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.
ISBN: 0-521-63477-6
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 learning.

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.




















Monika Maslowska is currently a Teaching Assistant at the University of Notre Dame pursuing a Master of Arts Degree. She has received a "Magister" from the University of Innsbruck in July 2001. Her thesis was entitled "Resistance in German Women's Literature of the 1990's". She specializes in 20th century women writers as well as teaching German and English as a foreign language.