Against Walkley and Dellar’s Lexical Approach

Theories of Language 

1. Walkley and Dellar offer no coherent account of language.  They talk about two opposing views. The first view, the “wrong” one, is that “language can be reduced to a list of grammar structures that you can drop single words into.”  This is called the “grammar + words” view; it’s described  on page 9 of Teaching Lexically and subsequently referred to dozens of times throughout the book. The description is a derelict misrepresentation of grammar models of the English language such as those found in Quirk et.al. (1985), or Swan (2001), which describe the structure of English in terms of grammar, the lexicon and phonology.

2. The second view , the “right” one, is an attempt to summarise 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 a 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. As Hoey himself  points out,

If this view of language is correct, if grammar and semantics are post-hoc effects of the way lexical items have been primed, … there is no right or wrong in language. It makes little sense to talk of something being ungrammatical. All one can say is that a lexical item or items are used in a way not predicted by your priming…. everybody’s language is truly unique, in that all our lexical items are primed differently as a result of different encounters.

3. Few linguists or teachers accept such a view. 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 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, and they do so by making use of, among other things, grammatical knowledge. Walkley and Dellar acknowledge the importance of grammar, indicating some limits to their adherence to Hoey’s model, but they nowhere clarify these limits.

4. While Walkley and Dellar repeatedly stress that their different view of language is what drives their approach to teaching, they fail to offer any  coherent account of “a lexical view of language”.

Theories of Language Learning 

5. Walkley and Dellar offer no coherent account of how people learn an L2: no examination or evaluation of theories of SLA is attempted.

5. Hoey’s Lexical Priming Theory is adopted without any proper description or evaluation being attempted. The bare claim is made that when we learn a lexical item, it becomes primed for collocation, grammatical category, semantic associations and colligation, and that’s how we learn language.

6. When one looks at serious attempts by Nick Ellis and others to develop a theory of language learning based on usage and statistical learning, where priming  is an integrated component, the inadequacies of Walkley and Dellar’s “explanation” are particularly apparent.

There is need for a detailed theoretical analysis of the processes of explicit and implicit learning. What can be learned implicitly? If implicit learning is simply associationist learning and the induction of statistical regularities, what aspects of language can be so acquired? Just how modular and inaccessible are the implicit learning processes for language acquisition? What are the various mechanisms of explicit learning that are available to the language learner? If the provision of explicit rules facilitates, or is Implicit AND Explicit Learning necessary for, the acquisition of certain forms, what are the appropriate nature of these rules? What are the developmental paths of implicit and explicit learning abilities? Are there sensitive periods for implicit language acquisition?  (N. Ellis, 2015, p.2)

7. Instead of stating a coherent view of (second) language learning, Walkley and Dellar offer 6 “principles of learning”, which aren’t principles at all. They say:

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

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

We’re not told what “an item” of language is, though there must be tens of thousands of them, or how they all get learned in this 6-step process.

8. Note that the key Step 4 is bolted on to Hoey’s explanation of language learning. Hoey says Krashen’s distinction between acquisition and learning is correct: explicit learning only functions as a monitor, and priming is the unconscious process through which language acquisition happens. Walkley and Dellar turn to Schmidt for the “paying attention and noticing” bit of priming, but they fail to explain how Schmidt’s hypothesis works inside the framework of Hoey’s theory.

Teaching Lexically  

9. Teaching Lexically involves using a product (Breen, 1987) or synthetic (Long, 2015) syllabus, and  “doing things to learners” (Breen, 1987). In Teaching Lexically, teachers make all the decisions. They work with a pre-confected syllabus and students are expected to learn the “items” that the teacher selects by going through the 6 stages listed above.

10. The goal is to teach lots of lexical chunks. The chapters in Part B of Teaching Lexically 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.

11. Walkley and Dellar promote the view that education is primarily concerned with the transmission of information. In doing so, they run counter to the principles of learner-centred teaching where students are seen as learners whose needs and opinions have to be continuously sought out and acted upon.

12. Walkley and Dellar take an extreme interventionist position on teaching. The language is divided into items, small numbers of which are presented to learners via various types of texts, and practised 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. Most of class time is given over to explicit teaching.

13. Translation into the L1 is regarded as the best way of dealing with meaning. Compare this to an approach that sees the negotiation of meaning as a key aspect of language teaching so the lesson is conducted mainly in the L2. This is only to say that while using the L1 can be helpful, it should be done sparingly.

14. Walkley and Dellar see explicit learning and explicit teaching as paramount, and they assume that explicit knowledge can be converted into implicit knowledge through practice. These assumptions 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).

15. 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.

16. Learners of English as an L2 require knowledge of about 5000 word families for adequate comprehension of speech and 9000 for reading. Since there clearly isn’t enough time to handle that many items in class, massive amounts of extensive reading outside class, scaffolded by teachers, should be encouraged.

17. As for lexical chunks, there are 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? Walkley and Dellar give no satisfactory answer to the question.   The general line is: 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.

18. Walkley and Dellar 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.  They simply assume that by going through the 6 step process, and devoting a great deal of time to Step 4, the explicit teaching will turn into implicit knowledge and communicative competence. 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.

Discussion 

19. One of the most important questions confronting those designing English as an L2 courses is this:

What proportion of class time (from 0% to 100%) should be devoted to a focus on the L2 as object and what proportion on the L2 as a medium of communication, given that both are necessary parts of any ELT course?

In my reply to Walkly, I quoted  Wong, Gil and Marsden (2014) who concluded that, despite other differences, most SLA researchers agreed on the relative importance of the roles of implicit and explicit learning.

“Implicit learning is more basic and more important  than explicit learning, and superior.  Access to implicit knowledge is automatic and fast, and is what underlies listening comprehension, spontaneous  speech, and fluency. It is the result of deeper processing and is more durable as a result, and it obviates the need for explicit knowledge, freeing up attentional resources for a speaker to focus on message content”.

20. While research shows that explicit instruction can have beneficial results, nobody who has studied instructed SLA recommends devoting most of classroom time to it. There are greater gains to be made in interlanguage development by concentrating on activities which help implicit knowledge than by concentrating on the presentation and practice of bits and pieces of language. Activities which develop the learners’ ability to make meaning in the L2, through exposure to comprehensible input, participation in discourse, and implicit or explicit feedback should take up the majority of classroom time.

21. We know that teaching is, as Long (2015) puts it, “subject to the learner’s cognitive ‘veto’” but we can still manipulate the linguistic environment so as to affect whether implicit or explicit learning takes place. We can choose the type of input to which learners are exposed, the relevance of the input to the learner’s needs, the sequence and salience of linguistic features within that input, and the tasks we give learners. Some tasks, like dictation, oral drills, written fill-in-the-blanks exercises,  focus on language as object and encourage intentional and explicit language learning. Others, like “solving a problem through small group discussion, reading an interesting story, or repairing a bicycle while watching a ‘how-to’ video on YouTube”, to give Long’s examples, encourage a focus on meaning and communication, and in the process create opportunities for incidental learning.  Our decisions about how to manipulate the linguistic environment should, I suggest, be made in a principled way that respects what we know about the process of SLA, and reflects our pedagogical principles.

22. For the reasons discussed above, my argument is that Walkley and Dellar’s views are mistaken, misguided, and misleading. They give no adequate account of language or of language learning, and they promote an approach to teaching which is unlikely to be efficient in helping learners develop communicative competence or to achieve a functional command of the L2.

References

Breen, M. (1987) Contemporary Paradigms in Syllabus Design, Part 2. Language Teaching, 20, 2.

Ellis, N. (2015) Implicit AND Explicit Language Learning: Their dynamic interface and complexity
In Rebuschat (Ed.). Implicit and explicit learning of languages (pp. 3-23). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Long, M. (2015) SLA and TBLT. Wiley.

Swan, M. (12005) Practical English Usage. London, Longmans.

Quirk, Randolph and Greenbaum, Sidney and Leech, Geoffrey and Svartvik, Jan. (1985) A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. London: Longman.

