The Vibrant English Verb:
A Review

Sep 12th, 2017 | By | Category: Featuring: In the Classroom, In the Classroom, On the Bookshelf
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Daniel Halford


—I have been teaching ESL for 37 years, first in Germany and now in California at the City College of San Francisco. I try to be creative in finding ways to make grammar, especially verb meaning and usage, comprehensible for my students, and giving them visuals goes a long way to help. Reading Dr. Steven Landon West’s book The Vibrant English Verb: Mastering Meaning and Usage, however, showed me that I still have a lot of tricks to learn.

As we know, our own clear understanding of the use of English verb tenses does not necessarily guarantee success in communicating this understanding to our students. The Vibrant English Verb goes a long way to help us meet this challenge effectively. Dr. West sees the mastery of verb tenses as the most central part of English grammar, and I agree.image of book cover The Vibrant English Verb

The Vibrant English Verb: Mastering Meaning and Usage
By Steven Landon West
Published by International Institute of Language and Culture, 2017.

I’d like to focus on some features of the book that I found particularly helpful.

1. The Focus on the Relationship of Tense and Aspect, Supported by Charts

“The ‘aspect’ (or ‘framing’) attached to any verb form shows its relationship to other verbs (actions) in a sentence or paragraph” (West, p. 11). Fifteen excellent charts throughout the book give examples of these aspects or relationships, and they help to clarify for students and teachers how to choose one tense rather than another in a specific situation. The charts for the perfect tenses are especially useful; our students find these tenses very challenging, as most of their languages don’t have equivalent verb tenses.

2. The Focus on the Relationship of Tense and Aspect, With Dialogs as Examples

Dr. West includes nine “Coffee Shop Dialogs” as examples of how complicated everyday conversation actually is in its precise use of a variety of verb tenses, based not just on different times but on their relationship to each other (i.e., aspect) throughout each dialog. First we read the dialog; then the author comments on the verb tenses used; then we read the dialog again, this time with each verb tense identified. Native-speaker ESL instructors who use grammar only intuitively will be surprised to see how complicated these relationships can be. Of course, our students are not native speakers, so they need to become conscious of all these relationships.

3. The Explanation of DO/DOES/DID as Auxiliaries

In the section titled “The Ghosts of Simple Past and Simple Present (and Other Scary Verb Stories),” on p. 31 Dr. West presents DO/DOES and DID as ghosts that appear only when needed for questions, negations, and emphasis. For example, in the sentence “She wrote a book,” DID is hiding because it’s not needed. However, if someone expresses doubt that she actually wrote a book, you would say, “She did write a book.” Thus the ghost appears when needed, like Marley on Christmas Eve in Dickens’s beloved tale. Likewise, to transform the original sentence into a question or negation, DID appears: “Did she write a book?” “She didn’t write a book.” When I read about the DO/DOES/DID “ghosts,” I thought, “This is brilliant. I’m using this from now on.”

When I compare The Vibrant English Verb to other texts I’ve read, Dr. West’s is head and shoulders above any of them for providing clarity in a practical and lively manner.

Whether you are very experienced as an ESL instructor, or just getting started, this book offers a lot of practical help.

Daniel Halford, MA, taught EFL in 11 Volkshochschulen* in Bavaria, Germany, from 1980 to 1999, with return tours in 2000 and 2001. At first he gave weekly classes from beginners to intermediate and then intermediate and advanced weekend seminars. Since 1999, he has taught ESL at three private language schools in San Francisco (Converse, Geos, and Embassy CES), taught credit ESL for five years at Chabot College, and since 2006 has taught all levels of noncredit ESL at City College of San Francisco.

*Volkshochschulen in Germany are public educational institutions for adults, very roughly equivalent to community colleges, except that they don’t award degrees.


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