Teaching Lexically by Hugh Dellar and Andrew Walkley: A Review

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Teaching Lexically is divided into three sections.

Part A begins with “Principles of how people learn”. The authors suggest that the “many thousands of pages written about how people learn languages” can all be “neatly summarised” in 6 principles:

The 6 principles of how people learn languages

I quote:

Essentially, to learn any given item of language, people need to carry out the following stages:

  • Understand the meaning of the item.
  • Hear/see an example of the item in context.
  • Approximate the sounds of the item.
  • Pay attention to the item and notice its features.
  • Do something with the item – use it in some way.
  • Repeat these steps over time, when encountering the item again in other contexts.

These “principles” are repeated in slightly amplified form at the end of Part A, and they inform the “sets of principles” for each of the chapters in Part B.

Principles of why people learn languages

The “Principles of why people learn” are taken en bloc from the Common European Framework of Reference for languages.  The authors argue that teachers should recognise that

for what is probably the majority of learners, class time is basically all they may have spare for language study. [This] … “emphasises how vital it is that what happens in class meets the main linguistic wants and needs of learners, chiefly:

  • To be able to do things with their language.
  • To be able to chat to others.
  • To learn to understand others cultures better.

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Two Views of Language

The first view is

Grammar + words + skills

This is the authors’ way of characterising what they see as the predominant view of language in  ELT, a view they disagree with. According to Dellar ans Walkley, most people in ELT hold the view that

language can be reduced to a list of grammar structures that you can drop single words into.

The implications of this view are:

  1. Grammar is the most important area of language. …The examples used to illustrate grammar are relatively unimportant. …It doesn’t matter if an example used to illustrate a rule could not easily (or ever) be used in daily life.
  2. If words are to fit in the slots provided by grammar, it follows that learning lists of single words is all that is required, and that any word can effectively be used if it fits a particular slot.
  3. Naturalness, or the probable usage of vocabulary, is regarded as an irrelevance; students just need to grasp core meanings.
  4. Synonyms are seen as being more or less interchangeable, with only subtle shades of meaning distinguishing them.
  5. Grammar is acquired in a particular order – the so-called “buildings blocks” approach where students are introduced to “basic structures”, before moving to “more advanced ones”.
  6. Where there is a deficit in fluency or writing or reading, this may be connected to a lack of appropriate skills. These skills are seen as existing independently of language .

The second view of language is the one Dellar and Walkley agree with, and they call it “from words with words to grammar”.

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From words with words to grammar

This view is based on the principle that “communication almost always depends more on vocabulary than on grammar”. The authors illustrate this view by taking the sentence

I’ve been wanting to see that film for ages.

They argue that “Saying want see film is more  likely to achieve the intended communicative message than only using what can be regarded as the grammar and function words I’ve been –ing to that for. “

The authors go on to say that in daily life the language we use is far more restricted than the infinite variety of word combinations allowed by rules of grammar. In fact, we habitually use the same chunks of language, rather than constructing novel phrases from an underlying knowledge of “grammar + single words”.  This leads the authors to argue the case for a lexical approach to teaching  and to state their agreement with Lewis’ (1993) view that

 teaching should be centred around collocation and chunks, alongside large amount of input from texts.  

They go on:

From this input a grasp of grammar ‘rules’ and correct usage would emerge. 

Hoey’s Lexical Priming (2005) is said to give theoretical support for this view of language. Hoey shows how words that are apparently synonymous – such as result and consequence – typically function in quite different ways. The differences in the usage of these two synonyms is easily seen in statistics from corpora which show when and how they are used.  Dellar and Walkley continue:

Hoey argues that these statistical differences must come about because, when we first encounter these words (he calls such encounters ‘primings’) our brains somehow subconsciously record some or all of this kind of information about the way the words are used. Our next encounter may reaffirm – or possibly contradict – this initial priming, as will the next encounter, and the one after that – and so on. ….

The authors then take Hoey’s citing of “evidence from psycholinguistic studies” as evidence to support the claim that we remember words in pairings and in groups and that doing so allows for quicker and more accurate processing of the language we hear and want to produce. They say that this implies that

 spoken fluency, the speed at which we read and the ease and accuracy with which we listen may all develop as a result of language users being familiar with groupings of words.

Therefore, teach lexical chunks, not the 4 skills as done in most grammar based coursebooks.

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A lexical view of teaching

Approaches to ELT that are influenced by research into interlanguages are briefly discussed. We’re told that interlanguage research concerns grammar and that it has nothing to say about the teachability of vocabulary, where other research suggests that vocabulary teaching is effective. Thus, the criticisms made of grammar based coursebooks don’t apply to coursebooks like theirs, which concentrate on vocabulary teaching. Teachers are urged to

think of whole phrases, sentences or even ‘texts’ that students might want to say when attempting a particular task or conversation because

at least some of those lexical items are learnable, and some of that learning could be done with the assistance of materials before students try to have particular kinds of communication.

The authors then look at some problems of teaching lexically, which are basically that it’s difficult for teachers to come up, in real time, with the right kind of lexical input and the right kind of questions to help students notice lexical chunks, collocations, etc..

They then discuss the practicalities of teaching lexically, under the heading “Pragmatism in a grammar-dominated world” and suggest that teachers should work with the coursebooks they’ve got and approach coursebook materials in a different way, focusing on the vocabulary and finding better ways of exploiting it.

The rest of Part 1 is devoted to a lexical view of vocabulary (units of meaning, collocation, co-text, genre and register, lexical sets, antonyms, word form pragmatic meanings and synonyms are discussed), a lexical view of grammar (including “words define grammar” and “grammar is all around”), and a lexical view of skills.

Part 1 ends with “A practical pedagogy for teaching and learning”, which stresses the need to consider “Naturalness, priming and non-native speakers”, and ends with “The Process”, which repeats the 6 processes introduced at the start, noting that noticing and repetition are the two stages that the lexical teacher should place the most emphasis on.

Part B offers 100 worksheets for teachers to work through. Each page shares the same format: Principle; Practising the Principle; Applying the principle. In many of the worksheets, it´s hard to find the “principle” and in most worksheets “applying the principle” involves looking for chances to teach vocabulary, particularly lexical chunks.

Here’s an example:

 Worksheet 2: Choosing words to teach.

Principle: prioritise the teaching of more frequent words.

Practicing the principle involves deciding which words in a box (government / apple for example)  are more frequent and looking at the on line Macmillan Dictionary or the British Corpus to check.

Applying the Principle involves choosing 10 words from “a word list of a unit or a vocabulary exercise that you are going to teach”, putting the words in order of frequency, checking your ideas, challenging an interested colleague with queries about frequency and “keeping a record of who wins!”

The worksheets cover teaching vocabulary lexically, teaching grammar lexically, teaching the 4 skills lexically, and recycling and revising. Many of them involve looking at the coursebook which readers are presumed to be using in their teaching, and finding ways to adapt the content to a more lexical approach to teaching. In the words of the authors,

the book is less about recipes and activities for lessons, and more about training for preparing lexical lessons with whatever materials you are using.        

Part C (10 pages long) looks at materials, teaching courses other than general English, and teacher training.

Discussion

Language Master

Language Learning

Let’s start with Dellar and Walkley’s account of “how people learn”. More than 50 years of research into second language learning is “neatly summarised” by listing the 6 steps putatively involved in learning “any given item of language”.  You (1) understand the meaning, (2) hear/see an example in context, (3) approximate the sound, (4) pay attention to the item and notice its features, (5) do something with it – use it some way, and (6) then repeat these steps over time.  We’re not told what “an item of language” refers to, but whatever the items are, we can safely presume that there are tens, if not hundreds of thousands of them, all learned by going through the same process.

Let’s look at an alternative account. Bachman (1990) suggests that rather than learning countless thousands of “Items” of language in a 6-step process, people learn languages by developing a complex set of competencies. His framework includes three components: language competence (“a set of specific knowledge components that are utilised in communication via language.”; strategic competence (the mental capacity for implementing language competence in contextualized communicative language use”); and psychophysiological mechanisms (the neurological and psychological processes involved in the actual execution of language as a physical phenomenon”).  Below are the main parts of language competence:

communicative-competence-5-638

There remains the question of how these competencies are developed. We can compare Dellar and Walkley’s view with that offered by theories of interlanguage development (see Tarone, 2001, for a review). Language learning is, in this view, gradual, incremental and slow, sometimes taking years to accomplish. Development of the L2 involves all sorts of learning going on at the same time as learners use a variety of strategies to confront problems of comprehension, pronunciation, grammar, lexis, idioms, fluency, appropriacy, and so on. The concurrent development of the many competencies Bachman refers to exhibits plateaus, occasional movement away from, not toward, the L2, and U-shaped or zigzag trajectories rather than smooth, linear contours.  This applies not only to learning grammar, but also to lexis, and to that in-between area of malleable lexical chunks as described by Pawley and Syder.

