Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head

The rationale behind my Collins Speaking Skills book


So, for anyone that’s interested, some of the rationale behind my Collins Skills for Life: Speaking Skills book and a bit of insight into the publication process.

I’ve already outlined what I had to do for the proposal. I’d initially been asked which of the four skills I would prefer and had opted for Reading or Writing as top choices but I can’t think why now. Writing, of course, because that’s what I do, but Reading – who the hell cares about that? Students get so much reading practice they can mostly read way beyond their ability for actual communication in the language. My second half year in Spain, I read the whole of Bridget Jones in Spanish and my Spanish was, is, and will forever be, crap.

Thankfully, Collins steered me towards Speaking which is actually what I always focus on in my private classes and why I began making my own materials in the first place. Ideally I would have been able to write a Speaking book which pulled sentence frames and chunks out of natural sounding language on no particular topics because I think that’s where the most useful language comes from. Why bother teaching students five ways to accept an offer if they know one and will be happy to use it forever? Just because it makes you able to have a whole unit about one point?


Ho hum, I see why students self studying need to be able to choose a unit and know what they’re getting. After all, we’ve been training them that way for their entire language learning career so they do feel they need this as opposed to just general training noticing/awareness skills. But I got the all clear to choose the topics, the phrases I wanted to include AND to have one section which picked out naturally occurring language that had no connection to the theme. Apparently, both that amount of freedom and the lexical chunks idea is fairly novel. I’ve been wondering for years when the Lexical Approach is going to hit EFL books so it’s great to be so ground breaking.

What do I mean by naturally occurring language on no set theme?

Take the three paragraphs above…I’d pick out: who the hell….? /They steered me towards…/ Ideally I would have…/Why bother …ing?/ I got the all clear to…

I couldn’t care less what level you think the students are, most of them will never come out with these frames independently through putting together grammar and vocabulary items (with the exception of ‘Why bother …ing?’ but which is still probably not used in this way by B2 students).

Initially the commissioning editor understood sentence frames as something lower level students rely on before they’re capable of constructing complex sentences. However, I strongly believe that pretty much every linguistic challenge students face after Intermediate or so is mastering this.

The editor added another new section to the end “The Next Step” which gives tips to students on how to look for ways outside a book for practicing what they’ve learned. So each unit does give a fairly rounded introduction to new language. After that it’s all down to the student.

Some might say that’s the study skill they need most of all.


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This entry was posted on May 29, 2014 by in Writing and tagged , , .
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