Vol. 7. No. 1 R-1 June 2003
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So To Speak 1: Integrating Speaking, Listening, and Pronunciation
Megan Webster & Judy DeFilippo (1999)
New York, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company
Pp. vii + 117
ISBN 0-395-87383-5 (paper)

So to Speak 1 Two Audiocassettes
ISBN 0-395-87384-3

So To Speak 2: Integrating Speaking, Listening, and Pronunciation
Megan Webster & Judy DeFilippo (1999)
New York, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company
Pp. vii + 126
ISBN 0-395-87406-8 (paper)

So to Speak 2 Two Audiocassettes
ISBN 0-395-87407-6


So To Speak: Integrating Speaking, Listening, and Pronunciation is an integrated skills series designed to encourage communicative competency and fluency. There are two student books and two audiocassette tapes to accompany each book. Book 1 is appropriate for the high beginning student and Book 2 for low intermediate students. The student-centered design of the series encourages students to be active participants in their learning. The series has been created for use with adult learners in adult education programs, community colleges, and pre-university programs. It is designed to help English language learners understand spoken English, gain familiarity with everyday expressions and vocabulary, and become aware of selected pronunciation features of the English language. [-1-]

Organization and Features of the Texts

The series uses an integrated approach to language practice through fifteen units in each of the two textbooks. Each unit contains four focus areas: Language, Pronunciation, Listening, and Speaking. There is a Follow Up section at the end of each unit with activities for students to complete outside of class. Review activities follow every five units and include a Taking Stock section to assess individual progress. The Taking Stock section is valuable because it requires the individual students to assess their own improvement and commitment to learning the program. Although the authors state that the units are self-contained, they recommend covering the units sequentially, since the vocabulary, pronunciation, and language structures are recycled throughout the series. Error correction is not emphasized in the fluency building approach. Each book includes Tape Scripts and Answer Key.

Each book begins with a Scope and Sequence chart that clearly identifies listening skills, speaking topics, core language (grammar structures) and pronunciation focus addressed in each unit. Following this is a section directed To the Teacher. This part describes the features of the series, the way the units are organized, and guidelines for the time required completing unit sections. It also suggests when review or new structure should be introduced before the start of a new unit. Flexibility with the schedule is encouraged to allow time for spontaneous discussion in the language classroom. The next section is directed To the Student. It encourages students not to worry if they don't understand all of what is presented during a lesson. It also encourages them to "talk as much as [they] can."

The student books contain black and white illustrations (mostly line drawings with some photos) and practice exercises of realistic speech acts that provide meaningful practice of everyday situations. Each section of a unit contains clear instructions to the student and teacher about how to conduct the listening, speaking, reading, or writing activities and how to use the cassette tapes. The unit usually begins with an illustration to examine and discuss in order to activate and build schema. The vocabulary is then reinforced in the listening and pronunciation sections. Suggestions are made for student-centered activities that utilize individual, pair, and group work. One feature in each unit is called Express to encourage independent use of communicative strategies. This feature draws attention to formulaic language needed to ask for help or clarification in order to prevent communication breakdown, and students are encouraged to use the expressions throughout the unit.

The audiocassettes are designed for use with the student books during the listening and pronunciation sections of each unit. The listening segments range from short, simple dialogs in Book 1 to a variety of formats and registers in Book 2 (e.g. informal conversations, TV and radio interviews, and mini lectures). A few background noises have been added to some listening segments to mimic authenticity. This is evident, for example. in the simulated tapes of telephone answering recordings in Unit 5 of Book 2. The audiotapes do not sound completely authentic, but do represent authentic situations and provide meaningful practice for learners.

Each of the fifteen units contains a pronunciation focus section designed to raise awareness of selected segmental and suprasegmental pronunciation features of the English language, which the authors claim are high frequency and troublesome for ESL learners. These activities range from listening discrimination of minimal pairs (e.g. sheep - cheap) to word stress practice, and group reading of tongue twisters. The voices on the tapes enunciate clearly and have a pace that is much slower than one would hear in real life. The scripted pronunciation exercises provide artificially long pauses for student listening and/or repetition, although that is to be expected when focusing on pronunciation features for beginning and intermediate level ELS/EFL learners.

The speaking focus of each unit includes a variety of activities that use pair and group work in cooperative situations. Continuing to build on the topic of each unit, students complete assignments and projects together to share with the class. Throughout the series there is good variety of pair and group work as well as class games, quizzes, role plays, surveys, socio-dramas and a "Cross-Cultural Connection" in which students are given opportunities to discuss their cultural perspectives on a variety of topics. [-2-]


The So To Speak@series provides an excellent framework for working with adult second language learners in either an ESL or EFL setting. There is a good variety of topics and activities, although they may become tiresome if students were to use both books in the series sequentially, since the format is identical in both books. The books and cassettes are user-friendly for both the teacher and students. Clear instructions are provided for use of the materials, and a clear rationale is presented for the pedagogical orientation of the series. Authors have applied current TESOL pedagogy to the materials design (e.g. cooperative learning, top down and bottom up approach to listening comprehension, limited correction of errors, focus on meaning/intelligibility rather than on form/accuracy, and awareness raising of features of English pronunciation). They describe their pedagogy in user-friendly language for teachers thus avoiding cumbersome academic jargon.

The topics are relevant to adult learners especially if they are living in the United States. The illustrations that preview each unit are clearly derived from situations you would encounter in the U.S. or Canada. An EFL teacher may need to provide additional schema for some of the topics, and adapt the follow-up out-of-class activities to English materials that may be available in their own countries, since those activities expect students to either collect items in English or interact with native speakers.

Although the audiocassettes present well-chosen vignettes of realistic situations, they do lack authenticity. The laughter in some of the conversations sounds particularly forced. Background noises are used sparingly, and the musical accompaniment is reminiscent of elevator muzak. To improve the audiocassettes, it would be helpful to have some truly authentic materials included as may be found in public radio broadcasting or real-life public places. While the premise of raising awareness of pronunciation features is worthwhile, the pronunciation practice section relies on thorough knowledge of phonology and pronunciation pedagogy by the teachers. The textbooks do not provide any significant phonological explanations for the students of the features or the sociolinguistic implications of mispronunciation of those features. It leaves a lot to be desired when compared with other books that address pronunciation teaching and practice. Nevertheless, drawing attention to pronunciation in a speaking textbook is important and the effort is well spent.

One of the best features of the series is the web site linked through the publisher's home page (http://www.hmco.com/college) for teachers and students. The teacher's site is primarily a marketing tool and offers no access to the online teachers' guide. However, the student's site (available for Book 2 only as of this writing) provides additional exercises through access to other web sites where students can research topics and report to the class. These follow-up internet activities are only found on the student web site and correlate well with each of the units in Book 2. This feature is an excellent vehicle for lesson extension and an opportunity for authentic communication among the students, particularly for the EFL setting. Another excellent feature of the series is the student self-assessment of their own progress in the review units.

Overall, we find this series appropriate for adult ESL or EFL classes. It is student-centered, pedagogically sound, with high interest topics and language features, integrates listening, speaking, and pronunciation, and utilizes a seldom explored authentic instructional material: the internet.

Elza M. Major
University of Nevada, Reno

Judy Robinson
University of Nevada Reno

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