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57 thoughts on “Against Walkley and Dellar’s Lexical Approach

    • Yes, you’re right Mura; thanks.

      I saw Hoey’s name at the top, and of course it’s very much Hoey’s (beguiling, very polished) style. I’ve edited the offending bit, but I should perhaps have gone on to say that Hoey gives a detailed answer to the problems he raises.

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  1. Don’t Dellar and Walkley’s ideas apply to the 25% of a course that should be devoted to instructed SLA? (I’m thinking about Nation’s 4 strands here – Learning Vocabulary in Another Language). Within that slice of class time, Dellar and Walkley are merely seeking to redress the balance in an overly grammaticised syllabus and introduce an element of learner training too.

    I’ve always thought that encouraging learners to “notice” language features is a way of speeding up natural acquisition processes. Studies have shown that learners who get explicit instruction do better – Norris & Ortega (2000) – though I realise this is old scholarship now! Have their findings in that meta-study been overturned?

    I agree with you (and Long) that both implicit and explicit processes are important, but if the former assist the latter in any way – and I suppose that’s what needs to be demonstrated – then there’s nothing wrong with raising awareness the patterns in lexis, just as we do with the patterns in grammar.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Neil,

      My argument is that Dellar and Walkley over-emphasise the explicit teaching of lexical chunks. Of course encouraging learners to notce language features is important; the studies showing the benefits of certain kinds of explicit instruction are still relevant; and explicit instruction assists implicit learning. Furthermore, the argument for blurring the distinction between grammar and lexis is a very powerful one (if not well-expressed by Dellar or Walkley) and there’s good reason to raise awareness of the patterns of lexis.

      My criticism is that there are better ways of doing all this than those proposed by Dellar and Walkley. Don’t use a synthetic / product syllabus; don’t use a coursebook; don’t spend so much time teaching the language as object. Do a needs analysis; involve the students more in decisions about what and how to learn; and spend most of classroom time working through pedagogic tasks that focus on implicit learning.

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      • Hi Geoff

        Thanks for your reply. I didn’t notice it, so some of what I have to say is written below. Textbooks are just a compromise. Of course, Long’s approach is one we would all take in an ideal world – with the right teacher training.

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      • needs analysis here is tricky given the potentially varied backgrounds of the learners, e.g. i may be interested in exploring why the otaku (Japanese men who worship teenage idols) find it preferable to devote themselves to teenage girls rather than seek out relationships with other mature women, while you, may have no interest in psycho-sexual-social phenomena of this sort. so how do we compromise on the selection of tasks? in a larger class it would be ‘rather’ difficult to find tasks relevant to everyone’s needs and interest, you think?

        also, we would need to focus on form at the end of tasks, and the syllabus and resultant language items that emerge would perhaps not be appropriate for all the learners. if we start from the assumption that all learners follow a similar developmental path, then determining where each student finds themselves on that route seems daunting.

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  2. Long’s point about the value of analytic syllabuses is hard to take issue with! Even if teachers and trainers accept this, the step from a textbook-based learning programme to one composed only of texts and tasks is a big one, and there is little practical support out there about how to go about this.

    Beginner teachers usually don’t have the language awareness (or knowledge of SLA) to cope with designing such a syllabus. Teachers who do have this knowledge usually been promoted out of the classroom years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Coursebook-driven ELT only really started in the 1990s. Before then, teachers got on perfectly well without them, and today there are thousands of teachers who don’t use them. I find the argument that you can’t expect beginner teachers to do anything else than use a coursebook truly depressing.
      We don’t HAVE to put up with the way things are: we can and should change teacher training, particularly the CELTA and equivalent courses. and we can and should refuse to use general English coursebooks.

      Liked by 2 people

      • It’s being tried in some places – there’s Anthony Gaughan’s “unplugged” CELTA, for example, and another I know of which is based mostly on texts and tasks. Imagining and writing these programmes seems as though it would be a huge feat, and I’d love to work on one to see it done at first hand.

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    • Hi Alexandra,

      You succeeded where many have been less successful! Did you learn English only in classroom-based courses? If so, very well done!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Hello,
        I can’t recall a course which wasn’t based on a coursebook. I haven’t been to an English speaking country since 2000, there are no English native speakers I could talk to. Coursbooks are my teachers. No the only” teachers” but I use them a lot to improve my English, enrich my vocabulary. I would describe my learning more as explicit learning which has found its path to implicit learning.

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      • Hi Aleksandra,

        Very interesting, thanks for this. A few questions:

        How long have you spent living in English-speaking countries?
        Do you read a lot in English?
        How do you use the coursebooks? To revise vocab and grammar? Do the listening exercises?
        Are you as fluent and proficient in oral communication as you are in writing?
        Do you get any opportunities to use English in work / hobbies, etc?
        What do you attribute your success in learning English to?

        Rather than reply here , maybe you’d like to write a guest post for this blog? I extend the invitation to all those, including Ljiljans, Hana, Marek, and other bloggers, who’ve reached a high level of proficiency in English to reflect on how you learned, especialy in relation to the role of explicit and implicit learning.

        Liked by 4 people

  3. thanks for another interesting and thought-provoking post

    following aleksandra’s comment, it seems that there are many learners who become fairly proficient users by studying in classroom-based courses and following a synthetic syllabus. would you say that they learn in spite of the instruction?

    and just curious as to how one can know that explicit knowledge is not related to implicit knowledge? these are complex psychological constructs and are inextricably linked with memory, so i wonder how this is studied and how precise we can be when making such claims?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Derek,

      I’d say that those who studied in classroom-based courses following a synthetic syllabus and became proficient probably learned a lot outside the classroom.

      As for explicit and implicit knowledge, I don’t think the claim is that they’re not related, but that they’re separate processes and systems located in different parts of the brain. Long’s quote comes supported by a reference to Nick Ellis (2008) “Implicit and Explicit Knowledge about Language” (Google it and you can download a pdf file) where he says

      In Brain Science, neuropsychological investigations of the results of brain damage demonstrated that different areas of the brain are specialized in their function and that there are clear separations between areas involved in explicit learning and memory and those involved in implicit learning and memory (A.W. Ellis and Young, 1988). Explicit learning is supported by neural systems in the prefrontal cortex involved in attention, the conscious apperception of stimuli, and working memory; the consolidation of explicit memories involves neural systems in the hippocampus and related limbic structures. In contrast, implicit learning and memory are localized, among other places, in various areas of perceptual and motor cortex”.

      While there’s lots of disagreement among SLA scholars of generative, processing and usage-based orientations, there’s general agreement about the distinction between implicit and explicit learning and knowledge. I should add, in the same tone, that while I think it’s safe to claim that implicit learning is the default mode in second language acquisition, and that therefore the use of a synthetic syllabus and a PPP methodology is very inefficient in instructed SLA, when I personally read the literature on this, I think that there’s still some way to go before they get all the constructs sorted out and before the theories they’re still working on allow them to make clear, precise, empirically testable claims.

      Liked by 2 people

      • “I’d say that those who studied in classroom-based courses following a synthetic syllabus and became proficient probably learned a lot outside the classroom.”

        I totally agree and add that they DO actually learn a lot outside the classroom. Especially nowadays that you have so many opportunities to be exposed to English and use it (Youtube, game communities, etc.). Among my students, from teens to adults, we can easily identify the students that are better at English because they listen to music, watch tv series and movies, read their favorite web pages, etc all in English. As an example, I have two college students. Student 1 is obsessed with grammar and vocabulary and does all the exercises in the workbook, and student 2 never does any grammar and vocabulary exercises in the workbook. Student 2 believes that he learns English by trying to communicate, he is not afraid of making mistakes, in fact, he learns from it. He also sees the importance of having loads of exposure to English. Student 1, on the other hand, thinks that he WILL become better at English if he studies grammar and vocabulary. I say will, because he keeps making the same mistakes and that drives him crazy. He does not understand how student 2 can communicate better than him without doing his homework and studying grammar/voc like he does. I have a bunch of students who communicate really well in English and are not crazy about grammar or enjoy grammar exercises.

