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Essential English for Foreign Students [4…

Essential English for Foreign Students [4 vols.]

by Charles Ewart Eckersley

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C. E. Eckersley

Essential English for Foreign Students

Foreign Languages Press (Sofia), Paperback, 1967.

12mo. 4 vols. Revised edition.

Book 1: viii+248 pp. Preface by C. E. E., August 1955 [iii-iv]. Illustrations by Charles Salisbury and Burgess Sharrocks and from Punch and The Humorist.

Book 2: viii+246 pp. Preface by C. E. E., August 1955 [iv-v]. Illustrations by Charles Salisbury and Burgess Sharrocks and from Punch and The Humorist.

Book 3: viii+310 pp. Preface by C. E. E. [v-vi]. Illustrations by Charles Salisbury, Burgess Sharrocks, Porteous Wood, and from Punch and Woman’s Journal.

Book 4: viii+311 pp. Preface by C. E. E. [v-vi]. Illustrations, except for a few exceptions from The Punch, are generally uncredited.

First published by Longmans, 1938-42.
Revised edition first published, 1955.
Foreign Language Press (Sofia), 1967.


Book One

The Sounds in English

Lesson 1: The First Essential Structures
Lesson 2: The First Essential Structures (2)
Lesson 3: Plurals. “There is… There are…”
Lesson 4: Question Words. Gender
Lesson 5: The Verb “To Be”.
Lesson 6: Reading Lesson. “The Farm”
Lesson 7: Possessive Adjectives. Person. The Simple Present Tense
Lesson 8: The Present Continuous Tense
Lesson 9: The Verbs “Have” and “Can”
Lesson 10: Reading Lesson. “The Seaside”
Lesson 11: Time. Days, Months, Seasons. Possessive Case
Lesson 12: The Past Tense, “To Be,” “To Have,” “Can”
Lesson 13: The Characters in the Essential English Books: (1) Mr. Priestley
Lesson 14: The Simple Present Tense
Lesson 15: Discussion of Lesson 13. Simple Present Tense Negative
Lesson 16: Subjects and Objects
Lesson 17: The Characters in the Essential English Books: (2) Mrs. Priestley and some others
Lesson 18: The Future Tense
Lesson 19: The Characters in the Essential English Books: (3) The Students
Lesson 20: Comparison of Adjectives (1)
Lesson 21: The Students talk together on “Likes and Dislikes”
Lesson 22: Comparison of Adjectives (2)
Lesson 23: “The Cat that Caused a Wedding.” Regular and Irregular Verbs.
Lesson 24: The Simple Past Tense
Lesson 25: Irregular Verbs. Past Tense Negative and Interrogative
Lesson 26: Comments on Lesson 25
Lesson 27: The Students Talk Together on “Food”
Lesson 28: Irregular Verbs
Lesson 29: The Present Perfect Tense (1)
Lesson 30: The Present Perfect Tense (2)
Lesson 31: The Present Perfect Tense (3). More Difficult Examples.
Lesson 32: The Present Perfect Tense (4)

Principal Parts of the Irregular Verbs in Essential English Book I
Grammatical Terms in Essential English Book I
Pronouncing Vocabulary of Essential English Book I


Book Two

Lesson 1: The Priestleys’ House
Lesson 2: Comments on Lesson 1. Possessive Pronouns, Past Perfect Tense, Idiomatic Expressions
Lesson 3: The Vocabulary of Everyday Life
Lesson 4: Everyday Talk
Lesson 5: Parts of Speech
Lesson 6: Hob Tells a True Story
Lesson 7: Comments on Lesson 6. Past Continuous Tense, Reflexive Pronouns and Emphasising Pronouns
Lesson 8: One Glorious Hour
Lesson 9: Kinds of Nouns
Lesson 10: Margaret Priestley’s Birthday Morning. Examination Paper No. 1
Lesson 11: Two Poems and a Song
Lesson 12: The Future Tense
Lesson 13: Frieda Writes a Letter Home
Lesson 14: Comments on Lesson 13. Letters
Lesson 15: Holidays Have Started
Lesson 16: The Future Continuous Tense
Lesson 17: The Railway Station
Lesson 18: Money
Lesson 19: Plurals of Nouns
Lesson 20: Jan and Frieda leave for Switzerland
Lesson 21: Gender of Nouns. Examination Paper No. 2
Lesson 22: Hob’s Story of His Uncle Tom
Lesson 23: Active and Passive Voice
Lesson 24: Back from the Holidays
Lesson 25: The Future Perfect Tense
Lesson 26: Everyday Situations
Lesson 27: Weights and Measures
Lesson 28: The Articles
Lesson 29: Meals
Lesson 30: Some More Shopping
Lesson 31: Dress
Lesson 32: Frieda’s First Day in London
Lesson 33: Olaf Reads His Play. Examination Paper No. 3

