Book of the Month
English the American Way
A Fun ESL Guide to Language and Culture in the U.S.

Publisher: Research & Education Association
Authors: Shiela MacKechnie Murtha, Jane Airey O'Connor
$17.30

ISBN 978-0738606767

Intermediate +


This book is part of a growing trend that teaches not just the language of a country, but also the culture. This is generally a good thing, since knowing the language is only a part of communication. For example knowing whether it is good manners to enquire about things like female members of another person's family, or how much they earn at work is also important, particularly if you intend to spend a lot of time in a country with a very different culture to your own. This month's book, in the authors' own cheery words is 'packed with language and culture', in this case of the United States. The authors have certainly done their best to make both topics as easy to study as possible, but whether reading this book is 'fun' as promised in the title very much depends on your idea of a good time.

There are 274 pages in the book. There is a short introduction with lots of exclamation marks and smiley faces which tells us what nice, friendly people the authors are and not much else. Fortunately this is followed by the much more practical instructions of 'How to use this book'. Soon after that we get down to the main content of the book - twenty-one units of fairly densely-packed text with each unit around ten to fifteen pages long. The units follow more or less what a person moving to the USA might experience in the order that things happen. So we start with 'New Friends', which includes meeting the neighbours, and in later units move on to how to use public transport (and some bus etiquette to whom you should give up your seat and how much to tip a taxi driver.)
The book also has tips of the other sort - handy bits of advice marked by an arrow and the word 'tip'. There is also a small 'i' in a circle to warn you when informal language is used. (The authors say they use 'tons' of informal language.) You also get hints as to how words are pronounced. As one progresses, the vocabulary takes in jobs, dating, babies and even funerals, so one gets an entire life in a book. Each unit covers not only culture and vocabulary, but also an aspect of grammar. The grammar seems to have been selected on which constructions the authors feel that a student would need first, which leads to some odd aspects such as stative verbs appearing in Unit 4 while we meet the past simple only in Unit 6. (And in several units after that.) There are review exercises throughout the book,with the answers at the back along with some appendices such as a list of irregular words. There is also an accompanying CD which helps with dialogues and pronunciation, but which is not essential. You can use the book alone - for example while studying on public transport.

Who is this book for? The target is clearly someone who has moved, or is about to move to the USA. Despite this, the authors have avoided the entire subjust of immigration and the different types of vocabulary an immigrant might need to deal with officialdom such as 'Green Card'. Other sensitive issues such as race and the political system are likewise avoided. The grammar is of intermediate level and is best used to revise material a student already knows. It is not comprehensive enough to act as a grammar textbook on its own. The book also pays little attention to the fact that US language and culture is very different in Boston and New Orleans (for example).

Verdict: A quick but often superficial guide
Assessment 5/10
 
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