        I haven’t seen students that only study the book to really achieve much. And we have many who join the course expecting it to be enough. It is never just about words and grammar. I make sure my students reflect on their beliefs and why they are learning a language, and understand that it won’t happen just because they travel for an exchange program in a speaking English country ( I lived 4 years in England) or studying with a native speaker (4 years of total exposure to them). It takes years to achieve proficiency, lots of exposure and willingness to become a speaker of another language. I had a friend who never got past the elementary level and she was married to an English man!

        Those who become proficient don’t just study grammar and vocabulary books. They communicate and use what they learn in the real world, even if just to watch movies, listen to music or read online and learn from their experiences outside the classroom. I’ve had students who had never taken a class before joining our course but had practiced on their own watching videos and achieved amazing speaking skills. We are always using/learning a language. In fact, I don’t think we will ever stop learning it unless one has achieved a level in which they hardly ever makes mistakes. That is true even for the first language. Using language (the standard one at least) accurately requires a lot of effort for those not exposed to it since birth. We have a lot of that discussion in Brazil about Brazilians using Portuguese correctly. In schools, they have classes of grammar and more grammar rules, but that doesn’t make them better at writing in Portuguese or proficient communicators.

        Emanuel was born in Brazil and is 7. He has never studied grammar, yet, his English rocks. My husband’s English has improved in contact with Emanuel! He does correct us if we make pronunciation mistakes. I usually have to remind him not to do that to others though. But to mom and dad is okay! He assessed my English and said I’m “REALLY” good at it (his emphasis), but his father needs to improve it! Imagine my husband’s face when he said that “he was okay”.

        Language learning is an interesting journey and one that is not transferable from one person to another. THIS I know for sure.

        A lesson I learned from Fanselow is to always challenge my beliefs.
        And from YOU, GEOFF, I learned the importance of research. THANK YOU!

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      • Hi Rose,
        Thanks very much for this. It looks as if both Ljiljana and Aleksandra are going to write posts for this blog. Do you fancy tweeking these 2 comments a bit and doing a post?

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      • Just for the record, when I lived in England my English was better than the guy who was a native speaker and assisted my ex-husband with the business letters. 😉 When I came back to Brazil, I took a test and scored about 80% in grammar and vocabulary. Took the advanced course and then the TOEFL. Passed in both! I never aimed at native-like level though. But that might be because in London I was exposed to people from all over the world so I never felt the pressure to speak like an English person.

        In Brazil schools advert that students will become fluent in two! Some students think that they will be able to pass a TOEFL after 4 years of taking a course. Geeh, although I lived 4 in England and I was not ready for a TOEFL exam. So all this advertising around English teaching worries me as they don’t reflect the real journey one takes to learn a foreign language. And a teacher of English is not a role model as we have rehearsed grammar and vocabulary in the classroom over and over again. Our students will never have the same level of contact with English that a teacher does. I know students who use the language well but wouldn’t know how to explain to you the grammar they’ve just used, just like my 7-year-old Emanuel.

        Liked by 1 person

      • hi Geoff,

        thanks for the link. it’s quite dense but interesting.

        so the key for a sla researcher, then, is to work out the processes of implicit and explicit learning and how this is stored in the brain, right? and perhaps a clear description of language.

        from the usage-based orientation, classroom practice would be guided by communication, which would leave traces in memory. these traces are then recycled by teacher to aid memory and long-term store. teachers job is to revisit these traces, strengthening the connections and perhaps clarifying new form-meaning pairings. through affordances and authentic use, language constructions are learned and eventually linguistic competence is created (emerges) by abstracting regularities out of the history of use? it’s that last step that sounds a bit magical. but no more so than a processing approach that suggests that explicit knowledge can become implicit knowledge (or can it? — i see that these systems have different processes, but it’t not clear how this works)

        thanks again

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      • Hi Derek,

        I agree, the text is “quite dense”. Just BTW, I’m using “quite” there to mean “rather” (British English) not “very” (American English).

        One area SLA researchers are interested in is implicit and explicit learning; there are quite a few others.

        Those who are developing usage-based theories of language learning don’t say that much about implications for ELT, though Nick Eliis has said a bit. What’s more, those who adopt different (processing or generative) approaches have different views about the implications for ELT, but, as I said in the post, despite disagreements, there’s general consensus that implicit learning is the default mode of language learning.

        I think your description of the effects of teacher intevention in ISLA reflect ideas of emergentists quite well – the magical bit being the kicker. As for those who adopt the processing view, they’d have to present to you their different positions on the interface between explicit and implicit learning & knowledge.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Geoff,
    Thanks for a great idea! I’d love to write a guest post for your blog. I’d also like to read about Aleksandra’s and other teachers’ reflections on how they learned English especially in relation to the role of explicit and implicit learning.

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  5. Starting from the belligerent tone of the title (Against…), your post is a hotchpotch of unfounded arguments, contradictory statements and logical fallacies distorting the book you’ve chosen to critique (or criticize) AND SLA research on the subject. To use your own words, it’s a derelict misrepresentation of both.

    Contradictions in your arguments are so blatant that it baffles brains. No wonder you opted for a numbered lists rather than continuous prose which would make for a more coherent narrative. Let’s take some of your arguments (in no particular order):

    (10) “The goal is to teach lots of lexical chunks”. Well, duh! It’s a book on lexical chunks. I recently bought a book called Interaction Online by Lindsey Clandfield & Jill Hadfield and was surprised to find that its goal is to promote online interaction. Silly me! What was I hoping to find? Low FODMAPs recipes for IBS sufferers? And any sane person would expect a book on speaking to be full of speaking activities whose goal would be getting students to speak in order to improve their speaking. I wonder if you would level the same criticism at a book on, say, pronunciation – that it’s driven by the same over-arching aim of improving pronunciation. Probably not, but more on that later…

    You then point out that the authors propose to integrate work on lexical chunks into speaking, reading, listening etc. That contradicts your claim (12) that most class time according to the authors should be devoted to explicit teaching. If the authors distribute lexical focus across the four skills, explicit teaching probably amounts to 25% of class time that Neil referred to in his comment, which you carefully skirted around.

    Going back to (10). Research shows that coursebooks do not provide sufficient recycling of vocabulary, yet you manage to find fault with the author’s pertinent suggestion that lexis that has been taught should be re-introduced.

    Your next beef with the book (11) is that it’s not learner-centred and learners’ “needs and opinions have to be continuously sought out and acted upon”. How do you envisage that in the context of, say, clarifying meaning of a new lexical item? By asking learners for their opinion about what a new lexical chunk might mean? Or what would learners like it to mean? “Do you think ‘keep an eye’ means to look after / watch something or to gouge someone’s eye out and keep it as a souvenir?” Learners prefer the latter – it’s funnier. “Let’s go with that meaning then.” Do you see how absurd this is?

    However, the main problem with your scathing critique of Dellar’s and Walkley’s work in general and this book in particular is that you treat all SLA research as if it’s ALL about second language acquisition of grammar – SLAG. You then use arguments from SLAG research to slag off the authors whose book straddles the line between vocabulary and grammar. Walkley and Dellar, following Michael Lewis (1993, 1997) propose to treat a lot of traditional grammar as lexical items. Surely you should also be looking to the research on L2 vocabulary learning – let’s refer to it as SLAV. A vast amount of SLAV research not only points to the need for explicit instruction but actually actively encourages it, complete with drills, memorization, exercises and all the that you bitterly disparage (12). I wouldn’t even bother to provide citations here but you (and the readers you’re trying to mislead) are welcome to look at anything Paul Nation, Batia Laufer or Norbert Schmitt have ever written.

