in English vs Headway Elementary

    Oxford University Press                                        Oxford University Press

Once again Jean Theuma will look at two course books and compare them.  This time it's the
lowest levelthat took our fancy. It seems hard to find really good beginner level books as these
are quite specialised. 

In English
is a starter level book with a lot of vocabulary development.  Headway Elementary
is an A1 level book which rapidly moves through the basics.

Absolute beginners or false beginners

The first thing you have to ask yourself is whether the beginners you have are real beginners
or false beginners.Absolute beginners are those students that have honestly not had any
instruction or contact with English before.They are likely to know universal words in English,
such as 'jeans', 'computer', 'hamburger', 'television' and a large number of other words which
seem to have drifted across the world.  However, they are unlikely to know how to create a
sentence in English and they probably don't know any grammar at all.

On the other hand, false beginners are likely to have had some previous lessons in English. 
This might have been a long time ago or they might be guilty of not paying much attention to
the lessons before.  They have probably forgotten, or feel they have forgotten, a lot of what
they have learned.  They have gaps in their knowledge but otherwise they can be reminded of
basic language structures quite quickly.  They will possibly understand a lot ofwhat the teachers
says in class but be unable to respond to it.

In English

What works well?

This book gives a very good grounding in the language. The units are clear, well-structured and
a good mix of systems (vocabulary and grammar) and skills work.  The progression of
grammar in the units does not follow thetraditional progression from present simple to present
continuous to past simple to past continuous, etc....

Instead, the grammar focus is directed towards what students will need in order to survive in
English.  The grammar is presented in chunks of useable language moving from:

Present simple  → imperatives 
→ present continuous  present continuous for future going
to for making plans 
past simple

What could be improved?

In English uses dialogues to introduce and practice the language.  These are good as models
but the activities are verydependant on listening to the dialogues on a CD.  It is quite difficult
to use the book without access to the audio material. So, if you do not have the CD that goes
with the book or if you do not have a CD player in class, it will prove challenging to make the
most of the book.

Who would it suit best?

In English
is designed with absolute beginners in mind.  It takes for granted that the student
already knows the latin (English) alphabet.  Apart from that, the book supports and guides a
beginner student through the complicated first steps in English.  It is user-friendly and targets
language which a student can start using as soon as they start the book.

False beginners will, most likely, whizz through
In English very quickly and be bored by the lack
of challenge presented to them.

This book is excellent for both new and experienced teachers to use.  The units are clearly laid
out and the topics are well-chosen for the student.

Headway Elementary

What works well?

As part of the Headway series, this book has a proven track record.  The Headway series is
arguably the most well-used course book in EFL, and the elementary level has all the well-known
features of this award winning series.   Each unit is jam-packed with grammar work, supported
by reading and listening tasks set to the appropriate level.  The texts stretch the students,
helping them to gain enough confidence to produce English themselves.

There are also excellent supplementary materials in the teacher's book and work-book, along
with a good digital IWB version of the book in the Oxford iTools range.

The vocabulary is especially useful in real-life situations, in particular the 'Everyday English'
section, although these are quite small and limited.

What could be improved?

The main criticisms of any Headway course book are that the units are built around discrete
grammar points.  The breaking up of grammar into bite-sized pieces increases the student's
feeling of achievement and impression of progress.  However, the actual progress made by the
students seems quite 'bitty' and I feel that the course book needs to be supplemented with more
'survival' language.

Who would it suit best?

False beginners will benefit from Headway ElementaryThe units start at a very low level
but progress very swftly to complex, long texts and the vocabulary quickly goes beyond the
basic. False beginners will find that the units remind them of forgotten language and their ability
to understand English will help them to use the texts to further their familiarity with the language.

On the other hand, abosolute beginners will struggle to cope with this fast-paced book. 
Headway Elementary does not offer the large amount of recycling and simplicity needed by
someone who is completely new to the language.

Although Headway Elementary is a good book for both new and experienced teachers, it is
the new teachers who can benefit the most through using reliably good activities and tasks.

Jean Theuma