Thursday, May 30, 2024

The Angel

The Angel ISBN: 978-3-7114-0043-7
Midnight Bay ISBN: 978-3-7114-0042-0
The Captain’s Castle ISBN: 978-3-7114-0044-4
By Gavin Biggs
Helbling Languages, 2023

As a regular reviewer for this journal, I often receive the latest offerings from publishers of their class readers. Although I’m very grateful and of course enjoy reading them, they too often reflect a degree of ‘sameness’ and generally end up as gifts for friends’ school age children. I’m happy to report that the three under review here from HELBLING are very different; they form part of a new series called ‘Listen In’, which as the name suggests has a special focus on developing active listening skills. Yes, I was as surprised to read that as no doubt you are, but don’t go away just yet.

The rationale behind a series of such readers is based on data presented by the publishers. They state that listening is the key skill for language learners to develop as it occupies 45% of the time we all spend in communication. Two other points made are how learners claim listening is the most challenging of the four skills in English, and that over 60% of all misunderstandings come from poor listening, compared with only 1% from poor reading. Such bold statements are not merely plucked out of thin air; they are taken from empirical research for which references are given.

With the above in mind, HELBLING have developed material that views listening and reading not just as the traditionally defined receptive skills, but as skills that may be combined to form what they term ‘active listening’. This involves paying attention to a spoken text in order to fully understand not only the words, but the intentions of the speaker. By means of a variety of activities involving Before, While and After reading, the skill of active listening is cultivated, which in my humble opinion is much more measurable than the publisher’s claims for the development of mindfulness and empathy. I stand to be corrected on the latter; please feel free to investigate the series and perhaps disabuse me.

The author of the three titles – each an authentic tale – is Gavin Biggs, who has carefully crafted them at slightly different levels. ‘The Captain’s Castle’ is designed for learners at A1, ‘Midnight Bay’ at A1 or A2, and ‘The Angel’ for A2. Each provide support for learners planning entry to the Cambridge KET (Key English Test). Briefly, ‘The Captain’s Castle’ concerns Rocky and Belle, who together on a school trip investigate the return of the ghost of Captain James Sand who has come to view his hidden treasure. ‘Midnight Bay’ – my favourite in case you’d like to know – involves Bella, an exchange student in California, who on discovering that sea animals have started to attack humans decides to solve the mystery of the bay. Angelica – ‘The Angel’ – a thief bored with her success seeks her replacement. But can the local police stop her finding one?

In a further attempt to avoid pirate copies appearing on the market, the HELBLING Media App is only available by accessing the secret code that may be revealed on the inside cover. Once there, though, a plethora of extra material is available for the keen teacher, such as downloadable worksheets with answer keys, plus the insightful Teacher’s Guide to using the series. Back in the day, newly-arrived teachers on foreign shores, such as myself, were lucky if the class reader contained more than a couple of related and usually predictably dull activities. Flicking through the three titles I was lucky to receive, however, I notice how space devoted to motivating activities outnumbers the actual text by a clear margin. How lucky teachers of today are; I had to design my own.

Image courtesy of Library
Wayne Trotman
Wayne Trotman
Wayne is a teacher educator at Izmir Katip Celebi University in Izmir, Turkey. Wayne has been involved in language teaching both in the UK and overseas since 1981. He holds an MSc in TESOL from Aston University and a PhD in ELT and Applied Linguistics from the University of Warwick.
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