Learners have to master the idiosyncratic nature of words, their collocates etc., not just their canonical meaning. When learners encounter a word in a correct context, the word is not simply added to a static cognitive pile of vocabulary items. Instead, they experiment with the word, sometimes using it incorrectly, thus establishing where it works and where it doesn’t. By passing through a period of incorrectness, in which the lexicon is used in a variety of ways, they climb back up the U-shaped curve.  Take the example of the noun ‘shop.’ Learners may first encounter the word in a sentence such as “I had breakfast  at the coffee shop yesterday.” Then, they experiment with deviant utterances such as “I am going to the supermarket shop,” correctly associating the word ‘shop’ with a place they can purchase goods, but getting it wrong. By making these incorrect utterances, the learner distinguishes between what is appropriate, because “at each stage of the learning process, the learner outputs a corresponding hypothesis based on the evidence available so far” (Carlucci and Case, 2011).

Dellar and Walkley’s account of language learning is surely neither well explained nor anything like complete. These are not, I suggest, very robust principles on which to build. The principles of why people learn are similarly flimsy. To say that people learn languages “to be able to do things with their language; to be able to chat to others; and to learn to understand others cultures better” is to say very little indeed.

Strawman-light

Two Views of Language

Next, we read about two views of language. The first is the “grammar + words” view, neatly summarised thus:

language can be reduced to a list of grammar structures that you can drop single words into.

Grammar models of the English language, such as that found in Quirk et.al. (1985), or Swan (2001), and used in coursebooks such as Headway or English File, describe the structure of English in terms of grammar, the lexicon and phonology. These descriptions have almost nothing in common with the description given on page 9 of Teaching Lexically, which is subsequently referred to dozens of times throughout the book as if it were an accurate summary, rather than a biased straw man used to promote their own view of language. The one sentence description, and the 6 simplistic assumptions that are said to flow from it, completely fail to fairly represent grammar models of the English language.

The second view of language: From words + words to grammar

Here, Dellar and Walkley could be expected to take extra care, since this is really the most important, the most distinguishing, feature of their whole approach. But in fact their preferred view of language is poorly articulated and mixed up with arguments for teaching lexically. It attempts to describe Hoey’s (2005) view that the best model of language structure is the word, along with its collocational and colligational properties. Collocation and “nesting” (words join with other primed words to form sequence) are linked to contexts and co-texts, and grammar is replaced by a network of chunks of words. There are no rules of grammar; there’s no English outside a description of the patterns we observe among those who use it. There is no right or wrong in language. It makes little sense to talk of something being ungrammatical.

This is surely a step too far; surely we need to describe language not just in terms of the performed but also in terms of the possible. Hoey argues that we should look only at attested behaviour and abandon descriptions of syntax, but, while nobody these days denies the importance of lexical chunks, very few would want to ignore the rules which guide the construction of novel, well formed sentences. After all, pace Hoey, people speaking English (including learners of English as an L2) invent millions of novel utterances every day.  They do so by making use of, among other things, grammatical knowledge.

The fact that the book devotes some attention to teaching grammar indicates that the authors recognise the existence and importance of grammar, which in turn indicates that there are limits to their adherence to Hoey’s model. But nothing is said in the book to clarify these limits. Given that Dellar and Walkley repeatedly stress that their different view of language is what drives their approach to teaching,  their failure to offer any  coherent account of their own view of language is telling. We´re left with the impression that the authors are enthusiastic purveyors of a view which they don’t fully understand and are unable to adequately describe or explain.

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Teaching Lexically

 Teaching Lexically concentrates very largely on what Breen, in his characterisation of the product syllabus, called “doing things to learners”: it’s probably the most teacher-centred, the least learner-centred, book on ELT I’ve ever read. There’s not one mention in the book of including students in decisions affecting what and how things are to be learned. In Teaching Lexically, teachers make all the decisions. They work with a pre-confected product or synthetic syllabus, usually defined by a coursebook, and they plan and execute lessons on the basis of adapting the syllabus or coursebook to a lexical approach. Students are expected to learn what is taught in the order that it’s taught, the teacher deciding the “items”, the sequence of presentation of these “items”, the recycling, the revision, and the assessment.

Secondly, there’s a narrow minded, almost obsessive concentration on teaching as many lexical chunks as possible. The need to teach as much vocabulary as possible pervades the book. The chapters in Part B on teaching speaking, reading, listening and writing are driven by the same over-arching aim: look for new ways to teach more lexis, or to re-introduce lexis that has already been presented.

Thirdly, the book promotes the view that education is primarily concerned with the transmission of information. In doing so, it runs counter to the principles of learner-centred teaching, as argued by educators such as John Dewey, Sebastian Faure, Paul Friere, Ivan Illich, and Paul Goodman, and supported in the ELT field by educators such as Chris Candlin, Catherine Doughty, Caorl Chapelle, Grahame Crookes, Rebecca Brent, Earl Stevick, John Faneslow, Vivian Cook, Sue Sheerin, Alan Maley and Mike Long.  All these educators reject the view of education as the transmission of information, and, instead, see the student as a learner whose needs and opinions have to be continuously taken into account. For just one opinion, see  Weimer (2002) who argues for the need to bring about changes in the balance of power; changes in the function of course content; changes in the role of the teacher: changes in who is responsible for learning; and changes in the purpose and process of evaluation.

Fourthly, the book takes an extreme interventionist position on teaching English as an L2: it’s about as far from Krashen’s Natural Approach as it´s possible to go. Teaching Lexically involves dividing the language into items, presenting them to learners via various types of carefully-selected texts, and practising them intensively, using pattern drills, exercises and all the other means outlined in the book, including comprehension checks, error corrections and so on, before moving on to the next set of items.  As such, it mostly replicates the grammar-based PPP method it so stridently criticises. Furthermore, it sees translation into the L1 as the best  way of dealing with meaning, because it wants to get quickly on to the most important part of the process , namely memorising bits of lexis with their collocates and even co-text.  Compare this to an approach that sees the negotiation of meaning as a key aspect of language teaching, where the lesson is conducted almost entirely in English and the L1 is used  sparingly, where students have chosen for themselves some of the topics that they deal with, where they contribute some of their own texts, and where most of classroom time is given over to activities where the language is used communicatively and spontaneously, and where the teacher reacts to linguistic problems as they arise, thus respecting the learners’ ‘internal syllabus’.

Teaching Lexically sees explicit learning and explicit teaching as paramount, and it assumes that explicit knowledge, otherwise called declarative knowledge, can be converted into implicit (or procedural) knowledge through practice. These assumptions, like the assumptions that students will learn what they’re taught in the order they’re taught it, clash with SLA research findings. As Long says: “implicit and explicit learning, memory and knowledge are separate processes and systems, their end products stored in different areas of the brain” (Long, 2015, p. 44).  To assume, as Dellar and Walkley do, that the best way to teach English as an L2 is to devote the majority of classroom time to the explicit teaching and practice of pre-selected bits of the language is to fly in the face of SLA research.

Children learn languages in an implicit way – they are not consciously aware of most of what they learn about language. As for adults, all the research in SLA indicates that implicit learning is still the default learning mechanism. This suggests that teachers should devote most of the time in class to giving students comprehensible input and opportunities to communicate among themselves and with the teacher.

Nevertheless, adult L2 learners are what Long calls partially “disabled” language learners, for whom some classes of linguistic features are “fragile”. The implication is that, unless helped by some explicit instruction, they are unlikely to notice these fragile (non-salient )features, and thus not progress beyond a certain, limited, stage of proficiency.  The question is: What kind of explicit teaching helps learners progress in their trajectory towards communicative competence?  And here we arrive at lexical chunks.

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Teaching Lexical Chunks

One of the most difficult parts of English for non native speakers to learn is collocation. As Long (2015, pages 307 to 316) points out in his section on lexical chunks, while children learn collocations implicitly, “collocation errors persist, even among near-native L2 speakers resident in the target language environment for decades.” Long cites Boers work, which suggests a number of reasons for why L2 collocations constitute such a major learning  problem, including L1 interference, the semantic vagueness of many collocations, the fact that collocates for some words vary , and the fact that some collocations look deceptively similar.

The size and scope of the collocations problem can be appreciated by considering findings on the lesser task of word learning. Long cites work by Nation (2006) and Nation and Chung (2009) who have have calculated that learners require knowledge of between 6000 and 7000 word families for adequate comprehension of speech and 9000 for reading. Intentional vocabulary learning has been shown to be more effective than incidental learning in the short tem, but, the authors conclude, “there is nowhere near enough time to handle so many items in class that way”.  The conclusion is that massive amounts of extensive reading outside class, but scaffolded by teachers, is the best solution.

As for lexical chunks, there are very large numbers of such items, probably hundreds of thousands of them. As Swan (2006) points out, “memorising 10 lexical chunks a day, a learner would take nearly 30 years to achieve a good command of 10,000 of them”. So how does one select which chunks to explicitly teach, and how does one teach them? The most sensible course of action would seem to be to base selection on frequency , but there are problems with such a simple criterion, not the least being the needs of the set of students in the classroom. Although Dellar and Walkley acknowledge the criterion of frequency, Teaching Lexically gives very little discussion of it, and there is very little clear or helpful advice offered about what lexical chunks to select for explicit teaching, – see the worksheet cited at the start of this review. The general line seems to be: work with the material you have, and look for the lexical chunks that occur in the texts, or that are related to the words in the texts. This is clearly not a satisfactory criterion for selection.

