[Kristen Sullivan & Todd Beuckens. Hong Kong: Pearson Longman, 2009. pp. 96. ¥2,630 (includes CD). ISBN Book 1: 978-962-01-9933-2; Book 2: 978-962-01-9934.]
Impact Conversation1 and 2 are a two-book set, ideal for using one textbook for the first semester, and the second book the second semester of a one-year course. The series has a strong emphasis on speaking and listening activities (with little support for reading and writing), with the goal of making an impact on a student’s conversational ability. Both textbooks offer a variety of communication skills needed to increase fluency and build the confidence of students. The intended audience is for the young adult learner, particularly college-age students. I used the books for my sophomore speaking and listening classes of about twenty students.
Each book consists of 16 units, and each unit features five subsections, initially focusing on a listening activity, and then expanding considerably with conversation-based activities. The activities include Conversation Starters, Building Fluency, Conversation Model, Let’s Talk about It, and Language Awareness.
As the textbooks are conversation-based, they can keep a teacher from formulated lockstep teaching (Harmer, 2001). In this way, fewer activities are teacher-focused, and there is more focus on students using the target language and practicing conversational skills. As discussed by Nation (2009), the ability to use language smoothly is a skill which can be developed only through practice.
Impact Conversation1 and 2 focus on idiomatic chunks of colloquial language, building on the elementary English found in most textbooks. This allows for comprehensible input to take place. According to Krashen, “a necessary condition to move from stage i to stage i + 1 is that the acquirer understands input that contains i + 1, where ‘understand’ means that the acquirer is focused on the meaning and not the form of the utterance” (1980, p. 170). For instance, students will already be familiar with how to say I like and I don’t like to express themselves, however Impact Conversation goes further by using more colloquial language to say the same thing, but in a more natural way, with phrases commonly used by native speakers. For example, Unit 5 in Book 1 is entitled Scaredy Cat, and uses phrases such as “spiders freak me out”, “I don’t mind sharks”, and “snakes don’t bother me” (p. 25). Using these types of sentences as opposed to the general “I like snakes/I don’t like snakes,” is one of Impact Conversation’s greatest strengths, showing the usage of colloquial language and making a student’s speech sound more natural to a native speaker. The usage of these types of colloquial chunks and idiomatic expressions is found throughout every chapter.
The most difficult aspect of using these texts is the listening found in the initial Conversation Starters section. I believe they are pitched at too high a level for your typical English students in Japan. I have had to create my own vocabulary sheets and phrases to pre-teach the words and phrases they will encounter before the listening task; however, the accompanying scripts in the Language Awareness section in the back of the book were very helpful in this regard. Nonetheless, many pre-teaching activities are required prior to the listening activities for my classes, as the English used for the listening is much more advanced than the subsequent target language used throughout the rest of the unit.
Despite the extensive pre-teaching required prior to the initial listening section, the colloquial phrases and vocabulary used in the conversation-based activities are enjoyable to teach, and fun for the students to learn. I do notice a difference in my students’ choice of words and their ability to express themselves in more interesting ways by the end of the year through using Impact Conversation 1 and 2. Students do become better at using language more smoothly, and increase their conversational skills considerably through the practice activities offered in this textbook series.
Harmer, J. (2001). The practice of English language teaching. London: Longman.
Krashen, S. (1980). The input hypothesis. In James E. Alatis (Ed.), Georgetown round-table on language and linguistics (pp. 168-180). Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.
Nation, I. S. P. (2009). Teaching ESL/EFL listening and speaking. New York: Routledge.