Skip to main content

Review: Key Issues in Language Teaching

Key Issues in Language Teaching is an impressive 800 page volume by veteran ELT writer Jack C. Richards and published by Cambridge University Press in 2015. Although Richards is from the ELT field, this book would be of great interest to modern language teachers.

The book is divided into four major sections:

1. English language teaching today
2. Facilitating student learning
3. Language and the four skills
4. The teacher's environment

The 21 chapter titles include:

Second language learning
Approaches and methods
The language lesson
Age-appropriate methodology
Speaking Textbooks
Testing and assessment

Chapters usually include an overview of the main theory and research in the area, practical ways of applying theory in the classroom, teacher testimonies, lesson plans and other resources.

For example, his chapter on listening discusses approaches to teaching listening, one-way and two-way listening, features of listening which cause difficulty, top-down and bottom-up processing and strategies, the listening lesson and assessing listening. He gives just the right amount of detail before rounding off, as with other chapters, with a handy summary of key points.

Richards has a very clear written style which is well suited to his target readership of teachers. Although he makes frequent reference to research, quoting the leading scholars in each area, e.g. Paul Nation for vocabulary and John Field for listening, the reader never feels overloaded with detailed references. The style is always easy and, no doubt, the result of some excellent editing.

His coverage of different approaches is balanced, allowing equal weight to audiolingualism, natural, communicative and oral-situational approaches, task-based teaching and project based learning. Trainee teachers would find this an excellent overview (even obviating the need to buy Richards' other excellent book on approaches and methods).

One way in which the book manages to avoid being dry is the inclusion of teacher testimonies - boxes where individual teachers talk about their own experience. there is a brief bio of each of these contributors at the back of the book. In addition, the lesson plans, while relating to ELT, could often be adapted for MFL teaching.

One chapter which may be less relevant to classroom MFL teachers is the final one on professional development, which specifically targets EFL teachers.

Overall I can thoroughly recommend this manual. It's a book you can dip in and out of and one which provides a firm theoretical and practical foundation for both novice and more experienced teachers who wish to deepen their understanding. At around £40 on Amazon it is not cheap, but the price is justified by the length of the book and the huge amount of work which went into it. Jack C. Richards is one of my favourite writers about second language learning and this might be his magnum opus.

Here is Jack talking about the book.


Popular posts from this blog

5 great zero preparation lesson ideas

When the pressure is on and there are only so many hours on the week, you need a repertoire of zero preparation go-to activities which promote input and/or practice. Here are five you might well find useful.

1. My weekend

We know that listening is the most important yet often neglected skill for language learning. It's also something some pupils find hard to do. To develop listening skill and provide tailored comprehensible input try this:

You tell the class you are going to recount what you did last weekend and that they have to make notes in English. The amount of detail you go into and the speed you go will depend on your class. Talk for about three minutes. If you spent the whole weekend marking, you can always make stuff up!

You then make some true or false (maybe not mentioned too) statements in the target language about what you said in your account. Class gives hands up (or no hands up) answers. This can then lead into a simple pair work task where pupils make up their own tru…

New GCSE resources on frenchteacher

As well as writing resources for the new A-levels, I have in recent months been posting a good range of materials to support the new GCSEs. First exams are not until 2018, but here is what you can find on the site in addition to the many other resources (grammar exercises, texts, video listening etc).

I shall not produce vocabulary lists since the exam board specifications now offer these, with translations.

Foundation Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Role-plays
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (2)
100 translation sentences into French (with answers)
Reading exam
Reading exam (2)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a good Foundation Tier essay (Word)

Higher Tier 

AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier)
AQA-style GCSE 2016 Photo card conversations (Higher tier) (2)
20 translations into French (with answers)
Reading exam (Higher tier)
How to write a good Higher Tier essay (ppt)
How to write a…

What teachers are saying about The Language Teacher Toolkit

"The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence." (Ernesto Macaro, Oxford University Department of Education)

"I absolutely love this book based on research and full of activities..  The best manual I've read so far. One of our PDs from the Australian Board of Studies recommended your book as an excellent resource.  I look forward to the conference here in Sydney." Michela Pezzi, Teacher, Australia, Facebook)

"Finally, a book for World Language teachers that provides practical ideas and strategies that can actually be used in the classroom, rather than dry rhetoric and theory that does little to inspire creativity in ways that are engaging for both students and teachers alike." (USA teacher, Amazon review)

Making words memorable

Most teachers and researchers would agree that knowing words is even more important than knowing grammar if you wish to be proficient in a language. As linguist David Wilkins wrote in 1972: "Without grammar little can be conveyed, without vocabulary nothing can be conveyed."One of the frustrations for teachers is pupils' inability to retain vocabulary for productive use. A good deal of research has been done over the years into how pupils might better keep words in memory. Two concepts which have come to the fore are spacing and interleaving.

Spaced practice

A 2003 review of the literature by P.Y. Gu reported that most studies show that students frequently forget words after learning them just once.  Anderson and Jordan (1928) discovered that after initial learning, then one week, three weeks and eight weeks thereafter, the recall success was 66%, 48%, 39% and 37% respectively. Other studies have produced similar results. Unsurprisingly, these researchers recommend, space…

The Language Teacher Toolkit review

We were delighted to receive a review of The Language Teacher Toolkit from eminent applied linguist Ernesto Macaro from Oxford University. Macaro is a leader in the field of second language acquisition and applied linguistics. His main research interests are teacher-student interaction and language learning strategies pupils can use to improve their progress.

Here is Professor Macaro's review:
The Language Teacher Toolkit is a really useful book for language teachers to either read all the way through or dip into. What I like about it is that the authors Steve Smith and Gianfranco Conti are totally upfront about what they believe to be good practice but back it up with research evidence. So for example the ‘methodological principles’ on page 11 are supported by the research they then refer to later in the book and this approach is very similar to the one that we (Ernesto Macaro, Suzanne Graham, Robert Woore) have adopted in our ‘consortium project’( The point i…