Guide to methods part 3: What Richards and Rodgers don’t tell you.

I always had something of a soft spot for Suggestopedia with it’s comfy chairs, baroque music and meditation. It always seemed to me like the cool kid of methods, taping straight into the brain and speeding up learning. I even continued to look at it affectionately after starting this blog because I remember reading in Richards and Rodgers that Lozanov accepted that his method was a placebo but tried to actually use the power of the placebo effect in his teaching. (it later turned out that was not true). 

That said, Suggestopedia would clearly bring up lots of red flags on my education ‘baloney detection kit’. It makes extravagant claims of efficacy such as the claim that learning can be accelerated 5 – 50 times using suggestopedia or that “…1,000 words [can be] learned in a day” (Ostrander & Schroede 1979:15). 

It makes claims about things which are vague or hard to test“the method appeared to improve health and cure stress-related illnesses” (Ostrander & Schroeder 1979: 33). Also we can commonly see claims that “[suggestology] is a method of…making use of the unknown reserves, powers and abilities of the human mind” (Lozanov 1971:292), ah, those unknown reserves! Any guesses as to what percent of the mind Lozanov thinks people are currently using

With its ‘double-planedness’, ‘elaboration’, ‘concert sessions’,  ‘primary activation’ and ‘pseudo-passiveness’, jargon or sciency sounding words are liberally employed. Richards & Rodgers note that “The method has a somewhat mystical air about it…partially because of it’s arcane terminology and neologisms, which one critic has unkindly called…  pseudoscientific gobbledygook’” (2014:317). 

It also has little evidence to back up it’s claims. The few experiments done to tests its efficacy did not produce encouraging results.  Wagner & Tilney tested it, finding “no significant improvement across the five-week experimental period” (1983:5). And even Bancroft, a supporter of the method admits that:

Very often the exact means by which [Lozanov’s] results were obtained remains obscure. Statistics, as has been pointed out by more than one reviewer, are often faulty or incomplete; the evidence from several experiments tends to be fused (or even confused).(1999:51)

All that said, it would be easy and rather pointless to pull apart and poke fun at suggestopedia here. What I’m more interested in looking at here is how much respect this approach received and why certain facts about the method were glossed over or ignored in the literature. 

What Richards and Rodgers don’t tell you. 
I wanted to know more about Suggestopedia so I got hold of a copy of another book that details Lozanov’s work called ‘psychic discoveries behind the iron curtain’. Unlike many EFL books, this actually features interviews with Lozanov, and he gets to explain directly his beliefs. Here are a few things I learnt:

1) Lozanov was a Pioneer of parapsychology and believed that “everyone is psychic” (1971:281)

2) he ran the suggestopedia and parapsychology research centre in Bulgaria and 20 years work on precognition  

3) he believed that Telepathy is an inexpensive and promising communication system” (1971:293) 

4) he believed that he could render people unconscious with telepathy. 

Now, none of this means that he was necessarily wrong about Suggestopedia, (as the TEFLology guys point out that would be the ‘genetic fallacy‘) but this information is nowhere to be found in any of the TEFL sources I’ve ever come across. The fact that someone claiming people can learn 1,000 words a day also claims that he put people to sleep with his mind seems to me, at least relevant.

And it’s not just Richards and Rodgers who don’t feel this is important information. in Byram’s encyclopedia of language learning (entry by Baur) Lozanov is credited as working in a state run centre of ‘suggestology’ when in fact he ran the “institute of suggestology and parapsychology“. 

These omissions in the literature and the seeming way his slightly weirder beliefs are ignored  interests me. Take Baur’s insistence that

Lozanov discovered that certain yogic techniques of physical and mental relaxation could be used to produce a state of analgesia, or relief from pain, on the one hand, and a state of hypermnesia, or greatly improved memory and concentration, on the other…

Did Lozanov actually discover this? Or did he claim to discover it, -there is a whole world of difference. It just seems that Baur is happy to accept Lozanov’s claims without question. But don’t ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence?‘ 
These are not isolated incidents, almost everywhere Lozanov appears there is no mention of any of this kind of thing and his claims are either taken on face value or just ignored. Hooper Hansen is equally generous. In Tomlinson’s 2011 book on materials development she writes:

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’    

He then goes on to talk about ‘left brained and right brained learnersAnother example is Diane Larsen-Freeman who in this video tells viewer to keep an open mind and don’t dismiss things ‘ask yourself instead, is there anything valuable here that I can adapt to my own circumstances.’ 


