[Robert Diem, Roberto Rabbini. Fukuoka: English Education Press, 2014. pp. 110. ¥2,200. ISBN: N/A.]
Out Front is a textbook specifically designed for Japanese students who are required to study English communication at university. It is a basic level text that targets all four language skills, with an emphasis on listening and speaking. The activities are structured, student-centered, and well-scaffolded. This text should be well suited for students who are lower in ability and motivation, yet still versatile enough to be used with both English and lower level non-English majors.
The book consists of 12 units, with every unit being a varied collection of 12 or 13 theme-based activities. The same activity types are repeated using different themes throughout the book. All activities are designed to enable students to easily share information about themselves, and their lives. There is a Japanese-English glossary, extra listening activities, and a Question Bank in the back of the book that reviews the themes and language of the 12 units. The free online teacher’s manual includes tests, supplementary activities, and suggestions on how one might organize the class to get the most from the book. Even more activities have been added to the online resources for this edition, and I found there was more than enough material to last for a one-year course.
Many EFL textbooks overload the student by giving them too many cognitive tasks to perform at once. Those textbooks require them to learn new vocabulary and grammar, when the task at hand should be to develop the ability to use the language they have already been exposed to more automatically. More effective learning can be achieved by reducing extraneous cognitive load as much as possible, and freeing up those cognitive resources to be used for achieving this automation (Sweller, 2005). Therefore, appropriate instructional design aims to reduce the extraneous cognitive load so the students can focus on the task at hand (Chen & Chang, 2009). This is what Out Front does effectively.
The vocabulary and grammar structures used throughout Out Front are structures the typical Japanese university student will most likely have seen before. Additionally, the same activity types are repeated throughout the textbook. Thus, less extraneous cognitive load is put on the student in the form of understanding instructions and learning new information. As such, more of their cognitive capacity can be used for the processing of previously learned grammatical rules and vocabulary, and oral production of the language.
Krashen acknowledged affective filters for having an effect on language acquisition (Krashen, 1988). Out Front uses Japanese names, places, and cultural references throughout. In my observations, students seemed to enjoy this aspect of the book, and it seemed to make them enjoy learning more. Perhaps these references put them at ease and lowered affective filters such as foreign language anxiety, as defined by Horwitz, Horwitz, and Cope (1986).
In the 5th edition of Out Front, teachers and students may have found that the downloadable tests were the weakest part of the package. This situation has been improved with the addition of chapter quizzes, which give an idea of the nature of the exams. Still, I found the items that were tested on the quizzes to be somewhat arbitrarily chosen, and the questions to be unnaturally worded at times. I found that I had to look at the test in advance, and strongly emphasize those points, otherwise the students would have had no idea what to study.
Additionally, this book assumes the students already have some words in their passive vocabulary. Thus, the bilingual glossary is by no means comprehensive, and the inclusion of a word in the glossary seems to be somewhat arbitrary. The students found the glossary to be an unreliable source of information when used as a dictionary, but it served its purpose well as a vocabulary list to study words that may be tested.
With Out Front, the text serves as its own workbook. The package is completely self-contained, so there are no peripheral items for the students to forget or lose, and there is more justification for expecting the students to be prepared for class. This also means the cost for the student is less versus packages in which the text and workbook are purchased separately.
Out Front is a versatile text designed for Japanese university students. It focuses on getting them to use the English they already know, rather than teaching more vocabulary and grammar. The students found it to be engaging and fun to use, based on my observation. However, it may not be obvious what the testable points of each chapter are, and without a certain amount of teaching to the test, even your most well-studied student may be caught off-guard.
- Chen, I., & Chang, C. (2009). Cognitive load theory: An empirical study of anxiety and task performance in language learning. Electronic Journal of Research in Educational Psychology, 7(2), 729-746.
- Horwitz, E. K., Horwitz, M. B., & Cope, J. (1986). Foreign language classroom anxiety. Modern Language Journal, 70(2), 125-132.
- Krashen, S. D. (1988). Second language acquisition and second language learning. London: Prentice-Hall International.
- Sweller, J. (2005). Implications of cognitive load theory for multimedia learning. In R. E. Mayer (Ed.), The Cambridge handbook of multimedia learning (pp. 19-29). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.