Suggested Reading, Pt. 2


First, the big guns, the ones you must refer to in your papers.

Quirk, R., Greenbaum, S., Leech, G. and Svartvik, J. (2011) A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. New edition. I can’t make out the publishers from the info on Amazon, and I can’t believe the price. I’ve got the 1985 Longman’s edition which cost me an arm and a leg back then; didn’t drink Bolinger for a month! A required part of your bookshelf: get it! It’s very dense and often difficult, but you need it: it’s THE reference. Treat it as you would a dictionary. There is simply no other work which gives such a thorough treatment of English Grammar. Unlike the awful “Grammar Book” (see Crap Books 3), this book doesn’t waste words, in fact there are times when one wishes they’d explained a bit less tersely, but never mind. It’s all there, and learning how to use it well is a good exercise in itself. I was once doing a Cambridge Proficiency Exam Preparation class and a student asked me some question about embedded clauses. I gave my answer and he replied “I think Quirk would disagree with you”. I told him he had no right reading Quirk and that Murphy agreed with me, which shut him up.

Huddleston, R. (1984) Introduction to the Grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Great book. More accessible than Quirk et al., but not exactly pool-side reading. Very interesting to compare Huddleston with Quirk et. al. on any given area, which good students do in their papers. Important to refer to in your paper, so you need access to it.

Nelson, G. and Greenbaum, S. (2009) An Introduction to English Grammar. London, Pearson. Very good indeed. Compact, concise and absolutely trustworthy. If you’re writing an MA paper, this is a great book to get your ideas sorted out – then you need to go to Quirk et. al. to see what might be missing, which is not much, IMHO.

I must mention Halliday, M. A. K. (1994) An Introduction to Functional Grammar. London: Edward Arnold. I gave up after 10 pages when I tried to read this book as a lad, and I’ve never had the guts to go back to it. But without Halliday, your grammar paper might well not be complete: those who mark your paper (unless it’s me) will, in many cases, expect references to Halliday. So if you want to get really serious about functional grammar, then this a must. Then there’s Bloor, T. and Bloor M. (2004) The Functional Analysis of English: A Hallidayan Approach. London: Edward Arnold. I haven’t read it, but I’ve read reviews and colleagues and students say it’s very, ahem, approachable.

Next, the rather lighter, more pedagogical grammar books. You need to refer to these too in papers: compare and contrast what they say with the “authoritative texts” like Quirk

Parrott, M. (2005) Grammar for English Language Teachers. Cambridge: CUP. An excellent book which divides the grammar up very well and gives clear examples, exercises and a key. Sometimes Parrott dodges issues a bit. I can’t find my copy, but I think he’s not too hot on the use of articles, for example. But, in general, an excellent book. Worth having your own copy.

Batestone, R. (1994) Grammar. Oxford: OUP. One of my favorite books: entertaining, informative, brilliant in its conception. It looks at grammar from different heights: 30,000 feet gives you the general view, go down to 10,000 feet and we see how clauses work, and so on. A short book, very innovative, very well-written, a delight. Highly recommended, but not essential. If you manage to sneak in a reference to it, the marker might well be impressed (either because she’s read it, or she hasn’t!).

Swan, M. (2005) Practical English Usage. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Simply the best book to have when students throw awkward questions at you, and to check, as the title suggests, usage. Michael is the acknowledged master of sorting things out. It’s sometimes a bit short on more complex matters, and I don’t think it’s as well-organised as it could be. Alphabetical order doesn’t seem to me to be the best way to do things, and it actually doesn’t make things easier to find than the way Nelson and Greenbaum organise their book. Anyway, it’s a reference book that you really should have on your bookshelf. I’ve just noticed how I refer to having things on your bookshelf, which just shows my age. No doubt many (most?) MA students these days have all these books stored on a hard drive.

Thornbury, S. (1999) How to Teach Grammar. Harlow: Longman. A really excellent book. Scott is a great writer, a scholar, and a clever, modern dude. He takes a basically task-based approach, and the book gives assured, well-considered accounts of all the main areas of grammar teaching. Fresh, intelligent, very good stuff. IMHO, the best book out there for teachers looking for advice on how to teach English grammar.


I confess that I don’t like this area of AL; I find it difficult and boring. It seems to me a bit like studying anatomy or the periodic tables. I never paid much attention to it as a teacher, but I was forced to study it in the MA I did, and then I had to study more to keep up with my post. grad students. So, I’m no expert, and hence this list might well be missing a few “key” texts.

First, again, the big guns, or rather big gun, because Gimson is still the Main Man.

Gimson, A.C. (1989) An Introduction to the Pronunciation of English. London: Edward Arnold, UK. The definitive work. I’ve got the 1962 edition! It seems to me that this is really the only book you need. Seriously: you could do a Ph.D. with this book as the only one needed to make sure you were on track.

