Update on Long’s TBLT

Long’s comment on my original post deserves a supplementary post.

First, for help with identifying target tasks in the occupational sector, he points us to the revised, free, on-line version of the Dictionary of Occupational Titles.  It’s tremendous! More than 1,000 jobs described in detail. Here’s what I got when I put in

Human Resources Manager:


  • Serve as a link between management and employees by handling questions, interpreting and administering contracts and helping resolve work-related problems.
  • Analyze and modify compensation and benefits policies to establish competitive programs and ensure compliance with legal requirements.
  • Advise managers on organizational policy matters such as equal employment opportunity and sexual harassment, and recommend needed changes.
  • Perform difficult staffing duties, including dealing with understaffing, refereeing disputes, firing employees, and administering disciplinary procedures.
  • Plan and conduct new employee orientation to foster positive attitude toward organizational objectives.
  • Identify staff vacancies and recruit, interview and select applicants.
  • Plan, direct, supervise, and coordinate work activities of subordinates and staff relating to employment, compensation, labor relations, and employee relations.
  • Plan, organize, direct, control or coordinate the personnel, training, or labor relations activities of an organization.
  • Represent organization at personnel-related hearings and investigations.
  • Administer compensation, benefits and performance management systems, and safety and recreation programs.
  • Provide current and prospective employees with information about policies, job duties, working conditions, wages, opportunities for promotion and employee benefits.
  • Analyze statistical data and reports to identify and determine causes of personnel problems and develop recommendations for improvement of organization’s personnel policies and practices.
  • Prepare and follow budgets for personnel operations.
  • Maintain records and compile statistical reports concerning personnel-related data such as hires, transfers, performance appraisals, and absenteeism rates.
  • Analyze training needs to design employee development, language training and health and safety programs.
  • Conduct exit interviews to identify reasons for employee termination.
  • Oversee the evaluation, classification and rating of occupations and job positions.
  • Prepare personnel forecast to project employment needs.
  • Study legislation, arbitration decisions, and collective bargaining contracts to assess industry trends.
  • Allocate human resources, ensuring appropriate matches between personnel.
  • Develop or administer special projects in areas such as pay equity, savings bond programs, day-care, and employee awards.
  • Negotiate bargaining agreements and help interpret labor contracts.
  • Investigate and report on industrial accidents for insurance carriers.

Technology Skills (5 of 23)

  • Accounting software — AccountantsWorld Payroll Relief; Intuit QuickBooks Hot technology ; New World Systems Logos.NET; Sage 50 Accounting Hot technology
  • Document management software — Atlas Business Solutions Staff Files; Microsoft Office SharePoint Server MOSS; PDF readers; WinOcular
  • Enterprise resource planning ERP software Hot technology — Deltek Vision; Oracle PeopleSoft Hot technology ; SAP Hot technology ; Tyler Technologies MUNIS
  • Human resources software — ADP Workforce Now Hot technology ; Human resource management software HRMS Hot technology ; UniFocus Watson Human Resources Manager; WhizLabs
  • Time accounting software — ADP Pay eXpert; Kronos Workforce Timekeeper; Soft Trac Microix Timesheet; Stromberg Enterprise


  • Personnel and Human Resources — Knowledge of principles and procedures for personnel recruitment, selection, training, compensation and benefits, labor relations and negotiation, and personnel information systems.
  • Administration and Management — Knowledge of business and management principles involved in strategic planning, resource allocation, human resources modeling, leadership technique, production methods, and coordination of people and resources.
  • English Language — Knowledge of the structure and content of the English language including the meaning and spelling of words, rules of composition, and grammar.
  • Customer and Personal Service — Knowledge of principles and processes for providing customer and personal services. This includes customer needs assessment, meeting quality standards for services, and evaluation of customer satisfaction.
  • Law and Government — Knowledge of laws, legal codes, court procedures, precedents, government regulations, executive orders, agency rules, and the democratic political process.

Skills (5 of 20 displayed)

  • Active Listening — Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.
  • Management of Personnel Resources — Motivating, developing, and directing people as they work, identifying the best people for the job.
  • Social Perceptiveness — Being aware of others’ reactions and understanding why they react as they do.
  • Speaking — Talking to others to convey information effectively.
  • Coordination — Adjusting actions in relation to others’ actions.