    (16) You claim that massive exposure is necessary. Indeed, this exposure needs to be truly massive for incidental learning to take place – a book a week according to Nation and Wang‘s (1999) estimates, which Waring and Takaki (2003) reckon may not be sufficient. This is more than most people read in their L1. That is why explicit teaching of vocabulary (including lexical chunks), or form-focused vocabulary instruction, if you like, is paramount. I’ll quote Laufer (2003) on the matter:

    “Since task oriented teaching materials cannot ensure the necessary reoccurrence of words, those materials should be supplemented with word focused practice where the words are the object of learning.”

    She also goes on to argue very convincingly that it is perfectly legitimate and justified to treat language as an object of study as far as vocabulary learning is concerned (that’s as far as your points 19 & 21)

    You see, in a frantic rush to lambast the book you ignore all evidence pointing to the benefit of inclusion of form-focused instruction and bottom-up processes in SLA, specifically in SLAV. So what do you propose instead? From what I gather – an extreme, non-interventionist, ‘no-interface’ position (I see you later revise your initial strong claims in the comments below by acknowledging that explicit teaching may have some benefit which again stands in contradiction to your claims 14 & 15 – you see, I’ve spent a lot of time scrolling up and down )

    Advocating an incidental learning approach in which learners are expected to pick up words from reading (16) in 2017 – after 30 years of intensive SLAV research, which has shown that uptake of new vocabulary from extensive reading is painfully slow, is nothing short of irresponsible.

    Of all aspects of L2 vocabulary lexical chunks is one of the most difficult aspects, as you state yourself in (18). It would follow then that teachers should spend more time on it. This is exactly what the authors are trying to encourage! Now this is where we reach a true climax in the circus of the absurd – you accuse the authors, who have written a whole bloody book about Lexical chunks, of not acknowledging the difficulty (!). Why would they write the book then?!

    The difficulty has been acknowledged by numerous researchers: Siyanova & Schmitt (2008), Li & Schmitt (2010), Chan & Liou (2005), Nesselhauf (2003), Granger (1998), Laufer & Waldman (2011) – some of their research is summarised here: http://bit.ly/lexresearch
    What we need now is not acknowledgement of the problem, but solutions. The authors offer some. Yet, you treat their methodology book as it was a theoretical volume on SLA or, more precisely SLAG (your point 6). How exactly do “the inadequacies of Walkley and Dellar’s ‘explanation’” become apparent when one reads Nick Ellis’s quote consisting of a list of questions (which, by the way, he goes on to answer in the paper you cite from)? Just because he answers them and they don’t? He is a theoretician; they are methodologists. He is concerned with research; they are concerned with classroom procedures. So there’s that. And since you brought up Ellis, he has oftentimes stated that implicit learning can be speeded up by making the underlying patterns more salient (through explicit instruction).

    As I have shown, there are some serious flaws in your reasoning and possibly serious gaps in your knowledge of SLAV. You used to write enlightening post which I used a lot when planning my lectures; now you just spill vitriol and hurl invective at the man (or is it both men now?) with whom, as anyone who has followed your exchanges on Twitter knows, you have frequently cross swords and who, let’s face it, you probably outright hate.

    I hope hundreds – or maybe thousands – of teachers who read your blog do not take your harangue as a serious criticism of the book, and can see through the vitriol and recognise that it’s nothing more but a personal attack grossly misrepresenting both what the book is about and relevant SLA research you choose to highlight.

    I, for one, have stopped taking seriously what you write, but I felt I had to say something in defence of the book since my name is mentioned in the acknowledgements. I, therefore, can vouch for the credibility of the authors, whom Geoffrey has been methodically trying to take to pieces in his post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Leo,

      Your onslaught reminds me of Dennis Healey, the labour cabinet minister, who remarked that being attacked by Geoffrey Howe was “like being savaged by a dead sheep”. But there’s a difference; while Healey was referring to Howe’s style, I’m referring to your reasoning.

      A few quick comments to start with:

      1. The use of the word “Against” in a title can’t reasonably be interpreted as evidence of belligerence; see, for example, E.J. Thribb (1997) Against Belligerence.
      2. If the contradictions in my arguments are so blatant, then surely they shouldn’t baffle brains, even yours.
      3. Using a numbered list rather than “continuous prose” has no implications for the coherence of a text. It sometimes helps cohesion, which isn’t helped, of course, when points are dealt with “in no particular order”.

      Let’s look at the main arguments.

      First, I argue that “while Walkley and Dellar repeatedly stress that their different view of language is what drives their approach to teaching, they fail to offer any coherent account of ‘a lexical view of language’”. You make no comment on this.

      Second, I argue that Walkley and Dellar offer no coherent account of how people learn an L2. You make no coherent comment on this either.

      Third, I argue that there are serious weaknesses in Walkley and Dellar’s approach to ELT, and here you have several comments to make.

      You spin out a sarcastic reply to my assertion that “The goal is to teach lots of lexical chunks”. I’m not sure if this is your idea of a withering attack or humour, but allow me to explain. The statement refers to the authors’ primary goal in designing and implementing classroom-based courses of English. My argument is that the way Walkley and Dellar pursue this goal leads to a disproportionate amount of classroom time being devoted to the explicit teaching of lexical chunks. The key words are “teach” and “lexical chunks”; the key argument is that they exhort teachers to spend too much classroom time on the explicit teaching of lexical chunks. Geddit? Why is spending so much classroom time on the explicit teaching of lexical chunks not advisable? Because the vast majority of students in our classrooms need a functional command of English, and research into instructed second language acquisition (ISLA) strongly suggests that the goal for teaching should thus be implicit learning of English as discourse, resulting in implicit knowledge of the English language.

      You then say that pointing out that Walkley and Dellar propose “integrating work on lexical chunks into speaking, reading, listening etc.”, contradicts the claim above. You say “If the authors distribute lexical focus across the four skills, explicit teaching probably amounts to 25% of class time”. Read Part 2 of Teaching Lexically. It has 6 chapters devoted to teaching vocab. grammar, and the 4 skills lexically. There are no reasonable grounds for concluding that Part 2 recommends spending 25% of class time on explicit teaching. None.

      In reply to my “beef” that Teaching Lexically isn’t learner-centred, you ask how I envisage consulting learners’ needs and opinions “in the context of, say, clarifying meaning of a new lexical item”. Your own “absurd” example gives the answer. Read this slowly and carefully, Leo: consulting learners’ needs and opinions should be carried out at appropriate times. So when you’re in class and you’re clarifying the meaning of a new lexical item? Well that’s not one of them.

      Now we come to “the main problem” with my critique: you say I treat SLA research as if all of it is about the second language acquisition of grammar, and I ignore research on L2 vocabulary learning. That’s not true. The SLA research I refer to when arguing for the primary importance of implicit learning doesn’t only look at the acquisition of grammar: it very often refers to the acquisition of phonology and lexis too, as you would know if you’d read any of it for yourself.

      While many SLA studies deliberately focus on some small aspect of acquisition, this can as likely be a focus on morphemes as on tense. SLA researchers appreciate that they’re studying a fluid, dynamic process where elements of grammar, vobab. and pronunciation are all swirling around together. The SLA research I study and discuss is not “ALL about grammar”; specifically, the study of interlanguages development, which I most frequently refer to, is not all about grammar, and nobody with any grasp of SLA would suggest that it was. What’s more, I’ve often referred to research on vocab. acquisition, as a quick look through the posts on this blog will prove, and I’ve also devoted considerable time to discussing research on prefabricated language and lexical chunks. Your accusations stem from an ignorance of the SLA research I refer to, and are quite false.

      As for explicit vocabulary teaching

      • I don’t bitterly disparage the need for explicit vocabulary instruction (though I do argue against spending too much time on it) .
      • I don’t say that “language should never be treated as an object of study as far as vocabulary learning is concerned”.
      • I don’t argue for “an extreme, non-interventionist, ‘no-interface’ position”.

      I say “research shows that explicit instruction can have beneficial results”. Elsewhere I say that there’s “obviously” a need for both implicit and explicit teaching. And your suggestion that by recognising that explicit vocabulary teaching has a legitimate place in ELT I’m contradicting points 14 and 15 is more evidence that you have yet to grasp what constitutes a contradiction. Here’s some more evidence:

      I say “Of all aspects of L2 vocabulary, lexical chunks is one of the most difficult aspects”.
      You say “It would follow then that teachers should spend more time on it”.