The other important question that Teaching Lexically does not give any well considered answer to  is: how best to facilitate the learning of lexical chunks?  Dellar and Walkley could start by addressing the problem of how their endorsement of Hoey’s theory of language learning, and his 100% endorsement of Krashen’s Natural Approach, fits with their own view that explicit instruction in lexical chunks should be the most important part of classroom based instruction. The claim that they are just speeding up the natural, unconscious process doesn’t bear examination because two completely different systems of learning are being conflated. Dellar and Walkley take what’s called a “strong interface” position, whereas Krashen and Hoey take the opposite view. Dellar and Walkley make conscious noticing the main plank in their teaching approach, which contradicts Hoey’s claim that lexical priming is a subconscious process.

Next, Dellar and Walkley make no mention of the fact that learning lexical chunks is one of the most challenging aspects of learning English as an L2 for adult learners.  Neither do they discuss the questions related to the teachability of lexical chunks that have been raised by scholars like Boers (who confesses that he doesn’t know the answer to the problems they have identified about how to teach lexical chunks). The authors of Teaching Lexically blithely assume that drawing attention to features of language (by underlining them, mentioning them and so on), and making students aware of collocations, co-text, colligations, antonyms, etc., (by giving students (repeated) exposure to carefully-chosen written and spoken texts, using drills, concept questions, input flood, bottom-up comprehension questions, and so on) will allow the explicit knowledge taught to become fully proceduralised.  Quite apart from the question of how many chunks a teacher is expected to treat so exhaustively, there are good reasons to question the assumption that such instruction will have the desired result.

In a section of his book on TBLT, Long (2015) discusses his 5th methodological principle: “Encourage inductive ·chunk” learning”.  Note that Long discusses 10 methodological principles, and sees teaching lexical chunks as an important but minor part of the teacher’s job. The most important concluson that Long comes to is that there is, as yet, no satisfactory answer to “the $64,000 dollar question: how best to facilitate chunk learning”.  Long’s discussion of explicit approaches to teaching collocations includes the following points:

  • Trying to teach thousands of chunks is out of the question.
  • Drawing learners attention to formulaic strings does not necessarily lead to memory traces usable in subsequent receptive L2 use, and in any case there are far too many to deal with in that way.
  • Getting learners to look at corpora and identify chunks has failed to produce measurable advantages.
  • Activities to get learners to concentrate on collocations on their own have had poor results.
  • Grouping collocations thematically increases the learning load (decreasing transfer to long term memory) and so does presentation of groups which share synonymous collocates, such as make and do.
  • Exposure to input floods where collocations are frequently repeated has poor results.
  • Commercially published ELT material designed to teach collocations have varying results. For example, when lists of verbs in one column are to be matched with nouns in another, this inevitably produces some erroneous groupings that, even when corrective feedback is available, can be expected to leave unhelpful memory traces.
  • It is clear that encouraging inductive chunk learning is well motivated, but it is equally unclear how best to realise it in practice, i.e., which pedagogical procedures to call upon.

Conclusion

Teaching Lexically is based on a poorly articulated view of the English language and on a flimsy account of second language learning. It claims that language is best seen as lexically driven, that a grasp of grammar ‘rules’ and correct usage will emerge from studying lexical chunks, that spoken fluency, the speed at which we read, and the ease and accuracy with which we listen will all develop as a result of language users being familiar with groupings of words, and that therefore, the teaching of lexical chunks should be the most important part of a classrooms teacher’s job. These claims often rely on mere assertions, and include straw man fallacies, cherry picking the evidence of research findings and ignoring counter evidence. The case made for this view of teaching is in my opinion, entirely unconvincing. The concentration on just one small part of what’s involved in language teaching, and the lack of any well considered discussion of the problems associated with teaching lexical chunks, are seriously flaws in the book’s treatment of an interesting topic.

References

Bachman, L. (1990). Fundamental considerations in language testingOxford University Press.

Breen, M. (1987) Contemporary Paradigms in Syllabus Design, Parts 1 and 2. Language Teaching 20 (02) and 20 (03).

Carlucci, L. and Case, J.  (2013)  On the Necessity of U-Shaped Learning. Topics.

Hoey, M.(2005) Lexical Priming. Routeledge.

Long, M. (2015) Second Language Acquisition and Task Based Language Teaching. Wiley.

Swan, M. (2006) Chunks in the classroom: let’s not go overboard. The Teacher Trainer, 20/3.

Tarone, E. (2001), Interlanguage. In R. Mesthrie (Ed.). Concise Encyclopedia of Sociolinguistics. (pp. 475–481) Oxford: Elsevier Science.

Weimer, M. (2002) Learner-Centered Teaching. Retrieved from http://academic.pg.cc.md.us/~wpeirce/MCCCTR/weimer.htm  3/09/2016

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40 thoughts on “Teaching Lexically by Hugh Dellar and Andrew Walkley: A Review

  1. ‘A rant with a bibliography is a rant nonetheless’ – Trotsky

    Harmer Dellar Chomsky Long
    Totemise them ! Same old song !
    Despite his intellect and wit
    Geoff’s basically a puerile twit ..

    Task, competencies, syllabi
    (process not product) and yet why
    do I envisage student’s anguish
    ‘When will I get some bloody LANGUAGE ?’

    And teacher’s anguish too I fear
    On nuts and bolts Geoff’s not too clear
    His One Big Tip: the Earth stopped, shuddered
    Why, make yourself a WORKSHEET CUPBOARD !

    Worksheets: if I may be so bold
    Is it just me or we’re not told
    what’s ON the buggers ? I suppose
    The Devil, God ..or Geoffrey…knows

    Tasks , he’ll retort, with feedback cycles
    like Long, not like those other Michaels
    They’ll reach goals by negotiation
    Sod naturalness ! Sod collocation !

    And yet for me what still perplexes
    Do we not still get down to lexis ?
    They ace the task.. but it’s not English
    Negotiate like pros- in gibberish !

    Forgive me if I’ve been ad hominem
    And much more like Pam Ayres than Eminem
    Go, Geoff and tear CHUNKS off the enemy :
    twin voodoo dolls of Hugh .. and Jeremy !

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sorry Geoff , you’re not of course a twit. But you do seem frustratingly to be picking repeatedly at the same scabs of late and we unscholarly classroom teachers could do with a bit more detail on what we can do on the day to day or even minute to minute level of classroom practice. Dellar and Walkley do at least have a go at this. Plus I feel you’re also a bit guilty of straw man arguments, cherry picking and evangelising. Is Long a god or what ? The book wasn’t all about chunks and collocations, was it ? That’s a bit disingenous.
    The fact you wrote a preview to the review suggests you were warming up for a stitch-up job and it was pretty much a foregone conclusion. Of course I’m sure your readers all expected that.
    My other concern, which may show my ignorance, is how competencies , task achievement etc can be assessed or students helped in realising them without being explicit about features of language like collication , collocation , naturalness, nuances of meaning etc.
    I am sure you will enlighten us anon and hope you didn’t take offence at my silly ditty. I’m just a working classroom teacher frustrated by contradictory signals from opposing methodologists which does not help much in our daily teaching practice. Your cartoon versions of your methodological opponents can be entertaining but more consensus without posturing would be more helpful to the humble teacher

    Like

    • Hi again Neil,

      My replies to your comments come after the ***s. I trust you’ll take them in the friendly spirit they’re written. I appreciate your interest and your taking the time to express your concerns.

      you do seem frustratingly to be picking repeatedly at the same scabs of late.
      *** Look at the list of Recent Posts on the right. There’s 1 on Harmer, 9 on other things.

      and we unscholarly classroom teachers could do with a bit more detail on what we can do on the day to day or even minute to minute level of classroom practice.
      *** Sorry, but this blog isn´t primarily about classroom activities.

      Dellar and Walkley do at least have a go at this.
      *** Yes, and I critically evaluate the advice they give.

      Plus I feel you’re also a bit guilty of straw man arguments,
      *** What straw man arguments?
      cherry picking
      *** What cherry picking?
      and evangelising. Is Long a god or what ?
      *** I think Mike Long is an excellent SLA scholar, and I think his 2015 book on SLA and TBLT is excellent too. If you don’t agree, perhaps you could argue your case.
      The book wasn’t all about chunks and collocations, was it ? That’s a bit disingenous.
      *** The book was about teaching lexically. Chunks and collocations are at the heart of the approach. I think I gave a fair description of the main points of the book, and that I supported my criticisms with reasonable arguments and evidence. Again, if you don’t agree, you’re free to put your case.

      The fact you wrote a preview to the review suggests you were warming up for a stitch-up job and it was pretty much a foregone conclusion.
      *** I withdrew the preview, which I wrote after 2 days reading the book. I regret publishing the preview. It’s certainly the case that, given Dellar’s past work, I expected the book to be bad. But I would have been delighted if I had found the book to be good and would have been equally delighted to give it a good review. That’s the truth.

