The Experience of Language Teaching

Rose M. Senior. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Pp. xiii + 301.

Reviewed by Ben Shearon
Centre for the Advancement of Higher Education, Tohoku University
Sendai, Japan

Aimed at teachers, teacher educators, researchers, and to anyone interested in finding out what it is like to be a language teacher (back cover), The Experience of Language Teaching provides a comprehensive overview of what it means to be a language teacher, from training to working conditions to motivation and classroom practice.
The book is divided into an introduction and twelve chapters: In chapter 1 Senior starts off by describing the framework for the book, then progresses through teacher training in chapter 2, becoming a committed language teacher in chapter 3, the practicalities of classroom teaching in chapters 4-9, frustrations and rewards in chapter 10, and what drives language teachers in chapter 11. Chapter 12 is then given over to the author s socio-pedagogic theory of classroom practice.
A smooth narrative filled with both liberal sprinklings of quotes from both working teachers and academic works which give the work a refreshing depth and authenticity and references from relevant academic works readers can use as jumping off points to further reading, the book is an enjoyable read. The clear headings and sections and summary at the end of each chapter also make this book student-friendly, and the practice of boxing off theoretical explanatory passages makes it very easy to mine it for theory. The diagrams Senior uses to illustrate processes and relationships throughout are both clear and helpful.
There are only two criticisms of The Experience of Language Teaching. The first is that the scope of this book, as acknowledged by the author, is restricted to communicative language teaching in Australia and the UK. Moreover, all the teachers who participated in the research the book is based on were native English speakers who were either CELTA or DELTA trained. Because of this, the vast majority of English language teachers who are non-native speakers teaching in EFL environments in public schools with little knowledge of the Cambridge ESOL style of teaching are overlooked.
The second criticism, and this is perhaps unfair, is that while readers may find themselves happily nodding along as they recognize familiar situations and experiences, they may feel ultimately unsatisfied. Senior presents an exhaustive description, but the lack of prescriptions mean that The Experience of Language Teaching seems to lack purpose. The reader may find themselves wondering who the intended audience for this book really is: teachers, teacher trainers, and others seems rather broad, and while teachers in training may find it enlightening, practicing teachers may not find much that is new to them here.
Ultimately though, Senior accomplishes what she set out to do. She, within the specific context of UK and Australia based CELTA-trained teachers, provides us with a broad yet detailed look, warts and all, at who language teachers are, what they do, and why they do it. For those with an interest in the topic, The Experience of Language Teaching is an authoritative is an accessible and timely resource.