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Book Review

dictation cover

New methods, new
by Paul Davis & Mario

(Cambridge Handbooks for
Language Teachers CUP)

Review by Alistair Dickinson

'Dictation' is one of my favourites in the Cambridge Handbooks for
Language Teachers series. It has been around for a while, being first published in 1988 & in its thirteenth print in 2002. The book looks at a much maligned area & brings many fresh & varied approaches to it. The blurb says the following:

Dictation contains a wealth of new techniques to extend the traditional language-learning activity of dictation. The authors present some thought-provoking answers to such apparently simple questions as: Who chooses the text? Who dictates? Who corrects? What and how do they correct? The activities range from traditional focuses on spelling and punctuation problems to exercise that emphasize personal attitudes and opinions of both teachers and students. Dictation provides: activities suitable for a wide range of levels and ages; example texts for many activities, with permission to copy; opportunities for students to create their own texts; a variety of suggested correction techniques; suggestions for using dictation in teacher training.

The book is divided up into twelve sections; Correction, Sounds, spelling & punctuation, The telephone, Single word dictations, Thinking about meaning, Where on the page, Text reconstruction, Using the students' text, Lost in thought, Finding out about each other, Community Language Learning & Working with teachers.
The layout is consistent with other books in the series & each activity is clearly explained, together, on many occasions, with photocopiable material.

Dictation in itself is a useful tool for assessing students. A traditional way of using it consists of the following areas:
1. Read the passage all the way through at normal speed & students listen.
2. Students write while the passage is read at slightly slower that normal speed, stopping at the end of a tone unit & at a reasonable length of utterance to allow the students to take it all down.
3. Read the passage through at normal speed for the students to make any corrections.

To make the process more humane, you can repeat parts on request. As well as reviewing language areas & diagnosing problem areas, this can be used as a good way to group students on the first day of a course. See the Tip 'Placement testing for large numbers of students':

And then there are the many varieties in 'Dictation'. There is the mutual dictation - students have different parts to a text & they dictate to each other to fill in the missing parts, the collocation dictation - the dictation of groups of words & the students have to identify the collocational noun, the Who can you say that to dictation - the students write down the dictated utterances & identify if it might be said by a stranger in a train, my partner, my boss or my mother. .

Although it is covered implicitly through the book, one section that might be added could be how useful a tool dictation can be in classroom management. Ideas could range for simple dictation of tasks to save copies & time through to student-generated presentations, see the Tip ' Learner-based language presentations':

If you don't know 'Dictation' then do get hold of it. As with books like this that take an traditional area, it will enrich your array of teaching techniques which will then stimulate your imagination to produce your own ideas. Excellent.

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