The Reading Matrix
Vol. 2, No.3, September 2002
Vocabulary in Use. Intermediate Self-study Reference
and Practice for Students of North American English.
Stuart Redman, Ellen Shaw (1999).
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
vi +266 pp.
Reviewed by Monika Maslowska
University of Notre Dame
Vocabulary in Use is a reference and practice
book for students at the intermediate level. The book introduces
vocabulary, which is organized in almost 60 different topics
from basic vocabulary about shopping, the weather, or clothes
to more sophisticated lexis concerning politics, law, or
bureaucracy. Important strategies for learning vocabulary
are also provided and can be used by learners in the future
or for self-study. The book is intended for students and
adults who are studying by themselves or as a supplementary
tool for teachers in high school or college.
Vocabulary in Use is a well-organized text
consisting of 100 two-page units. The left page is a theoretical
explanation of new words and expressions, whereas the right
page is a practical section, which gives learners the opportunity
to check and practice the vocabulary they have just learned.
This clear-cut organization makes the book particularly
user-friendly as it offers concise and succinct explanations
with pictures, graphs and diagrams, where appropriate. An
Answer Key at the end of the book, which not only gives
"right" answers but possibilities or suggestions
for exercises that have more than one correct answer both
give learners the opportunity to check their progress and
demonstrate a more open-minded attitude toward language
learning than can not be found in most traditional textbooks.
Vocabulary in Use can be used either as
an accompaniment to the regular course book in school or
in college, or it can be used by individual learners who
want to learn English on their own. It is easily adaptable
to two-, three-, or four-semester language programs. The
first seven units of the book are devoted to Learning Strategies.
The left page gives advice on how to keep a vocabulary notebook,
use a dictionary, and go about pronunciation, while the
right page of the same lesson gives learners the chance
to practice. The next six units are concerned with word
formation and address grammatical difficulties or queries
learners might have; prefixes, suffixes, compound nouns,
and adjectives are the main focus of this section of Vocabulary
in Use. The section that follows, Phrase Building, consists
of fourteen mini units and deals with collocations, prepositions,
phrasal verbs, idioms and various fixed expressions. Next
are units on Parts of Speech like verb patterns, adjectives
and adverbs, which are followed by a rather short part (four
units) on Connecting and Linking which focuses on time/sequence,
addition/contrast, similarities/differences/conditions and
reason/purpose/result. Topics, the central part of the book
is organized into larger themes like The World Around Us,
People, Daily Life, Work, Leisure and Entertainment, Communication
and Technology, Social Concerns and Tourism and Travel.
After this section there are two short parts: the first
one, concentrates on notional concepts like time, numbers,
and distance, for example, and the final segment pays attention
to Special Topics like abbreviations, signs, or formal and
informal English. Vocabulary in Use concludes with phonetic
symbols, pronunciation problems that might occur and an
index of vocabulary that is used throughout the book.
The more theoretical left pages
of the hundred mini units use a great variety of techniques
in order to explain new vocabulary. Pictures are used whenever
possible as are graphs to show nuances or degrees of meaning
of a certain word or palette of words (e.g. wind is portrayed
on an axis, for instance, beginning with breeze and turning
into hurricane). When pictures are not appropriate to clarify
a word, there is often a description of a typical situation
using the new word(s) in a suitable context from which the
meaning of the new vocabulary can easily be deduced. At
other times more complicated, unknown words or expressions
are simply paraphrased in English; others are explained
using a combination of pictures and sentences. Usually new
vocabulary is presented together with other words related
to it (which makes remembering much easier), for example,
different common illnesses, like a cold, the flu or an allergy
are displayed together with the symptoms as well as the
causes of that illness. The vast range of techniques used
to present new vocabulary, together with learning strategies
at the beginning of the textbook, is essential for different
types of learners and for keeping up diversity within vocabulary
In most instances Vocabulary in Use makes
use of open-ended and contextualized exercises and usually
stresses that more than one answer is possible. The topics
discussed are up to date but, although the Internet is one
of the topics, the book does not encourage the use of the
Internet as a means of learning vocabulary. The pictures
found in the book are often funny, which might be a means
of creating a more relaxed learning atmosphere. Moreover,
the illustrations depict different genders and races and
do not perpetuate stereotypes often found in traditional
language learning materials.
In sum, Vocabulary in Use is an adequate
book for learning, practicing and recycling vocabulary.
It is clearly structured, user-friendly and comprehensive
and can therefore be used as a supplementary exercise book
for students of different age groups. Moreover, the various
strategies for learning vocabulary are helpful, useful,
and sufficient. The vast range of different explanatory
techniques of new vocabulary enhances the learners prompt
remembering of new words and concepts.