      Actually, it wouldn’t follow. If you can’t see why, ask somebody who understands logic.

      We’ve reached the climax. You say:

      Now this is where we reach a true climax in the circus of the absurd – you accuse the authors, who have written a whole bloody book about Lexical chunks, of not acknowledging the difficulty (!). Why would they write the book then?!

      Wrong question! The right question is: Why don’t the authors recognise the difficulty? Why don’t they cite the research you cite (Siyanova & Schmitt (2008), Li & Schmitt (2010), Chan & Liou (2005), Nesselhauf (2003), Granger (1998), Laufer & Waldman (2011)? We can follow that up with these questions:

      • Why don’t they appreciate that learning lexical chunks is not the same as learning other parts of vocabulary?
      • Why don’t they address the issues that Long, Nick Ellis and others have raised about the low perceptual saliency and frequency of many lexical chunks?
      • Why not face the issues of cues and blocking and the perceived communicative redundancy of so many lexical chunks?

      You say “what we need is not acknowledgement of the problem, but solutions”. You’re wrong again. We DO need to acknowledge the problem, and Walkley and Dellar don’t: they acknowledge nothing special about learning lexical chunks; rather, they treat language learning as a process of learning thousands of “items” by going through the same 6-step process with all of them.

      Finally, I don’t treat their methodology book as if it were a theoretical volume on SLA, but I do say that it’s simplistic and unscholarly. The inadequacies of their ‘explanation’” become apparent when one reads Nick Ellis’s quote because the quote asks a number of questions that need addressing if any real explanation is to be offered.

      You’ve said nothing about Walkley and Dellar’s failure to offer either a coherent theory of language or a coherent theory of SLA. Neither have you said anything to refute the argument that Walkley and Dellar’s approach to ELT is teacher-centred, extremly interventionalist, and too focused on the explicit teaching of lexical chunks. What you have done is demonstrate a poor grasp of logic, a worse grasp of SLA research, and no grasp at all of irony. Few people reading those last 3 paragraphs will miss their irony: you accusing me of mounting a personal attack, grossly mispresresenting a book’s content and the SLA research I discuss!

      Like

      • I’ve received a few emails suggesting that I should answer the accusations Leo Seliven makes at the end of his comment. Here’s what he says:

        You used to write enlightening posts ..; now you just spill vitriol and hurl invective at the man with whom, as anyone who has followed your exchanges on Twitter knows, you have frequently cross swords and who, let’s face it, you probably outright hate.
        I hope ..teachers who read your blog .. can see through the vitriol and recognise that it’s nothing more but a personal attack grossly misrepresenting both what the book is about and relevant SLA research you choose to highlight
        .

        In reply, let me say this.

        This year I’ve written 4 posts about Walkley and Dellar’s “lexical approach”:
        • Against W&D’s Lexical Approach
        • A Reply to Walkley
        • Walkley Part 2
        • Teaching Lexically by Hugh Dellar and Andrew Walkley: A Review

        There’s not one word of vitriol or invective in any of them – I invite you to check – or in the post that I took down.

        Anyone who’s folllowed me on Twitter knows that I haven’t posted any tweets insulting Dellar, and that I’ve never crossed swords with him. My replies to his recent tweets insulting me contained no insults.

        The suggestion that I “probably downright hate him” is ridiculous, bizarre.

        The posts contain no personal attacks and Seliven gives no evidence that I grossly misrepresented the book or the research I referred to.

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  6. Hi everybody
    When one sticks his head out, the head is at risk. Dellar is targeted because he recommends discrete item learning, while Jordan seems to be committed to the physiologically prompted unfolding of language as the environment provides the corresponding triggers, hence his attack on any prescriptive language curriculum. The language (performance) emerges because of the innate structure opposed to the structure falling into place because of the language (performance). Did I summarize this correctly?

    The latter idea is captured by M. Lewis’ bon mot that the nature of language is better conceptualized as “grammaticalized lexis” as opposed to “lexicalized grammar” (vi, The Lexical Approach). If we allow for the moment these opposing views (could we have both?) the lexicalized grammar view depicts language learning as a) following a trajectory, or b) describing a trajectory termed interlanguage. I am not quite sure yet if it is a) or b).

    The grammaticalized lexis path suggests that frequency and saliency of exposure plus the physiology of the brain (the way brain cells work out memory) leave behind a track record of patterns some of which are more noticeable than others. That is, some of these patterns can become objects of reflection while others escape awareness. We can term these mega patterns, that part of language that can be abstracted and expressed in rules, grammar. Corpus linguistics has allowed many patterns to surface that had all the time been with us, but were ignored because unnoticable for the unaided mind (eg. Susan Hunston and Gill Francis, Pattern Grammar). These language patterns, or grammar, are not directly learnable. The rule per se does not have any generic power because the rule does not describe a processing force of the brain. Rather, it is an artifact, the thing left behind when the brain has done its job. To say it bluntly, there is no corresponding gene for the present perfect. Now I am pretty sure that Noam Chomsky does not have this in mind when he attempts to describe Universal Grammar. If I understand him correctly, his claims aim at finding accurate descriptions of what the brain does. In the case of homo sapiens, the brain is capable of producing language. Chomsky is addressing concerns of cognitive science, not of applied linguistics. Soon we start discussing properties of the mind and such. And we promptly get confused when we discuss Universal Grammar and English grammar in one go. The word grammar in that sentence is used ambiguously.

    The crucial point, to me, resides in identifying the active ingredient(s) that prompts language development. As in the question above, is intergrammar a purely descriptive concept, or does Selinker suggest that intergrammar stands for a prescriptive path from geno to phenotype. That is, the brain structure and function determines what is, and what is next?

    When assessing SLA research it seems to be important to understand what the researchers’ prior assumptions were. It is important to clarify what view of the nature of language inspired the methodology under scrutiny. For example, there are studies suggesting that explicit teaching is more effective than implicit methods when the object is a given grammatical rule. Assumption one: language consist of grammar and vocabulary; assumption two: grammar can be learned; assumption three: explicit teaching of grammar efficacy is the object of the study. Krashen criticized this as being removed from what language actually is. He refers to subconscious learning of grammar and makes Chomsky’s LAD responsible for acquiring language. Krashen disagrees with assumption 2 while agreeing with one, and considers 3 as misguided. The irony is that Krashen would be joined in this critizism (Explorations in Language Acquisition and Use, 2003) by those who promote the grammaticalized lexis view. They might point out that language is not best represented as a dichotomy of grammar on the one hand and vocabulary on the other, assumption 1 (it would be useful to read John Sinclair on this matter, not Lewis); they would disagree with assumption 2 as grammar is an abstraction of the actual process. Any attempt to aim at grammar directly is prone to fail. Studying the patterns does not instrumentalize the processes the patterns are merely a result of. This is like studying calculus to be able to poinpoint the position of each water droplet in the jet of a running sprinkler system. It follows that assumption 3 is a non-issue. This would leave aside the struggle over explicit versus implicit teaching when it comes to grammar.

    Hoeys starting point is his text analysis and his point in the debate is that something must explain “the behavior” of words as detected in text. As the culprit acting behind stage he dragged priming onto the floor. The “I’ve never been…” is not a product of grammar but a product of the trace “I’ve” being primed for “never” and I’ve never” primed for “been.” I think the explicit/implicit question has to be discussed within this framework when discussing “lexical teaching” efforts to avoid getting off track. What lexical teaching aims at is reinforcing priming experiences. The dichotomy should be replaced by a spectrum of intentional, explicit learning efforts on the one side to spontaneous, implicit learning. Priming benefits from the casual to the most intense and directed learning instance. We can recite poetry after some study. We can act out roles, after some time of memorizing. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn can write down the Gulag Archipelago after some practice. These are extreme examples to show that priming responds to explicit effort. Most language learning will take place in the gray zone of life.

