English for Football is part of OUP’s Express series that specialises in English for students who need it to communicate in an English-speaking footballing environment, most likely players who want or have secured a move to a UK-based club. Therefore it’s not so surprising that the foreword is from a football manager, though it’s not every day that it’s by Sir Alex Ferguson. With now 20 league titles to his name, it’s safe to say that he knows a lot about football. But what does he know about teaching English and the usefulness of course books? Is the book really as good as Sir Alex claims?
One of the strengths of the book is the layout. It is broken into 8 units covering the various positions and jobs of people involved in football: for example, Chapter 2 is Defender, Chapter 6 is Scout. Within each chapter you have a couple of readings, listenings, lots of useful vocabulary and a grammar point. The format is very clear and easy to follow with each unit containing many colour photos of past and present football greats such as Messi, Suarez, Maradona and Roger Milla, to name but a few. There is bias in the number of Manchester United players in the book compared to other clubs, which might niggle a few teachers from Merseyside, though I am sure the learners won’t mind.
Perhaps the biggest strength to this book is the content. The vocabulary within each unit fits the need for any overseas player looking to communicate in an English speaking club. For example, for midfielders, there’s track back, drop deep, through ball, play on, cut inside. For goalkeepers, there’s narrow the angle, stay on your line, keep a clean sheet, etc. Also within each unit there’s a situational dialogue providing the learners with useful language such as how to ask for advice, how to help each other and for the less than perfect player, how to apologise! The language points are consolidated by extra tasks to do at the back of the book and a CD rom with further tasks. On a side note, I quite like the variety in the controlled practice tasks as they aren’t all gap-fills and are likely to keep the students’ interest.
The texts within the chapters not only support the language points within the unit but they are extremely engaging (I read every reading and tape-script!). You can read about two footballing legends in Ceni and Chilavert, find out the different jobs of football scouts, learn the difference between a coach and a manager and find out what the job of a number 10 is. Also at the end of each unit there are interviews with famous players about how they learnt English and how they adapted into English life, which are not only interesting but provide the students with some encouragement to persevere with their English. After most texts there are a series of topical discussion questions, which would get native speakers talking, let alone foreign students. Is the goalkeeping position a boring position? Are European defenders the best in the world? Would you dive to win a penalty?
Accompanying the book are the online teacher’s notes. These provide various communicative ideas to support each unit. There are some interesting ideas, such as going online and getting students to provide the commentary to a game with the sound off, but mainly they are ideas for discussions. This is not a bad thing as I found them to be very interesting but just don’t expect the large communicative role-plays that are found at the back of other teacher’s books, although I would imagine any teachers using this book are unlikely to be using it with large classes anyway.
It’s clear that if students use this book, they will improve their receptive skills and their speaking fluency but one thing the book lacks is any writing development. Though I am not sure what the writing needs of footballers are (apart from Twitter!) I would imagine that the students would benefit from some development. Also those who expect pronunciation tasks to be included will be disappointed as this is another area that isn’t really touched upon. However, I don’t see this as a major drawback as it can easily be remedied by the teacher.
There are other nice features to this book but its main appeal is that it does exactly what it says on the cover. Moreover, I would imagine that this book would be useful on the shelf of any staffroom as it could be used to supplement small or one-to-one classes of teenagers or adults who are interested in football. If you have to teach future ’going to’ to a one-to- one student, then why not in the context of the future plans of the football club that your student supports? The question I have over this book is: could a teacher who knows little about football teach from it? Possibly, especially as the teacher’s guide provides a glossary of the terminology, though I would imagine they would still find it difficult. However, I feel there would be more than enough willing volunteers to teach football English, especially if this is the course book to use. So it looks like Sir Alex does know a thing or two about EFL course books.