Gimson, A.C. and Cruttenden, A. (1994) Gimson’s Pronunciation of English (5th ed.), London: Edward Arnold. This is the one to buy. Everybody refers to this now in their MA papers because it’s a lot easier to navigate and does a first class job of distilling the original Gimson tome. Actually, the original isn’t that long, it’s just very dense, and Cruttendon managed to persuade Gimson to make it more accessible.

As for teaching pronunciation:

Brown, A (ed.) (1991) Teaching English Pronunciation: A Book of Readings. London: Routledge. A collection of excellent articles. Still a very good reference work.

Rogerson-Revell, P. (2011) English Phonology and Pronunciation Teaching. London: Continuum Press. Very clear, well-organised, great exercises, near perfect. If you only buy one book on teaching pronunciation, let this be it.

David Brett’s website at Work through the materials and exercises on this website, and you’re set for an “A”!

Underhill, A. (2005) Sound Foundations: Learning and Teaching Pronunciation (2nd Edition). Oxford: Macmillan. Excellent. Very popular and rightly so. Contains recorded materials.

Recommended Reading for SLA

1. Mitchell, R., Myles, F., and Marsden, E. 2011. Second Language Learning Theories. London: Routledge.

Pride of place must go to Rosamond Mitchell, Florence Myles and Emma Marsden for their excellent book on Second Language Learning Theories. This is an update of the Mitchell and Miles 2004 book which has the same title. It’s simply excellent. It provides a clear introduction for MA students and has enough punch in it to be useful for those going further. I’ve rarely read a book that dealt with complex issues with more clarity and critical acumen. When I did my doctorate, the 2004 edition (i.e. without the extra stuff that time and Emma contribute) was always at my side. I love the 2004 edition, and the 2011 edition is better.

What gets you about a really good book is the way it draws you in and then keeps you in its spell. This book starts off well and keeps getting better. You get the lot! You get every half-way decent theory of SLA well-described and critically evaluated in a story (I hate that epithet, but this really is a story) of the development of theories of SLA. The authors have a certain cognitive point of view, but they don’t skimp on their description and evaluation of theories which have a more sociolinguistic bias. This book is accessible, easy to read, and deserves going back to time and time again. It’s in a totally different league to the awful Rod Ellis book -and half as long!

2. Lightbown, P. and Spada, N. 1999. How languages are learned. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

A short, brilliant, concise, fresh, interesting introduction to SLA. I’m not sure if there’s a more recent edition. This is definitely the book to read if you’re new to SLA. It’s very well-written, and, again, it tells the story very well indeed. You can read it cover to cover in a few days, then go back for what you might need.

3. Doughty, C.J. and Long, M.H. 2003. The Handbook of Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Blackwell.

This is, without any doubt, the best collection of articles on all aspects of SLA currently available. It’s an absolute must for the serious SLA scholar. Both the authors are, in my opinion, a credit to their field: true scholars who maintain the highest standards in everything they write. The book doesn’t have a weak chapter: it’s a superb collection.

There is a more recent edition of The Handbook of Second Language Acquisition edited by Ritchie and Bhatia, 2009, but, IMHO, it’s not as good, although there are several very good articles in it. Chapter 1, by Susan Gass gives a very good overview; Chapter 4 on Emergentism is impressive; Chapter 14 and Chapter 19 on Implicit Learning are required reading.

4. Skehan, P. 1989. Individual Differences in Second Language Learning. London: Edward Arnold.

Skehan has the ability to bring together various strands of thinking and research like very few; he is, in my opinion, not just one of the best scholars in the field, but probably the very best in making sense of it all. This is a really great book that influenced me a lot. It’s a bit outdated (see Dörnyei for more up to date stuff on motivation, for example), but still a classic. Absolutely required reading! There’s also Skehan, P. 1998. A Cognitive Approach to Language Learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Extremely well-written, clear, scholarly, highly recommended.

5. Dörnyei, Z. 2009. The psychology of second language acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dörnyei is a tremendous force, he’s a tornado. He’s done more than anybody to pin down the slippery concept of motivation and make it the subject of rigorous research. I personally think that his huge intellect has led him astray recently; I am less than convinced by all his new stuff on identity. Anyway, this is also required reading, but if I were starting an MA, I’d go back to his earlier stuff, and particularly Dörnyei, Z. 2001. Teaching and researching motivation Harlow: Longman. This is, I think, the best book he’s written.

6. McLaughlin, B. 1987. Theories of Second Language Learning. London: Edward Arnold.

This is my favorite book of the lot, but that’s because I tend to agree with just about everything he says! McLaughlin’s view of what criteria we should use when judging rival theories of SLA is, I think, absolutely right.

7. Towell, R. and Hawkins, R. 1994. Approaches to Second Language Acquisition. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

An excellent review of theories of SLA, with a definite bias towards UG. The book culminates in a very ambitious attempt to put together a general theory of SLA. It’s another of my favorites.

8. White, L. 2003. Second Language Acquisition and Universal Grammar. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

If you’re really interested in Chomsky, Lydia will explain, better even than Vivian Cook, how UG relates to SLA. But you’ll have to concentrate: this is not easy stuff.