    There is definitively a problem with pre-selected language items. One can picture that the topography of the priming map that constitutes a person´s language competence varies greatly from individual to individual. Hoey stresses this point. And it is a problematic point for language teaching since language teachers usually address groups. One teaches an average sample of the language to a sample audience. Here we have one abstract meeting another. We teach the language most used (some corpus) to the average language student. What is lost in this rendez-vous is what makes communication worthwhile–purpose and meaning.

    Have a good day,

    Thom

    Liked by 1 person

    • *forgot to finish the methaphor 😉 “. This is like studying calculus to be able to pinpoint the position of each water droplet in the jet of a running sprinkler system.”.. when the aim is to water the lawn

      Like

    • Hi Thom,

      Thanks very much for your entertaining remarks. My replies come after the ***s

      “Dellar recommends discrete item learning, while Jordan seems to be committed to the physiologically prompted unfolding of language as the environment provides the corresponding triggers…. The language (performance) emerges because of the innate structure opposed to the structure falling into place because of the language (performance). Did I summarize this correctly?”

      *** I’m afraid not, Thom. I don’t take an emergentist view of language learning, and as for ELT, while I think Dogme is a good alternative to coursebook-driven learning, I think the best way to organise it is by doing needs and means analysis, identifying target tasks, and then designing pedagogical tasks which help learners to function well in the L2.

      “the lexicalized grammar view depicts language learning as a) following a trajectory, or b) describing a trajectory termed interlanguage. I am not quite sure yet if it is a) or b).”

      *** In Walkley and Dellar’s view, neither. They depict language learning as going through a 6-step process to accumulate thousands of language “items”.

      Now, a few more comments.

      Your discussion of learning grammaticalized lexis jumps a bit between emergentist views and Hoey’s view, but I agree that they’re both exemplar based and have nothing in common with Chomsky’s view. However, I don’t think Chomsky aims to find an accurate description of what the brain does; rather he aims to find an accurate description of what language is. He claims that all natural languages share the same deep structure, and that the job of the linguist is to describe it. Such a description is what Gregg calls a property theory. To explain SLA, Gregg says two different types of theory are required: a transition theory and a property theory. (The terms were coined by Cummins). The transition theory asks “How do people learn an L2?”. The property theory doesn’t deal with causes and effects, but rather with the question “What is learned?” Chomsky’s main task is to describe a generative grammar, but when then asked to provide a transition theory, he says that, partly because of the enormous power of the poverty of the stimulus argument, the most likely explanation is that we are born with an innate capacity to acquire language. But you’re absolutely right to point out that we get confused when we discuss Universal Grammar and English grammar in one go, because the two have little in common. All this, of course, relates to my argument that while Walkley and Dellar say that ELT should be based on principles of language, language learning and teaching, their book fails to articulate any coherent property theory or transition theory.

      As for identifying the active ingredient(s) that prompts language development, the generativists have one view, the emergentists have another, sociolinguists have another, and and in the case of SLA, there are cognitivists who take various views on the availability of UG. Selinker suggests that in SLA, the route of interlanguage development is unaffected by the L1 or instruction; he says nothing about brain structure.

      As for assessing SLA research, studies suggesting that explicit teaching is more effective than implicit methods when learning some particular aspect of grammar or vocabulary provide evidence that directly challenges Krashen’s theory: either the studies are wrong or Krashen’s wrong. Actually, it’s more complicated because the studies very often look at short term gains, but anyway, the evidence indicates that Krashen is indeed wrong to insist on a no interface position.

      While I think you’re right to say that the division between lexis and grammar has been broken down – certainly thanks more to Sinclair’s efforts than Lewis’ – I don’t buy your elegant argument that “any attempt to aim at grammar directly is prone to fail”, etc.

      Finally, I like your comments on the implication of Hoey’s theory for “lexical teaching”. I agree that “there is definitively a problem with pre-selected language items”.

      Like

  7. the head rises out of the parapet, aim is taken, comedy ensues. despite the admirable gravity of the professional commitment to the issues in the discussion, you must admit there is some comedy here.

    ‘the physiologically prompted unfolding of language as the environment provides the corresponding triggers, hence his attack on any prescriptive language curriculum. The language (performance) emerges because of the innate structure opposed to the structure falling into place because of the language (performance)’

    neat phrasing of the argument.

    Like

  8. Hi Geoff –
    So as far as I understand it, you basically think classroom teaching should involve mostly student interaction, minimal intervention from the teacher, not much focus on lexical chunks, implicit learning, and no coursebooks. Right? I realise that’s a crude thumbnail sketch, but I’m trying to grasp the essence of what you feel we should all be doing in class every day.

    I’d love to observe a class that demonstrates this kind of approach, just to give me a clearer idea of what it looks like in practice. Is there a video of you teaching somewhere that I could watch? Failing that, is there something you could point me towards that encapsulates what it is you think of a good classroom practice?

    Many thanks for your help
    Caron

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hello again Geoff –
    I’ve just watched the video of Luke Meddings delivering a Dogme lesson to some students in Exeter and I’m slightly confused about it all, I have to say.

    Earlier you said that you believed the best kind of classroom teaching involved a lot of “student interaction, minimal explicit instruction, focus on communicative activities that are often initiated by the learners, implicit learning, and no coursebooks.” Now, apart from the fact Luke doesn’t use a coursebook, I’m struggling to see how what he’s doing meets any of your requirements for good teaching.

    The lesson very clearly isn’t initiated by the learners, as it’s based on a story HE brings to class.
    Luke basically does all of the talking for the first six minutes (and for much o the rest of the lesson!), as he’s setting up the initial task, which is basically about McDonald’s.

    What makes you think this is a subject that students have initiated?
    Surely this is a teacher-created task being used in lieu of materials, isn’t it?

    There’s then lots of students saying things like BIG VANILLA ICE CREAM, which Luke writes up on the board more or less as they’re said. Why is he doing this?

    Then there are moments where students seem to be saying quite interesting things like “It reminds me when I ate meat” that aren’t responded to in the way one might expect (e.g. “Do you mean you’re a vegetarian now?”) but are simply used for grammar correction, which is explicit instruction, isn’t it? There’s quite a lot of that throughout, mostly about grammar.

    During this whole time, there’s basically no student-student interaction, just the students reading out what they’ve written on their napkins. It’s all very teacher to whole class.

    What is it you believe is being implicitly learned during all of this?

    I’m also interested in the way Luke dealt with vocabulary, so early on he wrote napkin on the board and just said “Is everyone familiar with this word napkin?” Do you think that’s a better way of tackling this kind of language than the more detailed approach you criticsed Dellar for in his video?

    Finally, and I suppose this is my biggest worry, are you basically saying we’d really all be better off if we filled our classroom time with the kind of thing Meddings is doing in that video?

    What about those teachers who have to use coursebooks?
    Are they just automatically not very good teachers and their only hope is to escape those confines?
    Is that your conclusion?

    Like

    • Hi Caron,

      I have to admit that I didn’t watch the video, I went to the link, saw it was Luke doing a demo that I thought I’d seen, and didn’t keep watching. Having just watched it all the way through, I don’t think it gives a very convincing picture of Dogme. As with any such video, we have to be emphasise that’s it’s only a snap shot, and in this case a special environment where everybody was on show,and all that, but I was surprised to see how much Luke led the activity, that he stuck with material he’d brought in and initiated just about all the discussion. I think we’d have to ask Luke himself to comment, but to answer your question, no, I’m not saying we’d really all be better off if we filled our classroom time with the kind of thing Meddings is doing in that video, and I don’t think he’d say so either.

      As for your last question about teachers who have to use coursebooks, I certainly don’t think that they’re “automatically not very good teachers” but I think they’d be more effective teachers if they escaped the confines of a coursebook.

      Like

  10. Hello again Geoff –
    Thanks for your clarification.

    I’m slightly surprised you’d recommend a video you’d not watched, but understand it’s not always possible to view things in depth.

