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A coursebook is widely known as a book used by students and teachers as the basis of a course of study and a "course" to Jane Willis & Sue Garton may be "a real series of lessons". In my context, the course is an English language one. However, among deversified available coursebooks, which coursebook should be selected to use depending a lot on the factors impacting on the learners' learning and the teachers's teaching contexts.
As we know, teachers usually have varied learners in the same classroom. Different learners have their own language learning needs, styles and language proficiency, and the coursebook desgners have their own rationale for designing and developing a coursebook with its particular contents. Hence, there are diifferent opinions on whether a coursebook should be used in a classroom or not.
According to Ur (2006, pp. 79-80), there may be some people who advocate of using a coursebook for its advantages: having a clear framework and syllabus, ready made text and tasks, economy, convenience, guidence and autonomy. These advantages aid both learners and teachers in keeping track of the teaching and learning process and also facilitate their teaching and learning. Whereas the others disagreeing with using a coursebook may think it is inadequate because it can not cover every learner's needs. They also think its irrelevance and limitation can bore or cause deficiency of motivation on some learners or they think a coursebook is homogeneous to learners of different ability and knowledge levels and it is too easy to follow that the real role of the teacher in class become faded. In despite of the disadvanages a coursebook may have, most of the EFL classooms need a coursebook as an efficient "assistant".
Cunningsworth (as cited in Wang, 1998) remarks that there are no coursebooks that "will be totally suited a particular teaching situation". Therefore, although International Express coursebook set (including four books of different levels: elementary, pre-intermediate, intermediate and upper-intermediate) has been carefully chosen to use in PVMTC in Vietnam as mentioned in my earlier presentation, it also have its own problems regarding to its disadvantages. This paper aims to identify and describe the typical problems of the International Express Intermediate coursebook developed and designed by Keith & Liz (2007) in my context, find the literature with reference to Â various possible solutions to the problems and recommend the most suitable solutions to them.
The problems of the coursebook in PVMTC's context .
Kemal Sinan Ã-zmen (2004) suggests that some characteristics of adults "can make learning and teaching problematic" and "unfamiliar teaching patterns and innovative activities may make them feel uncomfortable since their previous learning experiences get them to be critical of these teaching methods". This is a big disadvantage in teaching and learning a language. In PVMTC case, I share his ideas.
Before attending this course, most of my students who are recent graduates or operating engineers have experienced in learning the English language at school and university. Like most of the students of English in Vietnam, my students have gotten used to Grammar Translation classrooms in which the lessons largely occur in Vietnamese, grammar rules and vocabulary are taught deductively and students are expected to remember and apply them to write sentences, reading simply means using grammar knowledge to decode the written texts and translate them into Vietnamese with the assistant of a bilingual dictionary or the teacher, listening and speaking skills are ignored completely as a matter of course. Whereas International Express Intermediate is an intermediate interactive edition with a wide range of topics and innovatively designed activities and the communicative language teaching is applied in the classroom where English is used mostly. Theorically, the coursebook and the activities designed in it match the new method of teaching English language. However, this may cause a lot of difficulties for most of the students at PVMTC in approaching rather complex grammar rules and exploiting information in situations chosen for the topics which are unfamiliar to most of Asian students, especially PVMTC students. This paper aims to identify the problems relating to grammar teaching and caused by the use of authentic materials of unfamiliar topics in the International Express Intermediate.
As I mentioned in the earlier presentation, in International Express Intermediate, the Language Focus section of every unit is designed in the way that the inductive approach to grammar is employed to guide students to work out rules and usage of the target grammar for practice in a particular context. Students are given real language contexts to inductively approach grammar by reading a text or listening to a dialogue.
Let's take teaching tenses and conditionals as an example. Teaching and learning present perfect and past perfect tense in unit 5, 6 and 10 (see appendix 3, 4 and 7) is always a tough work to most English language teachers and students since Vietnamese implies different perception of and different explanation to the usage and structures of "tenses" from English. This means that there are distinguishing thoughts in forming the grammar rules of the two languages. Vietnamese speakers recognize "tenses" of the sentences through the signal words or time markers, not through the verb conjugations like the English speakers do. In this book, these grammar points are presented in the reading texts and listening interviews in real-life situations. Students are asked to read or listen to them to answer the questions given, complete a gap-fill or true/false task and then elicit the grammar rules. In my context, however, most of the students find it too difficult to work out, understand and use the complex grammar rules correctly because of the confusion they have when processing the input which is in form of sounds and since listening skill is one of the most serious problems to my students.
