Coursebooks:the most important tools in language learning

Throughout my professional career, I have realized that coursebooks have always been an important, if not the most important tool in language learning. According to Richards (1998) for most teachers the textbook represents the main source of ideas for teaching. The usual attitude of most teachers is to focus their attention mainly on textbooks, disregarding other sources for language learning such as videos / DVDs, CDs, television, songs, and tours –to mention just a few.

Ur (1999:193) has categorically assessed a coursebook as a necessary resource for teachers:

‘Personally, I very much prefer to use a coursebook. I find that a set framework helps me to regulate and time my program; and, perhaps paradoxically, provides a firm jumping-off point for the creation of imaginative supplementary teaching ideas. […] It seems that the possession of a coursebook may carry a certain prestige.’

Text by: Helen Papadopoulou

The selection of a coursebook is one of the most important decisions a teacher will

make in shaping the content and nature of teaching and learning. It involves matching the material against the context in which it is going to be used, following the aims of the teaching programme, as well as fitting the personal methodology of the teacher.

O’Neill (1982) provides four justifications for the use of coursebooks. Firstly, a large portion of a coursebook’s material can be suitable for students’ needs, even if not specifically designed for them. Secondly, coursebooks allow students to look ahead, or refresh themselves with past lessons. They remove the element of surprise in students’ expectations. Thirdly, coursebooks have the practical aspect of providing material that is well-presented. Finally, and I believe most importantly, well-designed coursebooks allow for improvisation and adaptation by the teacher, as well as empowering students to create spontaneous interaction in the class.

Most experts agree, however, that heavy dependence on a single coursebook is

detrimental to students’ needs, and that adaptability and supplemental materials are

supportive additions. The general view among current researchers supports the opportunity for choice, in accordance with students’ learning needs and interests.

According to Richards (1996:283), teachers basically employ two dimensions of knowledge when they teach.

One relates to the subject matter and curricular issues and how the content of a lesson can be presented in an effective and coherent way. This is the aspect of teaching that has to do with curricular goals, lesson plans, instructional activities, materials, tasks, and teaching techniques.

The other kind of knowledge relates to the teacher’s personal and subjective philosophy of teaching and the teacher’s view of what constitutes good teaching.

Apart from the teacher’s style, external features count in the decision for choosing a certain language teaching material. The commonest is the size of the group of learners, resources available, the price of the material, the duration of the class, curricular issues, administrative demands, and the purpose the course of English is meant to serve; that is what learners are expected to have learned at the end of it. Furthermore, it is important to consider the learners’ age, their social condition, and their previous knowledge of the target language.

There are both advantages and disadvantages to using coursebooks in ELT.

Pros of using coursebooks in ELT:

  • Structured content: Coursebooks provide a structured sequence of language activities, which can be helpful for learners who need guidance in their learning journey.
  • Consistency: Coursebooks ensure that all learners in a class are learning the same material, which can be beneficial for teachers who want to maintain consistency and fairness in their teaching.
  • Time-saving: Using a coursebook can save teachers time by providing pre-made lesson plans and activities.
  • Comprehensive: Coursebooks are often designed to cover all language skills (reading, writing, listening, and speaking) and provide learners with a well-rounded language learning experience.
  • Evaluation: Coursebooks often come with accompanying materials such as tests, quizzes, and assignments that can be used to evaluate learners' progress.





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