A very cursory examination of suggestopedia turns up things that would strain the credibility of even the most credulous. For example, Bancroft notes that “Dr. Lozanov…has performed painless surgical operations using suggestion and/or hypnosis instead of anesthetic” (2005:21) And yet suggestopedia still has some degree of currency in the ELT world. It still has exactly one more chapter in Richards and Rodgers latest edition than approaches like Dogme, crazy English or Demand High. It is still a choice for some DELTA experimental lessons and some teachers still use this approach. This study for example shows just how seriously some teachers can take it. Lozanov even made an appearance as a supporting reference in an ELTJ article recently.

TEFL hoarders?

‘These fragments I have shored against my ruins‘ -T.S. Eliot 

That this happens isn’t perhaps surprising. As I noted with my final ‘red flag’ supporters are not moved by contrary evidence. I think I might revise this statement to ‘the method is promoted despite criticism‘ as this rule does not necessarily apply only to supporters. Everyone seems to do it. For example, Richards and Rodgers despite listing numerous issues with Suggestopedia describe a criticism (above) as ‘unkind’. They go on to write “Perhaps, then, it is not productive to further belabour the science/non-science, data/double-talk issues and instead…try to identify and validate those techniques…that appear effective” (Richards & Rodgers 2014:326). 

The quote above about taking the best techniques and keeping them is particularly curious when we note that from the same publication, on the previous page the authors note that “Lozanov is unequivocally opposed to any eclectic use of the techniques outside of he full panoply of suggestopedic science” (a quote that appears verbatim in Byram). So are Richards and Rodgers suggesting we ignore the creator’s advice and try to find something among the creation? If so, wouldn’t that mean Lozanov didn’t really know what he was doing and had just hit upon something completely by accident?

 My question then is ‘why?’ Why is it necessary for every method to be examined for some small saving grace? It almost seems as if there is a hoarding tendency among the TEFL community and we are reluctant to disregard methods wholly, no matter what problems we find with them. ‘Sure’ people say, ‘The Silent Way is not for me, but Cuisenaire Rods? Now that I can get on board with!’ 

We sit surrounded by odds and ends of grammar translation, trinkets of audiolingualism and some TPR stuffed under the mattress. Is it that we are such an impoverished field it seems risky to throw anything at all away? Or is this the elusive beast ‘principled eclecticism’ that I’ve heard so much about it. It certainly seems eclectic, but I’m struggling to see what the principles are.


afterword: A note on the name

there is some seeming confusion over what exactly the method was called. Part of this is caused by lozanov himself. Lozanov himself calls the ‘science’ suggestology and the education part of it suggestopedia. He then switches at some point to desuggestopedia because, in his words it sounded too manipulative and he wanted to remove the negative connotations and also because his approach rid people of there previous negative learning experiences (like dethorning a rose). This may seem clear but Lozanov also says:

Although it seems a little early to talk about reservopaedia before the science reservology has been entirely established, it will be right to gradually replace the word suggestopaedia by the word reservopaedia. And the science called reservology can be developed with the initial research of the laws of reservopaedia. These laws are very typical. All we need is highly qualified and respectable scientists. (2005:11)

so really it’s anyone’s guess what it’s called. 

The myth of neat histories

Pure evil!

You’ve probably heara version of this story of before.

A long long time ago in a place called the 1950s there lived an evil wizard called ‘Skinner’ who lived in a castle with his many adherents. Skinner was a cruel man who practised a version of dark sorcery called ‘behaviourism’ which generally involve torturing animals and turning men into machines all in the name of science. His worst torture device was the Skinner box into which he put all manner of creatures including his own children. 

Skinner believed that people were really just machines and so if you wanted some kind of response from them all you needed was stimulus. Something like an electric shock would probably do the trick. 

Poor misguided TEFL teachers were caught in the hypnotic gaze of Skinner and developed a ridiculous  style of teaching called the Audio-lingual method. This involved forcing students to sit in a classroom listening to recordings of conversations for hours on end all the while repeating  mantras like so many zombies. Skinner enjoyed this depraved form of torture. In fact it helped him stay young.

One day, a brave young hero called Noam appeared and with a swish of his sword of logic he defeated the evil Skinner. Chomsky showed that language was innate and that people didn’t have to be robots. On this day pair work was born and since language was innate no one needed to teach grammar anymore. Native speaker teachers everywhere rejoiced. 

