Review ~ English for Psychology

A very worthwhile addition to Garnet’s award-winning series of skills-based courses designed specifically for non-native students who are about to enter English-medium tertiary-level studies, perfectly pitched for its target audience.
Reviewed for Teflnet by Adam Simpson
English for Psychology

English for Psychology

When Garnet Education’s ‘English for Specific Academic Purposes’ series won the English Speaking Union’s English Language book award in 2009, it was an indication that the provision of quality resources for EAP had entered a new era. Having seen how Garnet Education have raised the bar in terms of ESP course books, I approached the Psychology volume with high hopes. Once again, they have delivered the goods.

The series, to which English for Psychology is a new addition, is a collection of skills-based courses designed specifically for non-native students who are about to enter English-medium tertiary-level studies. One of the major gripes that teachers have with course books is that they rarely fit the context in which they are being used. Garnet have firmly broken the mould with the series in general and with English for Psychology in particular. By aiming for a small target audience – this book is specifically for university students and not the psychology profession in general – the author has delivered a course book that will provide a strong foundation in the language of the field.

With the target audience clearly in mind, author Jane Short has pitched the content perfectly. A given is that users will have some background knowledge and interest in psychology – a fair enough expectation for one studying the field in university – without demanding that the student already possess the full content knowledge in their first language. There is a nice balance between focusing on the key lexis of the field while not overloading the learner with new and unfamiliar topics and concepts. Nevertheless, there might be a slight concern that this book would preempt certain Psychology 101 courses, such is the degree to which it meets the needs of its users.

In terms of the units of study, each has a unique feel to it, although a standard approach runs throughout the book. Every unit begins with a look at the key lexis of the topic. This is followed by a reasonably short reading or listening exercise. Where each unit really delivers for the learner is in the way that these exercises are then extended with the development of academic skills. The target skills are rounded off in each unit with tasks that require authentic academic production, either orally or in written form. For instance, some units utilise discussions leading to group presentations, as in Unit 7 which looks at memory, while others require written summaries of the unit content, as in Unit 2 which looks at the branches of psychology.

As far as the range of units is concerned, it would be practicable to use this book not only as language support but also as a foundation course in psychology. While the old classics are there, represented by units titled What is Psychology, Branches of Psychology and Psychology in Practice. The book also isn’t afraid to tackle contemporary areas of the field, including the chapters Psychology and Computers and With the Future in Mind. While all course books age and need updating, it is easy to see English for Psychology having a decent shelf life. The images used – except for a few, such as the screenshot of a web search – are not particularly tied to a style that will look dated in a year or two. Indeed, most of the visuals are academic in nature; it’s unlikely that graphs and mind maps will undergo major design changes. Basically, this is a book that teachers will be able to use for a number of years without fear that the references are dated. Any second edition would likely require only minor cosmetic changes.

From the student’s perspective, this is clearly not aimed at elementary-level learners. The back cover states that this is suitable for upper intermediate learners, and they’re bang on the money. It suggests that students at CEF levels B2 to C2 could use this book, which translates as IELTS 5.0 and above. These are not idle claims; indeed, the book pitches itself with these descriptors in mind. One of its strengths is that it manages to avoid the clichéd upper intermediate grammar mainstays, instead focusing on the aspects of grammar that are all too infrequent in higher level course books. Rather than going for obscure verb tenses, the author has focused on appropriate academic grammar. There is, for instance, adequate provision for the study of noun phrases, as well as step-by-step activities which aim to foster the development of complex sentence structures. Also, as mentioned, there is an appropriately heavy focus on the lexis of the particular topic, in addition to which is a unit-by-unit building up of the general vocabulary of academic discourse.

The teacher is also well catered for. The teacher’s book has clearly been given the same level of attention as the student’s book. Each unit receives the same degree of detail and one detail that I particularly like is that there is a snapshot of the pages from the student’s book in each unit. This is a small detail, but it makes it really easy for the teacher to orient themselves and see how the guidance given relates to the activities the students see in their book. Another nice touch is that the lexis is explained in terms of how it is specifically used in the field of psychology. The advice given is succinct but adequate, meaning that the teacher using this need not be an expert in psychology, nor even that experienced in delivering EAP courses. The teacher’s book also contains old standards, such as crosswords and word searches. While such things might not appeal to all, it is nice that they have been included so that the teacher has the chance to incorporate fun activities, or even just to offer a change of pace should they feel it necessary. Despite its comprehensive nature – it is almost twice the length of the student’s book – the teacher’s book manages to remain descriptive rather than prescriptive, with a lot of what is included simply being advice about how to approach teaching with the book.

All in all, any teacher should feel comfortable taking English for Psychology into an ESAP class, regardless of their level of experience in teaching specific academic courses.

Reviewed for Teflnet by Adam Simpson
April 2012 | Filed under ESP Materials

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