2019 wrap up

This year I moved from the UK back to Japan (for a 4th time) and started a new job at the International University of Japan in Niigata. It’s a really interesting uni, being entirely EMI by necessity as only 15% of the students are Japanese. Most of the 300 students come from East Asia, Central Asia and various parts of Africa. It is also surrounded by koshihikari rice fields, snakes and bears. 

Last year I wrote about my thoughts on twitter. This year I have tried to be it off it less but it I’m not sure I have been all that successful. Twitter is still an awful form of communication. and probably the easiest way to fall out with someone who you would probably get on with in real life (or have previously gotten on well with in real life). Perhaps 2020 will be the year when I finally kick the habit? 

This year I also wrote 10 blog posts, three book reviews and spoke at three conferences, ELTIreland, ExcitELT, and Nanzan langauge education seminarI did not attend the big conferences this year because the price would have been almost half of my entire research fund. The conferences I did go to were all relatively small and two of them were 1 day events with very low fees to attend and interesting formats. I think there is something to be said for these kinds of smaller conferences with novel formats. I certainly got the chance to meet and talk to a lot of other teachers. 

For example, I managed to finally meet people I had known for ages on twitter such as Formerly SwanDOS Rachel Fionda, Marjorie Rosenberg, Peter LahiffLou McLaughlin, Liam Tyrell, Tim HampsonPeter Brereton, Ted O’Neil,  Chris Farrell, and Darren Elliott (of lives of teaches fame). Apologies if I missed you out…I’m very forgetful! I also unfortunately missed the chance to meet Leo Selivan and Marek Kiczkowiak as I was passing through Liverpool. Maybe next year?

Here were the top 5 posts of this year by views. 

1. The authenticity trap 
2. Evidence based resources 
3. Taboo ELT
4. Mogg’s Rules 
5. tooth Fairy expertise  (my personal favourite) 

the top 5 posts of all time haven’t really changed. 

1. MA or DELTA?
2. Does Swearing show a lack of IQ
3. Skimming and scanning
4. left brains and right brains in TEFL 
5. Learning styles: facts and fictions


This year I also had a piece published in EFL magazine on Freire that generated a little bit of controversy. The piece was my personal reaction to a book that some claims is very important to the teaching profession. 

It occurs to me, rather belatedly, that twitter has something of an amplifying and distorting effect. You can get the impression that ideas are really popular and important when really it’s just a twitter thing. A political party can seem really loved or a celebrity can seem reviled when in reality it’s just the impression twitter creates. I think this is probably true for critical pedagogy. In fact, the editor of one publication I sent the article to replied saying that though I made valid points the book was just not well-known or part of main stream teachers’ reading lists to be of interest to readers. 

Likewise, one distinguished member of “TEFL royalty” told me, much to my surprise, that he had never heard of the book and similarly very few hands went up when J.J. Wilson reportedly asked teachers at a conference to raise their hands if they knew it. Writing about Freire then is a bit like writing about NLP. Most people will shrug but the fans will really come for you

Am I Trump in this analogy?

So I think I got sucked into spending time on something that isn’t really that important to most teachers and I’m probably done with the subject but to fans of critical pedagogy I ask the same question I ask everyone else on this blog, -where is your evidence that this stuff works? 

Is blogging over?

And finally for this decade….EBEFL asks….is blogging over? Perhaps it’s how little time I spent on twitter or perhaps it’s who I follow or twitter’s algorithm but I can’t remember seeing that many new bloggers or blog posts going around this year. In contrast, everyone seems to have a podcast! So many in fact that I can no longer keep up with them all (though you can read reviews of some of them here, here and here) Is podcasting the new blogging? 

Anyway, as always, thanks for reading and have a great 2020. 

Try this, it works! 4….3….2…

Paul Nation‘s 4/3/2 1 activity is often cited as an excellent way to improve a students spoken fluency. I have used it myself and incorporated it into a lot of materials. It’s evidence based after all, right? 


The other day it suddenly hit me that I’d never once bothered to check if the method itself had any evidence to support it at all. Here’s what I found. 

The method 

In a paper from 1989 Nation describes the technique which originates in a 1983 paper by Maurice (if anyone has a copy I would love to read it). Ask students to prepare a talk on a given topic but don’t let them make any notes. Pair the learners up and give them 4 minutes to talk about it. Their partner should not interrupt. 

Next, the speaker and listener switch and the process is repeated. After this the students switch partners and repeat the process but this time with the time reduced to 3 minutes. In the final iteration the time is reduced to 2 minutes. The point of this is to get students speaking more fluently. 

In order to test the efficacy of this method Nation recorded students doing the activity and then measured various aspects of the performance. For example her measured, the number of words per minute, the number of hesitations and the number of repetitions. Nation also measured accuracy by counting the number of errors per minute. 


  • The 432 technique seemed to lead to improvements in student fluency as measured by words per minutes (WPM), and a reduction in hesitation and repetition. 
  • There was ‘some’ improvement in student accuracy. 
  • Students seemed to get better at only including important information (control of content). Nation believes this shows students may get better at condensing information. 

    Some thoughts

    The study was N=6. That’s very very small. Nation claims that despite this “the consistency of the results indicates that their gains from the activity would be typical of other learners” but with 6 advanced students can he really make these claims? 
    There seems to be a lot missing from the methodology section of this paper. What was classed as a mistake? how long was a hesitation and so on. There are no transcripts to look at to see what kind of language the students produced and we get no information about whether any students finished before the allocated time and if so how that was recorded. 

    Did students take it slowly on the first 4 minute round because they had some much time? would student have been able to speak at the “final” speed if they had only been given 2 minutes from the beginning? If the time wasn’t changed at all would students speed up anyway? 

    The “audience” students (those listening) do nothing other than listen. Whenever I do this activity I ask students to take notes to answer questions later on so they are at least paying attention. I also tend to start with a much shorter initial time. 4 minutes seems like a really really long time. The IELTS speaking test “long turn” only lasts for 2 minutes. 


