Is there any point in using course books in EFL lessons?

At Interlanguage, we very rarely use EFL course books, for several reasons:

The content can be very ‘dry’ i.e. dull and factual.
The content doesn’t reflect ‘real-life’ situations, therefore, they feature situations, dialogue and speaking expressions/phrases which native English speakers, just do not say. When was the last time you said ‘The dog went up the hill yesterday’ to demonstrate the past simple tense?
There is far too much focus on grammar, and not on the other, more essential skills, namely, spoken fluency.

Why do the majority of language schools feel that it is important to cover each and every page of a course book, when this clearly puts a stop to spontaneity and the free-flow of discussion in the classroom? The answer is that most language schools have a set curriculum which means that teachers are obliged to use them in line with the syllabus. Another reason is that because these books are expensive, unless students are asked to pay for the books as part of their fees, both management and teachers feel pressurised to use them extensively.

A final reason, and one which is probably the worst, is that many schools hire inexperienced teaching staff and so management feel that these teachers must use these books, especially when it comes to teaching grammar.

On the subject of grammar, Michael Swan (who is a renowned and prolific ELT author whose books include Practical English Usage and Basic English Usage) himself says:
“Where grammar is given too much priority the result is predictable and well known. ‘Course books’ become little more than grammar courses. Students don’t learn English: they learn grammar, at the expense of other things that matter as much or more. They know the main rules, can pass tests, and may have the illusion that they know the language well. However, when it comes to using the language in practice they discover that they lack vital elements, typically vocabulary and fluency: they can recite irregular verbs but can’t sustain a conversation”.

I am definitely not advocating that grammar shouldn’t be taught in EFL classrooms…it absolutely should be taught, but only after we consider the learners’ aims and in order to resolve students’ frequent and most serious grammatical errors.
The course book itself should be used as a framework and needs to be adapted to suit the modern world.

I am hopeful that language schools will soon start to discover the merits of discarding the course book (to a point) in favour of using supplementary material for a more fluid and organic way of teaching; this can include news articles, online resources, extensive discussion practice and taking the teaching ‘out of the classroom’ so that students learn how to communicate in as natural a way, as possible and still have their learning needs met.

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