OK I’m exaggerating but this is the way the history of these events often seems to be presented. For example:

…Behavioralist accounts of language learning became popular in the 1920s and 1930s… (64) In Behaviorist theory, conditioning is the result of stimulus response and reinforcement (51)…In a book called verbal behavior, the psychologist Bernard [sic] Skinner suggested that much the same pattern happens in language learning (52)…Behaviorism was directly responsible for audiolingualism (52)” (Harmer 2007)

And Harmer is by no means alone. Wherever you look, from Richards and Rogers, Ellis or Lightbown and Spada, the story is made up of more or less the same building blocks. Behaviourism? check,  lab animals? check, habit-formation? check,   Skinner? check, Chomsky? check? The pattern of events is clear and well-known by most teachers, but is it true? 
Something about the story niggles and my own personal dislike (not very evidence-based) of everything Chomskyan led me on a journey into the odd world of one of the most famous academic debates in history. Unfortunately this project continues to sprawl horribly out of control but I would like to share with you a few interesting things I’ve managed to find out. So here are the top 5 myths and misconceptions about the infamous Chomsky/Skinner debate and its aftermath: Chomsky’s review was a forensic deconstruction of Skinner’s verbal behaviour 

Well…it was an attempt deconstruction of ‘something’ – though it wasn’t Skinner’s book Verbal Behaviour. In fact all the evidence suggests Chomsky either didn’t read Verbal Behaviour or didn’t understand it. The reason we can make this assumption is that Chomsky makes several mistakes in his review, attributing, for example, classical behaviourist beliefs to Skinner, whereas Skinner wrote about ‘operant condition‘ which was a different beast altogether. 

MacCorquodale, in a comprehensive review, notes, that Chomsky’s review didn’t receive a reply from Skinner or any other psychologist, not because they were ‘defeated’ but rather because …Chomsky’s actual target is only about one-half Skinner, with the rest a mixture of odds and ends of other behaviourism and some other fancies of vague origin.” Chomsky’s review has also been criticised for misquoting Skinner and taking quotes out of context. Skinner himself said of the review:

let me tell you about Chomsky…I published Verbal Behaviour in 1957, in 1958 I received a  55 page type-written review by someone whom I had never heard of named Noam Chomsky. I read half a dozen pages, and saw that he had missed the point of my book and read no further. (see the second video 5:50) interesting is that most of the other reviews of verbal behaviour at the time were positive. This by itself doesn’t mean Chomsky was wrong, but it might make us pause for thought. 

And rather than ‘forensic’, Chomsky’s review was just really really mean. MacCorquodale, described the review as “ungenerous to a fault; condescending, unforgiving, obtuse, and ill-humoured“. I urge you to read a few pages and see what you think. I’m not one to be overly concerned with comments about the ‘tone’ of someone’s argument, but Chomsky actually seems to be personally offended by Skinner’s book. Skinner often commented that he couldn’t understand why Chomsky seemed so angry. A sample of the language can be seen in  Virues-Ortega 2006‘s review:

perfectly useless,” “tautology,” “vacuous,” “looseness of the term,” “entirely pointless,” “empty,” “no explanatory force,” “paraphrase,” “serious delusion,” “full vagueness,” “no conceivable interest,” “quite empty,” “notion,” “no clear content,” “cover term,” “pointless,” “quite false,” “said nothing of any significance,” “play-acting at science” (from )

The tone isn’t so much the problem as the chilling effect this kind of academic writing can have on others. When a writer’s work is discussed in such a dismissive tone it can give the impression to the uninitiated that the matter is settled, -which in this case, was very far from the truth. 

2. Skinner’s Behaviourism led to Audiolingualism 

This is a tricky fish to fry. In order to answer this you need to be able to authoritatively identify Skinner’s behaviourism, Audiolingualism and then the link between them. First we should examine the timeline. Skinner was born in 1905 and published Verbal Behaviour in 1957. Chomsky’s review came out in 1959. The first mentions of the audiolingual approach were in the mid 1950s. But it starts to really get mentioned in the early 1960s. This would mean that ALM became popular AFTER Chomsky’s review. 
Another problem is that there seems to be a lot of confusion about what the audiolingual method actually was. When reading Lado’s 1964 book entitled ‘language teaching: a scientific approach’, ALM is describe simply as the approach where (in contrast to grammar translation) speaking and listening are taught first. Yet others, like Cummins and Davidson conflate the audiolingual approach and the ‘scientific approach’. 

