Brian Tomlinson

Develop Your English is a rare e-textbook. It combines an effective application of language acquisition theory to practice with an optimum use of the affordances offered by digital technology.

The e-book provides rich exposure to English in use and does so by offering the learner a variety of written, spoken and multi-modal texts to respond to in a variety of reading, listening, writing, speaking and interaction tasks linked to the same issue. The texts include extracts from books and magazines, blogs, Ted talks, comic strips and videos and the tasks include essays, letters, articles, presentations and discussions. The content of the texts is intelligent, relevant and potentially engaging in the sense that it invites both the emotional and the cognitive responses necessary for the achievement of affective and cognitive engagement. Rich exposure, variety, intelligent and relevant input, engagement and purposeful communication have all been demonstrated by research to be potential facilitators of language acquisition and development.

Many other determiners of acquisition and development are catered for in the book. The topic contents of the e-book are potentially meaningful in the sense that they are connected to the lives of the learners and to issues which are likely to concern them. The language content of the book is both authentic and recycled and the tasks provoke thought and connection. It is authentic in the sense that it is not written or spoken to teach prescribed language structures or items but to achieve purposeful and contextualised communication. The language content is recycled many times as a result of the learners being invited to return to texts and issues for different purposes in different ways and of the language content being referred to and connected in different units. The topic content is usefully provocative and by focusing on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and providing a lot of exemplified information and many views about them it connects to currently significant issues to the learners’ lives, experience and opinions. The connected tasks invite the learners to consider the information and opinions provided to them and to decide what their own views are in post-reading questions, in ‘What Do You Think sections, and in writing, speaking and interaction activities. Keeping the tasks meaningful to the learners in this way has been found to be a powerful facilitator of personal development and of language acquisition and development too.

One of the best ways to develop communicative ability in a language is to use the language for communication and Develop Your English certainly offers many opportunities to do so. It does so by providing many tasks which require the learners to communicate in order to achieve a purpose and every unit has a discussion point.

Instead of being driven by pre-determined, prescriptive grammar points the materials are text-driven and the grammar points which are focused on derive from the texts and invite learners to notice them and their uses rather than to mindlessly repeat them. For example, ‘Read the four sentences from the text and notice the structures in bold that demonstrate equal or unequal comparisons’.

The materials are designed for the reality of using English as an international language and, for example, the listening texts feature speakers of English with different accents (for example, ‘There is an audio recording button on each page to help you access the images and to give you listening practice with a range of different accents that you can hear as you read’).

It is noticeable that most of the communicative tasks can be done by autonomous learners working alone and there is even a feature allowing them to interact with an AI robot capable of simulating authentic communication. It is also noticeable that many of the tasks are linguistically and cognitively challenging. They are not so demanding as to defeat and demotivate the learners but they are rich in language and intelligent in content.  They are achievably demanding in ways that can stimulate cognitive engagement and they offer different degrees of challenge for the learners to select from.

It is a distinctive feature of this e-book that learners are often given a choice of what texts to read or listen to and sometimes of what tasks to undertake in relation to the texts. Choice has been demonstrated to offer the possibility of increased relevance, salience and meaningfulness but is rarely offered in textbooks. It is frequently offered though in Develop Your English in ways likely to facilitate development. For example, in every unit the learners can decide how much they want to read about a particular topic (e.g. ‘Click on the arrows to reveal more information about SDG10. You don’t need to remember everything you read – the main thing is to get an overview of this Goal’) and they are often given a menu of reading and of listening tasks to choose from (e.g. ‘Access the link and read one (or more) of the following texts’.

Many e-textbooks in my experience focus on the technological possibilities offered by the medium but do not match these affordances with principles of language acquisition and development. Develop Your English utilises technological opportunities but does so in order to facilitate a match between the use of affordances and principled procedures designed to facilitate language achievement and development. For example, most of the activities are personalised and many invite the learners to share their views with others  rather than answer test questions, as in the many ‘What Do You Think?’ and discussion point tasks.

This e-book is not only designed to utilise the many potential affordances of digital materials in order to facilitate acquisition and development, it is designed to be versatile too. It can be used for self-learning by an individual working alone, it can be used by a learning group working without a teacher and it can be used by a class working with a teacher. To achieve this versatility it makes use of many digital affordances (e.g. introducing individual learners to five interactive climate change tools).

In conclusion I would just like to say that the thing that strikes me most about Develop Your English is that it looks as though it could be very stimulating and enjoyable to use. I hope you enjoy using it.

About the author

Brian Tomlinson has worked as a teacher, teacher trainer, curriculum developer, film extra, football coach and university academic in Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Nigeria, Oman, Singapore, UK, Vanuatu and Zambia, as well as giving invited presentations in over seventy countries. He is Founder and President of MATSDA (the international Materials Development Association), an Honorary Visiting Professor at the University of Liverpool and a TESOL Professor at Anaheim University. He has over one hundred publications on materials development, language awareness, teacher development and second language acquisition, and he has recently published Developing Materials for Language Teaching (3rd edition) (Bloomsbury, 2023) as well as co-authoring with Hitomi Masuhara The Complete Guide to the Theory and Practice of Materials Development for Language Learning (Wiley, 2018) and SLA Applied: Connecting Theory and Practice (Cambridge University Press, 2021).


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