Short answer? – No! Read below

This is a hotly debated topic, which I frequently encounter almost on a daily basis. In this day and age, it is a needless reminder of the importance of learning English, however learning it “correctly” is quite another thing on its own. 

Teaching English in Moscow and several Russian regions, one comes across a plethora of “English books” coming from various publishers such as Cambridge Assessment, Oxford University Press, MacMillan, and the Russian flavourings a.k.a Starlight. These books are quite expensive in themselves, with several components such as CD, workbooks, DVD sold separately, and for a budget-conscious student can add to a nice princely sum. 

However an underscored importance of “punctuation” is often missing in almost all the books, which in my opinion is the building blocks of English language. The other unintended consequence being – students tend to “memorise” the answers and “complete the book/ workbook” syndrome begins to develop, which in turn hampers their learning and cognitive abilities significantly. As the student grows older, this exacerbates the problem significantly and thus reflects itself during speaking and reasoning skills -> fundamental testing aspect of any English exam, GCSE, A Levels, EGE (Russian), TOEFL, IELTS etc..

This brings me back to the topic of teaching English as a Native Speaker (ENL) using the UK school curriculum, where hardly any teacher uses an “English book” to teach. Each lesson is developed for every lesson and taught accordingly. The student is encouraged to think independently with only prompts given to aid in the right direction. So this brings me back to the all-important question, when to use / when not to use a book, together with their respective advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of using a book:

  1. Easier to develop “structured knowledge” of the language
  2. A sense of accomplishment, as the student can “complete” set tasks in workbooks
  3. Confirmation of English level (theoretically)
  4. Develops reading ability
  5. Teachers find it easier to teach, as limited effort is required. The publisher already supplies a “teachers book”, so you can effectively print out the lesson materials and teach using the book resource. 
  6. Easier to learn from. 

Disadvantages of using a book:

  1. Does not develop “free and independent” thinking of the student
  2. Student completes the task, and gets a false sense of accomplishment
  3. One size fits all policy doesn’t work for everyone
  4. Materials are often outdated
  5. Punctuation element is often disregarded
  6. No independent assessment 
  7. Book structure does not necessarily correspond to the current frameworks of English Language. 
  8. Last but not the least, they are expensive. 

When should you use a book:

  1. During early childhood years, pictorial representations of the language are important. Children remember pictures easily (excellent photographic memory)
  2. When you want to get some “additional” but limited help in English
  3. When studying English for other purposes e.g. Business, Medical etc.. as the topic are divided into many themes and its associated vocabulary
  4. When studying for English exams (understanding the format only!) and not memorising the answers.

How to learn English as a Native Speaker?

The answer is actually quite simple, think of yourself as a child, how did you learn your first language? In the case of Russia, how did you first learn Russian? Did the teacher use a lot of books? I believe not. The only way to learn English as a native speaker is to do the following

  1. Get a basic grammar book (basic!) which tells you the meaning of parts of speech, and rules of grammar and punctuation. 
  2. Choose a current and relevant material online or offline and identify aspects from point 1, above and see how the sentence structure is formed. For example if you are 10 years old, then get a UK school children’s story book. Identify the elements of English language there.
  3. Create and write down example sentences at least 50 times. Remember repetition is the mother of skill. The ONLY way your brain will remember something is when you will carry on repeating it. 
  4. Install British Council Sounds Right application and learn how the sounds are produced according to syllables. This is quite important because later on, some articles of English Language are based on sounds, rather than theoretical rules. 
  5. Finally, write each word 50 times and remember it, don’t use a google translator, instead look up the pictorial form of it, so that you directly understand it. 

This is the fundamental method of how I teach English to all age groups right from 5 years to 50 years. There is no difference at all, because at the end of the day, our brain thought and information processing system remains and always will remain the same. Remember repetition is the mother of skill. Do not cram the books and memorise the material. Understand the logic behind it. This is something you will never learn from the book. It’s something you can only learn if you practice it and make mistakes; become from that you’ll learn not to make the same mistakes again 

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