Unit 6 (see appendix 4), for example, tends to alert students to the differences between past simple, past continuous and past perfect tense. In Vietnamese thought, there are no distinct differences between the past simple and past perfect tense. In the Language Focus section of this unit, students are asked to listen to two interviews to answer the questions and complete a true/false task. Then they are given another chance to listen to the interviews again to fill in the blanks of the four extracts from the interviews with the correct forms of the verbs to get closer to the form of past and past perfect tense which is completely new to them. However, the short form of the auxiliary "had" of the past perfect tense used in sentences in the interview even confuses the students more for they do not notice any differences between the past simple and past perfect tense (for example: I'd in I'd taught in a Catholic school and I in I taught five years in a Catholic school) when they listen to the interviews.
Moreover, every language teacher knows how demanding and challenging teaching and learning English Conditionals are. Unit 9 and 11 (see appendix 6 and 8) of the book introduce second and third conditionals to the students in reading and partly in listening contexts. The problems then arise from the degree of complexity of the grammar rules and structures like putting verbs in the subjunctives in particular circumstances. It is not an easy work to do as dealing with the interdependent dimensions of grammar: form, meaning and use of grammar in this situation without giving clear presentation and explanation first. The grammar lesson is sure of failure if it is not included explanations in Vietnamese.
It would be a good idea to remember that listening and speaking skills are the biggest problems to the students in PVMTC. Therefore, wrestling with listening comprehension, working out the complex rules of the target grammar in the context, understand the meaning of them and apply them in appropriate contexts are beyond most of the students' ability. The lessons, therefore, get more boring and the students get demotivated and unselfconfident. Consequently, the second stage of teaching grammar after presentation, practice stage faces a sea of difficulties in encouraging students to apply and use the new learning items in the similar or thier own contexts.
In the Language Focus, Wordpower and Skills Focus Section, interviews and reading texts are given to students to listen to or read to improve their listening, speaking and reading skills. However, some situations of the reading texts or the interviews are unfamiliar to PVMTC students. Some of the topics like Internet banking in Money and Finance file in unit 8 (see appendix 5) or Ethical Consumerism in unit 4 (see appendix 2), for example, can make the students bored because the perception of being an ethical consumer or using internet banking services are be strange to most of Vietnamese students so most of the time of the reading comprehension lessons is for the teachers to explain the words or concepts which may not be understood by the students even in Vietnamese. Therefore, they get into trouble discussing unfamiliar topics because they lack ideas to elaborate on. The discussions or speaking activities are usually not able to reach the learning objectives given. Moreover, specific references in some listening parts which are not familiar to most of Asians are also big problems in this context. These references which can be found in most of sections of the units often become distractors and totally confuse students when dealing with such listening tasks and inher them from effectively learning the new language.
Review relevant literature.
During the 1970s, after a long time of enjoying the popularity and being overvaluated, grammar teaching and learning become less prominent. Communicative competence started to be attached great importance to. However, awareness to teaching and learning grammar has been rising recently. Grammar has been suggested to be "too important to ignored" and it is believed that "without a good knowledge of grammar, learners' language development will be severely constrained" (Richards & Renandya, 2002, p. 145). Therefore, there are no more debates on if teachers should or should not teach grammar to their students but on how teachers should teach their students grammar structures and rules or in what way grammar knowledge may be acquired better. Deductive and inductive methods of teaching grammar come to life as main solutions to the problem and each method has its own advantages and disadvantages.
The deductive method "represents a more traditional style of teaching in that the grammatical structures or rules are dictated to the students first" (Rivers &Temperley, 1978, p. 110). It could save time for going straightforwardly to the point. The rules are stated and explained clearly and briefly so it makes learners feel more confident and assists them as an available tool to deal with tasks. In this method, grammar, however, is taught isolatedly, the dimension of meaning is belittled and mechanical practice could bore learners.
The Inductive method "represents a more modern style of teaching where the new grammatical structures or rules are presented to the students in a real language context" (Gower, Phillips & Walters, 1995, p. 135). In this method the learners learn grammar through discovering them in the context. They become more active when evolving in the learning process and engaging in language use. Nonetheless, it could be time and energy consuming applying it. Learners may elicit wrong grammar rules. It could also not be preferred by students of traditional learning style.
In this view, the remainder of the problem is that whether deductive or inductive approach for presentation of new grammar structures and functions should be employed.
Larsen-Freeman (2001, p. 251) indicates that: "Grammar is about form and one way to teach form is to give students rules; however, grammar is about much more than form, and its teaching is ill-served if students are simply given rules". Nunan (1998, p. 102) suggests that grammar should be taught in context and affirms that: "If learners are not given opportunities to explore grammar in context, it will be difficult for them to see how and why alternative forms exist to express different communicative meanings".
