You Talkin’ To Me: Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama by Sam Leith

If you have ever doubted that ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’, read this. If rhetoric is all Greek to you, read this. If you want a book that is educated and entertaining, interesting and informative, academic and accessible, read this!

Sam Leith proves that rhetoric is not the preserve of the ancient Greeks, it is ‘language at play; language plus. It is what persuades and cajoles, inspires and bamboozles, thrills and misdirects. It causes criminals to be convicted and then frees those criminals on appeal. It causes governments to rise and fall, best men to be for ever shunned by their friends’ brides and perfectly sensible adults to march with steady purpose towards machine guns’. We use rhetoric every day and in our age of communication it may be more important than ever to understand and examine the rhetorical devices used on us.

This book is fascinating.

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The Stories of English by David Crystal

The Stories of English


Kindle Edition: Check Amazon for Pricing Digital Only

This is an authoritative and readable history of English by Professor David Crystal who is probably the most widely-recognised expert in linguistics and has written dozens of books on many aspects of the language.

This is a good introduction to the evolution of English through the ages.

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The Etymologicon by Mark Forsyth

This book started life as a blog and this shows as the chapters are short and sweet. It’s a great book to dip into, with lots of fascinating, often funny, stories about English words. An interesting book to start a journey into etymology.

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Sound Foundations by Adrian Underhill

This book, subtitled ‘Living Phonology’, de-mystifies phonology and provides a practical and accessible approach to teaching pronunciation in EFL classes.

Underhill sets out the phonemic chart in such a way that the symbols make sense. As you move through the chart making the discreet sounds you can feel the subtle changes in mouth shape and tongue position.

Part One, the ‘Discovery Toolkit’, leads you, step-by-step through how the sounds are physically made, how they come together in words with word stress and intonation and how pronunciation works in connected speech.

Part Two, the ‘Classroom Toolkit’, presents practical ways of teaching pronunciation in class: how to use the chart, correct errors and integrate pronunciation exercises into your everyday teaching.

This is a valuable resource for any teacher.

Have a look at Ask SharnHow can I learn the phonemic symbols?

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Learn-to-read Treasure Hunts by Steve Cohen

This book is unfortunately, and ridiculously, out of print but it is sometimes possible to find a good second hand copy for just a couple of pounds. It is a brilliant book for helping to teach young children to read, interesting them in written text and rewarding them for their efforts. This book deserves to be reprinted.

The book contains 50 treasure hunts each with 3 or 4 clues printed on perforated pages ready for you to just tear out and hide around the home. The first clues contain few words with illustrations to aid comprehension and get successively more difficult with more words and fewer picture clues as your child gains confidence in reading. There is a review page at the end of each hunt to revise new words and a sticker sheet to reward your child.

The book is written for a US audience and there are minor lexical changes you might want to make. Also the book mentions items common in many people’s homes, you may find you need to rewrite some items (we don’t have a TV so I would scribble that out and write ‘radio’ for instance).

My daughter absolutely loved these hunts when she was about 4 years old and would often attempt to write her own. I loved that she was learning to read with minimal involvement from me!

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Lessons from Good Language Learners ed. Carol Griffiths

In 1975 Joan Rubin published an article in TESOL Quarterly entitled ‘What the “Good Language Learner” Can Teach Us’ examining the learner’s role in EFL. For too long, she argued, the focus had been on what teachers do in the classroom, rather than what students bring to it. She wanted to investigate what makes some students successful learners in an effort to isolate features which could be adopted by others. Her article has been credited with initiating research into learner and learning variables and their impact upon an individual’s language development.

This book, published over thirty years after Rubin’s initial article, brings together research findings into various aspects of learner and learning variables written by specialists in EFL and applied linguistics. The book is divided into two sections. The first looking at what impact  learner variables such as age, personality, motivation, IQ, beliefs and strategy use have on EFL success. The second section looks at learning variables such as vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar and skills.

If you want to know more about why some students appear to be more successful than others and think about how to tailor your classes to meet a range of individual needs, you will find this an interesting, accessible source of up-to-date information. If you’re considering carrying out your own research in this area, you will find the descriptions of the studies done useful in clarifying your own methodology and useful questions for further research at the end of each chapter.

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Word Crime

Forensic linguistics was responsible for the posthumous pardon granted to Timothy Evans who was wrongly hanged in 1950 for murders committed by John Christie at 10 Rillington Place. It cast new light on Derek Bentley’s ‘confession’ to shooting Police Constable Sidney Miles in 1952, resulting in another posthumous pardon in 1998.

John Olsson founded the Forensic Linguistics Institute in the UK in 1994 and was the world’s first full-time forensic linguist. In this book he explains how his work has helped clear the innocent and convict the perpetrators in cases of murder, suicide, extortion, trafficking and plagiarism, in the UK and the USA.

This is a fascinating book. I recommend it to anyone interested in language. It is written for the general reader, Olsson takes great pains to present the technical material and terminology in a very accessible manner. It would be particularly useful as a very readable introduction to applied linguistics courses such as the Open University’s E303 course ‘English Grammar in Context’, as Olsson describes using Corpus Linguistics, Systemic Functional Linguistics, Semantics, Pragmatics, Phonetics and Sociolinguistics in cases involving authorship attribution, voice identification and evidence of influence.

A very interesting look at a relatively new, but important, branch of applied linguistics.

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