  • Active Listening — Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.
  • Management of Personnel Resources — Motivating, developing, and directing people as they work, identifying the best people for the job.
  • Social Perceptiveness — Being aware of others’ reactions and understanding why they react as they do.
  • Speaking — Talking to others to convey information effectively.
  • Coordination — Adjusting actions in relation to others’ actions.
  • Critical Thinking — Using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.
  • Reading Comprehension — Understanding written sentences and paragraphs in work related documents.
  • Judgment and Decision Making — Considering the relative costs and benefits of potential actions to choose the most appropriate one.
  • Negotiation — Bringing others together and trying to reconcile differences.
  • Complex Problem Solving — Identifying complex problems and reviewing related information to develop and evaluate options and implement solutions.
  • Monitoring — Monitoring/Assessing performance of yourself, other individuals, or organizations to make improvements or take corrective action.
  • Persuasion — Persuading others to change their minds or behavior.
  • Systems Analysis — Determining how a system should work and how changes in conditions, operations, and the environment will affect outcomes.
  • Systems Evaluation — Identifying measures or indicators of system performance and the actions needed to improve or correct performance, relative to the goals of the system.
  • Time Management — Managing one’s own time and the time of others.
  • Active Learning — Understanding the implications of new information for both current and future problem-solving and decision-making.
  • Writing — Communicating effectively in writing as appropriate for the needs of the audience.
  • Instructing — Teaching others how to do something.
  • Service Orientation — Actively looking for ways to help people.
  • Learning Strategies — Selecting and using training/instructional methods and procedures appropriate for the situation when learning or teaching new things.

Work Activities (5 of 31 displayed)

  • Communicating with Supervisors, Peers, or Subordinates — Providing information to supervisors, co-workers, and subordinates by telephone, in written form, e-mail, or in person.
  • Resolving Conflicts and Negotiating with Others — Handling complaints, settling disputes, and resolving grievances and conflicts, or otherwise negotiating with others.
  • Establishing and Maintaining Interpersonal Relationships — Developing constructive and cooperative working relationships with others, and maintaining them over time.
  • Making Decisions and Solving Problems — Analyzing information and evaluating results to choose the best solution and solve problems.
  • Evaluating Information to Determine Compliance with Standards — Using relevant information and individual judgment to determine whether events or processes comply with laws, regulations, or standards.
  • Detailed Work Activities (5 of 25 displayed)
  • Negotiate labor disputes.
  • Liaise between departments or other groups to improve function or communication.
  • Administer compensation or benefits programs.
  • Analyze data to inform operational decisions or activities.
  • Advise others on legal or regulatory compliance matters.

Work Context (5 of 22 displayed)

  • Electronic Mail — 100% responded “Every day.”
  • Telephone — 95% responded “Every day.”
  • Face-to-Face Discussions — 86% responded “Every day.”
  • Duration of Typical Work Week — 82% responded “More than 40 hours.”
  • Freedom to Make Decisions — 64% responded “A lot of freedom.”

That’s just a sample for one search item! As Long says, it “provides a handy preliminary source for understanding what an occupation involves — the target tasks”.

Long continues:

“Having identified the target tasks for a group of learners using O*NET and other sources and methods, the second step in a needs analysis (NA) is the collection and analysis of genuine samples of target discourse, i.e., the language used by native speakers to accomplish those tasks successfully. This is not as onerous as is sometimes assumed, but in any case, is necessary if LT is to become a serious undertaking.

We presumably want to make sure we are exposing learners to realistic samples of the tasks and language they will have to deal with — something English for Nebulous Purposes (ENP) commercial textbooks are spectacularly bad at, whatever the publishers claim. Doing so has always seemed to me to be no more or less than matching the expectations we have that purveyors of other services (physicians, lawyers, nurses, architects, engineers, etc.) will provide what we need, and not simply dish out the same product to everyone. Physicians, for example, decide on a course of treatment only after identifying what ails us. That typically involves running tests and arriving at a medical diagnosis — roughly, the medical equivalent of a needs analysis. It is encouraging to see that the field as a whole has increasingly been taking responsibility for the quality of its work. For example, an increasing use of NA, and steady improvements in NA methodology, over the past 30 years is documented in Serafini, Lake and Long (2015)”.

