Book Reviews

  Speaking of Wine inglese per professionisti del vino (English for wine professionals), 2nd Ed., by Mia Farone Rosso, Patricia Guy and Josephine Taylor. Italian translations by Maurizio Rosso. Preface by Prof. Vincenzo, University of Torino. (Omega edizioni, 2006)

This book is intended for Italian vineyard owners, wine marketers and anyone else in the wine industry who needs to know how to speak and understand the modern jargon of grape growing and wine-making in English. Even small Italian wineries send representatives to visit international wine fairs, or are visited by foreign distributors interested in importing new "labels" to their home countries around the world.

There aren't many Russians who speak Italian, and vice versa, so English is desirable on both sides. But since this book is written in both Italian and English it's also an excellent practice text for intermediate and advanced ESL students who have any interest in wine tasting or wine tourism. For example, when speaking of a wine's fragrance, do you know the difference between its "primary aroma" and its "bouquet?" Every aspect of wine that may be perceived (appearance, smell, taste, texture, and even sound) is considered. The whole subject is fascinating.

The book is illustrated with many photographs, drawings and diagrams, and there is also an extensive glossary at the end of the book. An audio CD is also included and contains selected chapters read by British and American speakers. My copy was a gift at a wine fair and there was no price or address for ordering, but I found a supplier at Asti Libri 33 euros (about US$42) plus shipping.

 

Natural Grammar by Scott Thornbury (Oxford Univ. Press, 2004).

This book is based on the British national “corpus,” a database of about 300 million words from various written and audio sources. Statistical analyses of the corpus have revealed the most common words and word-groups in English. Instead of presenting traditional chapters with organized grammar structures (to be, to have, etc.) this book presents 100 of the most common words and the word-groups they appear in most frequently, starting with a/an and ending with you.

Although I haven’t tried the book with students yet, the approach is refreshing (the book won an award for innovation in English language teaching), and it is well thought out. For example, the various uses of words like “just” are explained simply and clearly. One disappointment is that this natural approach would seem to be best for beginners, but the book is designed for intermediate and advanced students. Another problem is the choice of listing the words in alphabetical order. That makes it easy to look for words, but offers no rationale for choosing any other order (e.g. the most common words first?).

There are also exercises with an answer key, and some surprising examples of British usage, e.g. “too clever by half,” which means pretentious. Students who have already waded through a traditional textbook of elementary English grammar will probably find this book a pleasing change of pace, and I’m eager to test that hypothesis this year. I bought my copy used at www.ebay.com or you can get it at www.Amazon.com or from www.oup.com/elt

 

Teaching English: Italy by Martin Penner, published in association with International House (In Print Books, Brighton, 1994).

Even though this book is 14 years old, some used copies are still available so it’s worth reviewing. I like to be fair and describe a book’s assets (if any) as well as shortcomings (if any), but in this case there are very few of the former and an abundance of the latter. The author only had five years experience teaching privately and in language schools when the book was published, so there is no information about the current, widespread use of foreign “conversation” teachers in state schools, and very little about how to find work as a university instructor. More disappointingly, this book bows to the teacher-training business by repeating the myth that short certificate courses are precious if not indispensable in finding work in Italy.

Among the inaccurate claims made is that finding work without a certificate is no longer (in 1994), easy because most schools have “wised up” to the virtue of short certificates. The author admits that it’s possible to find work without a certificate, but such teachers “will probably be barred access to the established, reputable schools and better-paid company jobs.” (p. 3) The book’s real message soon becomes evident as he describes the teacher-training courses sold by International House (the book’s sponsor). Four-week courses cost about US$1,000 (1994 dollars), and provide teachers with “a good grounding…in English teaching.” A gross inaccuracy is the claim: “In Italy all employers will know what it [his favorite certificate] is…” That wasn’t true in 1994, and it still isn’t true today. In reality,  there are many certificates sold by different companies, but the author warns readers against competitors.

It’s possible that in the very limited experience of the author’s workplaces in 1989-1994, what he said may have been true. But Italy is a big and heterogeneous country and such generalizations are way off the mark. Short certificate courses (take your pick) are largely unknown and unappreciated by Italian students, teachers and administrators who do the hiring. The web is now flooded with salespeople selling certificate courses at various prices, so you shouldn’t hope to impress anybody because you spent a lot of money on a short course! In all, this book contains about 16 pages of outdated information about finding employment, while the rest of the book consists of offhand advice on such things as travel, sports and other topics not related to finding a job.

I don’t mean to criticise the author as a person. He was, evidently, a humble teacher just trying to make some extra money by writing a book, and his claims were probably the consequence of careless reasoning rather than any attempt to deceive. However, International House has been in the teaching business for a long time so they should have known better than to allow their name to be associated with a book like this. Fortunately, more accurate and up-to-date information on the subject is now available.

"There is nothing on the web or on any bookshelf

as valuable as the book Teach English in Italy." - Carrie. L.

Home