Monday, 1 October 2012

"Friendly English" by Derek Allen: a hilarious and moving book written with warmth and a unique sense of humour

I’m currently reading Derek Allen’s “Friendly English”, published by Sperling & Kupfer. It’s a unique blend of autobiography and English language exercise book. It covers many topics normally ignored by conventional language books, e.g. sport (especially football), religion, (real) family relationships and humour. What comes through from this book is Derek’s personality and quirky sense of humour. Written in a conversational and richly-idiomatic style, “Friendly English” is the reading equivalent of spending a few hours in Derek’s company (which is always a delight!).

As with the originator of the “English tailored for Italians” genre, John Peter Sloan (with whom both Derek and I have worked on the Speak Now! series), Derek has managed to strike a careful balance between entertainment and education. Just as John’s brand of humour and insights reflect his experiences  of living in Italy and interacting with Italians, so Derek has also captured the magic and absurdity of being an Englishman in Italy in his own way. (There are many moments that will strike a chord with British expats, such as myself, and which Italian readers will also find revealing.) However, Derek’s approach and voice differ markedly from those of John. “Friendly English” is an incredibly personal and revealing account of key moments in Derek’s life, many of which are both moving and surprising at the same time. (I even found myself laughing out loud at certain points – not something you usually do with an English language course book!) Derek is a natural raconteur and storyteller. He also wears his learning lightly and is able to explore some quite deep subjects with a typically light touch.

The overall impression you get from reading “Friendly English” is of a wry sense of humour combined with a genuinely warm and forgiving personality (i.e. Derek Allen!).

Here’s a typical example of Derek’s finely-honed comic writing skills chosen at random from the book: I’m only 1.65 metres tall and as a result I have a full length portrait in my passport instead of the usual “face and shoulders”.

The book also offers some beautifully-observed details that open a window onto the strange and wonderful place that is Italy. Here’s Derek describing an “epiphany” moment while visiting Trapani in Sicily during his tour of the South:

I was walking along the promenade minding my own business when an old couple sitting on a stone bench called me over with their hands. The man was peeling a peach and wanted to offer me a piece, so I sat down and shared the fruit with them. We couldn’t really communicate at all – we were all gestures and broken-toothed smiles beside a deserted midday beach. I don’t think I’d ever experienced anything so completely unlooked-for in my life.

"Your Bard, mate!" Derek in Shakespearean
 mode from the "Speak Now!" series
However, “Friendly English” is also a well-structured English language book with a wealth of exercises, glossaries, notes, quotations, snippets of history, puns galore and odd facts. You can either read it through as a narrative and sequential course – or you can just dip in and read snippets. (It’s a great “bog read” – a book you can read on the toilet (!) as well as the perfect thing to read when you are moving around the city on the metro or tram.)

Click here to order your copy of "Friendly English" on Amazon.

You can find out more about "Friendly English" and stay up to date with Derek's English activities by visiting the "Friendly English" page on Facebook.


UPDATE: Derek will be presenting “Friendly English” at the Mondadori Multicenter in Piazza Duomo, Milan on Thursday, 18 October 2012 at 18:30.

Meet Derek Allen and have your copy of “Friendly English” signed by the author!


  1. These are the more concerning values and provisions and possibly for the future would lay a better ground. rephrase sentence generator

  2. I even found myself laughing out loud at certain points – not something you usually do with an English language course book! paper rewriter

  3. For the foremost half, English proofreading software package will 2 main things. It works on writing system and, of course, grammar. As you sort, it goes through and proof reads your work. There ar several variations in those programs offered. my blog

  4. Derrek is a very good comic writer. Comics writing is fun to read and write. Its always difficult to read the full story in words but if its explained with pictures and intereating sentences then it becomes fun to read it. I like reading comics

  5. After reading your reviews i am seriously going to buy it just now as i can't wait to read this book. Very few books are filled with huomour otherwise mostly are same sad stories based.

  6. Thank you for taking the time and sharing this information with us. It was indeed very helpful and insightful while being straight forward and to the point. auto paraphrasing