The English Gym

Book Writer & Publisher: 
Jon Charles. Oak Hills Press
Peter Chu, Kansai University

[Jon Charles. Oak Hills Press, 2017. p. 142. ¥2,800. ISBN: 978-4-9909741-0-7.]

The English Gym is a topic-based EFL student coursebook that provides engaging topics relevant to Japanese university students that encourages conversation while introducing them to copious amounts of real-world vocabulary items. Although it is aimed at lower-intermediate levels, its flexibility allows teachers to use it with higher-level classes as well.

The textbook is well set up for a 15-week term. Each of its 20 units is comprised of four pages following the same format: a listening activity on the first page, vocabulary and accompanying exercises on the second, a colour-coded transcript on the third, and an interview (i.e., discussion) page on the last.

The listening task on the first page is an interview-format dialogue with a gap-fill activity that includes 10 missing words found in the word bank. These same questions are used as starting points for students to expand on in the later discussion. The dialogue itself is not terribly challenging for higher-level classes, but there are often a few things that are hard for most students to catch. One minor complaint I have is that because of its interview format, each question is preceded by the interviewer announcing the question number. While lower-level students will likely find this helpful, students will often parrot this and state the number during their discussion, which makes conversation feel somewhat mechanical.

The voice acting in each unit’s dialogue is something I really appreciate. There is always one native English speaker and one Japanese user of the language. I have always disliked having two native speakers of English, with one pretending to be a learner. With this, students have a real-world model where they can hear proficient second-language users. As Medgyes (1992) notes, “only non-NESTs [native English speaking teachers] can serve as imitable models of the successful learner of English” (p. 346), as native speaker models are nearly unattainable. Likewise, Murphy (2014) encourages incorporation of “intelligible, comprehensible, non-native English speech samples” (p. 267), and Rattanaphumma (2018) shows that exposure to competent language users from the same background serves to motivate students and promote “a positive vision towards their ideal L2 [second language] self” (p. 137).

The vocabulary sections are very thorough, including useful phrases for discussion as well as footnotes for the dialogue transcript. Both sets include a Japanese glossary. Many of the items are colloquial phrases, fillers, and discourse markers students might not otherwise have explicit exposure to.

In the middle of each lesson, there is either some kind of game students can play (e.g., 20 questions) or a common mistakes section. I appreciate both of these, as they are things that I usually try to incorporate into my lessons.

The interview page invites students to talk using the same questions from the dialogue. The transcript on the facing page enables students to check if they need help with how to respond, as well as giving them cues on what follow-up questions they can use. Students are encouraged to take notes and then write (and present) their own conversation using the space provided.

At the back of the book there are communication crosswords for the students to practice vocabulary related to each unit, which my students always enjoy. You will also find translations of the dialogues and thorough instructions and materials regarding oral testing and presentations.

The publisher’s website ( is extremely handy and robust, with the complete textbook online (including the audio) as well as helpful tools such as background music playlists, stopwatches, and links to other resources, for example, online quizzes for assessment, printable quizzes, Kahoot! games, and Quizlet. I like to end classes with these latter two games, which the students absolutely love. The publisher has recently released an online digital workbook, which automates much of the exercises and homework. One interesting feature of the workbook is that it records students’ spoken answers and analyzes the transcriptions for their answers.

Finally, there are a few potential concerns. Firstly, although I was initially put off by the length of the interviews, they serve to let students hear how the questions can be used and answered, so I always incorporate them. Another small issue is that there are no grammar sections or structures that are taught or drilled. If you like explicit grammar instruction, you will have to find supplements. Lastly, there are no warm-up questions included to activate topic schema.

All in all, I really like The English Gym and highly recommend it. Students always enjoy the conversations from each unit, and the plethora of fun activities allows the teacher to create variety in their lessons.



Medgyes, P. (1992). Native or non-native: Who’s worth more?. ELT Journal, 46(4), 340–349.

Murphy, J. M. (2014). Intelligible, comprehensible, non-native models in ESL/EFL pronunciation teaching. System, 42, 258–269.

Rattanaphumma, R. (2018). The exploration of ideal L2 self and ought to L2 self through the lens of teaching materials. Kasem Bundt Journal19(June), 126–143.