    I was curious if anyone had replicated the study, perhaps with a larger cohort. It turned out they had. 


    Nation himself repeated the study 2 years later with Supot Arevart, only this time with 20 intermediate level students. This time, the authors give a bit more detail about the procedure. It seems that students were grouped in fours and spoke once, listening three times (which seems a bit dull for a speaking lesson). This paper also contains transcripts of participant speech. 


    • Again there was an increase in WPM (18 more words from the first to the last performance) though it is not clear if the repetition or time reduction is the cause.
    • Individual student results are listed in this paper and show that whereas some subjects made great gains (an increase of 48 WPM) others did not. One student actually got worse (though that was a student with an very high initial WPM count). 
    • Hesitations decreased by an average of around four fewer hesitations by the 3rd round. Again, the individual data shows us that the results were much more varied at an individual level with one participant going from 10 to 18 hesitation by the final round (incidentally the same student who did not make WPM gains).  

      De Jong and Perfetti (changing the topics)

      This paper tested 4/3/2 with a group who repeated the same topic and one that got a new topic every round. They found that even if the topics differed for each time the levels of fluency increased. This would seem to indicate that the reduction in time alone can prompt students to appear more fluent. However, the authors also found that only those who had repeated their topic showed improvement in the posttest. 

      Boers (keeping the time constant)

      Another two replications were carried out by Boers who is quite critical of Nation. He raises the following issues:
      • Nation claims that this is a well-researched technique (Nation and Newton 2009) when in actual fact there are very few studies into the technique. 
      • Nation research only shows improvements within the 4/3/2 activity itself. He does not show that this permanently affects a students fluency. 
      • Although Nation has claimed that 432 also improves accuracy and complexity, the actual results do not support that claim. 
      • Boers wonders if the repetition alone, without the time pressure, may have the same effect. 
      Boers studies (2014, N=10 and 2015, N=20 with Thai) introduced a control group with no time reduction (3/3/3 as well as 4/3/2)


      • As with Nation, Boers found increases in the number of words and WPM from the first to the third round. 
      • Both papers found the number of disfluencies (hesitations) decreased. 
      • They also found that in the time-constant group students improved as well, though not by as much. 
      • One striking finding was the amount of verbatim duplication in the shrinking time condition. This was notable to the authors as in some cases up to 50% of the texts were exact repetitions. 
      • “There was no compelling evidence of increased lexical sophistication and no evidence of increased syntactic complexity.”

      Boers found that participants seemed to repeating the same structures and this held for both replications. Although students got faster, errors did not decrease significantly and in some cases they increased. Boers notes that as students were just repeating the same thing without getting any input on, or evaluation of their performance, this is hardly surprising. 

      Take away

      Most of the research shows that repeated practice will increase fluency as measured by WPM (or syll/sec). However it will probably not do much for accuracy or complexity. As Boers argues that “the 4/3/2 technique is recommendable if the sole aim of the activity is to push fluency”. But you can increase fluency merely by reducing the time students have, even with different topics. You can also get a decent increase with no reduction in time. 

      Simply put, rehearsing a talk and repeating it will tend to improve fluency. A modified 432 in which students get feedback on their performance (from other students or the teacher) and then repeat it may help with accuracy and complexity. But as with many things “more research is needed”. 

      Taboo 2

      Much to my surprise the taboo ELT post took off! 

      It was really just for my curiosity and I hadn’t intended on publishing at all. There are now 83 responses so I have put the new ones in this post. 

      I would say some people out there seem to think views which are pretty mainstream are a bit taboo. I have, where I think it’s useful, linked to blogs or academic papers which make a similar point. Perhaps if you, dear reader, know of any other links you can post them in the comments. 


      For various reasons, I’m not sure I will continue to update this. That said, I think this could be an interesting research project if someone wanted to go about it in a more systematic way. Anyway here are the latest results. 

      Approaches and methods 

      Teaching the IPA is a waste of time and energy for all concerned.
      Tired of endless arguments about methods. Grammar translation works for some students. TBLT seems hopelessly confusing and unsystematic to some students. Some students hate group work.
      ‘Listen and repeat’ is no good for practising pron. You have to get physical.
      I wish you’d recognise the severe limitations of correction codes for writing.
      “Everyone learns differently,” I’m not sure they do. People may have different learning habits and different strengths and weaknesses, but I’ve seen no evidence that the process of learning isn’t basically the same for everyone. I think it’s often just lip service to seeing students as individuals……before giving them all the same task to do anyway.
      While communication is key, treating mistakes that don’t impede communication as silly and acceptable accidents so nobody’s feelings get hurt is lazy teaching and in the long run is far worse for students regardless of how or where they will use their English 
      Process writing is a complete waste of our time. The teacher spends hours commenting and suggesting corrections, and students completely ignore them in their final version.


      A CELTA does not make you a qualified teacher.
      I understand the rationale behind the insistence of having a degree to be a TEFL teacher. I have found that some folks who don’t have a degree to be better teachers and are more professional in their approach. This requirement is a big barrier preventing people with potential but have no degree from entering the profession.

