A Handbook of Spoken Grammar | Book review

Title: A Handbook of Spoken Grammar. Strategies for Speaking Natural English

Authors: Ken Paterson, Caroline Caygill and Rebecca Sewell

Publisher: Delta Publishing

Year of publication: 2011

Companion resources: Audio CD

Source: British Council Library

Handbook of Spoken Grammar.jpg

I actually assumed this was a book on methodology but it is in fact a study book for students. There isn’t much by way of information for the teacher except a cursory note that suggests the book is meant to be used for self-study but could potentially also be used in the classroom. However, the pages are not marked photocopiable and at  1,734 ($26), I don’t see how this could be used as a student resource book unless you infringe copyright. 

It would have been interesting to see a more detailed comparison of written and spoken grammars beyond a tiny note in the introduction. The authors suggest that “the features of spoken grammar help to create an easy-going, natural kind of English.” They also add that this type of grammar is more economical (Any luck?), simpler (I said to Anne, ‘look are you sure?’), less direct and therefore more polite (What sort of job do you do, then?) and provides the speaker with choices about when to reveal the subject (It’s such a wonderful place to spend a few days in, New York).

There are 20 units and each contains guided discovery and practice exercises for  specific focus areas, with answers at the back. For example, the tenth unit titled Say Less focuses on spoken ellipsis (A: Would anyone buy anything at that market. B: Oh, I would). In a sense I feel the title of this book is a bit deceptive. The units seem to largely cover language features that would help the speaker perform discourse and/or pragmatic functions such as sounding more polite (unit 7) and being vague (unit 8). For instance, sounding more polite is a round up of the usual suspects: softeners (would you mind …?), preparators (I was hoping) etc.

As the book is intended for learners, it omits metalanguage of the sort that I’ve just mentioned. This, however, would have been interesting input from a teaching perspective. The authors make no mention of what language level these exercises are pitched at in the book (although the book’s site says B1 and above). Some units seem appropriate for students with a lower proficiency (Unit 16: Make short responses to agree or show interest & Unit 12: How to use oh, ah, wow, ouch, etc.), and others seem positioned for more advanced learners (Unit 18: Follow your partner which explores a sort of backchanneling but using synonymous phrases – A: It’s hot today isn’t it? B: Boiling! Shall we sit in the garden).

There is a dearth of good classroom materials on spoken discourse and A Handbook of Spoken Grammar might address that need.  I tend to get excited about incorporating discourse and pragmatics into my courses only to find that I introduce it at the wrong time, treat it too subtly, make it far too explicit, or overestimate my learners’ abilities. It would have been useful to have some more guidance on using these units effectively and an exploration of the challenges of facilitating a more natural speaking style.

Delta Publishing offer the contents page and sample units as free downloads.

Have you used this book with your learners? I’d love to hear from you about your experience.


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