[Andrew Boon & David Harrington. Halico, 2018. (Teacher’s Book and access to listening materials available by free download.) pp. 104. ¥2.700. ISBN: 978-4-909730-11-4.]
Discover Conversation is a student course book. Although no CEFR classification is provided, it falls within the A2 range of abilities. The book aims to breakdown real life spoken interactions and provide step-by-step practice at building proficiency through having a BLAST (Building, Listening, Analysing, Speaking, and Transcribing).
The textbook is organised into three parts and 12 units: Small Talk, Transactions and Storytelling. Each unit starts with a full-page picture and question prompts to focus students’ attention on the topic. Then there are moves—particular phrases that build towards achieving the function, such as starting a conversation with a stranger or using follow-up questions to maintain a conversation. Students listen to a short dialogue—little more than a minute for some—between two characters, Mike and Jennifer, whose friendship we follow. A transcript of the dialogue is given, with key phrases (the moves) left blank. To be clear, these are not comprehension confirmation gaps usually found in listening exercises. After analysing the conversation, students complete a self-review titled “Did you notice?” which draws attention to the special features of spoken English, such as hesitations, interruptions, elision and pragmatics. From there, students create their own role-play cards and practice. Finally, students record their conversations and transcribe their best one.
One challenge for EFL teachers is finding sources of authentic materials for students to engage with. Sometimes the audio presented in textbooks can fall short of authenticity. Furthermore, Berardo (2006) states, “the artificial nature of the language and structures used make them very unlike anything that the learner will encounter in the real world” (p. 62). In the past, this was restricted to magazines, pamphlets, TV, videos/DVDs, and so forth. Now, there is a wealth of materials available thanks to the Internet. However, trawling the Internet can be time consuming. Boon and Harrington make clear that the dialogues in Discover Conversation are near-authentic. Actors were given a scenario, the dialogues were transcribed, edited, and re-recorded. Having access to these near-authentic dialogues straight from a textbook is an efficient and useful resource for teachers. However, a downside to this process is that both Mike and Jennifer are North American. It would be beneficial to have British, Australian, someone speaking English as a second language, or ideally, a combination of all.
Teachers also need to consider task authenticity which should “approximate real-life tasks” (Mishan as cited in Castillo Losada, Insuasty, & Jaime Osorio, 2005, p. 93). The tasks in Discover Conversation meet these criteria—Arranging to meet someone or finding somewhere to eat are situations that students are likely to encounter. Tasks should also “engage the learner’s interest and impress him as being in some way relevant to his concerns” (Widdowson as cited in Guariento & Morley, 2001, p. 348) and provide opportunities in which “the language has been used for a genuine purpose” (Guariento & Morley, 2001, p. 349). The authenticity of the tasks in Discover Conversation must be evaluated as any task that a teacher in an EFL context considers using. That is, what use do these students in this classroom have for this language being practiced right now?
I used two units of Discover Conversation in a production skills class with low-level freshman who attend weekly 90-minute classes. The two units—Invitations and Scheduling—seemed a good fit, following on from the Daily Activities and Directions units that we covered from their course text. The teacher’s PDF suggests pacing for 90-minute classes over one or two semesters. Both units (without the recording and transcription activities) easily occupied 45 minutes. I omitted the transcription activity for two reasons. First, the classroom was too small to allow for seven pairs to record out of earshot of each other. Second, and more importantly, there was already a similar piece of assessment that involved scripting and recording. Given time, however, using the transcription as a contrastive exercise would have been valuable. The text was easy to use and no preparation or supplementary materials were required other than students having a recording app on their phones and a big enough classroom. Students commented that they liked the units that they covered. However, one said they were too easy. With any text, this is going to be a valid concern—the range and level of each task does not meet the needs of all the students all the time.
In short, Discover Conversation is well worth considering for a semester-long speaking class. The authentic tasks and near-authentic materials can be supplemented with work on pronunciation, cross-cultural contrast, grammatical accuracy, or pragmatics as the teacher sees fit.
Berado, S.A (2006). The use of authentic materials in the teaching of reading. The Reading Matrix, 6(2), 60-69. Retrieved from http://www.readingmatrix.com/articles/berardo/article.pdf
Castillo Losada, C. A., Insuasty, E. A., & Jaime Osorio, M. F. (2017). The impact of authentic materials and tasks on students’ communicative competence at a Colombian language school. PROFILE Issues in Teachers’ Professional Development, 19(1), 89-104. doi:10.15446/profile.v19n1.56763
Guariento, W. & Morley, J. (2001). Text and task authenticity in the EFL classroom, ELT Journal, 55(4), 347-353. doi:10.1093/elt/55.4.347