by Ronald Gray, Beijing Language and Culture University
Vol. 5, No. 1 (April 2001) of the Electronic Journal
The history behind this famous teacher resource book is unique.
It was originally written in 1977
The ESL Miscellany purports to be "a compendium of useful and interesting information for teachers and students of English as a Second Language." Although the book focuses on North American English, it will also be useful to teachers and students of other varieties of English. Teachers will find this book useful as a resource for developing material as they supplement, expand, replace, adapt, or develop a complete curriculum from scratch. This one book does not contain everything that the teacher/materials developer needs to know, but we believe it is the most comprehensive one volume reference for the lesson writer. In addition to its usefulness in developing materials, this book offers another function as a guideline/checklist for teachers who teach 'a little of this and a little of that.' (p. 1).
The book is divided into five parts, with parts 1 and 2 having information about the English language itself and the other parts containing information on cultural, "metalinguistic" and non-verbal communication matters.
Part 1 is entitled "The Linguistic Aspect." It is intended to be "a checklist of grammatical features
that most teachers find it necessary to cover" (p. 7). This
checklist starts with minimal pairs, includes such features as
modals, idioms, prefixes and suffixes, and ends with verb plus
As a consequence, there are three checklists, one for each part of the communicative aspect. The situational context checklist provides vocabulary lists on such subjects as basic daily needs (food, clothing, and shelter), transportation, work, education, personal finances, and shopping. The topical content checklist is an attempt at a list of basic topics that language learners probably "will encounter at some time or other.... Each topic is outlined as a vocabulary list of the words, phrases, and idioms that might be encountered in a general conversation about the topic" (p. 57). These 60 topics include food, travel, time, weather, thinking, colors, shapes, emotions, the body and its functions, photography, video, cinema, religion, disasters, the military and war, history, and even death.
The last checklist, communicative functions, "is similar to a notional functional syllabus....To organize the various communicative functions in some useful way, we have presented them as a kind of syllabus/check list. We have used as a sequential basis, four levels of language sophistication. These levels (surviving, adjusting, participating, and integrating) represent a transition from beginning language student to filly functioning bilingual person" (p. 131 ). For each of these levels, the functions have five general types: basic needs, socializing, metalinguistics, professional, and cultural. So, for example, for level 1 (surviving for the beginner), basic needs would involve asking for assistance, buying a small item, responding physically to simple instructions, and stating basic needs and wants. Level 4 (integrating for advanced students) employs the basic need of acting in emergencies.
Part 3, "The Cultural Aspect," is a vast compendium of cultural information about North America. "The capsule summaries of selected areas of North American culture contained in this section are at best a starting point for discussion, research, explanation, and study" (p. 137). These cultural data range far and wide, from immigration statistics, U.S. Presidents, folk songs, superstitions, heroes, famous quotations and proverbs, to sports teams, curses and oaths, names, television, U.S. national documents, leading U.S. advertisers, and the Canadian national anthem.
Part 4, "The Metalinguistic Aspect and Miscellaneous Materials," concerns "information that will help the teacher and the learner facilitate the teaching/learning process.... There is also information that does not fit neatly into any of the other categories and is labeled as miscellaneous" (p. 2).
The metalinguistic information includes a glossary of grammatical terms, short guides to pronunciation, spelling, and lists of high frequency verbs. The miscellaneous material includes Roman numerals, common elements and symbols, road and other informational signs, and a pedagogical atlas of the world.
The final part, "The Paralinguistic Aspect," is about types of non-verbal communication. It contains an outline of sounds, body language, the international sign alphabet, and basic classroom gestures. The last section is a listing (complete with pictures) and detailed explanation of 50 common American gestures.
There are some problems with the book. It would be helpful to have drawings or pictures to highlight some sections of the earlier chapters. Also, some of the drawings in the section on road signs are not clear, and it would be more practical if the various maps were larger and more detailed. Finally, some of the methodological terminology used in the communicative functions section seems unduly complicated and the distinctions drawn at times forced (for example, between the 4 levels and between the 4 general types).
All in all, however, this is an extremely practical, informative, exhaustive (and at times exhausting) teacher resource book (especially for those teachers who are working abroad and have limited access to a good library or the Internet). Where before overseas teachers had to carry about an armful of resource materials, now they have almost all they need in one compact book. This book also has the added advantage of containing information that is usually overlooked in conventional resource books, such as a good listing of prefixes and suffixes, world maps, and a detailed listing of British and American spelling and vocabulary differences. And it is very nice to finally have a photographic catalog of common American gestures.