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Review in Modern English Teacher

5 July 2022

Review in the May/June 2022 edition of Modern English Teacher

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'Spoken Grammar: a Guide for English Language Teachers',, 2nd edition, 2021

"A common struggle for teachers is helping their learners communicate in a manner that reflects the spoken interactions they hear outside the classroom. Too often, ESL speaking lessons are devised as just another way of practising descriptive grammar rules. Unfortunately, this sells learners short by leaving them unprepared for the nuances of real-life interactions. Luckily, Ken Paterson’s online course Spoken Grammar: a Guide for English Language Teachers uses a range of recorded lectures and support materials to help teachers prepare their learners for these very situations.

This teacher development course aims to help teachers understand the complexities of authentic spoken grammar, while also giving them skills and materials to pass this knowledge onto learners at, or above, Intermediate level. It could also be a valuable asset for those studying on further development courses, such as the Cambridge DELTA or Dip TESOL. The course is explicit in its aim to avoid descriptive grammar forms; instead focusing on the unique characteristics of spoken grammar found in corpus linguistics studies. There are over two and a half hours of content, with 22 lessons lasting between 7–10 minutes each. Each lesson is supported with several pages of printable materials, and can be adapted by the teacher to address their own learners’ contexts, needs and level.

The course is divided into five sections: Emphasis, Vague language, Marking Spoken Discourse, Response Language, and Word Order and Ellipsis. Each section begins with an overview of how the language point functions in everyday conversation, before looking more closely at some of the specific features in everyday dialogues. For instance, within the Emphasis section, there are lessons on hyperbole, interjections, cleft sentences and binomials. A reading list is also provided and there is a ‘test yourself’ section to check your own retention of the language points. By the end of the course a teacher can expect to walk away with 15 new lessons in their teaching repertoire.

Ken Paterson is your reliable guide throughout the course, starting each lecture section with a rationale and linguistic background for the language point, before unpacking each item in more detail through the use of several short exemplar dialogues. These dialogues help the teacher understand the target language, while also acting as a model of how the language can be presented to the learners. Dialogues are the heart of the course, with several controlled and freer activities provided in the materials to support teaching and learning.

It is worth noting that the supporting materials are more 'pick up and adapt' than 'pick up and go'. The worksheets are somewhat context light and the printable materials are rather plain in their presentation. Most teachers will feel the need to adapt and adorn the materials, and this is no bad thing, as Paterson’s approach seems to be focused primarily on teacher development. Additionally, the dialogues are not supported by audio files. This will mean some responsibility remains with the teacher to lift the language off the page. In practice, one suspects that Paterson’s materials will act as the foundation on which teachers will build their own materials. The course should act as a catalyst more than a crutch.

While these materials could easily have been presented as a textbook, there are clear benefits from this online mode. For instance, there is something more personable in having a human explain things to you. I enjoyed Ken’s presentations and I can imagine many teachers feeling reassured by his delivery. By observing Ken explain the language points we don’t just get a model of what to teach, but also how to teach it. The online video format also has interesting affordances. Its online nature makes the course mobile and you can access the lessons at your own convenience via your phone or tablet. Each section has a Q&A section that allows you to interact with the author asynchronously. You can ask Ken a question about one of the lessons and he will respond in good time. Unfortunately, the course does not provide a forum or discussion section where teachers can exchange ideas or experiences. A missed opportunity perhaps, as there is a real opportunity here to establish a global community of practice. Spoken Grammar: a Guide for English Language Teachers is a contemporary course that is presented on a modern platform. It will help teachers develop the skills needed to understand and teach an evolving language field. Most importantly, it should go some way to helping language learners have a more realistic understanding of how authentic conversations take place and how they can have a place in them."

Mark Rooney

Mark Rooney is a teacher and teacher-trainer based at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia