These books belong to a new series called Applied Linguistics in Action, edited by Christopher Candlin and David Hall. A dozen titles are planned, covering the traditional key skills and up-to-date topics such as computer-assisted language learning or languages for specific purposes. Some will deal with matters of methodology and technique such as classroom management or instructional strategies.
The fixed layout and house style of the series has not kept authors from taking an individual approach to each subject. Up to half of each title is made up of an outline of research in the field, with ample information and resources ranging from journals to sample tests and measuring instruments, plus a glossary of terms. The series has its own microsite, www.booksites.net/alia , on the Pearson Education website. This is meant to provide additional sources, information, reading and commentary, although this is still rather limited. The bibliographies, however, do come with an extensive range of websites to visit, ranging from journals to open email discussion lists.
The series aims to present questions from the fairly basic - how is this particular field mapped and landscaped? - through to key researchable topics. The books are accessible and designed for easy use, even if the conference-paper style makes them less readable in places. They are clearly laid out in sections with numbered paragraphs and insets for useful quotations and key concepts.
There is a useful balance between items of interest to theoreticians and to practitioners. There is ample material for readers wanting to get into a particular subject or to gain a broad overview. There is also much that can be included in courses of study or used as material for essays or seminars.
Looking at the books overall, one sees how these areas of academic activity still have aspects waiting to be fully identified and resolved, even if (in the case of lexicography) a virtually continuous tradition can be traced back to ancient times. It does raise the question, however, of whether these titles will be used by experienced teachers and researchers or by people studying the subject or wishing to keep up to date.
To what extent these are taught subjects (bar translation) is a moot point, though motivation and autonomy would fit well in teacher-training courses. Equally, they could be of value to people reading themselves into a new research topic, or looking for one. In the book on translation, the research topics are fairly specific and could be a useful source of ideas for project work or dissertations. They also indicate ways in which the series could develop, as translation topics veer towards aspects of culture and language, which is one promised title in the series.
For the while, intriguing insights as to why Winnie-The-Pooh should find popular acceptance in Bulgaria, where Peter Pan leaves audiences cold, demonstrate the complexity and fascination of the subject.
To date the series seems to be diverging between subjects that are firmly related to languages (lexicography, translation) and those that fit within applied linguistics, such as autonomy and motivation. The latter two branch into teaching theory, method and practice. The motivation book's index contains only two entries for language and one for linguist. At the end, there is even a useful section on links to the social sciences.
Zoltán Dörnyei provides an introductory chapter on theories of motivation in psychology, and only one section specifically refers to modern-language teaching. There is an interesting section on motivation and demotivation in secondary-school students, which is recognised as a complex issue. There are some rather interesting lists of ways to motivate language learners. One of the sources cited states that learning a language is different from learning other subjects, but the lists could be extended to other academic areas, reinforcing, perhaps, the growing view that languages should be classified as a key area within communication skills.
The broad sweep of these titles indicates the aim to be all-embracing, but it also means that learners are not defined as clearly as they might be by the content, although the flyers on the website refer specifically to postgraduate and MA levels. The acknowledgments indicate a certain geographical preference on the part of the authors. While this reflects the status of English as a world language and underlines the wider application of the theories covered, it also calls into question the extent to which they can be entirely relevant to the readership they are designed to attract. In all these areas, there will be enormous differences in dealing with learners of different ages and backgrounds (there is no clear distinction between students of English as a foreign language and learners of modern foreign languages). Nor are distinctions made between students who are full-time, part-time, beginners or post-experience.
But these are minor points. This series is to be welcomed: the level of presentation is high, the individual titles are written by respected experts and are full of useful information offering interesting leads and insights. They will be a useful addition to any library and are competitively priced for the individual user.
Tim Connell is professor of languages, City University.
Teaching and Researching Translation. First edition
Author - Basil Hatim
ISBN - 0 582 32899 3
Publisher - Longman
Price - £14.99
Pages - 254