    I’m glad it wasn’t just me that couldn’t see how that video met your previously stated criteria. I must admit that I’m finding it slightly odd that none of the leading advocates of the kind of teaching you’re talking about, whether they be you, Scott or Luke, really have videos available of them in class modelling the kinds of things you say make for better teaching. It would be very useful for nomal classroom practitioners to see how all this kind of thing is done. Or maybe it is actually just done like Luke did it in that video I mentioned? Who knows?

    I’m still curious about what you mean when you talk – in quite a lot of detail – about implicit learning. For example, in that video, what do you think might have been learned implicitly? And how could a teacher know?

    Thanks again for your patience.

    Like

    • Hi Caron,

      I shouldn’t have recommended the video without watching it; sorry. And I’m sorry to say that I can’t find any videos to recommend. A few of us in the SLB have just started work on an on-line TBLT course for teachers, and I think we’ll have to include a few videos of teachers doing TBLT classes. It won’t be out for a few months, so meanwhile, I’ll keep looking.

      One way to tackle the question of how you differentiate explicit and implicit learning is by inventing an artificial language and seeing if participants acquire an understanding of patterns embedded within the artificial language. See here http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/unconscious-language-learning

      Like

      • Thanks for your clarification of how a teacher might differentiate between implicit and explicit learning Geoff, though I have to say inventing a new language to work this out seems like a rather extreme measure. I was hoping you might be able more practical and grounded advice for those of us at the chalk face, as it were.

        One thought I had about all of this is that surely plenty of implicit learning is possible in a lesson that includes a lot of teacher-mediated input such as that which Dellar seemed to be providing in that video lesson. Isn’t it perfectly possible that students could, for instance, be developing “an understanding of patterns embedded within the . . . language” through that classroom experience?

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  11. One final question, now I stop to think about it.

    You say that you certainly don’t think that teachers who use coursebooks are “automatically not very good teachers” but that “they’d be more effective teachers if they escaped the confines of a coursebook.”

    How would that work in terms of, say, the video we’re discussing? In what way is what Luke doing “more effective” than, say, what Dellar was doing in that video he posted of him going through a vocabulary exercise? What do you mean by “more effective”?

    Like

    • Hi Again Corin,

      I don’t think either of the videos had much to say about using coursebooks. They didn’t use coursebooks, and we didn’t get any sense of their sticking to a product /synthetic syllabus.

      By more effective I mean that if you don’t stick to the coursebook, if instead you do a needs analysis and then concentrate on using relevant language to work through a series of tasks where there is only occasional focus on form, your students will learn faster and better.

      Like

      • I should have added the following to what I said about “more effective”: it’s an opinion which stems from hypotheses about how adults learn a second language. In other words, I could easliy be wrong.

        Like

      • Thanks for this. I take our point about the teaching in those videos not using coursebooks or “sticking to a product /synthetic syllabus”, but I’m still not clear why, for instance, Luke Meddings writing words like napkin, McDonald’s and big vanilla ice cream on the board is somehow better. Is anything a teacher not using a coursebook might write on the board automatically better? Or does it have to be something the student said? or was trying to say? Or what? And why is pre-selected language that might be useful for students to talk about a particular topic seen as less worthy of classroom time than what was focused on during that Dogme lesson, which seemed to my untrained eyes at least to be a big of a hotch-potch of random bits and pieces, to say the least?

        In terms of needs analysis, what would you advise me – and there must others like me out there – to do when our students say they just want more grammar and when they don’t have any particular needs or obvious reasons for learning other than a vague desire to ‘improve my English’? Or when you have twenty students who all ask for very different things? Are we then supposed to make our material to focus on all of those requests, so maybe make one lesson on football, one on yoga, one on music, etc?

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  12. Sorry to bombard you, but this is such an interesting discussion.

    When you say learning happens faster and better when we “concentrate on using relevant language to work through a series of tasks where there is only occasional focus on form”, couldn’t that be used as an argument for the kind of lexical teaching Dellar seemed to be doing in that lesson in the video? Couldn’t that language be seen as relevant if students wanted to talk about going out? And if they then do some tasks that involve using it? And if there’s minimal – or no – focus on form?

    Or am I missing something?

    Like

    • Hi Coran,

      My replies to your comments come after the ***s

      1. Thanks for your clarification of how a teacher might differentiate between implicit and explicit learning Geoff, though I have to say inventing a new language to work this out seems like a rather extreme measure. I was hoping you might be able more practical and grounded advice for those of us at the chalk face, as it were.

      *** It’s not “a new language”, but it does sometimes get complicated trying to understand how people learn a language, specifically how adults learn English as an L2. The terms “implicit” and “explicit” aren’t quite the same as “intentional” and “unintentional” or “conscious” and “unconscious”. All these terms are used by different people to try to explain the roles of input, instruction, output, practice, etc., in SLA, and I’m afraid that if you want to follow the discussion in any depth, you have to get to grips with the terms. One of the things I object to about Walkley and Dellar’s work is that they use terms – like “noticing”, for example – without seeming to appreciate what the author (Schmidt in this case) means by them.

      As for practical and grounded advice, basically, very crudely, what comes out of all the research is that teachers should concentrate on talking in the target language rather than talking about it.

      2. Surely plenty of implicit learning is possible in a lesson that includes a lot of teacher-mediated input such as that which Dellar seemed to be providing in that video lesson. Isn’t it perfectly possible that students could, for instance, be developing “an understanding of patterns embedded within the . . . language” through that classroom experience?

      *** Yes, explicit teaching can lead to implicit learning and knowledge! Sorry, but you’re right, and you’re slowly uncovering the complexity of the putative explanation. Soon you’ll have no choice but to read a few academic articles, like, for example Nick Ellis’ paper on Implicit and Explicit Knowledge. Meanwhile, this doesn’t mean that “teacher-mediated input” is as good a way as any other of fostering implicit learning.

      3. Why is Luke Meddings writing words like napkin, McDonald’s and big vanilla ice cream on the board somehow better?

      *** It isn’t.

      4. Is anything a teacher not using a coursebook might write on the board automatically better?

      *** No. What teachers write on boards is far too general a topic to go into when discussing principles of ELT. It’s important to stress that when you get right down to local implementation of any approach or method, the day to day evaluation of lots of aspects of classroom practice needs doing on a case by case basis.

      5. And why is pre-selected language that might be useful for students to talk about a particular topic seen as less worthy of classroom time than what was focused on during that Dogme lesson, which seemed to my untrained eyes at least to be a big of a hotch-potch of random bits and pieces, to say the least?

      *** I didn’t see any big difference between the way the 2 teachers chose the “bits and pieces”; we’d have to ask them what informed their selections.

      6. In terms of needs analysis, what would you advise me – and there must others like me out there – to do when our students say they just want more grammar and when they don’t have any particular needs or obvious reasons for learning other than a vague desire to ‘improve my English’? Or when you have twenty students who all ask for very different things? Are we then supposed to make our material to focus on all of those requests, so maybe make one lesson on football, one on yoga, one on music, etc?

      *** Needs analysis involves finding out what the learners need the L2 for, not finding out what we might think they still need to learn; taking needs analysis seriously is akin to saying that there should be no such thing as “General English”. Many students need English for business, and more specifically for doing presentations, for attending meetings, for video conferencing, for reading and writing this and that type of text, for having meals in restaurants with clients, and so on. Others, working in the service industries, have different needs that can be similarly described. The more homogenous the group (in terms of their L2 needs), the better you can design a course for them – hence the relative “success” of exam preparaton courses. If you find yourself, as so many teachers do, with a group of students who have nothing more in common that that somebody’s decided that their level is B1, you have to use any data gathering tools you can (interviews, questionnaires, chats in the bar, emails, etc.) to dscover common needs and then design relevant tasks.