Pronouncing Vocabulary of Essential English Book II


Book Three

Lesson 1: Hob Gives His First Impressions of England
Lesson 2: Olaf and Pedro Discuss Their Plans
Lesson 3: Direct and Indirect Speech (i)
Lesson 4: Olaf Reads Another of His Plays
Lesson 5: Direct and Indirect Speech (ii)
Lesson 6: Mrs. Priestley Tells a Story and Mr. Priestley Puts Up a Hen-house
Lesson 7: Sentences and Clauses
Lesson 8: Adverb and Clauses
Lesson 9: A Visit to Stratford
Lesson 10: Mood
Lesson 11: Conditions
Lesson 12: The Past Conditional. Test Paper No. 1
Lesson 13: “Should” and “Would”
Lesson 14: Olaf Gives us Another “Wiggins” Play
Lesson 15: Rules of Grammar and Standard English
Lesson 16: Lucille’s Story: “The Sand-glass”
Lesson 17: “Rules of Grammar” Again
Lesson 18: Some Strange, but Very Important Verbs. “The Specials” (i)
Lesson 19: Hob’s Story: “Uncle Theophilus”
Lesson 20: The “Special” Verbs (ii): Short Answers
Lesson 21: The “Special Verbs” (iii): The Emphatic Form. Position of Adverbs. Third Person Singular
Lesson 22: Olaf Writes a Letter from Oxford
Lesson 23: The “Specials” Again (iv): To Be. Can
Lesson 24: Olaf’s Letter from Oxford (ii). Test Paper No. 2
Lesson 25: The “Special” Verbs (v): Have
Lesson 26: The “Special” Verbs (vi): Do
Lesson 27: Frieda Writes a Letter from Wales
Lesson 28: The “Special” Verbs (vii): Ought
Lesson 29: Frieda Tells a Story: King Arthur
Lesson 30: The “Special” Verbs (viii): Need
Lesson 31: Wales and the Welsh
Lesson 32: The “Special” Verbs (ix): Dare, Used (to)
Lesson 33: Eisteddfod
Lesson 34: Punctuation
Lesson 35: The Body
Lesson 36: A Handful of Poems
Lesson 37: The End of Another Year’s Work. Test Paper No. 3
Mr. Priestley Gets a Surprise

Pronouncing Vocabulary of Essential English, Book III
Glossary for Lesson 36


Book Four

Lesson 1: Frieda and Jan Break the News. Verb Study 1: look
Lesson 2: Some Personal Letters. Verb Study 2: come. Prepositions 1
Lesson 3: Invitations and Requests. Verb Study 3: take
Lesson 4: Football
Lesson 5: The Special Finite: must, have (got) to, am to
Lesson 6: The Football Match: must, need, have to (continued). Verb Study 4: do, make
Lesson 7: Word Study: already, yet, still. Verb Study 5: give. Prepositions 2.
Lesson 8: Great Britons 1: Charles Dickens (i). Verb Study 6: turn. Idiomatic English 1: hand. Prepositions 3.
Lesson 9: Great Britons 1: Charles Dickens (ii). Idiomatic English 2: heart. Prepositions 4.
Lesson 10: David and the Waiter (A play). Verb Study 7: get
Lesson 11: Hob Tells the Life-story of a Great Briton. Verb Study 8: break
Lesson 12: Great Britons 2: Oliver Cromwell. Verb Study 9: bring
Lesson 13: Great Britons 3: John Milton. Verb Study 10: run. Prepositions 5.
Lesson 14: “Wanted – Mr. Stuart” (A play). Verb Study 11: call. Prepositions 6.
Lesson 15: The Story of Hob. Verb Study 12: say and tell. Verb Study 13: go
Lesson 16: Bonnie Prince Charlie. Verb Study 14: see
Lesson 17: The Double Possessive. Verb Study 15: fall. Prepositions 7.
Lesson 18: Roger’s First Day at School. Idiomatic English 3: comparisons. Verb Study 16: hold
Lesson 19: Word Order
Lesson 20: Great Britons 4: Florence Nightingale
Lesson 21: Idiomatic English 4: animal idioms. Verb Study 17: pull. Idiomatic English 5: colour idioms.
Lesson 22: Cambridge. Verb Study 18: put. The Non-finites 1: The Infinitive; 2: the “Bare” Infinitive
Lesson 23: Great Britons 5: Captain Scott. Verb Study 19: set. The Non-finites 3: Participles
Lesson 24: The American Scene 1: A Letter from Lucille. Extracts from Lucille’s journal. The Non-finites 4: The Gerund
Lesson 25: The American Scene 2: Lucille’s journal (continued). The Non-finites 5: Gerund and Infinitive.
Lesson 26: The American Scene 3: Lucille’s journal (concluded). The Non-finites 6: Gerund or Infinitive
Lesson 27: The American Scene 4: The Greatest American. The Complement. A speech and a poem.
Lesson 28: Good-bye

