I just saw this post get retweet. I had to quickly knock out a reply to it here. It deals with one of my pet hates, Neurolinguistic Programming which has become more popular over recent years in the EFL world but which makes some quite remarkable claims. I’m currently trying to a get an article on NLP published and I don’t want to repeat too much of that here, but since it was retweeted by someone quite influential I thought I would dash off this response. I wrote this in about 20 mins so sorry about typos etc.
NLP is a weird therapy type of system which was dreamt up in the 1970s and makes spectacular claims about both the human body and what NLP itself is capable of. Similar in genre to books promise to help you get rich in 7 easy steps or to eat yourself thin, NLP makes some quite spectacular claims. One book (Agnes 2008:3) for example claims that using NLP can help you to:
Be what you want to be
Have what you want to have
Do what you want to do
Have the personal success you want now
Be more aware of your thoughts
And who wouldn’t want all that. Yet there is actually no research that supports any of the claims that NLP makes. This is hardly surprising when you realise just how odd those claims are. NLP practitioners, like the author of the blog that was retweet claim that watching a person’s eye movements can tell you what kind of learner they are. That is, in the dubious VAKOG sense of learner styles.
You can also listen to the pitch of someone’s voice or check the way they walk to find out what kind of learner they are. If this doesn’t work then check out the words they use. A person who says “I see what you mean” is visual and and someone who tends to say “I get your drift” is probably kinaesthetic. These are called predicates in the NLP world and no, I’m not kidding, -this is really what they teach.
If you check the blog you see this quote:
For me, one of the most important core concepts of NLP is the recognition of differences in cognitive style – or what NLP calls “representational systems”. There are five of these systems (Visual, Auditory, Kinaesthetic, Olfactory and Gustatory) of which the first three are most commonly used
Isn’t it funny how the olfactory and gustatory learners are always left out? No one wants to deal with learners who learn through smelling and tasting? too silly even for NLP perhaps? Also, if we’re going to use this old-fashioned five sense model then what happened to touch? No one fancy teaching touchy learners?
The blog mentions Revell and Norman’s book on NLP in EFL which I would advise you to take a look at. There are some quite impressive claims in there, even “live longer with this 3 minute exercise” -worth the price of the book alone I would have thought. The blog also quotes some NLP sayings such as:
but there is no failure in NLP, only feedback
This sounds great and appeals to me as a teacher but isn’t it just word play? The Chinese girl who paid out £2,500 for a pre-sessional course, not making the grade and being sent home probably wouldn’t see that as ‘feedback’. Some other claims that NLPers make are these:
There is no failure in learners only in the teacher’s intervention (Millrood 2004:29)
There is no such thing as reluctant learners only inflexible teachers (winch 2005:np)
All behaviour has positive intentions (Revell and norman 1997: 106)
Now it might just be me but these claims are seriously questionable. Learners can fail, they can be forced to study English and they can almost certainly act with negative intentions.The author of the blog also claims “I’m no NLP expert but…”. Well, don’t worry, that can soon be remedied. It’s easy to become a “master practitioner” of NLP in one short 10 day course. It will only set you back a few thousand pounds and it’s so simple that even a cat could do it.
The fact that so many teachers have bought into this dubious and expensive practice doesn’t really bother me, that’s up to them. However the fact that they are wasting students’ time (and money) by staring into their eyes, or listening to which words they use does. You can find examples of teachers doing this kind of things here, here and here. Of course these teachers think these things “work” and that’s great, -but just remember, the students didn’t sign up for pseudoscience, they signed up to learn English.
Agness, L. 2008. Change your Life with NLP Edinburgh: Pearson education LTD
Millrood, R. 2004. ‘The role of NLP in teachers’ classroom discourse.’ ELT Journal. 58(1): 28-37
Revell, J. and Norman, S. 1997a. In Your Hands – NLP in ELT. London: Saffire Press.
Winch, S. 2005. ‘From Frustration to Satisfaction: Using NLP to Improve Self-Expression.’ in EA Education Conference, English Australia, Mercure Hotel, Brisbane, QLD.