(Note: I hadn’t read the Serafini, Lake and Long (2015) article; highly recommended.)

You do not have to be an advocate of TBLT to believe relevance to students’ needs is important. Writing in TESOL Quarterly over 30 years ago, Auerbach and Burgess (1985) pointed out how damaging it can be for learners to be fobbed off with unrealistic dialogues typical of most commercial textbooks — even textbooks marketed as being designed for the very group of learners in question. All the studies I am aware of since then that have compared genuine language samples with LT materials supposedly designed to prepare learners for the same tasks, but on the basis of the author’s intuitions, have found the textbook models to be highly misleading, sometimes risibly so, even when the target discourse pertains to everyday “public” tasks with which most of us are familiar (or think we are). See, e.g., work on restaurant reservations (Granena, 2008), doctor-patient communication (Cathcart, 1989), and service encounters in coffee shops (Bartlett, 2005). Studies have been published on the language of business meetings, sales transactions in duty-free shops, and on other kinds of service encounters, as well as a vast amount of work on English for academic purposes. Bartlett (2005), incidentally, is another case, like the work of Stephen O’Connell on police traffic stops that you summarized, where the researcher (an MA student at the time) demonstrates how to move from the analysis of genuine samples of target discourse to prototypical models usable in task-based materials.

A legitimate concern often raised about NA in general, and analysis of target discourse in particular, is the workload involved. The answer is that NAs certainly involve some front-end heavy lifting, but are not rocket science, pay huge dividends, and do not need to be re-done every time a course is offered! They are best conducted at the program level, by specialist needs analysts and/or trained teachers given release time for the purpose, and well in advance of a course’s opening day — by which time it is far too late to find out what students need and select and/or write the required materials.

NAs are always desirable, but are especially valuable in large, tertiary programs with stable student throughput, e.g., University EFL programs. The work done this year will be usable next because we already know the students will be much the same. They are best carried out by a cadre of trained, experienced teachers, used to working cooperatively and, preferably, in control of their own workplace, whereupon pride in one’s work comes naturally.

In my experience, NAs are usually interesting and fun, and provide the crucial input to designing the pedagogic materials teachers and students need, but which commercial textbook writers and publishers are loathe to provide. They tend to prefer one-size-fits-all textbooks that can be sold to unsuspecting masses via their “international” lists”.

Let me emphasise what Long says about the dividends you get from undertaking his kind of NA. Yes, it involves “some front-end heavy lifting”, but it’s worth it: it pays big dividends, and it doesn’t need to be re-done every time a course is offered. The more you look at it, the more feasible Long’s approach is. There’s a great deal of work done already, and the “front end” bit is such a worthwhile investment in quality ELT that it seems to me to be an irresistible argument. I reckon that you could produce a TBLT syllabus of the kind Long proposes for local use in less than 200 hours.

I think I should say now that my Process TBLT model is a distraction: we should concentrate on Long’s proposal.

Imagine what would happen if the resources currently dedicated to producing and promoting coursebooks were devoted to producing and promoting Long’s TBLT.  Millions of dollars are currently spent on producing and promoting a single series of coursebooks of the sort Pearson manufactures, and that series is then used by teachers all over the world in a one-size-fits-all, grammar-based, PPP approach that we know is hopelessly inefficient. Not just inefficient, but an insult to our teaching profession. Coursebook-driven ELT robs us of our trade; it shackles us, it restricts us, it suffocates us. We can’t do our job properly and our students suffer the consequences. It’s as if our training does no more than help us to use a crutch, the effing cousebook, that we never throw away and so we never get truly healthy and free. We work like cripples, hobbling around in a confined space, using all our ingenuity to circumvent as best we can the oppressive rules we’re forced to teach by, and we never actually do the job as well as we’re capable of.