      Native vs non native 

      Too much emphasis on grammar based on native English. Books for teens written by adults who don’t appear to have any connection with their readers.
      There is a self- fulfilling prophecy to a lot of discrimination issues by which students expecting different styles from NS and NNS teachers can lead those teachers to be more effective when they adhere to their prescribed styles. Or at least being an effective teacher while breaking from a prescribed style for one’s teacher demographic would require a lot more training and experience.
      Non-natives overestimate themselves and tend to be prescriptive (and proscriptive) and this ‘World English’ nonsense just sets the bar lower for them
      While native teachers are often worse teachers, the bitterness of knowing that makes non-natives ignore any possible value or advantages that natives can bring to the table. 
      Many Non native teachers make mistakes with their collocation and collogation. I have read a number of articles written by non native teachers complaining of their treatment that use unnatural expressions and contain mistakes

      Other teachers 

      Most of my colleagues don’t know what they’re doing in class and shouldn’t be teaching.
      The “subject knowledge” that English teachers are supposed to be experts in is LANGUAGE. So many teachers know jack shit about language as a system, linguistics, phonology/phonetics and it’s embarrassing. If I hear another teacher respond “Oh, it’s an exception! That’s just the way it is! Isn’t English wild and wacky?!!!” in response to a question about some aspect of language that is completely systematic, rule-governed and explainable, I will go crazy! It’s not an “exception”! You just don’t know enough about the subject area you’re supposed to be an “expert” in.
      There are teachers/trainees that will never be effective classroom practitioners because they don’t have the people skills (and such skills can’t be learnt/take too long to develop).
      Many teachers are delusional, especially those involved in Teacher training. They really see themselves as big celebrities and sometimes act as annoying divas, asking people questions like “You DON’T KNOW who I am???”. Ridiculous to say the least.
      We don’t all teach EFL as a means of living in the Far East while we decide what we want to do in life. Some of us do the job in English-speaking countries as a profession.
      A lot of unprofessional behaviours and attitudes of teachers are ignored in the name of collegiality. Some employers don’t pay teachers for prep time due to funding issues or whatever and Ts end up doing hours of unpaid work.
      The majority of teachers, especially at private language schools, are really just washed up has beens and life’s rejects, this always being the elephant in the room when issues of exploitation, unfair treatment and teacher’s rights are brought up. In other words, there may well be reasons for management at institutions, etc., treating teaching staff as interchangeable, expendable revenue generators, their attitude being that the ‘teachers’ (whom they tend to think of in inverted commas like that) wouldn’t be at their mercy without having seriously fucked up in life in one way or another (‘take it or leave it’, basically). There are indeed teachers who are passionate and go the extra mile, along with all the incompetent dross, but the rather awkward question of how most ended up long-term in what regular society regards as a silly sort of gap year job remains.
      Linguists teach best. If you’ve learned a foreign language as an English native speaker, you’ve got to have a lot to contribute.

      The industry 

      it is too much work for too little pay
      The lack of professionalism within the ELT industry.
      It’s mostly all bollocks. People buy into all sorts of crap with messianic vigour and preach to a largely uncritical crowd. I suspect most teachers and students would mostly prefer to be left alone to get on with it in whatever way works best for them. Don’t mind me, I have fallen from the faith. Also. pretty much every test is meaningless and all the international language exams are essentially a scam. 
      .That ultimately the private language school model is useless. Teachers have very little effect on the learners and they’d be much better off watching tv and reading books in English. The results we produce are typically down to the students own motivation/talent. For that reason it’s fine to use coursebooks as it will have the same effect as not using them.
      1. Students are very often pushed into doing exams that they don’t need, and are not ready for, in the name of profit for schools and inflating salaries at the Anglocentric exam boards. Cambridge Assessment and the British Council are ‘not for profit’ which means they don’t pay taxes, and their income can also be ploughed into massive marketing campaigns. (I once contacted Cambridge Assessment to ask about their marketing budget for a research paper I was doing, but they said this information was ‘confidential’.) This means that in the EFL industry, the most highly remunerated are those who are not actually teachers or necessarily know anything about teaching. And, for example, Cambridge writing examiners are paid peanuts. 
      2. ‘Management’ in ELT is just a euphemism for manipulation – how to get underpaid overworked teachers to do the job without having a nervous breakdown. All talk of ‘teacher motivation’ to me is thus senseless – pay them more and give them fewer hours- it’s as simple as that, instead of spending money on plastic red buses and gadgets like IWBs that nobody needs. To become Delta qualified is a massively costly and stressful exercise, but in London the going rate of pay at this level is only 20 quid a teaching hour gross. This is, quite frankly, very insulting and the main reason why I hope never to have to work for a language school again. 
      3. Native speaker teachers (with TEFL+ observed teaching practice/CELTA ) are better than their NNS counterparts in some contexts because a) high school teachers in (eg) Italy usually have NO didactic training, neither are they observed or given feedback. Just having a degree in English is enough to be an English teacher. b) high level exam prep (CAE, CPE, Ielts bands 7-9) requires in-depth knowledge of idiomatic NS-like lexical chunks since the exam boards are Anglocentric. If you don’t like this then lobby to change the exams. But who would dare to challenge Cambridge Assessment and the BC?? 4. A1-B1 levels should be taught by someone who speaks their L1 and uses it in the classroom. Zero beginners especially should be taught in L1. CELTA style eliciting and CCQ-ing is just a pointless pantomime at this level. 
      There are schools in the USA that are known to be little more than student visa factories, yet they manage to get CEA accreditation (for those outside the US, this is the body which oversees the quality of ESL schools and should prevent this situation).
      the English students arrive in a course with is the English they leave with.
      I don’t like every student 
      We are fooling ourselves and our students in the process into believing that it is possible to learn language structures or concepts that native speakers learn over the course of their lives and have the ideal environment in which they can test their hypotheses about what they are learning.
      That when intrinsic motivation for learning isn’t enough, there is very little I can do to motivate my students in the classroom 😦


      Some of the top academics often have trouble translating their amazing knowledge into practical application. They need to get their asses into a classroom again (or for the first time).
      Racism is a much bigger problem in ELT than Native Speakerism.
      Am also fed up of the environment as a topic. Just had to base an entire course on environmental themes and they wear very thin.
      Textbooks are a good idea. Somebody took the time to plan a course not just so that you don’t need to but because you couldn’t do a better job AND teach at the same time.

      Taboo ELT

      Pluralistic ignorance is the situation whereby many people secretly believe something, but are all afraid of admitting it because they believe they are the only ones who hold the views. 

