Dellar on Grammar Teaching

Over the last few years, Hugh Dellar has given various versions of the same talk on how to teach grammar. The latest version was at the IATEFL Hungary conference last week, called:

Following the patterns: colligation and the necessity of a bottom-up approach to grammar

At the IATEFL conference in Glasgow earlier this year, the title was:

Following the patterns: colligation and the need for a bottom-up approach to grammar.

So he’s gone from seeing “a need”, to seeing “the necessity” of change, a hardening of line perhaps explained by his ever-more detailed analysis of how lexical items “grammar” in their own uniquely primed ways.

The talk starts and finishes in various different ways. One way it starts (e.g. Brno, April 2017) is with Dellar insulting Toby Young (that’s him in the photo above), a British journalist who’s a stickler for grammar. Dellar shows Mr. Young’s photo and asks if anyone in the audience recognises him.  “Well thank your lucky stars if you don’t!” says Dellar, who assures everybody that Mr. Young is a privledged, middle class snob “in possession of a rather punchable face”. Another way it starts  (e.g  “Teaching Grammar Lexically”), is with Dellar talking learnedly about “Chomsky and the whole idea of structuralist grammar” and then going on to explain how ELT suffers from “the tyranny of grammar teaching”.

A popular way Dellar finishes is by reading out his “poem”, a re-working of Larkin’s classic “This be the verse”,  which starts out like this:

They fuck you up your language teachers,

They don’t mean to but they do.

They plague you with their rules of grammar

With extra homework (from Raymond Murphy’s English grammar probably photocopied) just for you.


But they were fucked up in their turn

By fools in old-style hats and coats

 Who half the time had games and fun

 And half Murphied you round the throat.         

Only one line in the second stanza has been changed from Larkin’s original; can you guess which one is Delllar’s? The whole thing (I’ve spared you the rest) must be seen as Dellar’s way of expressing his feelings about structuralist grammar, that “outmoded and outdated way of thinking about how language works”. But what exactly is the difference between this outmoded grammar and the sort of grammar that Dellar himself is so keen to promote?  Well that’s the middle bit of the talk, the bit that comes after insulting a middle class journalist and attributing structuralism to Chomsky, and before reading his poem.

Grammar, Dellar tells us, is not one thing but a range of different kinds of things. Having dealt with the kinds of things that “big, top-down grammar” is, Dellar explains the seven kinds of things that characterise his “bottom-up” grammar. Here they are, and you’ll probably spot when I’m using Dellar’s own words.

  1. Grammar as lexis /phrases

You can teach a grammatical structure as a phrase. For example,

  • What’s it like?
  • I’ve never seen it but it’s supposed to be great.
  • I’ll do it later.
  • You should have told me.

You can teach students these kinds of very common examples of how grammar is realised without studying them as grammar.

  1. Phrases providing slots.

There are lots of little patterns that are sort of flexible and sort of malleable that we can use in lots of varying ways, but not an infinite number of varying ways. For example

  • What are you doing…. tonight?
  • What are you doing ……. after this?

is a sort of fixed phrase that can be adapted a bit, but not much – there are only 6 ways of finishing the sentence in fact. And, while some phrases look flexible, in fact they aren’t. For example,

  • There’s no pleasing some people.

Isn’t flexible.  You can’t say

  • There’s no angering some people.

Why? Because nobody says it; its not a probable sentence in English; it’s a fixed expression. So sometimes you can alter the slots and sometimes you can’t.

  1. Collocations

If you think about collocations and then collocatons of collocations you start thinking about grammar. For example, take the word responsible. Used as an adjective, we get

  • I’m responsible for hiring and firing.

But used as a noun, it grammars differently:

  • It’s the responsibility of the boss to make decisions.

And the negative adjective forms different patterns again –  it has its own, different internal grammar:

  • It’s irresponsible of you to leave a gun in the house.   

So the adjective form and the noun form and the negative form grammar, or pattern grammatically, in different ways. Thinking about the grammar of individual words gives you a different way of thinking about what grammar is and how it works . Instead of the big top down grammar, which we just drop words into as Chomsky suggested, it’s thinking about the individual words that drive our communication and the grammatical patterns which often attach themselves to those particular words.

  1. Colligation

Colligation refers to the grammatical patterns which frequently attach themselves to words. For example, the verb to be born only colligates with the past simple passive. Likewise, the most frequent colligation of dub is past simple passive

  • Bandem was once dubbed the Paris of the East.

Phrases colligate in weird ways. You can say

  • I can’t be bothered but not
  • I can be bothered.

You can say

  • It was really surprising  or
  • It wasn’t that surprising.

– both are OK. But

  • It wasn’t that astonishing

sounds weird because ungraded or extreme adjectives don’t usually colligate with not. So again it’s about thinking about the patterns of individual words and making those patterns available to your students.

