Lane series of ESL Books
The English language is now closer to
being the world's second language than any other since the dominance of
Latin in Western civilization. Today, English is the official or first
language of 23 nations with a combined population of about 485,000,000. In
addition, it is a co-official or widely used second language in another 25
nations with more than 900,000,000. The best estimates are that 50,000,000
primary school students and 75,000,000 secondary school students are
currently studying English as a second language. To this can be added
millions more who are studying English at the adult and college/university
The fact that English is a key to many
doors- technology, science, business, politics, culture -accounts in large
measure for its present attractiveness. To any list of causes that might
be offered for this widespread use we should keep in mind that in sharp
contrast to those who have made a near fetish out of their languages
native speakers of English have not fixed it within any standard, except
intelligibility. The absence of any high authority to decide what is and
what is not "English" has given the language a relatively
unfettered line of development that is probably more dynamic today than
ever before. English has never echoed to any call for "purity."
Because it is not afraid of being corrupted and has such a high tolerance
for new words and expressions, regardless of their origins, English is
able to adapt to local conditions with ease.
There have been many well-intentioned
efforts directed at the needs of English learners. The traditional
approaches were entirely grammar based. These were later supplemented by
frequency word-counts. Then came the communicative approach, which spawned
audio-lingual methods seeking to teach the living language. A more recent
development along this line has been Survival English.
Looking at these various approaches in
terms of progress in the language against time and effort expended, the
criteria of efficacy, we see that each is found seriously wanting. The
grammatical approach to English was nothing more than an extension of the
traditional teaching of Greek and Latin. Students had a very difficult
time going from their passive knowledge to an active use of the language.
Desiring to eliminate such useless sentences as "Lightning has struck
my carriage." textbook writers turned to word-counts only to discover
that students needed a relatively large vocabulary before much of
consequence could be said. Though the word-count approach strengthened
reading and writing abilities, it did little to get students to speak.
Thus the door was opened for the communicative approach, which demanded
students be taught the spoken language in daily situations. But, if we
were to teach what students are likely to hear, we would begin with a
number of "four-letter" words and then graduate to "I ain't
gonna" and "He done it." Since this is unacceptable to most
people, teachers and material developers have concentrated on getting and
giving information in a number of different situations: the post office,
the bus stop, the doctor's office, job interview, etc. Unfortunately,
natural conversations in these various situations require a rather
extensive vocabulary and command of sophisticated grammatical structures
as well as a plethora of idioms. Much of this material seems designed to
keep the teacher's interest, rather than approach the problem of language
acquisition from the student's perspective. The communicative approach can
not be faulted for its goal. The problem lies rather with its lack of any
apparent criteria for introducing vocabulary and structures. Beginning
students do not need ten ways to say "Hello." What they do need
is a clear, sequential understanding of grammar.
In my own search for an alternative to
these approaches to English, I have been attracted by various ideas of
simplification, particularly those of C. K. Ogden, the developer of BASIC
English. I see simplification as principally a controlled and ordered
approach to the language. There is no doubt in my mind that more than 80%
of the English language conforms to certain rules and patterns and if
students can begin to see this underlying structure or logic, they can
experience the joy of communication and gather the momentum to carry them
through the rough, illogical parts.
This book is different because it offers
the learner a step-by-step, cumulative approach that unlocks the logic of
English. It consciously excludes idiomatic word usage until he or she is
prepared to deal with it. By eliminating the capricious and/or arbitrary
elements of English, it presents the learner with a system, a reasonable,
logical linguistic system that can be explained, and therefore understood
and mastered. This approach is specifically designed for the learner who
wants to know why and the teacher who sees English as more than an
inexhaustible jumble of words and expressions best acquired with mother's
The total vocabulary of Lane's English
as a Second Language series is about 1200 words. By limiting the
vocabulary, one of the major obstacles to learning English- its
non-phonetic spelling -is skirted. With only 200 words to be learned in
each book, students need not be burdened with spelling rules and their
numerous exceptions. In fact, the rote learning of the word list in each
lesson may be seen as an exercise in memory development. Because more than
half of the words are only one syllable long, they are easily mastered by
speakers of languages that are not cognate to English.
The 1200 words were selected on the basis
of usefulness, not frequency. The choice was made in accordance with the
linguistic tendency toward general and away from specific uses. This
allows the vocabulary to be manipulated at various levels of
sophistication. In the presentation of this vocabulary, the approach is
first to establish the primary meaning of each word and then to expand its
usage in a systematic manner. With this expanded usage, the 1200 words
actually give a learner a level of expressability many times greater. This
may be seen graphically as follows (in regard to body parts):
1. BASIC MEANING: This is a hand.
2. Compound words: This is a shoulder bone.
3. Expanded usage: I am the head of my family.
4. Metaphoric: She has a big heart.
5. Set phrases. We came face-to-face with a problem.
6. Idioms (a): The walls have ears.
7. Idioms (b): He put his foot in his mouth.
8. Sayings: His eyes were bigger than his stomach.
One of the primary advantages of this
system is the development of a mind-set that causes learners to form their
thoughts directly in English, rather than to think in their native
languages and merely plug in English words. This is accomplished by
concentrating on 12 verbs and 31 prepositions, which in combination give
about 4,000 verb ideas. For instance, we are quite comfortable saying: I put
my hand in my pocket; I put my money in the bank; I
put $1000 in a company; I put my heart in my
work; I put a new sink in the kitchen; I put my ideas
in English. The typical student, however, is more likely to express
these same ideas with the discrete verbs: insert, deposit, invest,
concentrate, install and translate. The economy of time and
effort in learning put in vs. six different verbs is obvious. What
is not so obvious is the methodology that will enable the learner to
manipulate verbs and prepositions like a native-speaker. This is achieved
through the logical, controlled, sequential presentation of material. The
approach of this text takes phrasal or two-word verbs out of the idiomatic
category by showing an inner logic to their use. When learners once grasp
this inner-logic, they have a hard time going back to their native
languages to find equivalents and soon give up the attempt. They thus make
the quantum leap to thinking in English.
There is no attempt to limit students to
the vocabulary of this series. In fact, I assume that learners will
develop their own vocabularies, according to individual needs and
interests. I want to point out, however, that the 1200 words of the system
offer a common core that all learners need to know and control. This
stress on commonality is a conscious effort to counter the pernicious
efforts of those pendants who for their own reasons emphasize and
exaggerate the differences between American and British English. Imparting
this common core is the first duty of all teachers.
A very important and unique feature of this
system is that it gives learners a complete system of communication. It is
no an exaggeration to say that almost any thought or action can find
expression within its 1200 words. The required specificity for even very
technical or specialized fields may be had with the addition of only 60 to
100 words from that field. For students who wish to go on to university
level studies, this series provides an excellent basis to study for
entrance examinations, especially the TOEFL.
The efficacy of this approach to English is
beyond doubt. It offers students, regardless of their objectives, an
extremely high rate of progress in relation to the time and effort they
put into their studies. It is in recognition of the fact that time is our
most precious commodity that I offer this series to students and teachers
around the world.