Harmer’s defence of the coursebook is incoherent, and so is Dellar’s. Scrivener doesn’t even try, so convinced is he that all the teacher has to do is demand higher. Nobody, but nobody from the ELT establishment has offered a good defence of coursebook-driven ELT; they all fall back on limp arguments of “convenience” that do absolutely nothing to respond to the rational, evidence-based  arguments put forward by Long and others against coursebooks.  In the end, I think it’s safe, not cynical, to say that they have too much invested in keeping things the way they are to critically evaluate the alternatives. The argument in favour of coursebooks is the same argument that Ragnar Redbeard (a wonderfully invented pseudonym) suggested in Might is Right: power wins over moral right. To put it another way, it’s a fait accompli, a done deal, the way things are. Which, by the way, is Scott Thornbury’s disappointing stance: he says coursebooks are terrible, but they’re here to stay. Where would any movement that fought for progress have got with an attitude like that?

How much better would it be if the resources currently spent on making and promoting coursebooks were spent on designing the type of course that Long so persuasively and meticulously describes? What if the hundreds of millions of dollars currently spent on coursebook-driven ELT were spent differently? What if Pearson invested in helping local ELT schools all over the world to offer locally produced courses that met local needs? What if they made their business helping to identify target tasks, collecting and analysing genuine samples of target discourse, and producing materials to support the pedagogical tasks that flow from them? What if they supported locally trained teachers with local, national and international events that helped them to better take charge of their own courses?  Imagine Joe, a bright-eyed, young go-getter executive in Pearson suggesting this business plan to the board. How much would profits suffer, Joe?


  • The British Council is stripped of its privileges and told to get the hell out of ELT.
  • The Cambridge Examiners bosses are all sacked and replaced by people who, having read and grasped the works of Fulcher and others who understand testing, turn testing over to teachers.
  • Teachers are not bamboozled by the drivel that Harmer and other ELT gurus spout.
  • Everybody cancels their subscriptions to IATEFL and TESOL (organisations far more interested in sucking up to publishers and preserving the status quo than looking after the interests of their members).
  • CELTA certification is scrapped.
  • ELT publishers stop producing coursebooks.

The whole edifice of the ELT industry, including its coursebooks, its conferences, its training programmes and its exams would go, and leave the way free for something better. Something local, vibrant, relevant, learner-centred, and EFFICIENT. For this to happen we need a groundswell of local action, and it would also help if people like Scott Thornbury got off the fence.

I should hastily say that Long has nothing to do with these remarks. I feel almost unhinged when I talk about all this stuff; Mike always keeps his cool, even though he’s committed to radical change.

We really must take Long’s principled, practical, proven approach more seriously. It’s by far the best way I’ve seen to rescue ELT from the hopeless state it’s in. As Long says, the kind of NA he advocates, and the follow through to a well-designed course is “no more or less than matching the expectations we have that purveyors of other services (physicians, lawyers, nurses, architects, engineers, etc.) will provide what we need, and not simply dish out the same product to everyone”.

We hide behind so many well-rehearsed excuses: It’s too complicated; I’m too busy; We’re too busy; The boss won’t let me and her boss won’t let him; The students won’t like it; Things aren’t so bad, we have wriggle room; I like order, you like order, we all like order; etc., etc., and we take what we mistakenly see as the easy way out.

So on it goes. The establishment figures of ELT, that awful crew of aging, unscholarly, elitist men and women who block up the hall and just won’t get out of the damn way are soon to parade their jaded wares at the upcoming big conferences. There, they probably won’t even try to spin their familiar message, the one they’ve been trotting out for 30 years now, that coursebook-driven ELT is just fine and dandy. Well, it isn’t. And there is now, thanks to Long’s evolving work, a splendid alternative. Once again, the times they are a changing.

Here’s Long’s References list.

Auerbach, E. R., & Burgess, D. (1985). The hidden curriculum of survival ESL. TESOL Quarterly 19, 3, 475-495.

