Thoughts of The Master


Those who are about to embark on the discourse analysis bit of their MA course might like to examine the quotes below. They’re all quotes from the published work of Jeremy Harmer. As you know, the purpose of discourse analysis is to examine texts “beyond the sentence boundary”. Various frameworks can be used, but I recommend a literacy approach here, where you concentrate on the verbosity, bathos, and general pumped-up, faux academic prose of the writer, blissfully unaware of his limitless limitations. Note the cascade of clichés, the resort to tired truisms, the bumbling use of brackets, and the general tedium of the text, not alleviated by random bits of bullshit. The final example in the list below refers you to a video recording on Harmer’s blog where you’ll find the master examining the finer points of testing in his own unique manner.

So take a look below. As they say in MacDonald’s when they bring you your tasteless, lack-lustre, nutrition-free meal: Enjoy!

The constant interplay of applied linguistic theory and observed classroom practice attempts to draw us ever closer to a real understanding of exactly how languages are learnt and acquired, so that the work of writers such as Ellis (1994) and Thornbury (1999)—to mix levels of theory and practice—are written to influence the methodology we bring to language learning. We ignore their challenges and suggestions at our peril, even if due consideration leads us to reject some of what they tell us.

Teaching may be a visceral art, but unless it is informed by ideas it is considerably less than it might be.

Without beliefs and enthusiasms, teachers become client-satisfiers only—and that is a model which comes out of a different tradition from that of education, and one that we follow at our peril.

A problem with the idea that methodology should be put back into second place (at the very most) is that it threatens to damage an essential element of a teacher’s make-up—namely what they believe in, and what they think they are doing as teachers.

A belief in the essentially humanistic and communicative nature of  language  may well  pre-dispose certain teachers towards a belief in group participation and learner input rather than relying only on the straightforward transmission of knowledge from instructor to passive instructee.

One school of thought which is widely accepted by many language teachers is that the development of our conceptual understanding and cognitave skills is a main objective of all education. Indeed, this is more important than the acquisition of factual information (Williams and Burden 1997:165).

Any teacher with experience knows that it is one thing to put educational temptation in a child’s way (or an adult’s); quite another for that student to actually be tempted.

There is nothing wrong (and everything right) with discovery-based experiential learning. It just doesn’t work some of the time.

What precisely is the role of a cloud granny and how can she (or perhaps he) make the whole experience more productive.

Yet without our accumulated knowledge and memories what are we? Our knowledge is, on the contrary, the seat of our intuition and our creativity. Furthermore, the gathering of that knowledge from our peers and, crucially, our elders and more experienced mentors is part of the process of socialization. Humanity has thought this to be self-evident for at least 2000 years.

On testing

As you watch the master deliver his polished address:

  • Note the setting: the well-appointed sitting room, the unused, high quality microphone, the classical music in the background.
  • Note the speaker: the pose, the homely mug of tea, the air of quiet confidence, the carefully-practiced delivery.
  • Note, too, the complete lack of content in what he says, the utter disregard for any serious engagement with an important issue, the assumption that this indulgent, look-at-me-farting-around-saying-absolutely-nothing display will be well met.
  • Such, you might think, is the arrogance of power.


4 thoughts on “Thoughts of The Master

  1. What you write is really harmful 🙂 …(hmm… couldn’t resist, sorry) but apparently not to the writer of these lines. Which puzzles me silly. I can write like this; in fact many of my trainees write like this and we return their work with lots of stuff on the margin 🙂


  2. … the lack of depth and the absolute lack of knowledge with which he expounds his thoughts is terribly frightening for anyone who is seriously interested in teaching and learning. I support Geoff wholeheartedly in his comments and feel it is a sad state of affairs if new recruits to the profession have to rely on Harmers armchair musings……. for want of a better word! So many other people know it better, say it better and are humble in their approach…. truly appalling writing!


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