Reviewer: Paul Booth
29 June 2011
This course book is about developing the English language skills of international undergraduate environmental science students. Although the book indicates that it is suitable for IELTS 5.0-7.5, only some parts of the book may be useful for post-graduates with higher language proficiency. The topics cover a wide range of subjects, such as ecosystems, biodiversity and agriculture, which provide a framework for the academic and language skills. The author, Lee, adopts a problem solving approach to engage the learners.
Particularly useful is the focus on academic skills which presumes no in-depth knowledge of the topics. For example, students are required to summarise or develop coherent texts from notes already provided. This is especially useful for learners to complexify their language. The regular recycling of vocabulary helps them to do this. However, if you are looking for a specific focus on grammar you’ll need to refer to the teacher’s book. This is a pity as learners and teachers alike may appreciate an explicit focus on grammatical problem areas because different words require different grammar (Bogaards 1998).
The book encourages learners to match words, complete sentences, identify dependent clauses, which help to ensure that learners remain engaged. More could be done on, for instance, how to write a discussion of the results. I would have liked to have seen more examples of academically sound reports or essays and literature reviews. This would enable learners to understand how the language skills are used and what is expected of them in a UK university. To be fair, the skills bank goes some way to show learners how to extend their skills, but more advanced students will need to be ‘pushed’ more to go beyond what is offered in the book.
The chapters are well organised. A vocabulary building section includes some valuable lexis that is relevant for students following diverse modules. A reading section develops sub-skills such as finding key information in complex sentences. The listenings give learners practice in trying to understand lectures for example. This may be especially beneficial to learners to do before coming to a university where the main language is English. The extension part of the book is laudable in that it builds and recycles earlier material. The skills and vocabulary banks are there for revision but could also be used as teaching material to highlight certain principles of academic work. Speaking, as in most books of this nature, is encouraged through tasks such as discussion. The teacher’s book gives extra activities for revision.
This is a timely book when language teaching materials for science students are thin on the ground. Lee has managed to write a user-friendly course book that I imagine will be popular with teachers and students alike. However, for more advanced students it will need to be complemented with other materials. That said, I have already started using this book with my classes of international under- and post-graduate science students and have found it useful.
Bogaards, P. (1996) ‘Lexicon and grammar in second language learning’, in Jordens, P. and Lalleman J. A. (eds) Investigating second language acquisition, Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, pp.357-379.