      My other concern, which may show my ignorance, is how competencies , task achievement etc can be assessed or students helped in realising them without being explicit about features of language like collication , collocation , naturalness, nuances of meaning etc.
      *** Competencies can be assessed independently of how students are taught, and assessments don’t have to consist of tests of explicit knowledge. Students can be helped to develop their overall proficiency in a number of ways, which don’t have to include using a product syllabus or coursebook, or devoting as much time as Teaching Lexically seems to think is necessary on teaching vocabulary.

      I’m just a working classroom teacher frustrated by contradictory signals from opposing methodologists which does not help much in our daily teaching practice.
      *** Your job is to evaluate these contradictory signals for yourself. Dellar says one thing, Long says another. I’ve given my opinion of them both. I’m obviously biased, because I favour rational argument and scholarship, I favour a learner-centred approach to teaching, and because I have little respect for the ELT establishment. But I’ve always made that clear, and I expect you to make up your own mind.

      Your cartoon versions of your methodological opponents can be entertaining but more consensus without posturing would be more helpful to the humble teacher.
      *** I don’t think my review of Teaching Lexically presents a cartoon version of it.
      Finally, I think consensus between me and those who represent the ELT establishment is unlikely. If you read what I say on the home page of this blog https://criticalelt.wordpress.com/ I hope you’ll appreciate why.

      Best wishes,

      Geoff

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I am genuinely grateful , Geoff, for your civil and thorough answer and the time you spent on it.
    Firstly, I’ll cut my ‘confused humble jobbing teacher’ schtick because I’ve just realised how trite and affected it is.

    I’ll try to put my case as best I can:
    firstly, I think it’s misleading to portray D + W as being fundamentally teacher-centred and lacking concern for what learner’s wish or choose to express . Most of their activities include an open-ended stage where learner’s can take the language that has come up (be that from a textbook , simply a chat or other source – a mysterious worksheet from the cupboard perhaps) in a direction they want to and relate it to themselves (about personal experiences ) or their own ideas (for example speculating about typical causes and effects of everyday problems , social phenomena etc) .

    Secondly, I feel your review implies a fairly direct link between pre-planning vocabulary or predicting what kind of language might come up in a particular communicative context and the horrible-sounding ‘product’ syllabus. (‘product’ has all those connotations of commercial interests, packaging , Pearson Longman etc) . This then leads in the space of a few lines to the highly emotive ‘doing things to students’. In other words, suggest pre-planning lexis and it turns out you’re a bit of a fascist.

    I think the idea that there are fairly universal oral and written genres which most students will need to operate in (even ESP students to an extent) and that these genres are largely characterised by particular pieces of formulaic and semi-formulaic language (like sentence stems , frames etc) is far from ludicrous (although it is of course possible to disagree with it) and I don’t think it necessarily implies authoritarianism . ‘Transmission’ education sounds horrible too but sometimes I think it’s defensible to tell students what you know (OK it may not be converted into procedural competence but it may help) and students may also want this (I do realise that sometimes students can have an unhelpful view of the teacher as fount of all knowledge and that we may not always want to give in to these expectations , but that’s an extreme case. ) .
    On the other hand, the process syllabus sounds wonderful. All those lovely people are said to support it (Earl Stevick in particular is brilliant , I think.) I don’t personally know any EFL teachers who aren’t egalitarian-minded and wouldn’t love to involve their students (rather than their schools, managers, bosses, clients, students’ parents) in decision-making , course-planning etc (although surprisingly I’ve met resistance from students in attempting this. Paul Walsh has already discussed this problem better than I could though) . But sometimes it sounds to me like this syllabus could be about anything, not necessarily about learning a language . It sounds like great, consultative decision-making , but about what ? ‘Negotiating meaning’ . It sound great. But, annoyingly, I’d like to know , for example, what kind of student-teacher exchanges does this involve, what types of questions will help me do this better , whether I’ll do this with pictures, translations, paraphrasing , hands and feet .. or whether it doesn’t really matter how ? And how will I know when it’s been successful ? And what happens if we understand each other in some fabulous pidgin using all the meaning-bearing armory at our disposal that bears little relation to the norms of the L2 language the student would, I suppose , like to learn ? (I have the same worry about tasks .. ) . Plus, what do we do with the language that emerges ? Just the usual things like correct errors, point out more standard ways to say things , supply missing words , explain differences of register or does the process syllabus offer something new here ? Or should we just keep on communicating about whatever the student wants and let their fragile interlanguage bloom in its own sweet time somewhere down the line (say 20 years) without trampling on it with explicit interventions that try to go against the natural order of acquisition? Is it some super-pure version of dogme ? I even think if it’s a LANGUAGE SYLLABUS, process or not, it could still be compatible with various types of lexical approach, but I would want to know how.

    I also feel that a blog that criticises approaches to classroom teaching must at some point get down to the level of classroom activities. An example or two even. A lesson plan that meets your methodological requirements . Otherwise, without specifics, it becomes like some cosy intellectual game at an abstract level involving spotting the logical laziness of others and using buzzwords like ‘unscholarly’ . That’s why I’d be really interested to know what’s on those worksheets Geoff. Or what kinds of classroom ideas you exchanged in that great-sounding school in Spain . (No sarcasm here: I suspect you have sharply-tuned and principled ideas which could be really valuable to teachers.)

    Also, for me, the book in question questioned a lot of taboos the Trinity, Celta , Delta etc foster:
    is reading aloud really a sin (We were told on the DELTA that ‘reading aloud is a performance art and has no place in the language classroom’ –I loved doing it at school when I was learning German though. ), is translation sometimes the best way to do things (I think contrastive error analysis helps students a lot) , should we always ‘reduce teacher talking time’ , should we always be thinking up new games and activities to keep students happy or is repetition of a few generic activity types actually better ? The phonology part incorporating Richard Cauldwell’s ideas was interesting too. That’s why it seemed to me to be more than just collocations and chunks .
    (Plus I have to say mass learning of formulaic language –from extensive reading on my own- has helped me immensely in learning languages. And the Patrick Hanks type view that novelty can arise from twisting conventional phrases rings true too- especially for things like humour) .

    Finally, I take back what I say about consensus. I realise the reason I read (and sometimes react strongly to) your blog rather than the bland offerings of say, the British Council (on the level of ‘Have you ever tried a dictogloss ?’ ) , Geoff, is because you put things in a sharply-focused (sometimes painfully sharp ! ) way and stir up a few hornets’ nests in a rather complacent world.
    So hats off to you for that and let me take up no more of your time and energy !

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Hi Neil,
    My answers come after the ***s.

    I think it’s misleading to portray D + W as being fundamentally teacher-centred and lacking concern for what learner’s wish or choose to express .
    *** Including an “open-ended stage in most activities” is quite consistent with the fundamentally teacher-centred approach that D&W take. A learner centred approach to ELT means involving students with important decisions about what is to be learned and how class time is to be spent, as Breen makes clear. It’s what Breen calls a “paradigm shift”. We might object to this use of Kuhn’s term, but anyway, what Breen is arguing for is a fundamental shift in the way teachers think about their job and how they go about it. Rather than chopping language into little bits that can be served up to students in a pre-determined sequence, and rather than deciding in advance what to do, in terms of how to present and practice these chopped up little bits (thousands of them in the case of D&W), you bring students into these decisions and you negotiate the syllabus with them, which means, in effect, that you invent the syllabus as you go along. You might object to such a learner centred syllabus (“my hero” Mike Long certainly does), but don’t misrepresent it.

    Secondly, I feel your review implies a fairly direct link between pre-planning vocabulary or predicting what kind of language might come up in a particular communicative context and the horrible-sounding ‘product’ syllabus…. This then leads … to the highly emotive ‘doing things to students’. In other words, suggest pre-planning lexis and it turns out you’re a bit of a fascist.
    *** Pre-planning vocabulary or predicting what kind of language might come up in a particular communicative context is not the same as using a product syllabus to decide what will happen throughout a course. If the teacher uses a coursebook or a product syllabus to decide most of what will be done throughout a course, then I agree with Breen that the teacher is doing things to students, as opposed to doing things for or with students. Your conclusion “suggest pre-planning lexis and it turns out you’re a bit of a fascist” is plain silly.

    I think the idea that there are fairly universal oral and written genres which most students will need to operate in… and that these genres are largely characterised by particular pieces of formulaic and semi-formulaic language …is far from ludicrous … and I don’t think it necessarily implies authoritarianism .
    *** Assuming for a moment that there are “fairly universal oral and written genres which most students will need to operate in” and that “these genres are largely characterised by particular pieces of formulaic and semi-formulaic language”, nothing follows about good or bad syllabus design. The questions are:
    1. What are these universal genres, and what are the pieces of formulaic and semi-formulaic language that characterise them?
    2. What’s the best way to teach them?
    In Teaching Lexically, D&W don’t give the answer to Q1, and they assume that explicit instruction is the answer to Q2, without addressing either the general problem of working with a product syllabus, discussed above, or the particular problem of teaching pieces of formulaic and semi-formulaic language.

    ‘Transmission’ education sounds horrible too but sometimes I think it’s defensible to tell students what you know … and students may also want this.
    *** I see nothing wrong with telling students what you know. How you do it is the issue.