Pronunciation Vocabulary
Pronunciation Guide to Proper Names
Map of Places Mentioned in Essential English Book IV
Examination Paper



This is a great sentimental favourite of mine. The English language must have changed a good deal during the last 60 years or so, new words and new expressions are constantly being coined all around the world, and I suppose very few people nowadays use Mr Eckersley’s four-volume textbook. But I have learned a great deal from it, and indeed I continue to use it occasionally as a reference – or simply read it for pleasure. After all, it’s not written in Chaucer’s language, is it? Old-fashioned it may well be, but considering many of the modern fashions – well, I’d rather be old-fashioned.

The biography of Charles Ewart Eckersley (1892–1967) may at least partially explain the superlative quality of his Essential English for Foreign Students, far and away the most popular among the numerous books he wrote (many of them in collaboration with other teachers). Having served in the Royal Artillery during World War I, he started teaching English as early as 1921 when he was appointed to the staff of the Polytechnic Boys’ School in Regent Street, London. He quickly switched entirely to teaching English as a foreign language and by 1929 was already in charge of this department. Dissatisfied with the current textbooks, Mr Eckersley set out to write his own; so successful did they prove, that in 1932 Longmans started publishing them. Between 1938 and 1942, his first and greatest bestseller appeared. It was thoroughly revised in 1955, including new prefaces to each volume by the author. Let Mr Eckersley explain, in the very beginning, the purpose and structure of his book:

Essential English is a course of four books, of which this is the first, for the teaching of English to adult foreign students. It aims at giving the student a sound knowledge of the essentials of both spoken and written English and taking him well on the way to a mastery of idiomatic conversational and literary English.

The normal constructions and sentence patterns of English are introduced gradually and systematically, and are well drilled at every stage. The learner is guided through “essential” grammar in the simplest possible manner, and every new construction is explained and illustrated as soon as it is used.


Because I believe that a knowledge of the spoken tongue is the true basis of language learning, much of this book is in “conversational” form; and my constant endeavour has been to ensure that, despite the restrictions that a limited vocabulary naturally imposes, every sentence in these conversations is expressed in the living, colloquial idiom that an educated Englishman would use.

And, since the most effective spur to learning a language (or anything else) is interest, every effort has been made to cover the linguistic pill with the jam of gaiety. So, as soon as the preliminaries are mastered, the reader is introduced to Mr. Priestley, his household and his group of students. We see them here and in subsequent books chatting together, telling jokes, reading stories that they have written, singing songs or acting short plays. It is on these conversations and stories and the “talks of Mr. Priestley” that the language teaching is based, and from them that the copious exercises by which the teacher is enabled to test how far the work has been understood, are drawn.

I am told that Mr Eckersley’s method is now considered obsolete. I think this is a pity. It is a wonderfully effective and vastly entertaining method. The only “drawback” – quotation marks are necessary because this is so by design – is that the system was not designed for self-education. You need a teacher to check all those exercises which you are supposed to do after each lesson and to guide you through some of the trickiest details (especially in terms of vocabulary and pronunciation). But the fact that the books were made for class doesn’t mean that you can’t profit from them by yourself. I know because I have. Speaking of teaching, namely an educational system different than what I thought myself through books, movies and conversation, I studied English with at least four other methods, two in high-school for five years and two other courses that took about six months together, and I changed at least five different teachers during those studies. What did I learn from all that? Not even one tenth of the knowledge that I acquired entirely by myself from Mr Eckersley’s four books.

