Tech for Teach

English Central improves on textbooks

I have a few classes next year of first-year skills classes, speaking and listening, which are pretty standard at many universities with EFL departments. I have not taught first years for a long time, so first I sat down to look through catalogs at the textbooks available. Then I backed up. I wrote down what I thought a first-year university student would need most. What could I offer that others could not? My list was short. I’ve learned to keep plans simple. I came down with 4 things.

  • Pronunciation should be good enough to be understood, and good enough not to be distracting. Continue the fight against katakana English.
  • Learning new vocabulary. This means (do I have to say it?) well enough to be able to use it. The meta-skill: students need to develop their own method or process.
  • Learning how and when to ask questions. (Answer: almost all the time and any place.)
  • Learn how to tell a story. This is much broader than just language, but brings out a lot of language in the process.

I’ve been using English Central as an add-on in class, one element, a kind of supplemental homework for students for the last 2 years. A quick look through the textbook list again, and I realized. I can make English Central my new textbook.


It covers listening comprehension, but excels at pronunciation practice. I find that students find most pronunciation software too difficult or frustrating, where mine now find English Central a challenge. Part of this is linking it to video, but it also has something to do with how the software and evaluation are set up (win points!).

The vocabulary section of English Central provides a nice example structure on how to work with new vocabulary and re-encounter it in new situations. The different curricula within English Central helps with this. 


Questions I can work on in class, on my own. Can’t let English Central do all the work. But storytelling is also a good fit to English Central, where students can get hundreds of examples of good short “stories”. I can even construct a course by selecting the videos I want. Perfect.

Add to that the many different ways I can monitor student practice, and you have something you can build a course around with a lab sessions, with a gradebook, which all add up to a lot more than a textbook. For about the same price.

I will let you know how it is going once I get started in April.