Bartlett, N. D. (2005). A double shot 2% mocha latte, please, with whip: Service encounters in two coffee shops and at a coffee cart. In Long, M. H. (ed.), Second language needs analysis (pp. 305-343). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Cathcart, R. L. (1989). Authentic English and the survival English curriculum. TESOL Quarterly 23, 1, 105-126.

Granena, G. (2008). Elaboration and simplification in scripted and genuine telephone service encounters. International Review of Applied Linguistics 46, 2, 137-166.

Serafini, E. J., Lake, J. B., & Long, M. H. (2015). Methodological improvements in identifying specialized learner needs. English for Specific Purposes 40, 11-26.

7 thoughts on “Update on Long’s TBLT

  1. I do feel you’re being quite harsh on BC, IATEFL, coursebooks, etc. They may have their flaws – quite hefty ones at that – but there are surely far worse culprits to be dealt with? What about, for starters, the plethora of “educational” organisations and businesses that sell native-speaker communicative lessons to learners at extortionate rates? I find them, as a teacher, far more damaging to the profession than a question-begging CEFR or Pearson scale, or self-justifying IELTS exam test (how do we know the test works? It reflects what they learn. How do we know what to teach them? We cross reference with the test!) or based-on-intuition-for-a-global-market coursebook series.

    At least with the coursebook, or proficiency scale, or exam, there is the hope that the flaws will be wrinkled out and a logical, coherent set of resources will crawl from the mire. Otherwise, it just feels like you’re shaking a stick at McDonalds while even more es H eye tea junk food outlets draw people in.

    Imagine BC welcoming researchers without any sort of agenda, and working with them to improve their service for the people who matter – teachers and learners
    Cambridge bosses adhering to the principles of Fulcher to develop tests that make sense, that involve the teacher (I’d contend that it’s too risky a move to turn testing completely over to teachers), and that recognise the value and significance of learner context.
    Teachers being properly trained, with training being pedagogy based, not business or agenda based, continuous, regular, and the claim “It’s only intended as an initial teacher training course” not being accepted for how crap a (CELTA) course is.
    Coursebooks being vetted by experts and produced at a local level, as guides and supplements for teachers to help them develop their own ways of teaching that put learner needs first and are supported by sound research.
    School inspections that no school, in the world, is exempt from. Say what you will about the coursebook, but I think there are schools and school leaders who do far more damage to the industry, and the people who get sucked into it, and I include Skype courses, Youtube classes and private tutors in that list of schools! If you don’t have proven quality standards, you don’t operate legally.

    That, I think, would be preferable to the revolution you propose.

    But I am quite happy to accept, I could, as with so many things, be wrong.


    1. Hi Robert,

      Yes, as usual my remarks aren’t exactly nuanced. But we need to speak out against the BC’s abuse of its position, its defence of coursebook-driven ELT, its smug, very British conservatism. And against the Cambridge examiners, and IATEFL & TESOL, and the worn out gurus, … I don’t share your hope when looking at the current state of ELT that “the flaws will be wrinkled out”. I don’t think they can be; we need radical change and that starts by drawing attention to the problems. One of the problems, of course, is that most of those who could affect change stay silent. My criticisms are dealt with by affecting shocked disapproval; I’m rude, therefore the criticisms don’t need answering.

      As for saying that there are worse culprits than the BC and the Cambridge examiners, I’m sure you’re right, but of course. that’s no answer to the charges. And I’m not waving a stick at them, I’m pointing out what they do and asking people to look a bit more critically at them instead of regarding them as revered institutions.

      I agree that BC should do what you say, but don’t hold your breath. Ditto Cambridge examiners.

      I didn’t mean to suggest that teachers should be in charge of all testing. It’s an important issue, one that Paul Walsh has mentioned a few times, and it deserves more discussion. I’ll try to do a post on it soon.

      Your suggestions for reforming couresbooks strike me as similar to suggestions for reforming the British monarchy.

      And as for “school inspections that no school, in the world, is exempt from”, I don’t think that’s a good idea: there are far too many police in the world already. 🙂

      Thanks very much for your comments Robert. See you soon, I hope.


  2. Hi Geoff (and Mike),

    Fascinating follow-up, but please don’t be too hasty in putting to one side your own hybrid process version of TBLT. I’m not quite convinced that the the Long method (in name and nature) – as much as I admire it – is possible outside certain types of institution and cultural context.