    On the other hand, the process syllabus sounds wonderful……But sometimes it sounds to me like this syllabus could be about anything, not necessarily about learning a language. It sounds like great, consultative decision-making , but about what ?
    *** The process syllabus sounds wonderful because it appeals to the educational values of all teachers who reject the “transmission of information” model. It sounds unrealistic because it goes against the grain – it’s not what the ELT establishment wants you to do. Now we’re in the realm of politics. Who benefits from the product syllabus? The answer is, of course, the big publishers who sell coursebooks, and those responsible for testing and teacher certification. (We may note that Pearson, like Cambridge, are now taking over all parts of the ELT industry.)
    These easily identifiable organisations control an industry worth 20 billion dollars a year. They have a decisive influence on organisations which are supposed to represent teachers’ interests, including IATEFL and TESOL, whose annual conferences act more as a showcase for publishers and their star authors than as a forum for grass root teacher concerns. Those who fight against the product syllabus fight against these hugely powerful companies , and thus they are unlikely to have their opinions widely heard. We have Scott Thornbury on our side, more or less, and we have the weight of SLA research on our side too. But, alas, as your comments demonstrate, most teachers think the way the publishers want them to.

    ‘Negotiating meaning’ . It sound great. But, annoyingly, I’d like to know , for example, what kind of student-teacher exchanges does this involve, what types of questions will help me do this better , whether I’ll do this with pictures, translations, paraphrasing , hands and feet .. or whether it doesn’t really matter how ?
    *** Negotiating meaning in the classroom means using a variety of interventions, including recasts, to respond to students’ output. The idea is that you are primarily interested in the content of what the student is saying, that you facilitate the exchanges and that you focus on form when appropriate. Honestly, I don’t see what’s difficult about the idea.

    And how will I know when it’s been successful ? And what happens if we understand each other in some fabulous pidgin using all the meaning-bearing armory at our disposal that bears little relation to the norms of the L2 language the student would, I suppose , like to learn ?
    *** Interlanguages develop, and errors are often signs of learning. You’re exaggerating, unhelpfully, I think. If you and your students understand each other then that’s great, and you’re there to improve the exchanges so that they get better. The question is how to help students get more proficient, less pidgin-like. While D&W suggest concentrating on the explicit teaching of lexical chunks, others suggest other things. Come on, Neil – be reasonable.

    . Plus, what do we do with the language that emerges ? Just the usual things like correct errors, point out more standard ways to say things , supply missing words , explain differences of register or does the process syllabus offer something new here ? … Is it some super-pure version of dogme ? I even think if it’s a LANGUAGE SYLLABUS, process or not, it could still be compatible with various types of lexical approach, but I would want to know how.
    *** The approach I’m recommending is one that gives students a say in both input and output. What students talk about is partly chosen by them and scaffolded and monitored by the teacher, who comments in a variety of ways. There’s no super-pure version of Dogme that I know of, but if you read what its authors say, you’ll appreciate that they deal with your concerns.

    I also feel that a blog that criticises approaches to classroom teaching must at some point get down to the level of classroom activities. An example or two even. A lesson plan that meets your methodological requirements . That’s why I’d be really interested to know what’s on those worksheets Geoff. Or what kinds of classroom ideas you exchanged in that great-sounding school in Spain .
    *** I’m working on the worksheets, but thousands already exist. Lots of activities in coursebooks strike me as good worksheets, as do lots of their vocab. and grammar activities.

    Also, for me, the book in question questioned a lot of taboos
    *** I agree.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Dear Geoff,
    The good thing is that with criticism Hoey’s ideas can mature. There is so much to comment here… I pick this one:

    “As Long says: “implicit and explicit learning, memory and knowledge are separate processes and systems, their end products stored in different areas of the brain” (Long, 2015, p. 44).”

    I don’t think we can draw conclusions on the nature of learning by noticing where things are stored in the brain. To me it seems that the brain connection discussion is marred with meshing biological description and metaphorical abstractions. The biology of sensing can be described very accurately. But then to say “here the brain has stored knowledge” represents a quantum leap*. What if we found out tomorrow that the liver helps out with processing sensory input?

    Declarative to procedural: I think it can be demonstrated that this is possible, that is, judging by behavior. The two, however, might have biological counterparts little understood and showing little analogue behavior. That is, things in the brain might not fade in and fade out suggesting transformation as the observed transition from declarative to procedural.

    * I saw Herbert Puchta talking about how the brain learns (?!) and got a hold of one of his sources, James Zull “The Art of Changing the Brain”. I haven’t finished the book, but as far as I can tell, it is full of this fallacy of meshing biology with mind experience. As if it were that simple.

    Regards,
    Thom

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  6. Hi Thom,

    Yes, I think you’re right to question “stored in the brain” claims.

    And yes, apart from any brain “evidence” it seems that declarative knowledge can become proceduralised, but it’s certainly not as straight forward as D & W imply.

    Best,

    Geoff

    Like

  7. (can’t resist another poetic comment)

    For I will consider my friend Geoffrey
    For he is like the living God, duly and daily smiting his foes
    For with a flask or two of a cheap but full-bodied Priorat at hand, he dips his pen
    For he is fired up now to round on the poor miserable hacks who still work in language schools or write books
    For he is the veritable scourge of Harmer
    For having done duty and received blessings he begins to rail against the system
    For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his barbed wit and ad hominem attacks
    For he will brook no contradiction, least of all from Dellar
    For he is of the tribe of Chomsky
    For in his morning orisons he loves Long and Long loves him
    For he has the subtlety and hissing of loose cannon
    For the ingenuity of his argument resides in his repeating ‘It’s not falsifiable’
    For he is hated by fans of Hoey and of Krashen
    For he purrs in thankfulness when his fan-base of two likes his blog
    For he has Scott Thornbury on his side, more or less
    For he can retract
    For he can creep.

    (Apologies to Christopher Smart http://www.poetrybyheart.org.uk/poems/for-i-will-consider-my-cat-jeoffry/)

    Liked by 2 people

  8. with apologies to Gang Starr – Conspiracy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gu9_PfnQOPo

    you can’t tell me language theory was meant to be like this
    evaluating competing claims in an ELT world dominated by Pearsoness
    ever since Chomsky’s declaration of language independence
    we’ve been arguing over how we learn a sentence
    or a word or a phrase & chunking collocations
    is the current buzz in the blogging nations

    the man from Spain says no and has no truck
    with dressing up the syllabus as product
    be where the learners are and let them decide
    is his rallying cry
    he hopes you listen to the things he’s sharing, see
    we all have a job to combat theoretical complacency

    Liked by 4 people

  9. I be Marc
    Marc I be
    I hate commercial ELT

    I will not buy it in a book
    I will not even take a look
    I hate commercial ELT
    I hate it, really, Marc I be

    I will not use it in my class
    I will not espouse it like an ass
    I hate commercial ELT
    I hate it, really, Marc I be

    I will not accept its straight white norms
    I will not accept its Focus on FormS
    I will not take the Teacher’s Book as the guide
    I will not use it for an easy ride

    I hate commercial ELT
    I hate it, really, Marc I be

    I will still listen to Hugh Dellar
    He seems a rather charming fella
    I had a look at his text
    It was not for me though I was not vexed
    I cannot feel my soul a-chiming
    With chunks or lexical priming
    It’s a bit different, I can see
    To common commercial ELT

    I won’t use Dellar & Walkley
    It’s not my thing, it’s for me

    It’s not New English File, it isn’t vile,
    Nor American Streamline, it’s no grammar mine,
    I shall neither diss not use Innovations,
    I’m not so big on collocations

    I still hate commercial ELT,
    I hate its bland hegemony,
    But I don’t hate Dellar and Walkley,
    I do not hate them, Marc I be,
    I know it’s not the thing for me

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Thanks Geoff. I can envisage what you have in mind much more clearly now. By the way, Leo Selivan posted an article by Mr Long, The EXtended One, which deals neatly with a lot of similar questions, especially the worry about pidgins forming when students perform tasks. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/annual-review-of-applied-linguistics/article/in-defense-of-tasks-and-tblt-nonissues-and-real-issues/ED5590DB727AE82E0A98AC05264B83E1
    (The only other thing I’d like to say is: I’ve started wondering whether William McGongall wasn’t actually a Teacher of Scottish as a Foreign Language)

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  11. I woke up with a fright,
    Could Dellar be right?
    Is lexis more crucial than grammar?
    Is Hoey the answer?
    Was Fowler a chancer?
    Was I wrong to stir up all this clamour?

    “Ring ring” went the phone,
    “You’re not all alone
    It’s me Mike Long here in Dallas.
    They’re all barking mad,
    It’s bunkum my lad,
    So drive on, tho you might drop the malice”.

    Liked by 6 people

  12. Hellp there Geoff –
    Thanks for this. I’ve been working my way through Teaching Lexically and I was slightly confused when I saw you write:

    This leads the authors to argue the case for a lexical approach to teaching and to state their agreement with Lewis’ (1993) view that “teaching should be centred around collocation and chunks, alongside large amount of input from texts”

    because I can’t see that claim anywhere. Which page do you think they make that claim on? My own impression is that they’re very much arguing NOT just for teaching chunks and colocations, but instead for teaching grammar with the lexis it’s often used with, and lexis with the grammar it’s often with, which seems a different proposition. Awaiting further details.