      I was curious if there were any views TEFL teachers held but were afraid of sharing with their colleagues or peers. So I asked. The results of the highly scientific twitter poll was that around 52% of teachers said they do hold views they were afraid of sharing. I was really curious about what these views might be so I set up an anonymous poll. 

      I will just post the views here without judgement or comment. I will say that I was kind of hopeful that there might be one view that stood out among a lot of teachers but the opinions were much more varied.  It was partiualrly interesting when people thought two opposing views were “taboo”. 

      I should also note that this poll had no validity whatsoever. People could have been trolling or just writing something they really knew wasn’t a taboo view at all. There were 43 responses. I removed one because it was, to my mind, a little beyong the pale


      Students can learn with or without coursebooks
      I’m sick of explaining the hypocrisy of including a predictable, tokenistic chapter on ‘the environment’ in every textbook and syllabus written in the past 30 years when the ELT industry is largely dependent on millions of people travelling massive distances by airplane to undertake study. Similarly, I’m sick of schools and teachers making predictable, tokenistic gestures towards ‘the environment’ for the same reason: beach cleanups and banning plastic straws can all get to fuck if your entire student body just dumped literally tonnes of co2 into the atmosphere just getting here.
      Textbooks represent a lot of research and a great understanding of students’ needs. They are an excellent resource to guide students through their English learning journey.

      Natives Vs non-natives 

      Students are often better off learning English from non-native speaker teachers.
      That native English speakers are often better teachers.
      *Some* non native speaker teachers have accents that are difficult to understand, make countless errors, and really shouldn’t be teaching. 
      On native-speakerism: in an ideal world, every program would have an experienced non-native speaker (who understands students’ L1, their struggles with grammar) AND an experienced native speaker (for cultural knowledge, model of pronunciation). We had that in one program where I taught and it worked really well. It’s what I’d want as a learner too.
      Educated native speakers will tend to “know” more idioms than most non-natives do! That doesn’t necessarily mean they are retrievable to order (In feedback, for instance), universal across varieties, or even (Dellar-style) teachable. But the fact remains.
      Monolingual English native speaking teachers who’ve never learned another language to a decent level of proficiency (let’s say B2) lack credibility as English language teachers

      Effectiveness of ELT

      The students improve because they are living in this English speaking country and interacting on a daily basis, not because of our courses
      The majority of teaching (75%) in ELT is below standard.
      we can’t really “teach” anything

      Approaches and methods 

      PPP is fine.
      I think skimming and scanning are probably just pointless rituals
      skimming and scanning encourage students to get the wrong end of the stick
      The debunking of learning styles/multiple intelligences has not really reached many of the teachers around me so I feel like I’m breaking wind any time I question whether we should be looking at learning through that framework.
      learning styles are of course nonsense but can still be worth keeping in mind
      I don’t believe that learning in a group is of any worth to anyone. If you really want to learn a language then doing so by yourself and having a one-to-one teacher is by far the best method. I don’t believe that attending a private academy/institution/language school is the best way to spend your money.
      Ain’t just the one way. There are so many ways to learn a language, like there are different ways to learn a musical instrument. And they *all* work to some extent – because learners are meaning-makers.
      I believe that leveling (grading) text can be quite useful for making text more comprehensible and accessible, especially to beginning learners who can’t comprehend the text otherwise. Some teachers in my primary-secondary school district seem to believe that reducing the lexile level (complexity, lexical level) of a text for a newcomer English learner is denying them access to grade-appropriate materials. So they kind of look at the act of leveling a text for a beginning reader as a denial of rights, which is completely absurd to me, but I think it actually comes from a good place.
      Memorize vocabulary using word cards, lists, or vocab apps
      accuracy is more important than fluency

      The profession 

      ELT teachers should not be allowed to teach YLs. It is simply a babysitting service. Most teachers don’t have the skills, passion or knowledge to teach and deal with YLs. You should only be allowed to teach YLs if you have done exactly the same qualifications as someone who teaches YLs in a state school for example. Degree, PGCE and possibly a masters in specialising in YLs.
      loads. example: the majority of teachers I’ve worked with or managed outside of the higher education or public sector don’t deserve to be treated or paid as professionals as they utterly fail to conduct themselves as professionals, hold themselves to professional standards or do a tenth of the work of the average school teacher.
        I’m also constantly disappointed by the insistence of teaching staff to try to impose middle-class leftwing values on their classroom practice, particularly as so many of their students don’t share these values.
      We aren’t saving the world!
      Within the private academies, student progression is based on customer retention and ensuring they layout out payment for the next semester. Should you raise this issue, goodbye teaching job.
      I feel that it’s all so technicist, focusing on techniques and the creativity side has gone. Maybe that’s just the context in which I work.
      Some adolescent students are not temperamentally predisposed to language learning and therefore it is a complete waste of time teaching them. Their presence in the classroom is disruptive and counterproductive. Experienced teachers will know who these individuals are in the class within the first 10 minutes of a lesson. Exceptions will occur from time to time, but it would serve every one’s interests if these students were quickly moved into other subjects.
      The field caters to middle aged white ladies far too much and this robs it of racial literacy
      You might be living the dream teaching now. But the lack of a pension will fuck you up in your golden years.
      That qualified & experienced EFL teachers are more knowledgable & hardworking than PGCE qualified teachers. EFL teachers never get to set work and do marking in class, EFL teachers have to satisfy a wide array of paying students and I’ve seen a lot of mainstream teachers on Twitter go crazy over the simplest of ideas that are the mainstays of EFL work. EFL teachers should be better paid and recognised as ‘proper teachers’.