It is remarkable how much Mr Priestley and his students grow on you with every next book. Of course they don’t have the depth and the complexity of the great characters in literature, but they are more than the bunch of clichés textbooks are usually full with. They have individuality. They have vitality. They have charm. They are consistent throughout the whole series, yet they also develop and mature; there is even a romantic subplot involved. In the third book – no, in the second book – you are already dealing with something very much like living people. It’s all right to have favourites; that’s the greatest compliment a student may pay to Mr Eckersley’s rather considerable powers of characterisation. You may choose between the debonair, flashy, smart and worldly Pedro from Spain; the quiet, thoughtful and blonde giant Olaf from Sweden; the modest, sweet and very pretty Frieda from Switzerland; the industrious and punctilious Jan from Poland; the cheerful, indolent, impolite and full of jokes Hob (it’s not clear where he comes from); or the superficial brilliance and gaiety of Lucille from France. Indeed, the impressive erudition of Mr Priestley himself and the smart gentleness of Mrs Priestley, who appears from time to time and “manages her house (and, in her quiet way, her husband) very well”, are not without their own charm. As a matter of fact, my greatest favourite is Sally, Mr Priestley’s cat, who often sits beside him while he is reading or writing in his study (see Book One, Lesson 13, p. 93).

What makes Essential English a timeless book for me is Mr Eckersley’s unsurpassed ability for lucid explanation of grammatical subtleties. Now this cannot be explained with his biography. I am not sure it can be explained at all. It is a very special gift that may be more innate than genius. It is extremely rare. It is something to marvel at. Mr Eckersley constantly uses the formal linguistic terms and expressions, but somehow he always retains the impeccable clarity and the liveliness of his exposition. He is never obscure, imprecise or tedious. One hardly needs to look at the tons of examples; the author’s pithy explanation is quite sufficient. However the English tongue might have changed for the last sixty years, it is grammatically pretty much the same. One can still profit a great deal by Mr Eckersley’s razor-sharp definitions and distinctions. Let me try to show this by several examples.

I am greatly dismayed to notice that so many people on the Web cannot really distinguish between it’s and its, or they are extremely careless when using them. Mr Eckersley explains that it’s is merely the short form of “it is”, while its is a Possessive Adjective (like my, your, his, her, etc.) which is practically never used as Possessive Pronoun (e.g. mine, yours, his, hers, etc.). The difference between the last two categories is the same as the general difference between adjectives and pronouns: the former qualifies a noun, the latter stands instead of a noun.

Other grammatical peculiarities may introduce subtle differences in the meaning. “I am really busy” doesn’t mean the same thing as “I really am busy”; the latter construction is more emphatic. The same is true of “a few” and “few”; the latter form emphasises the small number. Things like that. The different types of the so-called “question phrases” (today usually called “tag questions”) in the end of sentences, though always opposite to the main statement, may imply positive or negative answer; the latter is usually expected when the question phrase is positive and stressed, but the intonation is really crucial in either case. The notoriously confusing combination of short answer and question phrase, both of them negative or affirmative, is beautifully explained and supplied with copious examples (only two of the five are given here):

It is used when we want to express surprise, or to say something in a rather unpleasant, quarrelsome way. You will need to listen carefully to get the right tone of voice. Here are some examples.

“I’ve left my book at home.” – “Oh you have, have you?”
“I can’t pay you the money I owe you” – “Oh you can’t, can’t you?”

All these things may seem simple to advanced students, not to mention native speakers, but foreign neophytes often have plenty of trouble with them. The above examples can be multiplied enormously.

The main text is richly decorated with illuminating footnotes. Sometimes they are important cross references with other books where certain subject is more thoroughly explained. Sometimes they make you pay attention to singular constructions, for instance “So have I” and “Neither (nor) have I” where the verb comes before the subject. And sometimes they make you admire the author’s common sense, for instance when he warns us not to mistake colloquial speech with slang. The former is “the kind of speech that educated English people would use in natural, informal talk.” Mr Eckersley doesn’t tell us what slang is, but I might hazard the suggestion that this is the kind of speech generally used by educated folk who are afraid of being accused of trying to put on airs. In any case, these footnotes give additional information that is always worth knowing and often thought-provoking.