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    • Hi Daniel,

      While they devote a chapter to teaching grammar lexically, the authors are often concerned to find ways that collocations and chunks can be drawn into the grammar work. So I think they do agree with Lewis that teaching should be centred around collocation and chunks, alongside large amount of input from texts. Still, if you want to point out that the book is not exclusively about collocation and chunks, then it’s a point well made.

      Like

      • Hello again Geoff –
        Thanks for taking the time to answer. I appreciate it.

        I am, though, slightly confused by your logic, I have to say. In the section entitled TEACHING GRAMMAR LEXICALLY, Dellar and Walkley don’t really advocate teaching collocations and chunks per se. Rather, they seem to be more interested in exploring ways in which grammatical structures can be varied, which items in particular exercises are most common and how they can be exploited and explored further in class.

        In the same way, in the TEACHING VOCABULARY LEXICALLY, they persistently point out that one of the flaws with much teaching material is the lack of attention paid to the way in which words are used with grammar, so by that token, you could equally claim, couldn’t you, that they are often concerned with finding new ways to cover / recycle structural grammar? You fail to acknowledge this in your rather scathing review.

        My experience of the book thus far – and it is taking me a while to digest – is that they mostly seem concerned with teaching grammar and lexis in combination, whilst not saying that studying either structural grammar or words in isolation should NEVER be done.

        I’m not an academic; just a classroom teacher, but surely that’s quite a sensible way of approaching things, isn’t it?

        Like

      • Hi Daniel,

        My criticisms of the book under discussion are:

        1. Its view of language is inadequately described and explained.
        2. Ditto its view of language learning.
        3. Its approach to ELT runs counter to the principles of learner-centred teaching.
        4. It recommends the adoption of a product syllabus and using coursebooks.
        5. It suggests that teaching should be centred around helping students to memorise vocabulary (particularly collocations and lexical chunks) and fails to give a balanced view of how ELT can help learners develop communicative competence, as described by, Bachman, for example.
        6. It shows a poor understanding of the problems of teaching lexical chunks.

        You point out that some of the 100 worksheets offered in Part 2 of the book “don’t really advocate teaching collocations and chunks per se”, and I accept this.

        You also say that in the “Teaching Vobaulary Lexically” chapter, the authors

        persistently point out that one of the flaws with much teaching material is the lack of attention paid to the way in which words are used with grammar, so by that token, you could equally claim, couldn’t you, that they are often concerned with finding new ways to cover / recycle structural grammar?

        I suppose you could. The authors obviously think some kind of grammar teaching is in order, but it’s not clear to me how this fits in with their adoption of Hoey’s view of language. They emphasise the importance of noticing, which seems to refer to Schmidt’s construct of consciously paying attention, while Hoey uses noticing to refer to an unconscious process. Anyway, let’s assume that Dellar and Walkley think drawing learners’ attention to aspects of the grammar is a good thing. They say, however, that while a traditional coursebook will have between 20 – 30 grammar points, a lexical view of language might deal with several hundred, if not thousands, of patterns. So

        teaching grammar lexically is about teaching a greater variety of patterns and exploring them in more limited ways. …. we pay attention to actual usage – and this means think more about usage beyond the sentence level.

        I interpret these remarks, and other things they say, as meaning that their attempts to “find new ways to cover and recycle grammar” as you put it, are based on a belief that teachers should teach students how to see “chunks as grammar”; “words defining grammar: usage over rules”; colligation; and so on.

        I think it’s fair to say that right the way through the book, the authors stress that they’re concerned with the key question: How can we maximise the use of limited classroom time? Their constant reply is: spend as much time as possible on teaching lexical chunks. Whatever you’re doing, always look for opportunities to teach, revise and recycle lexical chunks.

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  13. Hello again Geoff –
    Thanks again for taking the time to answer. However, I do worry slightly that you’re very keen to return to what you see as the key flaws in Dellar and Walkley’s books, but less keen to engage with the flaws in your own review that I feel exist.

    To give but one further example, a pertinent one I feel – as it ties in with the claims you’ve repeated above . . . in your initial review, you state: “This leads the authors to argue the case for a lexical approach to teaching and to state their agreement with Lewis’ (1993) view that “teaching should be centred around collocation and chunks, alongside large amount of input from texts.” They go on:
    From this input a grasp of grammar ‘rules’ and correct usage would emerge. 

    Now, it seems to me that you’re committing what might be called a rhetorical sleight of hand here because at this point of their book, Dellar and Walkley are actually just reporting Lewis’s view. They do not mention either of these things to represent themselves (note the use of WOULD in the second quote), largely because this is NOT exactly what they seem to believe, as becomes clear through the book.

    As such, you’re basically misrepresenting their argument in order to allow you to return to what seems to be a favourite topic of yours to do with chunks, etc.

    Hope you can engage with my point here, rather than returning again to your own favoured series of criticisms.

    Like

    • Hi again Daniel,

      Well, OK. I take your point that the particular sentence that you’re concerned with was badly-written, even, yes, a rhetorical sleight of hand. In my previous reply to your comment, I tried to address your criticism by saying that I think the book’s argument follows Lewis’ argument. The authors certainly didn’t say “We agree with Lewis that teaching should be centred around collocation and chunks, alongside large amount of input from texts”, but I think it’s fair to conclude from reading the book, especially Part A, that they do,

      You’re right; they do suggest that grammar structures should be taught, but my point was that they suggest doing so in a way that reflects Lewis’ view that language is “grammaticalised lexis”. They suggest that less time should be spent on teaching the present perfect tense, for example, than on teaching the lexis that’s used with it. Teachers are encouraged to spend more classroom time helping students learn lots of lexical chunks which are (frequently) used involving the present perfect, than teaching the tense itself. That’s what I take to be the basis of “teaching Lexically”.

      Best,

      Geoff

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  14. Dear Geoff,
    I think D+W follow Hoey’s claim that priming as a default acquisition mode can explain the development of some of the competencies you list as an alternative view. It is a bold claim, and it comes across as somewhat robotic, derived from text analysis, and simplistic, no reference to states of mind (I think we checked that before, in Hoey’s main text “Lexical Priming” there is no explicit reference to implicit learning.)

    By contrast you mention “Bachman (1990) (who) suggests that rather than learning countless thousands of “Items” of language in a 6-step process, people learn languages by developing a complex set of competencies.”

    Saying that people learn by developing seems a bit circular. The question is what the process or mechanism behind the learning and developing is. I think Hoey provides hints.

    Another issue is learner centeredness. Having met H. Dellar, I think he would very much claim to be learner centered. The question is somewhat decided by the way one views language. It seems that for D+W learning a language, in simple terms, is like learning a song. You need to hear THE tune a couple times before humming along. English, if its structure is emerging through exposure, for D+W, is in the first place a body of lexical items. It seems mistaken to let students choose the tune, or the lexis, if that is precisely what they are ignorant of. I remember Dellar talk about his first opus, Innovations, where his starting point was the question “what kind of thing might my student want or need to say” and “how can I help them express their needs, wants, etc. in appropriate and efficient ways?” This guess work could be taken either way, who are you to think what others might want to do with English, or , an honest attempt of walking in other people’s shoes. Whatever the case, this was the starting point for Dellar’s lesson planning, ie. book authoring. He wants to help students do their thing by providing the means to do so.

    I fully agree that lexical teaching vrs. Krashen needs clarification. Krashen’s crusade has been directed against explicit grammar instruction. But he seems perfectly fine with a UG reading of language whereas Hoey and D+W seem to differ. Both discourage teachers to spend time teaching grammar explicitly, but for different reasons. The difference makes the difference.

    Regards,
    Thom

    Like

    • Hi Thom,

      Thanks for this My replies come after the ***s

      In Hoey’s main text “Lexical Priming” there is no explicit reference to implicit learning.
      *** Hoey’s main text makes it clear that priming refers to unconscious, implicit learning.

      Saying that people learn by developing seems a bit circular. The question is what the process or mechanism behind the learning and developing is. I think Hoey provides hints.
      *** My point of mentioning Bachman’s view of competencies was to note the number of areas that are developed, and to thus highlight the poverty of D&W’s view of language learning in comparison. To say that any item of language is learned by going through the 6 step process D&W list is to say nothing about how learners’ interlanguage develops, or how their sociolinguistic competence develops, for example.

      Another issue is learner centeredness. Having met H. Dellar, I think he would very much claim to be learner centered.
      *** He might “very much claim to be learner centred”. The question remains: does “Teaching Lexically” represent a learner-centred view of ELT?

      The question is somewhat decided by the way one views language. It seems that for D+W learning a language, in simple terms, is like learning a song. You need to hear THE tune a couple times before humming along. English, if its structure is emerging through exposure, for D+W, is in the first place a body of lexical items. It seems mistaken to let students choose the tune, or the lexis, if that is precisely what they are ignorant of.
      *** But is language learning best seen as a process analogous to learning a song? Surely that’s the crux of the matter. If D&W see ELT as involving teaching people a song, then I think they’re fundamentally mistaken. Language doesn’t have one tune, or one set of words. Maybe saying that ELT is a bit like teaching people how to sing gets closer.
      And anyway, to say that “it seems mistaken to let students choose the tune, or the lexis, if that is precisely what they are ignorant of”, is, forgive me, plain silly. Of course students can’t decide on matters that they’re ignorant of, but that’s no justification for adopting the view that education is a process of the transformation of information, especially language teaching, where the question of how declarative knowledge becomes procedural knowledge is so crucial.

