[Liz Soars & John Soars. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. pp. v + 155. ¥2,990 (Includes Student Practice Multi-ROM). ISBN: 978-0-19-472983-3.]
American Headway Level 3is a four-skills textbook for intermediate level learners wishing to study American English. The American Headway series combines both traditional teaching methods that focus on structure and form with more communicative approaches to language learning and teaching.
Grammatical structures are featured prominently in each of the units and include explicit explanations of the grammatical forms. Therefore, the course books appear to be consistent with what White refers to as a “Type A” syllabus that focuses on the structure and rule-based knowledge of a second language (p. 46, 1988). However, meaningful communicative practice in addition to language functions are also featured which indicates that the series has adopted an eclectic approach towards language teaching.
The course books each consist of 12 units and each unit has 8 pages. Some of the topics are the same but with new text (e.g., Unit 10 Reading & Speaking – Dubai: The City of Superlatives). The contents map of the textbook is organized into two main sections, Language Input (Grammar, Vocabulary, and Everyday English) and Skills Development (Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing).
Each unit in the textbook is broken down into several sections: Starter, Presentation, Practice, Skills, Vocabulary, and Everyday English. The Starter begins the unit and is normally a short activity that introduces the new target language and theme of the unit. Following this is the Presentation section which highlights a particular grammatical structure. Next, the Practice section includes a wide variety of activities such as jigsaw, fill-in-the-blank, matching, and survey-type activities.
The Skills section is a combination of listening and reading texts which are taught together with speaking tasks. The Vocabulary section of each unit introduces lexical items that are related to the topic of the unit and may include collocations, prefixes, and suffixes. Finally, each unit closes with Everyday English. It provides learners with practice using common language functions such as arranging to meet someone, disagreeing, and giving opinions.
Furthermore, the second edition now includes a new online Teacher Resource Center which provides a library of supplemental materials for teachers. PowerPoint presentations related to the grammar sections and reading texts, audio and video clips, photocopiable worksheets, and projectable images from the student book may be downloaded from the library. Also, a new Test-Generator CD-ROM has been introduced which allows teachers to construct their own tests.
The second edition of the Teacher’s Book still offers a great deal of support for instructors. It provides ideas for lesson planning, explains the purpose of the lessons, highlights important cultural notes, and gives information on the purpose of the activities in the student book.
I have been using this textbook in four-skills university English classes with first and second year non-English majors (e.g., agriculture, engineering, law, medicine). Overall, I have found that the textbook has been generally well received by the students. Two particular features of the textbook that students have reported as helpful are the Audio Scripts and Grammar Reference sections located in the back of the book. After completing a listening activity, most students like to check the tapescript to confirm what they have heard. Also, my students have mentioned that the Grammar Reference is useful for them because it provides more examples of how to use the key grammar forms introduced in the units.
However, certain aspects of the series may not appeal to everyone. First, American Headway is designed for learners who wish to study American English. This may not appeal to native English speaking teachers who speak a different variety of English or to students who would prefer to study, for example, British English. Second, as mentioned previously, the explicit teaching of grammatical structures remains prominent in the new edition. Some teachers may see this as inconsistent with communicative teaching practices. However, in recent years, some scholars have argued for a move away from a strictly communicative approach to language teaching and have begun to advocate teaching that also maintains a focus on form. For example, Ur argued that, “[t]he goal is implicit knowledge of grammar; but it does not necessarily follow that grammar should be taught implicitly” (p. 3, 2009).
Overall, American Headway Second Edition Level 3 is an improvement over its predecessor. It provides engaging content that focuses on both form and meaningful communicative activities. Also, the new series features increased teacher and student online support. For these reasons, American Headway is a good choice as a multi-skills English textbook, particularly for university studentsat the beginner to lower-intermediate levels.
White, R. V. (1988). The ELT curriculum. Oxford: Blackwell.
Ur, P. (2009). Teaching grammar: Research, theory and practice. Vienna: University of Vienna.