It’s important to note that the books are huge fun to read. This is not something typically associated with textbooks, is it? Well, this one is full with amusing stories and anecdotes. It is usually Hob who regales the others with tall tales about his numerous relatives, one wackier than the other. I was especially amused to find among these the complete plot of Somerset Maugham’s “The Verger” (Book Four, Lesson 11). The only differences are that Hob’s Uncle Albert was caretaker at a school (not a verger) and he made his fortune with sausage shops (not cigarette ones). But the reason for his being sacked and even the lovely twist in the end with the bank manager are retained. I’ll leave Hob to tell another great favourite of mine; it’s as old as the hills and everybody knows it, but I still love it:

Talking about hotels, do you know this story about King George III of England? He was in the country one day and stopped at a small hotel for lunch. He wasn’t very hungry, so he had only two boiled eggs. He ate them and asked for the bill. The landlord gave him the bill – two pounds. The King said, “What! Two pounds for two eggs? Eggs must be very scarce here.”
“No, sir,” said the landlord, “eggs are not scarce – but kings are.”

Even hopelessly dated matters have a quaint charm and not a negligible significance for the curious student of history. The most wonderful example here is money (Book Two, Lesson 18). For of course these books were published long before the decimalisation which, amazingly, happened in 1971. Before that, one pound wasn’t divided into 100 pence at all. It consisted of 20 shillings (s), each of them had 12 pennies (d). The monstrous calculations involved are carefully explained and I no longer wonder why in the old days an accountant was considered a most prestigious occupation. Many other types of coins are mentioned, for instance the half-crown (worth two shillings and sixpence) or the gold sovereigns (£1) and half-sovereigns (10s.) which were last made in 1917. And do you know where the signs “£”, “s” and “d” come from? Why, from the Latin words “libra”, “solidus” and “denarius”, the currencies in the Roman Empire. Fascinating stuff. Here is a nice table with the major coins copied from p. 117:

4 farthings or two halfpennies = 1 penny (1d.)
12 pence = 1 shilling (1/-)
20 shillings = 1 pound (£1)
A half-crown (or half a crown) = two shillings and sixpence (2/6)
8 half-crowns = £1

Last but not least, the illustrations are beautifully done. Exclusively in black-and-white and drawn in the delightful manner of the comics, they are the perfect complement to the text. The inclusion of many hilarious cartoons from magazines of humour is a special bonus. Although the books are for adults, some of the original illustrations, especially the basics of grammar in Book One, may be quite suitable for children. I do not mean this in derogatory sense. On the contrary, it’s the highest form of praise I can think of. When weightier grammatical issues are discussed, such as tenses, conditions, sentence structure or modal verbs, many helpful tables are also provided.

So, if you are a foreign student of English and happen to find a complete set of Mr Eckersley’s Essential English in the dusty attic of your parents, don’t hurry to sell it. Read it. Unless you are a very advanced learner indeed, you may well profit from it. If not, well, it makes for a very entertaining read, far more so than many a novel, not to mention English textbooks. I conclude with the words of Richard C. Smith who, in his General Introduction to Teaching English as a Foreign Language, 1936-61: Pioneers of ELT, vol. 1 (2005), tried to explain the lasting popularity of Mr Eckersley’s bestseller:

The popularity of Eckersley’s books has continued: there have been repeated reprintings of Essential English and its characters, the teacher Mr Priestley and his family, and his students, Jan, Lucille, Olaf, Pedro, Frieda and Hob, have become familiar to generations of learners in every continent. What was the secret of this popularity? It was, I think, the product of a warm and lively personality with a natural flair for English teaching and a ready sense of humour. As Eckersley wrote in one of his prefaces, it was his constant endeavour ‘to cover the pill of learning with the jam of gaiety’. (1)


(1) See Mr Smith’s biography of Eckersley, apparently the only one (?!) online, to which I am greatly indebted. ( )
4 vote Waldstein | Oct 17, 2013 |
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Essential English is a course of four books, of which this is the first, for the teaching of English to adult foreign students. It aims at giving the student a sound knowledge of the essentials of both spoken and written English and taking him well on the way to a mastery of idiomatic conversational and literary English.
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