      I remember Dellar talk about his first opus, Innovations, where his starting point was the question “what kind of thing might my student want or need to say” and “how can I help them express their needs, wants, etc. in appropriate and efficient ways?” This guess work could be taken either way, who are you to think what others might want to do with English, or , an honest attempt of walking in other people’s shoes. Whatever the case, this was the starting point for Dellar’s lesson planning, ie. book authoring. He wants to help students do their thing by providing the means to do so.
      *** Again, that Dellar wants to help students do their thing by providing the means to do so is not in question. What IS in question is whether he’s going about it in a way that stands up to scrutiny.

      I fully agree that lexical teaching vrs. Krashen needs clarification. Krashen’s crusade has been directed against explicit grammar instruction. But he seems perfectly fine with a UG reading of language whereas Hoey and D+W seem to differ. Both discourage teachers to spend time teaching grammar explicitly, but for different reasons. The difference makes the difference.
      *** Teaching Lexically gives scant evidence of an appreciation of either the content or the consequences of Chomsky’s theory of UG or Hoey’s lexical theory. UG is almost irrelevant to the discussion, by the way. What is relevant is that the book gives an absurd straw man version of a grammar-based view of language, and an incoherent version of Hoey’s.

      Like

      • Hi there,
        I am not sure I understand why UG claims are irrelevant in the matter. You mean they are not addressed properly or that UG does indeed have nothing to say on the issues raised by Krashen, Hoey, Dellar?

        t

        Like

      • Hi Thom,

        I meant the latter, tho maybe I should have said that UG theory doesn’t have much to do with the issues raised.

        Like

      • And then, the song analogy:
        Of course this is my analogy and D+W’s view might be very different. If somebody is fundamentally mistaken it has to be me and they are forgiven. Still, I think the analogy has more to it than metaphorical similitude, like poeple who compare the brain to computers, or closets, or streams, or whatever. Those ideas abstract a single concept and transfer it to the object at stake. But in the end, computer, closets and streams have nothing else in common with our brain. Music, on the other hand, shares the same brain/mind base. What the brain does with language it does with music as well. The point is, what can be learned about Music from a single tune of music. This, I think, is the weakspot you point out. What can be learned about Language (the system, knowledge of, etc.) from single lexical items. The fact is that becoming proficient at playing a musical instrument produces similar priming experiences, that is, a pianist can predict the development of a piece beforehand. Even sight reading of music depends on the ability to see patterns and anticipate development. The parallel to language is interesting, as music, like language, clearly shows structure, and can be described in abstract theory or the physics of sound. The question is what is their operational relationship. What is, in other words, the music acquisition device?

        It is stock in trade to develop competent performance through guided practice of given exercises (I spent 9 years with formal training. There is a parallel to leaning chunks and collocations as stepping stone. You do you scales and Etudes and standard pieces before you interpet, compose, or improvise. And I fully empathyze with students that want to skip the practice part; I did myself.) Of course, it would be an unforgivable pecado to reduce the phenomena of music to this kind of practice. Music and language are in the end about meaning, expression, even beauty.

        Thom

        Like

      • And finally on me being silly:
        “…, to say that “it seems mistaken to let students choose the tune, or the lexis, if that is precisely what they are ignorant of”, is, forgive me, plain silly. Of course students can’t decide on matters that they’re ignorant of, but that’s no justification for adopting the view that education is a process of the transformation of information, especially language teaching, where the question of how declarative knowledge becomes procedural knowledge is so crucial.”

        Defending a certain view of the nature of education was not my point. I think you see this as an unfortunate outcome of D+W take on language teaching rather than as an expression of some philosophical stand. Just to make sure as the terms justifying and adopting can suggest otherwise.

        Assuming that lexical teaching has students “deal, process, meet, use….” frequent, typical, and pertient language samples with the assumption that in so doing the language “sticks” (or words are getting associated–primed) is not an exercise in passing on information IF information is to mean here conceptual content, as in passing on information about the French Revolution. I do not announce to my students “dear friends, today we will collocate the word time. The word time is the most frequent word in the English language, etc.” This would indeed be silly. Rather, the aim is with time and exposure, with frequent engagement, strings of words cluster and form alas our notorious collocations. The choice factor, where I state that students are ignorant, comes in with the choice filters frequent, typical and pertinent. This is something language students do not know and the teacher steps in. It is the typical question “Profesor, como puedo decir ‘me da lata’ en inglés?”

        Regards,
        Thom

        Like

      • Hi Thom,

        A learner centred approach to ELT doesn’t involve asking learners to make decisions about things they know nothing about. Neither does adopting the view that education is a process of the transformation of information involve going into class and announcing to your students “dear friends, today we will collocate the word time”. 🙂

        A learner centred approach to ELT involves asking learners to participate in making important decisions about content, sequencing, classroom activities, group work, the roles of teachers and students, correction, feedback, and homework, for example. The teacher is the boss, and the expert. The students must feel in safe, competent hands. The idea is that learners feel that they are involved in decisions about what goes on during the course, that they have a say, that they feel ownership of the course, and that they therefore commit themselves more, feel more motivated, make more effort, learn more.

        Viewing education as a process of the transformation of information involves a teacher in Buenos Aires, for example, using a coursebook like Outcomes (written by D&W in London) to define the syllabus in advance, and to thus dictate most of the course content. The teacher assumes that D&W can correctly predict the needs of the particular group of local students in the class, and that following the book’s pre-determined sequence of texts, activities and explicit instruction is the best way to help her students improve their proficiency in English.

        Like

  15. I have not read ‘Teaching Lexically’ so can’t comment on that. But (Geoff Jordan) you keep repeating the line that Hoey thinks noticing is unconscious. Unless I missed it, I can’t recall him ever saying or writing that. Isn’t the argument for that in our L1 /L2 we could not possibly learn the priming of every word consciously? Some of it must be acquired in an unconscious manner. Regards, Chris

    Like

      • Hi Geoff,
        Yes but does Hoey state that noticing is ‘ unconscious’? I don’ t think he does. You state this to make a criticism of ‘Teaching Lexically’ ie they adhere to his views on priming but advocate conscious noticing, in contradiction of Hoey.
        Regards,
        Chris

        Like

      • Hi Chris,

        Actually, he says “subconscious”. See below for an excerpt of his article in MED, which you can read here: http://www.macmillandictionaries.com/MED-Magazine/January2009/52-LA-LexicalPriming.htm

        In any case, it’s`obvious that Hoey is talking about implicit, not explicit learning. Hoey made it clear in his plenary at the 2014 IATEFL conference that he supports Krashen’s view of the very limited role that “learning” (consciously noticing aspects of input) plays in SLA (see my comments here: https://criticalelt.wordpress.com/sla/krashen-1-newsflash-hoey-well-monitor-theory-and-lexical-approach-still-dead/). As it happens, I disagree with both Hoey’s and Krashen’s theories, but D&W don’t make their own position clear. The question for D&W is: How can explicit teaching possibly cover all the things that Hoey says we subconsciously notice and store in long term memory, and how can explicit teaching ensure that even the small percentage of items covered are covered in such a way that they become part of the learner’s procedural knowledge?

        Here’s the Hoey quote:

        “According to this view, every time speakers encounter a word or phrase, they store it along with all the words that accompanied it and with a note of the kind of context it was found in – spoken / written, colloquial / formal, friendly / hostile, and so on. Bit by bit, they begin to build up a collection of examples of the word or phrase in its contexts, and subconsciously start to notice that these contexts have some pattern to them. More specifically, whenever a native speaker encounters a word, he or she makes a mental note, quite subconsciously, of:

        • the words it occurs with
        • the grammatical patterns it occurs in
        • the meanings with which it is associated.

        They also make a subconscious note of:

        • whether it is used to be polite (or rude)
        • what kind of style it tends to occur in
        • whether it occurs more often in speech or writing
        • whether the speaker is someone younger or older.”

        Like

      • Hi again,
        Just to be sure, priming per se cannot be learned. Rather, frequent co-occurances of words lead to memory traces to the degree that one item can trigger another. Words obviously do not come with inherent priming. Words are being primed. The learning would correspond to efforts to experience frequent, meaningful, and attention grabbing co-occurances, as in listening to the same song over and over until you can’t hep but finish the line. Teaching would correspond to “accompanying” the brain in what it does well. I think that is partially the secret of poetry: highly structured language that is meaningful, attractive, and thus memorable.