things get more confusing as many others like Hall (here) and Lacorte suggest that ALM was synonymous with or grew from ‘the army method’ in 1945 (certainly before both Verbal Behaviour and Chomsky’s review). While Coady and Huckin suggest that ALM is also known as ‘the structural approach’ by those who created it. They pin this honour on Fries in 1945. And Harmer, suggests it came from the Direct Method (p.64) There are also mentions of contrastive analysis being an important component by some authors while not being mentioned at all by others. 
As  Peter Castagnaro* notes neither Brookes, Fries or Lado (three names often associated with ALM) make much mention of Skinner at all in any of their books. True they use language associated with stimulus and response, -but why could this not  be inspired by Pavlov, rather than Skinner? (Harmer does link to earlier behaviourists Watson and Raynor). The only person who actually draws a direct link between Skinner and ALM was a critic of ALM, Wilga Rivers in “the psychologist and the foreign language teacher” and Castagnaro believes that Rivers’ book is the cause of much misunderstanding, noting that it was Rivers who “saddled Skinner with being ALM’s theoretical parent”(523).

So, if we believe the literature on ALM the approach came from the Army Method, the Structural Approach, Contrastive Analysis or the Direct Method and was big in the 40s-50s (lightbown and Spada), or the 50s-60s (Richards & Rogers, Thornbury). It may or may not have been based on a book written in 1957 and then undone by a review written in 1959…even though, according to Richards and Rogers, the term Audiolingualism wasn’t invented until 1964 -that’s five years after Chomsky’s review. Am I the only one feeling confused? 

*More than anyone else Peter Castagnaro (thanks to Harmer for this link) has attempted to unweave the knotted misunderstandings surrounding ALM. I would direct anyone to read his article for a much more concise examination of this topic.

3. Chomsky’s review lead to the death of Audiolingualism 

In his ELTJ review of reviews, Alan Maley describes Chomsky’s review as ‘destructive’ and one that ‘changed the course of events’. Now while it is undeniable that Chomsky’s review was influential and made his name, did Chomsky kill off Audiolingualism? 

After reading the previous section it becomes clear that this is unlikely. Not only does the timeline not work, but simply put methods and approaches are fashions and as such aren’t killed off by logic of any kind. If methods are killed off, who killed off the silent way and suggestopedia? 

Almost certainly ALM just withered on the vine. In education, as Swan among others has noted, fashions rule and these fashions are often polar opposites. With Grammar translation reading and writing was paramount. Next came methods that banned reading and writing and translation of any kind. That an approach where people mechanically practiced  artificial sentences while worrying greatly about making mistakes should be replaced by an approach which allowed free ‘authentic’ conversation with little care for errors, should surprise no one at all. 

It’s also difficult to properly perform an autopsy on the undead. As authors, like Scrivener note, many of the the techniques of ‘ALM’ “continue to have a strong influence over many classrooms”(38)

4. Chomsky’s review led to the death of Behaviorism

Again, not true, Behaviorism carried on and continues to this day( see herehere and here). Skinners’ book still sells well (better actually than Chomsky’s response) and Skinner is considered one of the most important figures in psychology

Behaviorism is successful, despite the image problem, precisely because it works. It works in treating autistic children and if you’ve ever had any kind of therapy, it’s likely it was CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) which is another.

5. Chomsky’s new linguistic paradigm is accepted by most linguists today

Absolutely not. Chomsky ideas are accepted by few. The idea of Universal Grammar has been shown to be a myth, the Poverty of Stimulus argument has been rejected, and could only apply to syntax anyway. Vocabulary development in children has clearly been shown to be entirely affected by ‘stimulus‘. the generative grammar paradigm he created has been rewritten several times by the Chomsky himself in a failed attempt to salvage it. 

A recent scathing review by Behme describes Chomsky as not seriously engaging with criticism, misrepresenting the work of others and providing little or no evidence for his claims. She highlights, as many others have, his tendency to “[ridicule] the works of others”. These claims are not surprising since they are pretty much the same claims made about his attack on Skinner 50 years earlier. 

Behme also lists Chomsky’s other tactics, such as claiming his opponents are ‘irrational’ or have mental issues. This may seem shocking until we read papers by his former student Paul Postals who writes “After many years, I came to the conclusion that everything he says is false. He will lie just for the fun of it...It was like playing chess with extra pieces. It was all fake.” Postal also suggests Chomsky has written “the most irresponsible passage ever written by a linguist in the entire history of linguistics”. 

An interesting note for all your corpus fans out there is that Chomsky has been a consistent critic of Corpus Linguistics considering them pointless and the data worthless. Rather, he suggests, Native Speakers should just sit around and think up examples: 

Chomsky: the verb ‘perform’ cannot be used with mass word objects: one can perform a task, but one cannot perform a labour.

Hatcher: How do you know, if you don’t use a corpus and have not studied the verb perform?