      The other teachers just SUCK at teaching
      Krashen is wrong about FonF, but he’s so close to being right on everything else. (This isn’t taboo; it’s just not widely enough appreciated.)
      “You’re a white supremacist”
       because e.g., You have an English only policy in your classroom 
      You don’t teach about world Englishes 
      You keep telling your Japanese students: Don’t be shy 
      You keep asking your Japanese students to speak louder 
      Can I really share these with my “colleagues” who even pretend I don’t exist at the teachers’ room? 
      American Celta trainees just cannot take any criticism.
      Standardised testing is overrated
      No one cares about all the gendering stuff. It’s an English language lesson, not social engineering.
      I don’t think there is that much evidence that explicit and implicit learning are separate processes.
      I get to choose – pretty much – what I teach, but I do feel more and more uncomfortable with many of the ‘traditional’ theories of SLA. They are so monolingual and anglocentric in their view of how people use language, assuming that people speak and are educated in the same language they use at home and that a ‘second’ language is an add-on.
      Students exchange some time and a bit of effort for 1 / 50th of a degree while we all pretend it means something more.
      We spend 80% of our energy on the 20% who cheat, lie, and laze about.

      The poll is still open. If you want to submit your views I will try to update this page periodically 

      There were so many responses that I made a 2nd post. Here

      Are journal editors research subjects

      One of my intellectual heroes is Alan Sokal. Sokal got a bit sick of the ‘fashionable nonsense’ coming out of Literature studies departments in the 90s and sought to expose them through a hoax. He wrote a paper which was called Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” which argued, among other things, that gravity was just a social construct. 

      Sokal submitted the article to a top literary journal where it was published. Three weeks later he revealed the hoax. 

      In 2017, three authors conducted a similar hoax on what they believe is the fashionable nonsense of our time, namely ‘critical theory‘ scholarship. The recent hoax has been dubbed the ‘Sokal squared’ (due to the number of fake papers they had accepted) or the ‘grievance studies affair‘.

      In both cases the issue of the ethics of deceiving a journal editor has been raised. However, unlike the Sokal case, in this case one of the hoaxers has actually faced censor from his university. Portland State university has censured professor Peter Boghossian over the affair and has banned him from carrying out research involving human subjects. 

      But if journal editors are human subjects, then we are faced with a rather difficult problem. Between Sokal and the most recent hoax there have been a number of studies which looked into the issue of predatory publishing or publishers with low standards. Wikipedia actually has a page dedicated to “scholarly publishing stings“. It includes such things as a 2012 maths paper which was randomly generated.  This paper was intending to show the issues with predatory journals (I have written about these here). 

      Another paper from 2007, by Thomas Witkowski’s attempted to show how poor quality articles on topics like NLP were being published in ostensibly high quality journals.  His fake paper was not only published but the editors loved it so much they even helped the author to expand on it

      According to bioethics researchers then, are all these studies illegitimate? The original hoaxer, Sokal, disagrees and has argued that:

      common sense suggests that something has gone seriously awry here, when rules initially written to protect subjects in biomedical research from physical harm — and later extended to social-science research, where the harm could be psychological — are applied blindly and literally to an “audit study” aimed at testing the intellectual standards of scholarly journals. 

      You may not have sympathy for grievance studies hoaxers or even for Sokal but decisions like these can have unseen consequences. 

      If it is wrong to hoax journal editors to expose pseudoscience or other nonsense, because it is unethically doing research on human subjects, is it also wrong, for example to send, as Ross Thornburn recently did, fake CVs to job companies in order to expose discriminatory hiring practices. In an excellent study, Ross shows that if you are white and trying to get a job in Asia, you have around a 64% higher chance of getting employed than if you are black.  

      Thornburn didn’t, to my knowledge, have ethical approval to carry out this research. And he is not the first to have carried out research of this kind. Should we see all such research of this kind as misleading potentially vulnerable ‘research subjects’, or is there an argument that the good this kind of research can do outweighs the possible risks? 

      Mogg’s rules

      No sooner had Jacob Rees Mogg accepted the position of Leader of the House of Commons than news emerged about him issuing a list of language rules to his staff. 

      I’m not a fan of enforced speech, (regardless of who is doing it) and have written quite a lot about the kind of arbitrary pedantry which passes for ‘good style’ in the minds of many editors and journalists (see here, here, here and here for examples). I’ve even made a video about it. 

      While it’s important for people to write clearly, Rees-Mogg’s rules probably seem baffling to those uninitiated in the long history of linguistic prescriptivism. So in this post I will attempt to explain what I think are his (misguided) rationales for choosing these words to ban. Some of them, like “due to” are old favourites for language mavens. Others, such as ‘Disappointment’, are a bit harder to guess at


      A few of Rees-Mogg’s prohibitions fall into the category of being considered by some to be ‘redundant’. This category usually includes gripes about things like ‘ATM machine’ ‘pin number’ and ‘HIV virus’ which have been dubbed RAS syndrome Other writers, Like Bill Bryson in his ‘troublesome words’ complain about ‘each and every’, ‘reason why’ and ‘revert back’. The usual complaint is that two words are used when one would suffice. This seems to be the case with the following 

      • Meet with 

      probably Rees-Mogg wants just ‘meet’. 

      • Ongoing 

      Ongoing has been criticised for being redundant, and journo @JohnRentoul has claimed that “Any piece of writing can be improved by deleting the word. The always excellent language log have a post on it in which an editor is overheard saying ‘If I see someone using ongoing in The Chronicle, I will be downcoming and he or she will be outgoing.’

      Academic/formal English 

      Others fall under what is often called “academic style“. This is the idea that writing for academic subjects should be objective and impersonal. Thus, a lot of the words banned here are things which an academic might consider too vague. They include:
      • too many ‘I’s

      Not impersonal enough

      • Got 

      Too vague perhaps? I got a new car (did you buy it? did you steal it? did someone give it to you?) 

      • very 
      I’m guessing Rees-Mogg would want an exact number or a more substantial word. No doubt he would consider this ‘meaningless’. Neville Gwynne, a retired accountant who rose to fame after publishing a book on ‘correct grammar’ called “Gwynne’s Grammar” writes of very use this word sparingly. Where emphasis is necessary, use words strong in themselves” (a quote he took directly from the awful ‘elements of style‘ by Strunk and White.) As an aside, actual linguist Geoff Pullum describes Gwynne as a “preposterous old fraud” and Oliver Kamm described his grammar as “the worst book I have read on language and perhaps on anything”. 

