Helbling Languages, 2008, 128 pages
World Around is basically a culture course for teenagers, with twelve units each containing information, facts and issues relating to a specific English-speaking country or region.
The book addresses the teenage audience well, using real texts to motivate the reader and avoiding an overload of factual information. The first section of each unit gives a brief overview of the cultural identity of the country or region, including topics such as geography, history and language. The ‘lifestyles’ section describes sports, hobbies, family structures, work and the media and concentrating instead on descriptions of national lifestyles, including education systems, sports and the performing arts. Lifestyle-related topics range from the well-known (Hollywood, Princess Diana,, extreme sports) to the less usual (flying doctors, ice-hockey, the Eisteddfod). The ‘issues’ section looks at contemporary discussion topics such as racism, children’s rights and arranged marriages. These issues are sensibly and sensitively introduced, so that the book succeeds in teaching comparative culture rather than selling the English-speaking world.
The inclusion of CLIL pages at the end of each unit is also indicative of attention to current trends in cross-curricular learning. These ‘content’ pages cover subject areas from geography and history to science and technology. As with a number of other recent publications, the CLIL pages can give the impression of being separate from each main unit, without an obvious attempt to integrate content and language learning or strike a balance between the two within a topic area, both fundamental to the CLIL approach However, given the current lack of a defined CLIL methodology, this leaves it up to the teacher to interpret the approach and exploit the material in the appropriate way.
There is a wealth of material in this book, offering the teacher a wide range of opportunities to integrate and develop skills, engage in interdisciplinary and cross-cultural education, encourage project work and discuss issues relevant to teenage learners. The thematic consistency between units offers the possibility of combining materials for inter-cultural comparison. The language level of the material makes the book most appropriate to learners at intermediate level or above. Other than the reading texts in each unit, there are ‘arts’ sections, often focusing on songs and literature, CDs for both student and teacher, and an expanding website for both students and teachers containing downloadable resources, activities, games and Mp3s.
World Around is another interesting and forward-looking publication from Helbling Languages, in tune with major developments in both language learning and with the overall trend in education towards producing learners who possess inter-cultural, inter-personal, communicative and media competencies.