Chomsky: How do I know? Because I am a native speaker of the English language. (source)

One can ‘perform magic’, of course. This extract I think sums up Chomsky perfectly; unassailable arrogance.

Reality is not the neat history presented in so many EFL histories. In truth, almost every chain in the link is broken. Skinner wasn’t the behaviorist he’s painted as, he didn’t inspire audiolingualism -whatever that is, and he wasn’t overthrown by Chomsky, who isn’t quite the ‘hero’ we might imagine. We should not be surprised that the facts about Skinner are often wrong in ELT as he is often misunderstood by psychologists too

As Hunter and Smith note ELT tend to package complex history into convenient bundles. This packaging may make digestion easier but it often involves cutting the corners off to make things fit. Sometimes the facts are fudged to give us a pleasing narrative where ‘traditional’ (read: dull and wrong) methods are superseded by all the great stuff we’re doing these days. It’s a nice story to tell ourselves but reality is more messy. 

How to create your own TEFL method

disclaimer: All methods appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real methods, living or dead, is purely coincidental

1. come up with a new theory

It doesn’t really have to be new, it can be a rehash of old stuff with a new name if you like. Ideally it would involve doing the opposite of whatever it is teachers are currently doing. For example, if teachers are using textbooks, the your method should be textbook free. And if teachers generally like to correct students’ grammar then your method should avoid that altogether. In fact it should expressly prohibit correction.

Teachers are constantly disappointed with the results they achieve. Like the overweight   making yet another doomed set of new year’s resolutions, teachers’ sense of hope is strong. They believe that if they can just find the right method, it will unlock the secrets of English for their students. Whip up some interest, -the thrill of the new, -claim that your method is “revolutionary” and make extravagant claims about it’s effectiveness.

2. Give it a interesting name

Call your method something ear-catching and cool. If you can’t do that then come up with an approach which ideally can be reduced into a three letter acronym like TPR, NLP, CLL, ELF, PPP or TBI. If you only have two then just toss in a meaningless word.  Like ‘total’ in total physical response.  Could we have HHPR (half hearted physical response) or NMPR (not much physical response)?

The more complex the name the better. Make it sound complex and scientific if possible -don’t worry if you don’t know the first thing about science, it doesn’t matter!  Just grab some sciencey sounding words and paste them together. The more obscure the better.  Take Neuro linguistic programming for example, (NLP!) even the practitioners state, with no apparent shame, that it has nothing to do with neuro science or linguistics! 

3. don’t really describe what it is

That is, tell people it’s a new ‘system’ or ‘approach’ (don’t call it a method!) that is concerned with the approach to humanistic and holistic autonomous learning spheres which takes account of students’ multiple intelligences and promotes student-centric learning. Or something like that. Alternatively just define it as whatever anyone says it is, like this:

A: It seems to me this is related to motivation?
B: yes, motivation plays a part in it.


A: Is it related to teacher identity in the technological classroom?
B: If you want it to be

3.5 be a man 

No method has ever been invented by a woman. 

4. tell people it works
Nothing succeeds like success. In the same way. nothing works like things that people say work!  Just keep telling people that your idea “really works” that the students “love it” and that you have seen great improvements and eventually someone will become your follower and start saying all this stuff for you. After a few years you’ll have a book out and be running training courses in your approach.

5. In case of emergencies

By this time your method becoming quite popular. This is when the backlash begins.  Don’t worry about those spoilsports pointing out that your theory is meaningless, just carry on and be even more vague than you were before. Tell your critic that what you do is not measurable by their methods, but only by whole body and mind convergence and the nourishment of the soul!  Let’s see them try to measure that.

6. If that doesn’t work

Weird theories are oddly resistant so don’t worry. Even if some bright spark shows you to be a complete fraud just nod sagely and say that “it’s not for everyone” and that “teacher’s and more importantly students can decide for themselves what works and what doesn’t”.  Another well worn trick is to throw out some of the troublesome bits of the theory and keep the popular bits. Strangely in EFL when something doesn’t work teachers are very reluctant to throw it out but would rather keep using bits of it, so you’ll still be able to sell books and appear at conferences. Also if you wait about 30 years your method will no doubt come back into fashion.

7. sit back and count the cash

Now you can relax and let your followers do all the work for you.  If you’re as successful as someone like Chomsky you can move out of the field together, reappearing with a book every now and then!  Don’t worry about being found out, the academic world is slow to process things and weighted towards the ones with the ideas, not those who point out they don’t work. 

So what are you waiting for, get cracking with your new theory and good luck!