      • Lot 

      Pretty much the same as very.

      old favourites 

      • due to 

      The alleged problem with this phrase can be seen in ‘Gwynne’s grammar’:

      Due to. Incorrectly used for “through,” “because of,” or “owing to” in adverbial phrases such as “He lost the first game due to carelessness.” In its correct use, it is related to a particular noun as predicate or as modifier, as in “This invention is due to Edison”; “losses due to preventable fires.”

      This is a case of someone claiming ‘the whole world is using this word incorrectly except me and the smart folks I know’. Oliver Kamm writes:

      “Style guides typically describe due as an adjective. They maintain that it remains an adjective in the phrase due to. It must therefore have a noun or noun-phrase to qualify or complement. In the sentence above, it has none. Instead, due to has been used as a prepositional phrase…If due to as a prepositional phrase offends you, don’t use it. But it’s Standard English”

      • hopefully 
      This is a real old chestnut. Hopefully is allegedly wrong because ‘very smart‘ people see phrases like ‘Hopefully, I will be able to go’ and believe the writer is actually saying, ‘I will be able to go in a hopeful manner’. Of course, the contortions they must mentally perform to believe this are as ludicrous as the people who convince themselves upon hearing a double negative that someone might really get confused about the meaning. Kamm states that the criticism are “quite arbitrary” and notes that “the adverb thankfully provokes far less hostility than hopefully when used to modify a clause or sentence (thankfully, the idle columnist has at last submitted his article).”

      • Yourself 

      “If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
      But make allowance for their doubting too;”
      Yourself is an odd choice as it singles out only one of the hated reflexive pronouns. In contrast, grammar scold Bill Bryson does not mention yourself but rails against ‘myself’. I had started to believe that all of Mogg’s rules were coming from one place, namely, Gwynne’s Grammar but Gwynne actually uses the word throughout his book saying thing like:

      Remember always, when you are writing for anyone other than yourself, that you are giving. Do not, therefore, write to suit yourself; write with your readers constantly at the forefront of your mind. Put yourself in their shoes when you are deciding how to express yourself. (source)
      Despite the seeming approval from Gwynne, Kamm notes that this is quite a common peeve. “Sticklers are incensed at the way reflexive pronouns (myself, yourself, himself, herself, ourselves, yourselves and themselves) are used in constructions that are not reflexive or not intensive”. Rees-Mogg has a point that constructions like “you yourself said it” or the ubiquitous restaurant question “and for yourself, sir?” can seem a bit clumsy. But the blanket ban is equally ridiculous.

      Ask yourself Jacob, Could you live with yourself if Kipling’s ‘if’ was banned? 
      • Commas and spaces 
      As well as the word list there are items insisting on double spacing after full-stops and a ban on comma use after the word ‘and’ (not before, as in the Oxford Comma as many are mistakenly reporting) which is also entirely arbitrary. Regarding the two spaces after the period, copy editor Benjamin Dreyer gives this advice.

      Q. Two spaces after a period at the end of a sentence, right?A. Wrong. I know that back when you were in seventh-grade typing class and pecking away at your Smith Corona Coronet Automatic 12, Mrs. Tegnell taught you to type a double space after a sentence-ending period, but you are no longer in the seventh grade, you are no longer typing on a typewriter, and Mrs. Tegnell is no longer looking over your shoulder (Dreyer)

      Though it should be noted that Dreyer also thinks people should try to avoid words like ‘very’ and ‘really’ so whether or not you want two spaces after a full stop (not necessary but some people prefer the way it looks) is really up to you.

      Harder to guess

      The remaining words are a bit harder to guess. If anyone out there has any good ideas as to why he has allegedly taken against these words, please let me know.
      • ‘Invest’ in schools 
      **Update** so this is apparently unacceptable as it is emotive. If someone ‘invests’ in something then there is an assumption among the listener that there will be some kind of ‘return’. It is possible to pointlessly give money to schools (buying class sets of Ipads for example, or spending it on BrainGym training). It seems Rees-Mogg doesn’t like the ‘settle argument’ sense of ‘invest’ in schools. 
      • unacceptable 
      • equal 
      • Speculate 
      • No longer fit for purpose –Possibly considered a cliche
      • I am please to learn 
      • Ascertain 
      • Disappointment 
      • I note/ understand your concerns 

      Some have claimed the list is all a ruse to make the public focus on the wrong things but as with claims of Trump’s cunning media strategy, I am sceptical. It would not surprise me at all to learn Rees-Mogg really does believe in the correctness of his pronouncements on language. I was more surprised to see what was missing from the list. No mention of split infinitives, ‘disinterested’ or ‘literally‘. 

      Like all pedants and grammar scolds, Rees-Mogg apparently breaks his own rules. (though this does seem to be in speech and not in writing). And like all pedants, he seems not to care if these rules make any kind of sense, as long as people are forced to follow them. Recently, Rees-Mogg authored a book about Victorians despite not being a historian. Reviewers were not kind, and it seems to me that the criticism of the book as staggeringly silly” and “mind‑bogglingly banal” could equally apply to his ideas about good grammar use. 

      tooth fairy expertise

      The topic of experts vs “gurus” came up at this year’s IATEFL and I’m not really sure I really know the difference. I think “Guru” has come to mean someone well-known who I don’t very much agree with. Perhaps ‘experts’ are the people we do? Is Thornbury an expert or a guru? How about Penny Ur? Was Vygtosky an expert? And how about Howard GardnerWho falls into which category and who gets to decide? 