    Take Spain for example – in the private sector at least, students sign up late, in fact often do not sign up for classes until AFTER the course has started; businesses demand in-company classes starting next week, tomorrow, yesterday. No time for your a NA done 3 months in advance and 200 hours of planning.

    Then there’s the cost of that 200 hours and how that gets passed on to students. That would be over 4000€ of expenditure (if you’re not paying peanuts) which, for a small school or co-op like SLB, would probably only be justifiable in the unlikely case of getting a business client prepared to pay for it, provide lots of students and guarantee lots of future repeat courses. The first part is definitely possible, the second maybe too but with the last (in the current economic climate) we’re really fantasising. Outside of this, if quality English provision is not only going to benefit the very rich, it seems to me that the natural home of Long’s TBLT is the large institution/university with heavily oversubscribed academic and vocational courses that can reasonably be assumed to repeat each year.

    A final point about Pearson (or whichever multinational publishing enterprise). “What if Pearson invested in helping local ELT schools all over the world to offer locally produced courses that met local needs?” …. etc. Come on, Geoff! Are we really supposed to wait around for these companies to start putting people before profit? In more than a merely tokenistic, corporate charity sort of way? It’s NEVER going to happen. So forget them, let’s make them irrelevant. What if students were persuaded to forego the 40 odd € (or more) they annually spend on coursebooks for trad EFL courses, pay it instead to teacher-run institutions who teach according to need rather than according to the book, and thereby help those teachers do their jobs better and supply courses that do more than pay lip-service to the comm. or TBLT approaches?? It still wouldn’t give us enough for those 200 hours of planning, but it would be a start.

    So Long Live Long, but “Visca la Versió Jordan” because it really could make TBLT a far more accessible and therefore potentially far more radical and transformative approach.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Neil,

      We have to talk about this in the SLB! I reckon we could do a lot to help members move in the direction of consulting domain expert opinion and implementing the kind of course Mike Long talks about. I think even 50 hours would go a long way, and we could slowly develop courses over the next few years. And in my opinion, schools in the private sector – like Barcelona’s Oxford House – could, if they really wanted to, also slowly move to proper TBLT courses. Where there’s a will……. But I take your general point about the costs and the economic viability of such courses. As for my daft dream about Pearson, you’re quite right: better to get on without them.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. OK, I accept that maybe with further hybridisation there is a workable model in there somewhere:

        1. All the triangulation with domain experts, and/or via the occupational tasks website etc., proper NA, done for all vocational courses currently or potentially running, e.g.
        -VFX studio artists
        -social workers
        -music promoters

        2. Development of input resources, task language, pedagogical tasks done in advance as far as possible (i.e. as time and finances allow) via the materials bank, with resources tagged and linked to each current or potential course.

        3. Further development of tasks and language done via the process model, with students, on-the-fly if need be, but mats thereby developed are retrospectively added to the bank for future courses

        4. If course repeats, most of the leg-work has now been done and time can be spent consolidating, evaluating and refining the course.

        I have to say that quite aside from the financial aspect, I believe there’s a lot of value in retaining aspects of the process model. I’m not sure that too much pre-writing of course content is good for students or Ts – textbooks themselves are testament to that. Even a well-considered, needs-based TBLT course could lead to lazy and ineffective teaching if the package of resources that constitutes it is seen in Biblical terms, rather than as a sort of living, breathing, responsive portfolio, open to multiple uses and adaptations.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Hi Neil,

        Good ideas! Let’s work on them. I agree that the students should have an important say in both what and how their course is taught. The kind of feedback / planning sessions I suggested could still be used, but some elements would be fixed.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Btw you’re absolutely right about Oxford House and other academies, even more so the IHs and BCs of this world who charge business clients an absolute fortune and pay the T a very small proportion of that. I wonder what their justification for not doing Long-Form TBLT would be. I’m fairly certain it won’t be a pedagogical reason. (NB they haven’t really embraced even TBLT-lite, not from what I can see.)

        Liked by 2 people

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