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Fall 1994    Vol. 23 No. 2    pp. 135–136 

Book Review

Whole Language for Second Language Learners

Yvonne S. Freeman and David E. Freeman. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1992. 257 pages.

Reviewed by Marlene Wall

Tell me, I forget.
Show me, I remember.
Involve me, I understand.
—Ancient Chinese Proverb

This book describes in great detail and with numerous examples an approach to teaching that advocates student involvement. Whole language is a relatively new approach to teaching English as a Second Language (ESL). Its emphasis on being student-centered and student-driven means quite a paradigm shift for those who maintain a more traditional teacher-centered, textbook-driven classroom.

Whole Language for Second Language Learners, written primarily for elementary and secondary teachers of ESL students and for teacher educators, is a comprehensive analysis of seven whole language principles that are in opposition to seven commonly held assumptions about teaching and learning. In the process of devoting one chapter to each of these principles, the authors use the whole language approach as a filter through which they view and critique other commonly used approaches (i.e. Total {136} Physical Response, Natural Approach, Bilingual Education, Notional-Functional Approach, etc.)

Yvonne and David Freeman have been teachers at all levels in the United States as well as in Colombia and Mexico. They are currently professors in the Graduate School at Fresno Pacific College; Yvonne is Director of Bilingual Education and David is Director of Language Development. This wealth of experience provides a “user-friendly” tone to the book. Frequent classroom examples, lesson plan options, and practical hints make the book a good combination of textbook and manual.

The authors discuss seven whole language principles. For example, lessons should proceed from the whole to part. Thematically organized lessons help students see where they are going; otherwise students become bogged down with overwhelming, seemingly unrelated details. Moreover, lessons should be learner-centered. The teacher should be a co-learner rather than the ultimate source of all knowledge with textbook in hand. Lessons should have an immediate purpose for the students and should provide students with choices that are current and relevant. Also, lessons should include listening, speaking, reading and writing. Quite controversial is their suggestion that learning should take place in the first language in order to facilitate the building of concepts and the acquisition of English, and so build self-confidence and a positive attitude toward school. The authors give examples of unfortunate students who lose their first language over time due to the “English only” mentality. The authors believe that: “The most important lesson we can learn as teachers is that our students have unlimited potential and we, their teachers, must show our faith in them to allow them to show us that potential” (p. 238).

Here are tools to use in the classroom. The book is a helpful addition to literature on current English as a Second Language classroom strategies.

Marlene Wall
ESL Dept. Chair/Teacher
North High School, Wichita, KS.

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