      Expert presumably means someone with expertise. But does expertise necessarily means someone should be listened to? In an article on the Science Based Medicine website the author notes that a person could easily become an expert in ‘Tooth Fairy science’: 

      You could measure how much money the Tooth Fairy leaves under the pillow, whether she leaves more cash for the first or last tooth, whether the payoff is greater if you leave the tooth in a plastic baggie versus wrapped in Kleenex. You can get all kinds of good data that is reproducible and statistically significant. Yes, you have learned something. But you haven’t learned what you think you’ve learned, because you haven’t bothered to establish whether the Tooth Fairy really exists. (source)

      Being a tooth fairy expert would thus mean that you actually don’t have any expertise. There are, after all expert mystics, like Baba Vanga, experts in NLP, and experts in classroom uses of telepathy

      I got to thinking about all of this since I noticed people saying we shouldn’t listen to gurus and others tweeting out quotes from experts. The one that stuck in my mind was:

      Brian Tomlinson says PPP is the worst way to learn a language. It’s an illusion.

      I couldn’t resists asking, somewhat cheekily if Tomlinson was an ‘expert’ or a ‘guru’. I was told he was an expert. But how does one become an expert? I put this question to the original poster and met, I think, the end of her patience and was told to ‘Google it’. I did and indeed, according to his bio he is “one of the world’s leading experts on materials development“. 

      As I have written before, I actually do think we should listen to experts, when they have something to back up their expertise. But just listening to them because of who they are is probably not wise. For instance, Tomlinson is a firm believer in the false notion of left brained and right brained learners and frequently tells materials writers to plan materials with those types of learners in mind. For example: 

      1.4.14 Materials should maximise learning potential by encouraging intellectual, aesthetic and emotional involvement which stimulates both right- and left-brain activities (source)

      this method is successful because it caters for the majority of learners who seem to be kinaesthetic in their preferred perceptual learning styles as well as global and experiential in their general styles. These are what are known as right brain learning processes (2014) 

      He also repeatedly promotes writing materials which cater to students’ perceptual learning style, a concept which has no evidence to support it

      [consider if] the materials help individual learners discover their learning styles (2014)

      perceptual learning style research overwhelmingly suggests that most learners prefer kinaesthetic input over auditory and visual forms of language input. None of the beginners’ coursebooks I have seen accommodate this type of learner, however (2014)

      He also seems to accept the idea that the brain is somehow underused and we can unlock it’s full potential through good teaching. This is not true

      The maximisation of the brain’s learning potential is a fundamental principle of Lozanov’s Suggestopedia (source

      most researchers seem to agree on the value of maximising the brain’s capacity during language learning and the best textbooks already do contain within each unit a variety of different left- and right-brain activities. (2014)

      None of this means that the advice Tomlinson gives in general on materials should be disregarded. There are no doubt a lot which can be gleaned from his writing. The question though remains, what is the advice based on. I can’t help but think we tend to listen to experts when they tell us things we want to hear. If we don’t like PPP then an expert saying it’s ‘the worst’ will sound very convincing to us. 

      So is Tomlinson right that PPP is ‘the worst way to learn a language?’ Worse than say Suggestopedia? I ask because Tomlinson’s 2011 book on materials writing includes a chapter advocating ‘The Lozanov method’ by author Grethe Hooper-HansenHansen has written on subjects like Organic Learning: Crossing the Threshold from Conscious and Unconscious“, and “Turning the tide of hemispheric shift: the case of non-conscious learning“. She is a major proponent of Suggestopedia and believes that some kind of educational ‘quantum revolution’  in education is under way: 

      There have been many wake-up calls: from Carl Rogers, Ivan Ilich, Paolo Freire; more recently from Howard Gardner, Herbert Benson, Daniel Golemen, Parker Palmer, Tobin Hart, and Alan Block, to name just a few. The quantum revolution, now nearly a century old, spelled out in great detail the changes that needed to be made to balance yang with yin (source)

      In her chapter on materials development she tells us that these days (2011) it’s easier to understand where Lozanov was coming from since “quantum science has become more familiar” meaning we can perceive in “multidimensional” ways

      She goes on to say that “the complexity of Lozanov’s method is due to a lifetime’s research into the hidden language and territory of the unconscious, in particular the nebulous area where it meets the conscious, which he calls the ‘para-conscious'”. I won’t go on, you get the picture. As Steve Novella notes  “today one of the most popular legitimate scientific ideas used to justify nonsense is quantum mechanics” (source). In fact it’s misused so much by people like Deepak Chopra that there is even a wiki entry for Quantum Mysticism

      So according to Tomlinson PPP ‘booo’, quantum kinaesthetic left-brained teaching ‘hurrah!’ Forgive me if I’m skeptical. Jason Anderson has done some interesting work on PPP (see here and here for examples) and he doesn’t seem to think it’s the worst way to teach English. For all it’s flaws, I’d put my money on PPP producing better results than Suggestopedia. I’m no expert though. 

      evidence based resources

      So you want to be evidence based but don’t know where to start! Here are a list of sites and resources which promote evidence in education for free! 

      Summaries of research

      Research bites is an excellent site which offers summaries of ELT and SLA research. THe site offers summaries of single papers in clear and accessible terms. There are a range of author and I believe the summary writers write to the article authors to check that they are happy with the summary. Anthony Schmidt runs the site and his own blog is worth a look too. 

      The OASIS summaries page offers something very similar to research bites but is run by academics rather than teachers. They also offer advice about how to cite the summaries in your research. The summaries are in pdf form and can be download. The IRIS database also includes summaries of research and in addition to that offers research tools . The NCELP is another site which offers resources but for modern language teachers. 

      Free access journals 

      Should you want to read academic articles directly there are a few things you can do. There is increasingly a move towards open access in all kinds of publications and ELT is no different. This article on open access in ELT, is open access. It’s written by Emma Marsden who is a big advocate for transparency in research. 

      ELTjam featured a really nice article showing you which journals have free access and limited free access and these days most journals have something you can view for free. The article has a lot of great tips on getting hold of articles (legally) for free. Another thing you can try is writing to the author. With academics I’ve had a pretty good success rate when just emailing them and asking for a copy of papers. I think most of them are just overjoyed that someone wants to read their stuff. Disclaimer: I wouldn’t try this with someone who makes their living selling reference books and the like. I very much doubt Scott Thornbury will email you a copy of ‘the A-Z of ELT’. 