Many other authors have the same ideas as those of Jacqueline Gollin, an advocator of inductive grammar teaching, who suggests that by actively participating in discovering the rules of the target language and mentally engaging in solving the grammatical problems during the learning process, language learners will be able to memorize grammar rules and structures better and more motivated in learning thoroughly (as cited in Deinzer, 2009). Although instructors and linguists tend to favour inductive approach, deductive approach still enjoys preference in particular learning contexts. Gower, Phillips & Walters (1995, p. 134) think that "the deductive approach can be effective with students of higher level, who already know the basic structures of the language, or with students who are accustomed to a very traditional style of learning and expect Â grammatical presentations". After analyzing different studies, Rod Ellis (as cited in Deinzer, 2009) recognizes that some researchers' results show deductive approach is better than the inductive one and vice versa. Some indicate that there are no definite differences in effectiveness between the two approaches. Moreover, although Terrell (as cited in Alatis, 1990) strongly favours inductive approach, he still recommends a mixture of inductive and deductive techniques for teaching grammar. Terrell's recommendation seems to agree with Larsen-freeman's belief that three dimensions of grammar: form, meaning and use must be considered when the teaching grammar is occurring (as cited in Alatis, 1991, p. 267). And what Wu (2008) concretely suggests below can be considered "principle approaches of grammar instruction":
Contextualizing the teaching of a grammar point to "make grammar relevant and alive"
Teaching grammar in a communicative approach so that students can make use of the new grammar rules in their own communicative context
Teaching grammar in accord with "the sequence of language acquisition" to make sure that the grammar acquision is relevant to students' learning stage and proficiency and to avoid bad results from teaching too much or too soon,
Integrating inductive and deductive approachs to correspond with the teaching intention of the teachers as well as the expectation of the students of different learning styles.
Integrating the three dimentions of gammar: meaning, context and form to focus students' attention on "the specific learning challenges that a grammatical structure presents" to maximize benefits of the grammar teaching. Doing that, the systematic relationship between these dimensions is poited out. So, missing consideration to any of the dimentions will be a insufficience.
Back to the problem caused by the authentic materials of unfamiliar topics in some units to consider its effects on leaching and learning the language. Hutchinson (as cited in Davies, 2006) claims that "the selection of materials probably represents the single most important decision that the language teacher has to make". His belief affirms the importance of choosing the appropriate materials for the course. While Arkian (2008, p. 72) asserts that "topics are fundamentally important for various discourses energizing and making up the ELT classrooms". In language teaching field, there are existing diffirent opinions on what topics to choose for an English course to help students learn the language better. But whatever the opinions are, they must be based on one of the principles underlying the couse design which is that "teaching and learning materials should reflect the needs as perceived by the discourse community" (Offord-Gray & Aldred, 1998, p. 78). In addition, Vincent (as cited in Davies, 2006) states that "We need to ï¬nd topics and tasks that will engage learners physically, emotionally, socially and intellectually in learning the new language". These ideads mean that logically we need to learn about the learners first, then decide which materials, content and tasks should be selected or designed for them.
In PVMTC context, most of these selected aldult students have analytical style and are very motivated in learning the language and always desire a deep understanding about the language they are learning. However, this particular eight-month training course is a real constraint to achieve the learning objectives. So designing a completely appropriate course for these students is challenging and demanding. Needless to say that the coursebook International Express Intermediate is an appriciate effort that the authors have made to contribute innovative ideas to enhance the effecttiveness of the teaching and teaning English as a foreign language especially in my context and the unadvoidable problems of the book are not very serious and not unsovable. Most of the activities designed for the grammar teaching in the coursebook present congruent approaches to teaching simple grammar points and al situations for the topics used in the book in an attempt to create meaningful learning context for students to engage in are favourable. However, any rigid applications of teaching approaches or forced choice of materials could hinder the effective learning of these students in some particular situations. The remaining problem related to teaching complex grammar strutures and those caused by some material topics identified thus can surely be solved by using the integration of two core approachs decuctive and inductive and choosing selected tasks, situations, materials for topics which can engage learners physically, emotionally, socially and intellectually in learning the new language.
Recommemdations for course design.
The followings are some recommendations for the course design:
Deductive and inductive approachs should be applied to teach students complex grammar structures.
Meaningful contexts presented in the new grammar structures then should be provided so that the students can confirm the meaning and use of the new grammar items in particular contexts.
The meaningful contexts given for grammar teaching should be reading texts instead of listening dialogues or interviews.
Situations in which students are asked to reconstruct the new grammar items should be created to make the grammar practice activities for intermediate students more challenging.
Familiar simple authentic reading and listening materials like articles in newspapers, magazines or interviews on radio or televisions should be used as sources of grammar examples and exercises or basic contexts for practising and improving skills
The topics or contents used in the lessons should be relatively culturally relevant to the students' interest, knowledge and experience and correspond with their language proficiency so that they can easily get involved themselves into all skill improvement activities.
In conclusion, different learning contexts require different courses of study and a cousebook cannot completely meet the needs of every learning context so language teachers should not rely on it too much. Therefore, to achieve the expected objectives of teaching and leaning a language in a particular learning context, it is very important to make a rational decision on choosing the most appropriate coursebook to use. However, it is event more vital to teachers to make use of whatever is suitable and to modifiy or adapt the unappropriate or unsatisfied ones for better and more beneficial use.