How to Study Foreign Languages is the latest in the growing range of Macmillan Study Guides, and it will be useful for both students and tutors at any stage in the annual teaching and learning cycle. It spells out the whole process involved in acquiring a language and puts into perspective all those courses with names like "Bulgarian made easy" or "Latvian without tears" that make people think there is little effort and no real challenge in becoming fluent in someone else's language. (Enjoyable is one thing, the amount of work needed to achieve tangible goals is another.) The book is useful, practical and insightful. People thinking of doing a language in three months (like the student who wanted to be bilingual in time for Christmas) may reflect on the fact that section one is divided into six whole chapters. Section two looks at the four key skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing, and underlines the importance of the cultural context, putting forward some encouraging arguments for getting into the local literature. The only quibble is that the chapter on exams (like all exams) is stuck at the end although it should really have come after chapter six as the last item in the language-learning cycle.
Students have been fully involved in the preparation of this book and some of the comments (which are worked into the text) will strike a sympathetic chord with teacher and learner alike. There is a handy questionnaire at the end, which would actually make a good starting point for anyone wishing to clarify what needs to be done in order to make progress in their chosen language.
It is an international book in scope with its origin in New Zealand, where linguistic aspirations evidently go far beyond rusty O-level French: people planning to travel in the Pacific are cheerily advised to sign up for Fijian, Samoan, Tongan, Niuean or Cook Island Maori "to name just five". This book will undoubtedly help them on their way.
Tim Connell is director of language studies, City University.
How to Study Foreign Languages
Author - Marilyn Lewis
ISBN - 0 333 73667 2
Publisher - Longman
Price - £9.99
Pages - 252