Upgrading English Upgrade: Same same but different
by Steven Gershon

I’m a t-shirt junkie. My wardrobe cupboard is overflowing with them–in all colors, shapes, sizes and ages, from bright to dark, from plain to colorful, from snug to baggy, from new to almost ancient. Most of them are souvenirs from my travels. Wherever I go, I usually end up buying a souvenir t-shirt that will remind me of that place. My current favorite is one I picked-up on my last trip to Thailand. It’s navy blue, and on the front in bold white letters it says, SAME SAME. Then, on the back, in even bigger bold white letters, it says, BUT DIFFERENT. In fact, that expression, Same same but different, is one you hear all over South East Asia, and to me it seems so… descriptive–about people, cultures, cities, fashion, politics, and yes, in our line of work, about teaching methods and course books. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing for our profession, when we consider the importance of both consistency and evolution, along with the cyclical nature of change. It’s just the way it is.

 

So, why am I telling you about my favorite t-shirt here? It’s because when I started thinking about writing a new edition of English Upgrade, my t-shirt kept popping into my head–telling me that New English Upgrade should be same same but different. Same same because English Upgrade already contains many features that have made it very popular with both students and teachers, features that deserve to be kept. But different  because it seemed to me that just doing a bit of ‘cosmetic surgery’ would be a waste of time and energy for everyone involved. I felt strongly that New English Upgrade should include real ‘value added’ features that truly help teachers and students in new ways. In other words, if we could retain the many strengths of English Upgrade, yet build on them in the light of new thinking and knowledge, then New English Upgrade would truly be same same but different.  Here are some examples to show you what I mean…

 

 

SAME SAME 

 

Unit format  Students need a sense of purpose and direction to maintain motivation – throughout a course as well as within a unit. Therefore New English Upgrade retains the cohesive unit format of English Upgrade, with a progression of graded activities – from a warm up that introduces a unit topic and vocabulary to communicative tasks that get students interacting freely about the topic. This means that students know where they are going and how they are going to get there – without getting lost on the way.

 

Natural language models:   The language presented in dialogues, speaking activities and listening scripts must be natural, so students can cope with the ‘real’ English they will confront outside of the classroom. It must also be accessible to students, at their level, so they can cope with the activities and tasks in the classroom that form a bridge to their learning. This concern for naturalness and accessibility remains a vital link in New English Upgrade. retains the cohesive unit format of English Upgrade, with a progression of graded activities?from a warm up that introduces a unit topic and vocabulary to communicative tasks that get students interacting freely about the topic. This means that students know where they are going and how they are going to get there?without getting lost on the way.

 

Accuracy and fluency:   Language-focused input and fluency-based practice have always been necessary, related components of the balanced English Upgrade approach. On the one hand, students need to see and hear the target language in controlled learning situations. On the other hand, students need opportunities to use the language in communicative interaction. New English Upgrade continues to reflect the belief that true language proficiency is built from this balance.

 

Conversation tools:   It seems common sense that students need not only ‘speaking’ practice to help them produce the grammar and vocabulary they have learned, but also ‘conversation’ practice to help them navigate real social interaction in English. This has been a prominent feature of English Upgrade, and in New English Upgrade each unit continues to present a useful contextualized ‘conversation tool’ along with an opportunity for guided practice.

 

Personalization:   For students to feel engaged and involved in the learning environment, they need to feel that the topics and content are relevant to their lives. The large variety of surveys, questionnaires, quizzes and games has always been one of the most popular features of English Upgrade. And New English Upgrade continues to give students the involvement and relevance they need to fully engage and invest themselves.

 

 

BUT DIFFERENT

 

Vocabulog:    Language education research has been focusing more and more on the important role vocabulary development plays in learners’ language proficiency. Combined with that, corpus linguists have alerted us to the large number of lexical chunks and collocations that native speakers of all languages can routinely access and use fluently in real time. This has prompted us to include a new Vocabulog section at the end of every unit of New English Upgrade to help students consolidate and extend their vocabulary, learn new word combinations based on the unit topic, and have fun practicing them either on their own in writing or orally in class. The Vocabulog, with its blog-style format, includes input sections such as Upgrade your vocabulary, Putting words together, Speaking naturally and My idioms, each with a My turn output section that encourages students to personalize the vocabulary and expressions.

 

Reading File:    Individual language skills don’t operate independently. Skills practice activities work best in cooperation with each other to consolidate overall proficiency. The role of reading practice in an oral skills course is a good example. Engaging, comprehensible texts accompanied by meaningful comprehension tasks can go a long way toward helping students consolidate new grammar and expand their range of vocabulary. This is why we added to New English Upgrade the Reading File section at the back of the student book.  Each article offers an interesting angle on the theme of the unit, and its Think about it – Read about it – Talk or write about it format gives students a solid, balanced pre – during – post reading framework for both language and skill development. In this way, the students are not only learning English, they are learning through English.

 

Student Multi-ROM:   As we all know, there just isn’t enough time in our once or twice a week classes to achieve all the goals we would like to set for our students?especially when the students don’t get much contact with English outside the classroom. Students therefore need to have materials to study on their own outside of class time. The problem is that as busy, time-pressured teachers, how do we come up with all this extra practice material? Our solution for New English Upgrade is the Student multi-ROM, which contains not only the student audio program, but also a variety of interactive language practice activities to enable students to work with the grammar and vocabulary from each unit?in their own time and place. Students can easily check their own answers and see their scores immediately to gage their own progress. To us, this is a real step toward learner autonomy.

 

Test Generator:    It seems to be a universal fact of school life that teachers are overworked and underpaid. I can’t do anything about the ‘underpaid’ part (sorry!), but I can offer help with the ‘overworked’ part.  One aspect of teaching which is a perennial headache for most of us is tests.  As necessary as they are to measure students’ learning, good tests that are well geared to the material we have taught are difficult and time-consuming to make. This is why we included with New English Upgrade the Test Generator CD-ROM. Within minutes a teacher can produce a customized test for every unit?with a variety of test-item types from true false to multiple choice to fill-in. The tests also include listening tasks. Moreover, for big classes a teacher can even produce multiple versions of the same test?with just a click of the mouse. Combined with the photocopiable progress tests in the Teacher’s Resource Book, the Test Generator can go a long way to lighten your load and still allow you to accurately assess your students’ performance.

 

 

So, now you know how my t-shirt addiction has affected my approach to writing New English Upgrade. To me, it’s all about keeping a balance between consistency and change, stability and evolution, what works well and what can work even better. The only problem is that all of that is too much to write on a t-shirt. Oh well, I guess Same same but different says it better.