[Bert McBean. Tokyo: Macmillian LanguageHouse, 2014. pp. iii + 166. ¥2,000. ISBN: 978-4-7773-6486-2.]
Healthtalk is marketed as a four skills content-based textbook for Japanese young adults at the lower-intermediate level of TOIEC 400-600, CEFR (A1-A2) or pre-2 level of the Japanese Eiken test. It includes a downloadable teacher’s manual and audio file. It is designed to teach good health habits through English with relevant authentic content, making this textbook ideal for university students studying health professions such as nursing, nutrition or health education, and general university English classes.
Healthtalk includes 12 health themes: Longevity, Cancer Prevention, Smoking, Environment and Health, Exercise, Nutrition, Alcohol, Stress, Obesity, Dental Care, AIDS, and Depression. It follows White’s (1988) notional-functional syllabus with a notion defined as the specific context in which communication occurs and the function as the reasoning for the communication. Each unit in Healthtalk contains easily explained learner-centered activities repeated throughout the textbook, allowing the students to concentrate more on content. Grammar structures in Healthtalk are likely those previously encountered, placing a less extraneous cognitive load on students in the form of understanding instructions and learning new information. This allows for more processing of previously learned grammatical rules and vocabulary, as well as oral production of the language. Included is an English-Japanese glossary of over 700 words that gives students immediate access to all health-related words in the book, allowing for smooth cross-referencing from chapters.
The pedagogical style taken in Healthtalk is clearly suited to a Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) approach as it promotes a “dual focus” with the use of an additional language, English, to learn both content and language (Coyle, Hood, & Marsh, 2010). This creates a situation in which substance takes precedence over form to facilitate learning (Mehisto, Marsh, & Frigols, 2008). In Healthtalk, topics and content are approached authentically, lending itself to a natural introduction of the use of perhaps difficult specialized vocabulary as is often the case with CLIL context classes. This issue is remedied by the inclusion of a supportive English-Japanese glossary as an essential lexical tool to support and scaffold the needs of multi-level classes. This makes the textbook effective with lower level classes. For field specific study such as that intended in Healthtalk, the use of the glossary gives the course a potential authenticity of purpose, as vocabulary is essential for student needs (Coyle et al., 2010). In this sense, Healthtalk strikes a balance between content relevance by utilizing students’ prior knowledge and the linguistic necessity to acquire content-related vocabulary in English. In addition to the useful glossary, chapter reading is also supported by exercises, which activate vocabulary and encourage practical language use. Of note in the structuring of the textbook is the potential for greater expansion if student proficiency and need call for this flexibility. This resonates with Ikeda’s (2012) discussion of the intentional organic, in which CLIL materials are frequently malleable in nature to fit multi-level proficiencies and needs. As a caveat to this, however, Healthtalk may be better suited to teachers who possess a wider repertoire of teaching skills. Instructors desiring detailed lesson guides may be disappointed because the downloadable teacher’s manual does not prescribe methodological procedures but is simply, yet usefully, a set of answers to chapter exercises and listening scripts for audio-related activities.
Reflecting upon the themes in the textbook and the sometimes controversial nature of the content, Healthtalk presents the topics in an accessible, unthreatening, and sensitive manner. This enables students to engage comfortably with issues such as sexually-transmitted diseases like AIDS, mental illness, and cancer, all of which young students may be reticent to discuss. This is achieved through tasteful and humorous information gap activities, relevant reading exercises utilizing recent statistical data (updated for this third edition), and questionnaires on personal health habits, increasing language awareness and instilling authentic content.
Finally, the content and the authentic manner in which it is presented make Healthtalk a highly recommended textbook for Japanese university students, particularly those majoring in health professions. Its flexibility and thematic format permits this textbook to be utilized in half-year courses, but in my experience the volume of information and activities makes this textbook ideal for a full year course (thirty 90-minute classes). Its engaging as well as relevant subject content will hold the interest of learners, as I have found in the five years and more than 900 students with which I have used this textbook.
Coyle, D., Hood, P., & Marsh, D. (2010). Content and language integrated learning. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Ikeda, M. (2012). CLIL genri to shidoho [CLIL principles and methodology]. In S. Izumi, M. Ikeda, & Y. Watanabe (Eds.), CLIL: New challenges in foreign language education at Sophia University: Volume 2, practices and applications (pp. 1-15). Tokyo: Sophia University Press.
Mehisto, P., Marsh, D., & Frigols, M. (2008). Uncovering CLIL: Content and language integrated learning in bilingual and multilingual education. Oxford, UK: Macmillan.
White, R. W. (1988). The ELT curriculum. Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell.