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“No art or learning is to be pursued halfheartedly…and any art worth learning will certainly reward more or less generously the effort made to study it.”
—Murasaki Shikibu (c. 973-1014), Japanese author, The Tale of Genji
Looking for some book recommendations to prepare for your first English teaching position abroad?
Recently I came across an old list of EFL book recommendations that I made some years ago. Today, I’d like to update that list with a few more noteworthy titles, while revisiting previous suggestions to novice teachers of English as a foreign language (TEFL) that have stood the test of time.
Here is a brief list of English as a Foreign Language books that I personally have found valuable and insightful in teaching English. I also wish I had read all of them before teaching English abroad in France, Spain, and Vietnam years ago. Fortunately, new TEFL professionals have many more choices and options today. This curated, suggestive list also reflects my core teaching philosophy that we want to create positive experiences in English and use our strange tongue to help English language learners to create better lives. Some of these books focus on the peculiar features of the English language, some offer exceptional classroom lessons, and other books take a critical look at cultural contexts and economic factors influencing the rapidly growing English language teaching industry. Read on!
How did the language of a small island nation become a world standard? This partly descriptive, partly prescriptive book provides a detailed look into how English became “Globish” – the world’s international language. In it, the author reviews the astonishing spread of English and its many changes over time and space, while highlighting the many advantages of English as a global tongue. All in all, a highly fascinating and informative read.
Teaching English in Japan is a noble profession, but it can also also be a quite frustrating profession. Have you taught – or fantasized about teaching – English in Japan? If so, you will find this detailed primer on the evolution, collapse, and rebirth of the English language training industry fascinating. Based on extensive interviews with dozens of English teachers, conversation tutors, and language school administrators, this TEFL book provides a compelling look into contemporary Japanese society. More importantly, this provocative book focuses on the economic realities and financial struggles of teaching English in a foreign land. Fortunately, English to Go also acknowledges the satisfactions of living and working abroad – despite often problematic working conditions.
Prolific ELT author Keith Folse has written over 50 fascinating ESL/EFL textbooks and spoke in English teacher conferences across the globe. Combining personal insights, detailed interviews with fellow ESL teachers, and survey research with an acute awareness that context matters, The Art of Teaching Speaking remains a practical, illuminating guide for English teachers, particularly suitable for MA classes on ESL methodology. I strongly recommend this outstanding primer for conversation both English teachers and tutors; Folse’s 20 short vignettes in Chapter 3 (What does a Conversation Class Look Like) are worth the cover price alone.
The ELT Journal, by Hall Houston, deserves some precious space in the suitcase. It helps new EFL teachers transition from “novice” to “competent language teaching professional” in a comfortable, enjoyable manner. The reflective introduction by Dr. Rose Senior, an award-winning ELT author specializing in classroom language teaching, focuses on a crucial point: “making mistakes is part of the learning process.” She shares her insights on handling pesky classroom challenges from pacing issues to choosing an inclusive “class centered” mindset. Yet the heart of this thin, flexible TEFL book remains the journal pages featuring suggestions, ice-breakers, quotations, and writing prompts.
The last section includes insights and classroom tips from 15 EFL experts who have taught across the globe. These include Sean Banville, a “webmaster of eight English learning sites,” who has taught English for 20 years in Japan and UAE, and Hanna Kryszewska, co-author of resource books and a senior lecturer at the English Language Institute in Gdansk, Poland, who wisely reminds the reader to “look after yourself.” If used as intended, the ELT Journal will create a vivid reminder of a first teaching experience abroad. It will also document one’s growth and evolution as a global educator.
For highly academic and intensive English programs, Cambridge Vocabulary in Use series remains an excellent supplemental text. The self-contained two-page format allows students, teachers, and tutors alike to pick and choose materials. You can forgive the British spelling too, but you might want to alert your students the differences between British and American spelling in some common words.
Furthermore, the Grammar in Use series is the only grammar series that I’ve ever felt comfortable using in the classroom. Again, the accessible, clear format with self-contained lessons allows for both self-study and effective use as a supplemental text.
Written by USC Assistant Professor J.J. Polk – my friend and colleague at the American Language Institute – this thin, yet comprehensive book demonstrates how to transform sentences into questions. Written in an easy-to-use, easy-to-follow format, Polk provides 2290+ sentence to question transformations through all active verb tenses. This practical text also helps develop student curiosity and writing skills with hours of invaluable question-forming exercises.
Finally, I also naturally recommend Compelling Conversations: Questions and Quotations on Timeless Topics, by Toni Aberson and Eric Roth, as a supplemental text for advanced EFL classes, conversation clubs, and English tutors. Our first fluency-focused ESL/EFL textbook has sold in over 50 countries and continues to find new audiences. Sample chapters can be downloaded here . Additional individual chapters are also available via Teachers Pay Teachers.
Teaching English allows you to travel the world, share your knowledge, and have a great time. I hope these books, crammed with practical lessons and unorthodox insights, will also allow you to keep your eyes up. How have you prepared to teach English abroad? What are your favorite EFL textbooks? Which EFL books have you enjoyed teaching with and sharing with students? Why? Share your favorites!