New Year Resolutions


1. Buy a copy of Huddleston, R. and Plum, K. (2002) The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge, CUP. 

This is surely the new Quirk et. al. As the blurb says: “The authors have benefited from the expertise of an international team of distinguished contributors in preparing what will be the definitive grammar for decades to come”.  Everybody in the ELT field, not just post-graduate students, needs a reliable, accessible reference work, and this is it. I’ve used all the other references for long enough: this has to be my new first reference.

2. Continue with renewed vigour the fight against sloppy thinking and pap crap.

There are just too many leading lights in the field of ELT who think they can get away with sloppy thinking, and I’d like to encourage people in 2014 to pay more attention to the pap crap so often served up in blogs, articles and books in the field of ELT.  Critical thinking, as the Secret DOS so rightly says, should be our watchword.  Important examples of sloppy thinking occur in those articles and books which adopt an “ethnographic” approach, but they occur too in even the best of scholars, as I attempted to point out in my criticism of Scott Thornbury’s account of his attempts to improve his Spanish.

Just for fun, here’s a classic example of pap crap:

“But my real complaint with the native/immigrant distinction is not so much whether I buy into it (I think it had some resonance once, perhaps, but that was then, not now); no, what really upsets me is the baleful effect it has had on the way people think about children and adults. It has affected the way teachers, in particular, talk, think and act. For example I recently read another article about how parents (aka teachers) always have to get their kids to help them solve techhy problems. And just recently at the 40th MEXTESOL conference, one of the plenary speakers came up with the same old trope – that our students know more about technology than we do and it is up to us to get up to their speed”.

Who else but Jeremy Harmer could take himself so seriously and assume that the rest of us give a damn for his daft, unexamined, vacuous musings? Look at it! Look at the first sentence, particularly the bit in brackets, and see how little it contains. It rests on the assumption that we give a toss for the tedious workings of his pedestrian mind. Look at the rest of it – nothing, but nothing of any worth whatsoever is there, and what’s really depressing is that the famous Jeremy just assumes that what he’s writing is worth reading.  It’s pure pap, and a good example of the appalling dross which “celebrities” assume “the masses” crave. It should, IMHO, be met with a torrent of critical replies.

3. Promote 1-to-1 Teaching. 

It’s nearly 15 years since I taught a class. I’ve been involved since then in various types of 1-to-1 teaching, including  immersion courses, 1-to-1 classes and distance learning courses.  I’ve seen results which were unthinkable in a class environment; in general, I’d say that both I and the students got so much more from 1-to-1 classes that there’s a tenfold payoff.  The only argument against 1-to 1 teaching is cost, and this argument is collapsing as hundreds of thousands of EFL / ESL teachers realise they’re better off making their own portfolio of work than working in some awful private or public institution.  In-company courses, organised for groups of 4 to 6 students are a disaster, and most classes of 12 and more students organised in schools and private institutions have a success rate which isn’t much better.  Time to re-appraise the whole damn industry.

4. Bash “The Lexical Approach”. 

It’s bollocks: SLA is NOT a process of learning lexical chunks, and no good syllabus will result from basing itself on this evidently false assumption. The marvellous work of Nattinger and DeCarrico and of Pauley and Syder and, indeed of the ever so wonderful Michael Howey, has been messed up by many, not least the appalling Michael Lewis. Claims made for the lexical syllabus are, quite simply, not supported by research findings and ignore what we know about the process of SLA.

5. Increase my efforts to improve distance learning for post-graduate applied linguistics  programmes.

When I left home and went to do my first degree in London at the LSE, the dean gave us a welcome address. Having told us how lucky we were to be part of the LSE community, he turned to the question of sex.  “I advise you all”, he said, with not a hint of irony, “to take up masturbation. It’s quicker; it’s cheaper; it’s cleaner; and you meet a better class of person”.  The same, more or less, can be said of distance learning.  Some of the very best people who want to learn more about applied linguistics and TESL are turning to distance learning programmes. I’ve noticed a huge improvement in the academic level of papers submitted by my students doing a distance learning Masters in AL and I think we, the staff, are improving both the materials and the interaction which the MA programme offers.  As IT advances, we’ll have better opportunities for on-line seminars, tutorials and conferences; we’ll increase the feeling of an academic community; we’ll just get better and better. At the heart of this improvement will be the core value of promoting critical thinking

7 thoughts on “New Year Resolutions

  1. It seems that the benefits of 1-to-1 teaching are obvious to both the teachers and the students. But isn’t it mainly an issue of affordability? A teacher will want a certain level of compensation for their time and it seems that for most students the benefits of having 1 on 1 time with the teacher are offset by the not having other students to share the cost with.

    Also, what is it that you disagree with about the lexical approach? Is it that the lexical approach calls for the teaching of lexical chunks to be take primacy over the teaching grammar?

  2. As I said, cost is obviously an issue; but when you consider the results of 1 to 1 versus class instruction, maybe the gap isn’t so big.

    In answer to your 2nd question: yes.

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