        Hoey’s treatment of priming is incomplete, and I think he uses terms that are unfortunate, like the conscious – subconscious issue. Unfortunate, because they are ill defined and quickly lead to confusion: (“There may be as many definitions of implicit learning as there are researchers in the field,…” Luis Jiménez (2003) ‘Intention, attention, and consciousness in probabilistic sequence learning’ in Attention and Implicit Learning; “Unconscious perception is perhaps the oldest and most controversial area within experimental psychology” James A. Debner and Larry L. Jacoby Journal of Experimental Psychology 1994, vol.20, Nº2; “the central issue of the extent to which information processing can occur in the absence of conscious awareness remains as controversial today as it was 35 years ago” (12), Destrebecqz, Arnaud, and Axel Cleeremans (2001) ‘Can sequence learning be implicit? New evidence with the process dissociation procedure.’ Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. 8, 343-350. Rieder (2003) counts five possible ways of defining conscious, Angelika Rieder (2003) ‘Implicit and explicit learning in incidental vocabulary acquisition’ VIEWS 12:2, 24-39. McLaughlin would discard the terms conscious or unconscious learning altogether. He concludes his review of the debate, somewhat dated, saying that “it comes down to personal prejudice whether one stresses conscious or unconscious processes” (1990) ‘Conscious versus Unconscious learning’ TESOL Quarterly. 24:4, 617-632.)

        I think where Hoey does not go wrong is in his text analysis. Words do what they do in plain sight. I think Hoey sees clearly. The sight has become clearer as computers help our pattern detection efforts and we end up with descriptions like Susan Hunston’s Pattern Grammar. The artifact is there. The question is how did it come about. Whatever the brain does when it re-creates the artifact it must have a keen liking for patterns.

        Regards,

        Thom

        Like

      • Hi Thom,

        I quite agree: implicit / explicit, conscious / subconscious, etc are extremely vexed terms. Here’s a bit more from the same McLaughlin article,

        “Lacking an adequate theory of mind that allows us to decide that particular mental states or operations are “conscious” or “unconscious,” one cannot falsify claims regarding consciousness in second language learning” (McLaughlin, 1990: 617).

        As you know he thinks we should use the 2 constructs of “controlled” and “automatic” processing. Controlled processing requires attention, and humans’ capacity for it is limited; automatic processing does not require attention, and takes up little or no processing capacity. The L2 learner begins the process of acquisition of a particular aspect of the L2 by relying heavily on controlled processing; through practice the learner’s use of that aspect of the L2 becomes automatic.

        Well, there are problems with that too, of course. Anyway, it seems clear to me that Hoey’s theory involves acquiring huge amounts of knowledge about how words are used together which provide an impossible task for explicit teaching, and hence D&W’s insistence that explicit vocabulary teaching is the main job of (classroom) teachers of EFL is so questionable.

        I agree: Hoey’s text analysis looks very persuasive indeed.

        Like

  16. I think, Geoff, you might either be being either a bit disingenuous or simply missing the point a bit about these six ‘steps’ (as you report them in this review). I don’t know if everyone has read the actual book here, and of course you could argue that saying there are six steps involved in learning bits of language is an oversimplification. However, haven’t you ignored the fact that they are presented and referred to a different points in Part A as ‘steps’ that most methodologies and approaches share? I mean, they’re not presented as ideas exclusive to Dellar and Walkley. Their aim, I think, is to provide some kind of framework for comparing different methodologies and approaches. Right after the bit you quote in your review, the authors say:

    “Most of the principles outlined above are largely undisputed, but the millions of pages spent on such limited principles are testament to the fact that debates do remain. In particular, there is much disagreement about:
    – the very nature of language itself
    – what language to teach
    – whether we can actually teach and learn language – or whether it’s acquired.
    – the order in which to teach the language we choose
    – the ways of fulfilling each principle of how to learn that language
    – the relative importance of each principle.

    I guess this is why they do not state before what the item of language is, but we have already talked about what D+W see as items, so let’s leave that.

    What I have been wondering about these steps is. though, if they do actually feature in most methodologies? Should they? I was wondering if they fit at all for Krashen as an extreme example. Couldn’t the meaning step be his i+1? Obviously hearing or seeing in context is important because Krashen is big on exposure. Paying attention? Does that work for Krashen? Is the monitor a kind of paying attention? I think he does argue for some explicit teaching helping sometimes, right? Doing something with the language? I guess Krashen argues you shouldn’t to begin with so maybe that doesn’t fit his theory . . . and repeating the steps in different contexts over time? Well, I guess that comes through, for example, the extensive reading. What about the approximating sounds? I haven’t read enough Krashen to know. So maybe these steps don’t exactly fit his theory, but they do kind of. Where they don’t fit, maybe that shows a deficit in Krashen’s theory!

    Anyway, as a classroom teacher, I’m struggling to see what I would want to leave out here. Don’t most of these six parts of learning feature in TBL too? Are you suggesting some of these steps are irrelevant to learning a language? if so, which ones do you feel don’t need to happen?

    Like

    • Hi Daniel,

      I say in the review that I think D&W’s account of language learning is inadequate. It doesn’t deal adequately with important questions like interlanguage development, the role of explicit and implicit learning, how declarative knowledge becomes procedural knowledge, and the roles of input and output, for example. There are passing references to the problems of teaching bits of language in a pre-determined order, but none of them deals seriously with the issues. If you look at other books on ELT – Richards and Rogers, Carter and Nunan, even Scrivener – they give a far more serious view of language learning, and establish a much better framework for their discussion of pedagogical matters.

      As for the 6 step process itself, I don’t see much evidence of this being used as a framework for comparing different methodologies and approaches. The only methodology they compare their own to is a ridiculous straw man grammar-based approach. What D&W do is use their flimsy 6 step process as a framework for the rest of the book, which is one reason why, in my opinion, the book is so bad.

      Your quote from D&W says “Most of the principles outlined above are largely undisputed”. Are they principles? If they are, how could anyone dispute them? They’re too vague to mean very much. And yes, they list a series of important questions; the trouble is they make very little attempt to answer them. The whole thing is hopelessly light and flimsy, as if there were no need for any proper discussion of their series of assertions.

      Krashen would certainly disagree with just about everything this book recommends. As you know, he thinks that there’s very little place for explicit teaching, whereas D&W suggest that teachers spend a great deal of time explicitly teaching collocations and lexical chunks. As a classroom teacher, I suggest that you see your job as helping your students to engage in a range of tasks that involve meaningful communication. Implicit learning is still the default mechanism in SLA (although there is, of course, an important place for focus on form). The more you can involve your students in the decisions affecting what and how things happen, the better. At the very least, hold regular feedback sessions. Use local materials not a coursebook. SLA research strongly suggests that dialogue, interaction, and the negotiation of meaning, sparked by written and spoken texts which are relevant to your students’ context, are more important than teaching vocabulary.

      Good luck, and thanks for shooting the breeze with me here.

      Best,

      Geoff

      Like

  17. notice that you keep calling the idea that there’s a grammar + words way of approaching teaching English a “straw man argument” Geoff. I’m not sure what you mean by this. Do you mean that you don’t believe that this IS actually the way that many teachers approach their teaching or what? I must say, my experience is that all the biggest-selling coursebooks fit this very strongly: they’re all based around the kind of presentation-practice-production stage of discrete grammar structures and matching words to meanings / pictures, etc. and that plenty of teachers – hey, even whole schools and possible countries are very much rooted in this way of thinking about language. I mean, a school I once worked in in Malta told me on day one that they follow “the Headway plus Murphy’s approach”! Given this, I don’t get why you think it’s a straw man argument to claim this way of thinking dominates.

    From what I’ve understood from reading Teaching Lexically so far, they seem to be suggesting that there are problems with this (dominant) way of teaching and that we’d be better off looking at the grammar and other words that go with words, where we can; and that the biggest problems students have with grammar are less to do with understanding basic form and meaning, and more to do with knowing how to use the structures with relevant vocabulary when speaking. Do you think they’re wrong about this?

    If so, I’m not clear what your point i. Are you suggesting it’s OK to just teach words in isolation, without collocates or examples? And are you supporting the PPP approach so many coursebooks have? Or do you just refuse to believe that this is how things actually are in many classrooms? Hope you help clear up my confusion here.

    Like

    • Hi Rose,

      As I say in the review, this is how D&W describe the grammar + words approach:

      1. The examples used to illustrate grammar are relatively unimportant. …It doesn’t matter if an example used to illustrate a rule could not easily (or ever) be used in daily life.

      2. If words are to fit in the slots provided by grammar, it follows that learning lists of single words is all that is required, and that any word can effectively be used if it fits a particular slot.

      3.Naturalness, or the probable usage of vocabulary, is regarded as an irrelevance; students just need to grasp core meanings.

      4.Synonyms are seen as being more or less interchangeable, with only subtle shades of meaning distinguishing them.

      This is a straw man version of current grammar + word approaches as exemplified in coursebooks like Headway, English File, and even Murphy English Grammar in Use. All of these reject all 4 of these assumptions, which I’m sure they’d consider preposterous. If you look at the latest edition of Headway Intermediate Or English File Intermediate , you’ll see that they pay attention to collocation, frequency, lexical chunks and formulaic language. If you look at Innovations Intermediate, D&W’s coursebook, there are a great many similarities with the coursebooks D&W criticise. I’m against using coursebooks as the main tool driving classroom teaching, whether it be informed by a “grammar + words” approach or “from words with words to grammar”.

      Liked by 1 person

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