Jones
Review date: July 2007
Summary: A very comprehensive package with clear aims, a clear format and familiar syllabus.

Total English AdvancedTotal English Advanced consists of a Students’ Book, Teacher’s Resource Book with Test Master CD- ROM Workbook with key and ‘Catch Up’ CD - ROM and DVD film bank.

Total English Advanced is the last part of a new general English textbook series, taking learners from A1 to C1 level on the Common European Framework (CEF) proficiency scales. For those less familiar with the CEF, this means that by the end of the advanced course, students are expected to possess the following skills:
‘Can understand a wide range of demanding longer texts and recognise implicit meaning. Can express himself/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes. Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on a wide range of subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.’1

The language focus and layout of this book will be familiar to most teachers. The syllabus is primarily grammar-based, with two main areas of focus within each unit. Alongside this, every unit contains lexical input, a reading and listening skills focus, a learner training tip, a language reference and a page of review. Units are based around a broad central topic, such as ‘nature’, ‘community’ and ‘issues’.

Total English has gone further than many materials I have seen in aligning itself to the CEF. Each book is mapped to a CEF level and each unit contains a clear ‘can do’ statement, which attempts to highlight how students can use the language covered in each unit. If we take an example from unit 2.1, the grammatical focus is on verb patterns but the ‘can do’ statement is ‘give advice/make recommendations’. This is reinforced by ‘how to’ boxes in each unit which contain lexical/functional exponents intended to support students in achieving the ‘can do’ aim. The CEF certainly has its critics and it can be hard to see how to apply it at times, but it does give learners clear pointers about what they can do with language and I think students will find its use here a helpful and motivating guide through the material. Measuring their own proficiency against the C1 criteria may also help learners to establish, for themselves, the areas of their language they need to further develop.

There are three other unique aspects to this textbook. The first is the inclusion of a DVD film bank with the student’s book. This consists of mainly documentary style sequences, on a range of topics such as the Soho area of London and Hollywood Icons, likely to be of interest to many learners. There are basic comprehension tasks for each sequence in the students’ book and these are accompanied in the teacher’s book by extra photcopiable worksheets with comprehension tasks and lessons plans, making them easy to use in class. Having a copy of the DVD means students can also review at home, helping them to revise and reinforce what they have learnt. As stand alone material, the film bank can also act as a useful source of comprehensible input.

The second unique aspect is the ‘Catch up’ CD - ROM, included with the workbook. This allows students to learn about, listen to and test themselves on lessons they may have missed. There is a valuable acknowledgement here that in many teaching situations lessons are missed and attendance can be unpredictable, given that many have to fit lessons into busy schedules. This CD - ROM helps students and teachers to overcome this problem and also acts as a stimulating review for students who are able to attend classes.

The third is the Test Master CD – ROM. This offers ready made progress tests, module tests and end of level tests- which the teacher is free to customise as they wish, thus offering a great deal more flexibility than standard paper tests.

In addition to these features, teachers will appreciate the photocopiable materials in the teacher’s resource book, offering a range of communicative games and information gaps covering grammar, lexis and discussion.

My main criticisms of this book are with its approach to language. There is a sense that the authors have played safe in choosing a grammatical syllabus offering the standard ‘advanced’ coverage of conditionals, reporting verbs, modals etc. Whilst this may not be bad in itself and might of course be what students expect, it could be argued that higher level learners’ may respond well to a different approach to language, if for no other reason than the fact that this could re-motivate them after many years of learning. The material might also have benefited from more information for students of this level about the language, in order to develop their awareness of language choice. It would be helpful to signal whether language is more likely to occur in a spoken or written context, for instance. Without this, learners may assume all language can be used in all contexts. Corpus guided information about frequency of lexical or grammatical items is also something which learners can find very helpful, especially when making choices about which language to add to their productive use and which to simply recognise.

Overall, Total English Advanced is a very comprehensive package with clear aims, a clear format and familiar syllabus. It is unique in its incorporation of the CEF and inclusion of a film bank and Catch up CD-ROM and would suit learners and teachers of general English who want a comprehensive course with opportunities for independent study and regular assessment.

1. The Common European Framework (2007) Available Online [ p24]. Accessed 6/7/2007 ESL Reviews & ArticlesChristian Jones is a Senior Lecturer in TESOL at the University of Central Lancashire, UK. He has previously been a teacher and teacher trainer in Japan and Thailand.