      The British council and Cambridge (CUP) both offer some of their own research for free. You can get hold of quite a lo of good quality stuff just by browsing their sites. It should be noted that nothing in this post represents an endorsement of any of the research you find on these sites. For instance, the British Council site has a section on the dubious ‘21st century skills‘ 


      The education endowment Foundation also offers some summaries of research (though it is general education not ELT). The site also has reports on various areas of teaching. The site is very accessible and lays out information in a very accessible way

      A couple more useful sites are 3 star learning and the learning scientist (the latter of which has an accompanying podcast). They both offer interesting articles on research in Education however the former seems to have no way of navigating the site. The learning scientist has some nice, clear downloadable resources. (Thanks to Anthony Schmidt for directing me to these two websites.)


      There are a number of blogs which seek to present evidence in education. This blog, for instance has a ‘try this it works‘ section which attempts to summarise research. Philip Kerr has some good stuff on translation and adaptive learningIn addition to this Greg Ashman’s blog on teaching is usually well researched as is David Didau’s ‘learning spy‘ site. These last two are general education though. 

      If I missed anything out please let me know and I’ll update this page. 

      edit 1

      A list of papers by topic for educational research
      Simon Borg’s website
      Reading in a Foreign Language Journal

      Duy Van Vu’s list of open-access journals on ELT
      Paul Nation’s articles

      Woo Watch: EdyouFest

      I recently came across an education festival for TEFLers called ‘EDUyoufest‘. Plenary speaker Lonny Gold is presenting a talk on “Teaching WITH the brain instead of AGAINST it“. Now whenever ‘the brain’ gets mentioned I do start to get a bit worried. Brain based approaches generally tend to come from the Romantic Humanist wing of the ELT world so I decided to investigate further and Gold did not disappoint. 

      Gold, a Suggestopedia Master Trainer, has appeared in videos promoting the whacky teachings of Georgi Lozanov. Regular readers of this site will know that I have something of an obsession with all things Lozanov and so Gold instantly grabbed my attention. 

      I managed to find a few of his articles and one of them in particular really impressed me. Most of lozanov’s acolytes are cool with his claims of accelerated learning and suggestive states of mind. Yet there aren’t many who are willing to follow the good doctor when he starts talking about using telepathy as a communication method. Gold is fearless though. He writes about a workshop presentation he held for the Liverpool SEAL conference:

      The third and final segment of the workshop dealt with telepathy. In any open and nurturing environment, the telepathic connections between people are countless and to pretend they do not exist is silly and even irresponsible. In the case of teachers, a belief that what happens in class is not largely determined by the telepathic links within the group is either a dereliction of duty or – far worse – an admission that all form of human life has been successfully extinguished.

      So there it is folks. Telepathy as a teaching tool. You heard it here first! 

      The authenticity trap

      Whenever I go to Japanese restaurants outside Japan, I’m always a bit annoyed to find they’re entirely staffed by Chinese people. After spending years in Japan, I’d quite like authentic sushi lovingly crafted by authentic Japanese hands. Anything else is cultural appropriation, right?(I kid, but only a bit.)

      Authenticity in an age of mass production is a valuable commodity. It also forms part of the communicative ideal of language teaching. We all like authenticity, but isn’t it just discrimination to want Mexicans staffing my Mexican restaurant? Can’t the Taiwanese or Japanese produce Whiskey just as well as Scots and Irish?

      I’m sure a Mexican woman could make sushi just as well as any Japanese man. There’s no logical reason this couldn’t be the case. But there is something undeniably attractive about the idea that you’re getting the ‘real deal’ -as fictional as that authenticity might turn out to be. 

      This is one of the reasons I’m a little wary of shouting ‘racist’ at someone who expresses a preference for native speaker teachers. I can’t help but wonder about my Chinese students. Arriving in Leicester, the first UK city to have a white minority, after being brought up on images of a fictional white Britain often leads to ignorant questions like ‘where are all the British people?’ For these students having possibly their first foreign experience, ‘white’ possibly equates to ‘authentic’. 

      This notion is backed up by research. Kiczkowiak points out, that often ‘non-white native speaker teachers are rated less favourably on their pronunciation and teaching skills’ than white NS teachers. What isn’t always mentioned as much, is the flip side of this. I’ve noticed that white NNS may be given a pass by students.Their whiteness seemingly being enough to be deemed ‘authentic’.

      ‘Native looking’
      A Fair AND blonde native American 
      Kind hearted and loving

      The notion that ‘white’ means ‘authentic’ is as silly as thinking someone Japanese will somehow be better at making sushi or Chinese people will be Kung Fu experts. Yet, the authenticity illusion is seductive. Even Kiczkowiak, known for his admirable work on NNS discrimination doesn’t challenge it when it is presented in the right way. In a podcast episode his co-host and he, discussed the merits of retaining one’s accent when speaking a foreign language:
      R: if I pick up the phone and someone’s trying to sell me wine and they have a French accent immediately they’re going to be much more credible, I’m going to believe that they know their wine, the wine that they’re selling me is of a good quality because of our association between good wine and France…if you have a student in your class is going to be doing a job like that you’re actually having a negative effect on their sales figures…and if you’re a professor of ancient Rome and do you have an Italian accent that’s going to be a really positive thing people are going to saying oh this person is from Rome…it’s more believable that they know about this particular subject. (source
      As I noted earlier, I think these associations are real, and part of the shortcuts brains employ to save energy. Want to know about wine? Ask a French person! Want to get great Sushi? Find someone from Japan. Want to Learn English? -fill in the mental shortcut students have for English speakers. That these stereotypes exist is undeniable. But as with all kinds of mental biases, we get smarter when we learn to recognise and discard them.