9. Robinson, P. (ed.) 2001. Cognition and Second Language Instruction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Here we get to the transition between learning and teaching. This is a fine collection of papers dealing with both. Peter Robinson is one of our very best scholars; he writes very well, he knows what’s going on like few, and I often think it’s a pity that he spends so much of his time getting other people’s work together, because he’s got a lot to say on his own.

10. Cook, V. 2008. Second Language Learning and Language Teaching. London: Arnold.

Vivian Cook is best known for his marvelous work on Chomsky, but here he offers a scholarly, clear bridge between theory and practice. These days Vivian is banging away about multiculturalism –see the page on this website, and his videocast in the Resources section.

A few more:

Krashen, S. and Terrell, T. 1983. The natural approach: language acquisition in the classroom. Hayward, CA: Alemany Press.

Note Terrell as co-author; he deserves more recognition. Hugely influential, very easy to read, very beguiling, almost like an opiate. Read Gregg and McLaughlin for the antidote.


Recommended Reading on Language Teaching

Richards, J.C. and Rogers, T.S. 2001. Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
This one will see you through an MA! Very well-written, very well-organised, all the main aspects of ELT are very intelligently and critically discussed. The book provides an excellent historical, linguistic, and social background to the matters it discusses and gives not just a concise and interesting historical review, but also ties them all in to current theories of SLA. The best of the lot, IMHO.

Larsen-Freeman D. and Anderson, M. 2011. Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching . Oxford, OUP.
This book gives a good historical review of the main teaching methodologies used in ELT in the last 50 years. Starting with grammar-translation, moving through the new methods introduced in the 80s, including The Silent Way and Total Physical Response, it then looks at CLT, task-based approaches, learning strategies, and “the political dimensions of language teaching”. Good for MA students to refer to in papers, but not, in my view, as complete, as interesting, or as critically acute as Richards and Rogers.

Widdowson, H. G. 2003. Defining issues in English language teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Excellent, reflective exploration of the issues with the great Henry Widdowson. There’s nobody like Widdowson for making you think and he writes so beautifully that I wish he’d written a novel. Widdowson doesn’t tell you stuff the way Larsen-Freeman does, he invites you to consider the underlying issues of ELT and gets to the heart of the matter with unrivalled eloquence and insight. He goes through poor reasoning like a knife through butter; and pursues a humanistic approach to ELT with complete assurance.

Ur, P. 1996. A Course in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Penny Ur is, in my opinion, one of the best writers in the field. She writes clearly, and with authority. This is an excellent book, highly recommended. Very different from the Richards and Rogers text, Penny looks in turn at Tests, Teaching Pronunciation, Teaching Vocabulary, Teaching Grammar, then teaching the 4 skills. Lots of practical exercises. Thin on theory, but still useful for MA students who decide to concentrate on a particular aspect of ELT.

Scott Thornbury “How To Teach….” Series. How to Teach Grammar; How to teach Vocabulary; and How to Teach Speaking. Delta Publications. Also: Teaching Unplugged.
All of these books are very highly recommended. As I think I’ve said elsewhere, Scott wears his considerable scholarship lightly, and writes in an extremely clear, engaging, indeed, persuasive way. All these books will be of great help to those doing an MA, and Scott’s book on Teaching Unplugged is now required reading. If you write a paper about modern ELT and you don’t include some discussion of Scott’s refreshing, challenging proposals on Dogme, the paper won’t be complete.

Nunan, D. 1999. Second language teaching & learning. Boston, Mass.: Heine & Heine.
Very well-written, clear, informative. Nunan has turned into some kind of Tsar in the ELT world, but there’s no denying his prowess. He’s damn good, and that’s that. The book is, as the title suggests, of broad scope, but it’s incisive, easy to read, and shows Nunan’s excellent grasp of the issues.

Stern, H.H. 1983. Fundamental Concepts in Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Old, but still provides excellent background reading. The sections of the book are: Clearing the Ground, Historical Perspectives, Concepts of Language, Concepts of Society, Concepts of Language Learning, and Concepts of Language Teaching. Really first class background reading; essential reference in any “Review of the literature” section of an MA paper on ELT.

Finally, 2 good collections of papers:

Richards, J. C. & W. A. Renandya (eds.) 2002. Methodology in language teaching: An anthology of current practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Very good collection. I particularly like Chapter 1 on Approaches to Language Teaching; Chapter 5 on Implementing Cooperative Learning; Chapter 13 by Swan on grammar teaching; Chapter 21 by Nunan on Teaching Listening.

Carter, R. & D. Nunan (eds.) 2001. The Cambridge Guide to Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Another very good collection, and VERY wide in scope. Articles by a huge range of excellent scholars, including Bygate, Wallace, McCarthy, Bailey, Scovel, and Breen, make excellent reading. Actually, I think this book could be used as a very good introduction to an MA in TESL.


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