[David Barker. Nagoya: Back to Basics Press, 2013. pp. 100. ¥1,944. ISBN: 978-4-905088-45-5.]
Nice to Meet You—Academic (Japanese Edition) is a textbook aimed at enabling Japanese university or high school students to conduct initial conversations in English with peers at an educational institution. I believe it does very well in meeting this very specific aim. The book comprises a first unit covering classroom English, and a further six—each on a different conversation likely to be encountered on first meeting someone at a school or university, such as “Where are you from?” (p. 30) and “Where did you learn English?” (p. 86).
Nice to Meet You conforms to the notional-functional model, explained by White (1988, p. 75) as one that has the aspects of a notion, dealing with time and space, and a function, describing the purpose of language. The notion here is first meetings at an educational establishment, and the function is asking and answering questions about personal information. To this end, each unit contains example conversations, questions and answers, sections for the student to write their answers, a listening activity, a pair work section, and a reading comprehension text on an aspect of studying English. Japanese translations of the texts are available free for download from the publisher’s website, as are all audio recordings. Although no teacher’s guide is provided, the exercises are explained in the textbook so this should not be a problem. Audio recordings are of native and Japanese speakers of American English, and are short and clear.
A key focus of the book is on understanding and using natural English. For example, it addresses the need when answering questions to keep a balance between short and long answers. Too many short answers, and a speaker will sound aggressive or rude. Too many full-sentence answers, and they will sound unnatural. Pronunciation sections likewise concentrate on skills required to produce natural-sounding English, including intonation and connected speech.
Nice to Meet You should be used for student-centered lessons, as it is intended for practicing conversation. Apart from modeling conversations, a teacher’s role when using this textbook should be to provide extra examples of natural speech and additional explanations where appropriate.
Having said that, the book itself does a good job of explaining the finer points of natural English in initial conversations. These are provided in Japanese in the copy under review. An English version of the instructions and explanations is also available. The sections in which a student can create new conversations, alone or with a partner, support a student centered approach and lessen the teacher’s workload.
I tried this textbook with a class of 1st graders at a private high school who have an above average English level for their age group. The exercises attempted threw up some problems, such as what first name refers to in English, and what constitutes a nickname. As class motivation is high, these did not negatively affect students’ interest. Nonetheless, it was noticeable that many needed help from their peers or the teacher, and a lot of time to complete the exercises. I would say, therefore, that the book would be best used by medium to advanced-level students in the second or third grade of high school, or at university. On the other hand, the in-depth concentration on and frequent repetition of natural question and answer pairs gave my students more confidence in using them, and this tight focus is one of the book’s major selling points. If used in the two to three months leading up to real-life academic encounters with native speakers, I think it would provide students with a good base from which to develop English-speaking relationships with their peers.
The book imagines what an English speaker with little knowledge of Japan would ask a Japanese student, not what is necessarily interesting to a Japanese student. As such, the example conversations feature almost no reference to Japanese culture and so may seem a little generic. Also, no mention is made of SNS, email, or any other aspect of communications technology. This is perhaps because the conversations in this edition are intended for an academic institution (a non-academic version of the book is also available), but the idea of young people meeting for the first time in real life without mentioning these things is hard to believe.
These are, however, minor criticisms of a book that, having set itself a narrow but important aim, reaches it in an engaging, easy-to-use, and focused manner. For teachers of students intending on an English-language course of study in Japan or abroad, this textbook is recommended.
White, R. V. (1988). The ELT Curriculum: Design, Innovation, and Management. Oxford: Blackwell.