      7. When you say learning happens faster and better when we “concentrate on using relevant language to work through a series of tasks where there is only occasional focus on form”, couldn’t that be used as an argument for the kind of lexical teaching Dellar seemed to be doing in that lesson in the video? Couldn’t that language be seen as relevant if students wanted to talk about going out? And if they then do some tasks that involve using it? And if there’s minimal – or no – focus on form? Or am I missing something?

      *** The key bit is “to work through a series of tasks”. Tasks are the guiding framework; they guide the role of the teacher, the selection and sequencing of vocabulary, the focus on commmunicative practice, etc.. My objection to Walkley and Dellar’s approach is that it encourages teachers to present and practice an enormous list of language “items” which don’t seem to be selected according to any reasonable criteria, and which involves subjecting students to too much explicit teaching.

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      • Caron,

        I’ve allowed the conversation between us to continue because it’s allowed me to make some clarifications. Until I can find out who you are, I won’t approve any more of your comments. Thanks for your help in discussing the limitations of Walkley and Dellar’s work.

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  13. Hi Geoff,

    I’ve been warned that entering into arguments with you can be pointless, frustrating and potentially soul-destroying but I’ve also been urged to lay out my arguments so that others can see there are two sides to the debate. In fact, on this occasion I actually enjoyed reading your response, save for the dead sheep comparison (besides I’m too young to remember the Denis Healey incident).

    You know very well that the language theory which informs the book, like other books on Lexical Approach, is Sinclair’s Idiom Principle, which I’m sure you’re very well familiar with. Once again, it would not be fair or reasonable to expect a practical, pedagogical book to go into the theoretical depth you seem to expect. The authors do provide a theoretical background in Part A; this follows the format of other books in the Delta series: Part A gives a brief theoretical overview; Part B/C provides a battery of activities/exercises or, in this case, application of the principles.

    Your criticism does not address any of the practical classroom suggestions; instead you choose to focus on – or rather find fault with – the first 31 or so pages.

    Let’s take a couple of practical suggestions from the book, this time in the order they are presented (!):

    1 What’s the ‘word’?
    Look at the word list for the next unit you are going to teach… find the context each word is used in… think of one example.
    2 Choosing words to teach
    Choose 10 words from the unit… put them in order of frequency… discuss with a colleague… look up in the dictionary.
    3 Giving explanations.
    Write explanations in the style of the Collins Cobuild dictionary… Add an additional example that matches the context you would explain each word in.

    All pretty solid tips for teachers encouraging them to work not only on vocabulary breadth but also depth – consistent with SLA(V) research. Indeed, this aspect of vocabulary teaching, as you finally acknowledged yourself (with the help of my absurd example), cannot always be learner centred; learner centred activities should be done at appropriate times.

    But your learner-centred argument is flawed in that it contradicts your other claims, specifically about selection of language to teach. It is evident (from this and your other posts) that you’re basically against any synthetic syllabus, be it based on grammar rules or vocabulary items. Yet you go on to accuse the authors of not providing criteria for selection (your point 17). That’s precisely what occurs in learner-centred approaches to teaching – lots of lexical items chunks emerge in the course of classroom interaction with the learner being the source.

    You misconstrue my comment – I was referring to and agreeing with what Derek said (this is what people do when they discuss things, they listen and react) – and state that “There are no reasonable grounds for concluding that Part 2 recommends spending 25% of class time on explicit teaching.” Are there any grounds to conclude that 100% should be spent on explicit teaching? On the contrary, the authors suggest adding a lexical focus on readng and other skills teachers already do as they clearly state on page 33.

    You keep repeating IMPLICIT as a mantra but would you care to elucidate what ‘implicit’ implies – and I mean in relation to vocabulary teaching not SLAG? Is it the same as incidental? Is it unconscious, unattended? Is it without attention to form, meaning or both? Are some of the aspects of vocabulary acquisition, such as form or collocation, implicit or is it all implicit? Please explain to the reader and especially those who are apparently ignorant of SLA research, like me.

    Because it seems once again you take the concept which – because of the way it was conceptualized by Reber – is more suitable for grammar teaching and apply it to SLAV without clarifying what it actually means.

    Judging by the sample of activities I have selected (a small sample, granted, but you didn’t include ANY in your critique) I don’t see much explicit teaching going on. If anything, my criticism of Hugh Dellar’s work in general and this book in particular would be that it LACKS explicit teaching aimed at committing lexical chunks to memory (like Nick Bilbrough’s book Memory Activities – CUP 2011 does), which has been shown to be beneficial (see a bunch references in my previous, ‘incoherent’ comment)

    You see, reading your post one gets the impression that you haven’t even seen the book in question! And to corroborate my assertion, take the video you recommend to Caron (in the comments above) as a good example of Dogme teaching without actually seeing it or your other blog post, a while ago, criticising Hugh Dellar’s (again!) webinar without actually watching it (and just to remind you, my account of it was confusing). All this casts serious doubts on your credibility as reviewer or your academic rigour for that matter.

    Finally, regarding you never crossing swords with Hugh Dellar on Twitter, I’m rolling my eyes and rolling on the floor – in the meantime, readers can just look up your and Hugh Dellar’s name on Twitter for some – pretty convincing – evidence.

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    • Dear Leo,

      I won’t bother to answer any of this, except to say that I have a copy of Teaching Lexically in front of me, and to insist that I’ve never crossed swords with Dellar on Twitter. I looked up my name and Hugh Dellar’s name on Twitter and I found no evidence, just insults from Dellar.

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    • I repent. Here are my replies to your main points.

      You say “You know very well that the language theory which informs the book, like other books on Lexical Approach, is Sinclair’s Idiom Principle.” I didn’t know that the language theory which informs Teaching Lexically is Sinclair’s Idiom Principle. There’s no mention of it in the book, and of course Sinclair’s Idiom principle isn’t a language theory; the clue is in the name: it’s a principle. “The principle of idiom is that a language user has available to him or her a large number of semi-preconstructed phrases that constitute single choices, even though they might appear to be analyzable into segments. (Sinclair 1991: 110)”. As Siyanova-chanturia and Martinez (2014) observe:“important empirical evidence for the main tenets of the Idiom Principle, particularly with respect to the notion of holistic processing, or what Sinclair describes as ‘single choices’, is still lacking, and even more so when it comes to processing in the L2”.

      You say “It would not be fair or reasonable to expect a practical, pedagogical book to go into the theoretical depth you seem to expect.” But I think it is fair and reasonable to expect a book called Teaching Lexically Principles and practice to provide, however briefly, a coherent theory of language and learning. My argument, which you don’t address, is that they fail to do so.

      Your comments on my “flawed learner-centred argument” are incoherent. To be in favour of a learner-centred approach implies asking learners what they need to learn, and this includes finding out what lexis (and lexical chunks / multi word expressions) they’ll need. I criticise Walkley and Dellar for not providing any criteria for their selection of the lexical chunks they present and practice. I’m against the kind of synthetic syllabus that they recommend (and implement in the Outcomes series) and I’m against their seemingly random selection of the bits of language they choose to use in it. Is that clear?

      You say “that’s precisely what occurs in learner-centred approaches to teaching – lots of lexical items chunks (sic) emerge in the course of classroom interaction with the learner being the source” . Well do lots of lexical chunks emerge with the learner being the source? I’d be interested to see some evidence of that, because there’s none in Teaching Lexically.

      As for the amount of class time the book recommends spending on explicit teaching, my argument is that it’s far too much. This is because, guided by SLA research findings, I think that most classroom time should be spent talking in the language, not about it, since implicit learning helps interlanguage development more than explicit learning. “Implicit” means unconscious, unattended, without attention to formal aspects of the language. This applies to all aspects of the language including collocation.

      You say “Judging by the sample of activities I have selected..I don’t see much explicit teaching going on”, but all the activities ask the teacher to choose words to teach and explain. Surely this will lead precisely to a lot of explicit teaching going on.

      Siyanova-chanturia, A. and Martinez, R. (2014) The Idiom Principle Revisited. Applied Linguistics 2014: 1–22.

      Liked by 2 people

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