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Room for Improvement
on 9 August 2013
This may be a slightly earlier edition that the 2006 one, but from what I could tell much of the content is the same. Of course the layout and use of colour in the later edition is a vast improvement, but my comments here will principally apply to both editions as far as I can tell.
On the plus side :
1, The authors do make attempts to categorise the vocabulary into useful topics and concepts. Students can therefore select chapters which are either relevant to their present study or are of interest to them personally.
2. What's more, many of the model sentences have the ring of authentic English about them and so students wouldn't sound foreign if they used them directly from the book.
3. Attempts have been made to make the student's first encounters with vocabulary more inviting through the use of articles, mini dialogues, a few pictures etc.
4. There is a fairly good range of (mainly) controlled practice activities to familiarise students with the meaning, word class, etc. of the vocabulary items in question.
On the negative side :
1. There is far too much listing of vocabulary with accompanying definition in the presentation stage. Not only is this off-putting for all but the most resolute student, but it also speaks of sheer laziness on the part of the authors. There are many many ways to enliven new vocabulary and more importantly get students involved right from the word go. Far too often I've worked through a section wondering whether I wasn't just looking at some glorified thesaurus and dictionary dressed up to look like a study book.
2. It's ironic that although the authors mention register they have very little regard for when and where certain types of vocabulary could be used - and, more importantly, - what sort of individual would use certain of the "informal" language chosen by the authors. Personally, I find expressions like "living from hand to mouth" ("scrimp and save" not mentioned) and "she'll get over it" (referring to health) rather idiotic - the sort of thing that would lower my estimation of whoever was saying them and make me cringe if spoken by a non-native speaker. All this is reminiscent of the worst from the otherwise excellent (though undoubtedly "best ideas plundered from my past DELTA/DipTEFL students") Headway series (eg. "That's corny". "Tell me about it" ad nauseum). Especially at proficiency level students really ought to be encouraged to be aware of at least 4 degrees of register, AND warned about certain words, phrases and structures. Nuances of meaning are also frequently overlooked in this book. Although there is some work on collocations, I would have preferred more and for it to form part of nearly every unit.
3. There seems to be little purpose to some of the units except the possible recognition and recitation of set words. Consequently, on these occasions, students might well lack confidence in actually integrating the vocabulary into their own use and practising it in the real world. Now that really is an indictment of these Cambridge authors...Will I get a job as a Cambridge consultant? Probably not. Great.