Vol. 8. No. 3 R-1 December 2004
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Basic English for Computing

Eric H. Glendinning and John McEwan (2003)
Oxford: OUP
Pp. 136
ISBN 0-19-457470-9
Student's Book £10.25
Teacher's Book (ISBN 0194574717)£10.40
Cassette (ISBN 0194574725) £10.50


Basic English for Computing, an English for Specific Purposes (ESP) text by Glendinning and McEwan for lower-level (beginner, elementary) adult learners, offers input and practice of language from the lexical domain of computers. The targeted readers, according to the Teacher's Book, are 16+ year-old secondary school and technical college students with three or more years of general English. Alternatively, professionals who may not have studied English recently but want to refresh their language knowledge through the context of their area of speciality would also benefit.

For the ESP teacher, the course book offers a graded introduction to the field of computers rather than a technical, in-depth analysis. The content, then, is drawn from introductory syllabuses from senior high schools and technical colleges, and care has been taken to include promising future trends.

Using a content-based approach to language teaching, the book combines skills, vocabulary and grammar instruction and practice to teach computer concepts from basic operations and terms to more complex areas. There are 28 wide-ranging content-based units, including everyday computer uses, hardware (e.g. keyboard and mouse), networks, the Internet, word processing, programming, languages, future trends (e.g. virtual reality, smart cards, electronic pets) and careers in computing (e.g. systems analyst, network support person). Pair work (information gap) activities complement skills and language work in nine units, and there is a comprehensive glossary of computing terms and abbreviations, and a listening tapescript.

Progression within the book and within each unit is linear, with knowledge of concepts and language from earlier work being applied later. Each unit begins with short introductory activities called 'Tuning in'. The focus is primarily on activating schemata of the content and introducing (or reinforcing) key lexis. The main or target content follows, using authentic diagrams, visuals or texts, and practicing reading or listening. Tasks for these sections include matching, short answer comprehension, scanning and labelling. Occasionally, pair-work opportunities are provided (information gap) for students to work cooperatively and reinforce the content. This is supported by additional data in the Pair Work section at the back of the text. After this, students are presented with a 'Language focus' box, outlining functional grammar, often following a discovery task where students inductively distinguish patterns of form and use. This is followed by controlled practice of the grammar, incorporating content and language relevant to the content of the unit. A problem-solving task is next, with more involved and open-ended practice of the language and content (applied from the current or previous units). Finally, there is extended practice of the language point through speaking or writing activities. [-1-]

As an additional feature of the course book, authentic interviews are provided every five units. The purpose is primarily review of content and language, although language review sections present 'new' grammar functions. In addition, terms and abbreviations learned to that point are reviewed in a section called 'Computing words and abbreviations.' The Teacher's Book suggests using these sections as vocabulary tests.

The Teacher's Book is a comprehensive resource for the non-techie. In addition to providing key background information on the content of the unit, clearly stated learning objectives provide a compass for methodology and goal setting. Indeed, teachers could share these objectives with students initially, and eventually have students set their own objectives after scanning new units. Also helpful are the answer keys following each task description. Additional input is provided on language and skills work, with suggestions and clear examples for different learners (e.g. weak). Hints for further exploitation of the material are included.

Overall, the strengths of this revised and updated edition (first published, 1999) lie in the comprehensive, but not overwhelming, support in the Teacher's Book, and the careful grading of content and development of skills and language in the course book. Students begin with basic concepts (e.g. everyday uses of computers) and language (e.g. articles) and build up their knowledge and skills through varied input (text/audio), authentic material (using screen captures and real-life visuals) and diverse practice tasks targeting all four skills (including individual and pair work, problem solving, controlled and free practice). For extension activities, the teacher is well supported with ideas, suggestions and caveats in the Teacher's Book.

Although the sequence is predictable in each unit, learners will benefit from this structure as the content and language grows more challenging as they progress. Again, the review materials found every five units provide both a moment to breathe and an opportunity to reinforce key material. Further, support is given at various points without changing the focus of the lesson or task. For example, two small but key 'Aids to communication' boxes offer the learner useful phrases to effectively complete tasks (e.g. agreeing/disagreeing phrases just before a problem-solving pair-work activity).

The relevance of the content, as well, is particularly valuable (and often sadly lacking in many course books). Students learn current concepts and terms, and also read, listen, speak and write about promising future trends that may impact their fields of study or work. Moreover, the unit on careers not only looks at potential employment, but perhaps more importantly, required qualifications (referred to as 'job requirements') for specific careers. This relevance will appeal even to the least motivated among learners.

As noted earlier, this textbook covers a wide range of functional grammar as well as terms and notions related to the ever-expanding world of computers. However, the title 'Basic English for Computing' suggests an elementary language focus. While many of the grammar points can be found in an elementary or beginner course book, there are many more that are beyond the abilities of pre-intermediate students. For example, the 'Language work' on problem and solution provides only a cursory introduction to the use of gerunds and infinitives to express these two concepts. Similarly, grammar such as present passive, present perfect passive, relative pronouns (in definitions), reported speech and expressions of advice (e.g. Why don't you . . . ) are considerably beyond an elementary or pre-intermediate learner's interlanguage. [-2-]

Of course, the book is not designed for use independent of a language teacher and the Teacher's Book, in some cases, cautions the teacher to keep things simple and not go into great detail. Problems can arise, however, when the function/use of the grammar point is the key presentation focus (as is often the case in discovery and inductive learning materials). In this case, the material could be enhanced with additional input on form, as well as suggestions for further practice.

This leads to a paradox of the book. Although the course book focuses entirely on issues, concepts and components of computers, there is no online support or activities to exploit the myriad resources available as extension activities. That is, why not encourage students to use computers to learn about computers? One would assume that an introduction to computers would have a companion website. The authors do effectively illustrate key information about the Internet, however, using authentic screen captures and providing real web sites in matching activities.

The cassette which accompanies the course book provides over an hour of mini-lectures and interviews. Of great use, too, is the collection of tapescripts at the back of both the Teacher and course books. The pacing of the listenings is rather fast for elementary learners, but with the tapescript as support, this is not necessarily a negative. Also, better signposting would aid users of the cassette (e.g. no page numbers are included). The Teacher's Book provides substantial support in ways to help the students (e.g. pausing, playing the recording more than once). For more international appeal, the recordings would be enhanced by providing a wider variety of accents--from native and non-native speakers (currently, primarily UK accents are represented, with only one excerpt of a North American accent).

For the experienced English language teacher, the course book, Teacher's Book and cassette ultimately provide solid, comprehensive and engaging coverage of what could potentially become dull content. Proponents of the communicative approach will appreciate the functional focus on grammar, as it is consistently context-embedded and practiced in both controlled and freer extension activities. For those who follow a more eclectic approach, there is more than enough material to exploit for analysis and skills work (especially skimming and tolerating ambiguity in reading and listening). Overall, Basic English for Computing offers a core of content and language support as the basis of any introductory ESP computer course.

Karen E. Caldwell
United Arab Emirates University

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