Friday, August 29, 2014

Nation and Newton (2009) Teaching ESL/EFL Listening and Speaking

Dear fellow TESOLers,

Today I'd like to write about a resource for ESL/EFL listening and speaking teachers.

Nation, I.S.P. & Newton, J. (2009). Teaching ESL/EFL Listening and Speaking. New York, NY: Routledge.

During my MA studies, I read a few textbooks focused on either listening, speaking or pronunciation. While useful, these three books focus on the skills mostly separately. I picked up Nation and Newton (2009) as an ebook on Google because I wanted a concise way to refresh my memory, and maybe find a few new ideas for my new teaching position in Turkey.

I like that this text surveys theory and research on the teaching of listening and speaking without overloading the teacher-reader with too much SLA or delving too deeply into controversies in the field. On the contrary, in a few concise chapters, I was able to refresh my memory of current trends, long-standing beliefs in the field, and even come across invigorating descriptions of language learning that hadn't encountered in my MA! My favorite among them was a justification for the prominence of listening instruction: "learning a language is building a map of meaning in the mind..To do this, [proponents of listening] feel, the best method is to practice meaningful listening" (Nord, 1980, p.17 in Nation & Newton, 2009, p.53). This metaphor of a "map of meaning in the mind" expresses what I have believed about language but not been able to articulate so cleverly. For me, a well-written textbook contains these types of springboard ideas from which teachers can build a philosophy of language learning and teaching.

More than the theory, however, I felt that the practical information in this book was outstanding. The authors have outlined basic principles to keep in mind while teaching (e.g., planning lessons with equal attention to "the four strands," or the "MINUS" strategy for teaching beginners). In addition, the authors have provided a plethora (around 100) of useful, low-prep (and low-tech) activities for teachers to employ in the teaching of listening, speaking, and pronunciation. To name a few that I'd like to bring to my classroom (also to my own Turkish learning): substitution tables, pre-dictation exercises, and distinguishing sounds.

I chose to write this (very) informal review today to help myself retain some of the useful information I have been reading in this text. I hope that other teachers or MA-TESL programs might consider adding this book to their resources.

***As a side-note, MA TESOL program coordinators might consider going totally electronic for textbooks and other materials, as graduates of your programs will likely move overseas and shipping prices are high and reliability of delivery is low. If I could do my MA over again, I would buy an iPad and organize everything electronically in one compact device, rather than hauling textbooks overseas and having to recycle literally thousands of printed articles (along with all my annotations).