Review: English for the Zombie Apocalypse (EZA)

We do not know how it started. All that we know is that it did… And once it started there was no stopping it.

People panicked. The authorities were overwhelmed. Private homes, stores, schools, and public buildings were all overrun. Governments collapsed and society crumbled…

The world as we know it has ended. Out of the chaos of the initial outbreak, a small number of humans have emerged desperately trying to survive. However, when they encounter each other, how will they interact? Effective and clear communication will be key to survival.

And in our increasingly gloablised world, effective and clear communication in English will be key to survival.

That is where the latest publication of The Round comes in:

"When the world nears its end, the language people will be speaking will be English.”
Image courtesy of The Round

This is a short, highly-specialised ESP course containing ten units, an A-Z of Zombie Apocalypse vocabulary, and audio recordings of the dialogues and key phrases. The authors, Robert Campbell & Lindsay Clandfield, have taken the lack of ELT material that addresses how to deal with emergency situations and married it (in an unholy alliance) with the current trend in popular culture for post-apocalyptic tales of hardy bands of humans trying to survive the end of the world.

(That’s my interpretation at least – it may well be that these esteemed authors in the world of ELT know something we don’t are are trying to ensure they are well-placed when the first bite is taken...)

Units follow a similar format, beginning with ‘The Situation’, which is designed to get the class engaged in discussion (or the self-study ‘sole survivor’ engaged in deep thought) and then followed by ‘The Scene’, which presents a dialogue based on one of the choices from the opening part of the unit. There is then a focus on ‘The Phrases’, highlighting key language from the discussion in true ELT course book style, before the unit closes with ‘The Task’, designed to test the language points and get students to prepare themselves for the impending apocalypsenworst-case scenario.

‘The Situation’ lends an interactive-fiction element to the book, which immediately involves the student in the content and can help to break down the classroom walls (meant metaphorically of course as actually breaking down the walls while there are zombies roaming around outside may be disastrous!)

‘The Scene’ skilfully serves three purposes as it develops one of the options the students will have already discussed, tells the story of Alex, Brooke and Connor, and introduces the target language.. The interactive element is maintained as students are often invited to complete the scene or speculate about the actions and motives of one of the characters and the audio recording adds a dramatic touch, as well as a pronunciation model.

‘The Phrases’ provide a useful point to analyse the language used closely, and introduce different expressions and constructions relevant to the scenario. Despite it’s brief nature, the book covers a range of language points: asking for help, making suggestions, giving commands, and expressing regrets to name but a few. These areas are well-chosen (no need to be saying “The zombie has got bloodshot eyes and rotting teeth” or using the future perfect continuous when you are fighting for your life!) but quite a lot is covered in 20 pages so considerable teacher-input may be needed for the students to get the most out of the material.

‘The Task’ at the end of each unit gives an immediate opportunity for the students to put their newly-acquired language to use, usually in the form of a role-play (again, based on the fact that written tasks may be few and far between once the world has ended). In class, it would be important to put students under pressure when preparing and performing these tasks to reflect the ever-present possibility of danger there would be if the events envisaged in this book ever came to pass.

While the book is precise and well-oriented to its post-apocalyptic purpose, there are a few areas I (as an avid fan of The Walking Dead in its print, TV, and digital entertainment forms) feel have been overlooked and they are as follows…

To better serve the purposes of the book, a unit on surviving alone would be useful. Most zombie-fiction adventures start with the protagonist alone and it would be a shame if a second-language learner met an early end because of a failure to understand the ‘keep out: infected inside” signs painted on the walls.

And what of the idea often shown to us in these post-apocalyptic works of fiction of the mistrust and malice that manifests itself in humans as civilisation-as-we-know-it crumbles, and the need to scavenge and hunt grows? A unit on presenting yourself as non-threatening or becoming accepted as part of a group would help our zombie fighting EFL student a lot.

Building on that, a language focus on swearing would not be out of place here. It is not only vocabulary that is important but also appropriacy and register, both in understanding the intentions of the swearer and expressing yourself expletively.

And finally, a CLIL-style focus on survival skills such as how to build a fire, trap a rabbit, and load a crossbow quickly would not go amiss. Groups of survivors in these stories always seem to depend on one of their number being a former hunter or scout master but we know in truth it is better to be that person then be reliant on that person.

Overall, I would say this is a well-written book that has identified and reached its target clearly. There are a few additions that could be made but then again, when your life depends on it, perhaps negotiating a 20 page book for information is going to be preferable to leafing through a more densely packed one. This is an entertaining book and something your students may enjoy using for something different. However, I sincerely hope it remains a book they can enjoy and not become one they will need….