Tuesday, 12 July 2011

New English File Advanced

I’ve been using the general English coursebook New English File Advanced with some of my students for some time now. The book is by C. Oxenden and C. Latham-Koenig and was published by OUP in 2010.

It is an interesting book as it contains authentic texts and listenings, two-page writing lessons, video interviews, focus on lexis in context, an extended grammar bank, and – more importantly – a lot of pronunciation activities (including dictations with several different English accents).

Despite the wealth of exercises and downloadable material provided, I have to admit that some of the explanations and activities concerning the phonetics and phonology of English in the book are a bit confusing or not totally correct. This is due, I think, to the fact that the authors have tried to apply hard and fast rules to the language to make it neater and more straightforward for students when in fact no rules can be provided except ‘passively observing’ what native speakers actually say or write.

In exercise 6a on page 15, for instance, they offer a list of words and ask students to circle the only one that is different from the others. The following words should be analysed as containing or lacking the /h/ phoneme: hurt, heir, adhere, hardly, himself. Now, which one would you circle? Probably heir, which is eə(r) in RP. But what about adhere? Most people pronounce it with h but some without (cf.EPD, p.7). And what does one have to make of himself? In unstressed positions, not at the beginning of a sentence or clause, this word usually has the weak form ɪmˈself. Also, what about h-dropping? I think this is a phenomenon that should be pointed out in an advanced course book.

On page 26, a pronunciation bank on “linking” is provided:

“When people talk quickly, they usually link words together, i.e. the sound at the end of one word is linked to the sound at the beginning of the next (...):

1 A consonant sound at the end of a word is linked to a vowel sound at the beginning of the next, e.g. I met hima long timeago.”

Is this really an example of linking? Here there is no break between the words: one word just smoothly follows the other. And why then is no linking shown between met and him?

“2 When a word ending in –r or –re (e.g. are) is followed by a word beginning with a vowel sound, an /r/ sound is added to link the words together, e.g. We’reearly. “

It is not always the case. Some speakers in this environment use linking /r/, others pause before the other word; others still use a glottal stop in between the two words (cf. Gimson’s Pronunciation of English, p.305).

Finally, on page 29, it’s the turn of words and phrases of French origin:

“A number of French words and phrases are used in English. They are usually said in a way that is close to their French pronunciation, and so do not necessarily follow normal English pronunciation patterns, e.g. ballet (/ˈbæleɪ/), rendezvous (/ˈrɒndeɪvuː/).”

This is not 100 percent correct. Ballet is pronounced balɛ, -le in French, with stress on its final syllable, thus more similar to GA bæˈleɪ. (Words borrowed from French are normally stressed on the first syllable in British English but they very often have final-syllable stress in American English.) And just what are normal English pronunciation patterns? Do pronunciations like ˈbæleɪ or bæˈleɪ sound strange or foreign to native speakers?


  1. Stress in French is usually analyzed as being a property of phrases rather than individual words, so I don't think your claim about French stress is quite correct: see e.g. here.

  2. "In French, stress is predictable, falling on the final syllable of any word or phrase if pronounced in isolation, or on the final syllable of each intonation group in connected speech."

    B.Collins and I.Mees, "Practical Phonetics and Phonology", 2008, p.219.

  3. Phonetics aside, do you know the old "Cambridge Advanced English" by Leo Jones, and also "face2face Advanced"? If so, which of the three books would you say is best?
    Thanks, Alex.

  4. @Pacheco:

    I very much prefer "New English File", although "Face2Face" is good, too.
    I don't know the other course book, unfortunately.