  1. Patterns

A very flexible pattern is

  • Just because … it doesn’t mean ……

There’s also this idea Nick Ellis has that we can learn the meaning of words because we’ve learned prototypical examples  of patterns that the new word is encapsulated within. For example,

  • verb across a place

Nearly always, the verb that goes into that pattern is go – you go across a place. So every other example you encounter of this pattern across a place will have a variation of  the verb go, like move, or travel, for example. If you then encounter:

  • They man-doubled across the place.

you know that man-doubled is some kind of way of moving.

  1. Discourse Patterns

These are very useful. For example:

  • While some people think …. it nevertheless seems true that …..
  • According to ……, however in reality, …….
  1. Genre Dependencies

All genres have their own grammatical and lexico-grammatical conventions.

Classroom Implications

Students need to see new vocabulary with the grammar that the new vocabulary is often used with, and they need to see grammar with the lexis it’s used with. They need to think “This is a language lesson where we’re learning this grammar in this context, with this vocabulary, and we’re learning this vocabulary in this context with this grammar”.  Apart from bottom-up grammar, teachers  should do some general grammar explanation and use general rules of grammar carefully, avoiding bad rules. They should use PPP, but only with chunks of language and to build conversation; and they should encourage noticing by constantly drawing their students attention to how words grammar. Finally, two-way translation of whole sentences, cloze exercises, gap fill exercises and drills are all good ways to teach students about language patterns.


How persuasive is Dellar’s argument that a bottom-up approach to grammar is “a necessity”? Teachers who use traditional, big, outmoded grammar to explain formal elements of English to their students might wonder just how they’re supposed to follow the patterns that Dellar is so captivated by. What are the patterns? Looking at his repeated presentations of bottom-up grammar, the patterns turn out to be so particular and idiosyncratic as to be of very little help in making any generalisations that serve to generate grammatically correct utterances. It boils down to doing what Dellar does: going through a seemingly endless list of exemplars.

Looking back at the seven kinds of things that characterise “bottom-up” grammar, we see phrases that just have to learned; phrases with slots where there’s no way of knowing when you can alter the slots and when you can’t; collocations where each different form of a word has different grammatical patterns which attach themselves to each different word; colligations where phrases work in weird ways and “so again it’s about thinking about the patterns of individual words and making those patterns available to your students”. Even the patterns themselves that Dellar presents don’t allow for much generalisation.

Surely “the big top down grammar, which we just drop words into”(Dellar would be pleased to know, if only he’d listen, that Chomsky has absolutely nothing to do with this grammar) at least has the value of usefulness: lots of sentences can be generated by knowing, for example, that English syntax is usually of the form subject – verb – object, that you can’t omit the pronouns in verb phrases, and that adjectives with 3 syllables form the comparative and superlative with more and most.

Dellar cites Michael Swan in support of his arguments, but Swan is, of course, a prominent critic of the lexical-chunk approach. While Swan sees a place for teaching ‘high-priority chunks ‘ he has forcefully argued against giving formulaic expressions so much attention that other aspects of language – ordinary vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation and skills – get sidelined.

Dellar advises teachers to “follow the patterns” without giving any clear description of what the patterns are or any explanation of how to “follow” them. In fact, as he’s demonstrated so many times in so many different talks, and in his magnum opus Teaching Lexically, Dellar’s methodology has at its heart the task of presenting and practicing lexical chunks, a task which makes the labour of Sisyphus look like a walk in the park. Given the fact that native speakers know tens or hundreds of thousands of such chunks (estimates vary, but 30,000 is conservative), as Swan has pointed out, a student could learn 10 chunks a day, every day, for 7 long years. and still not be a proficient user of English. So, as Dellar himself is fond of saying “Good luck with that”.

Modern ELT is based on the idea that the best way to help students learn an L2 is by involving them in activities where they use the language as a vehicle for genuine communication. Grammar teaching is still regarded as important, and how best to go about it is the subject of on-going debate, but most agree that it should take a back seat, and that teachers should spend most classroom time involving their students in activities where they communicate with each other in the target language, not listen to the teacher talk about it. The sovereign principle of Dellar’s pedagogy is: “Teach Them About Words”; and that involves spending a great deal of the scarce, precious resource that is classroom time on the explicit teaching of words. Apart from not answering critics who doubt the efficacy of spending so much time on explicit teaching, Dellar has never given any satisfactory criteria for choosing which words to teach, or any persuasive arguments for the way he goes about teaching them.

Dellar’s approach to teaching grammar misrepresents the traditional pedagogical grammar of Swan, Parrott and others and poorly represents the work of Pawley and Syder, Nattinger and DeCarrico, Sinclair and others. It’s myopic, obsessive and incredibly boring. In any talk that Dellar gives, he can’t go for five minutes without offering up some of his precious treasure:

It’s the small words that are such fun, yeah? I mean, I think it’s really important that we see that. Like even for example. The only way to explain what even means is through lots of examples.

  • I’ve had a really busy day. I haven’t even had time for a coffee. Yeah?
  • I’ve been on my feet all day I haven’t even had time for a break.
  • She doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t even swear.
  • He’s got a semi-detached house outside London, a new car with four wheels and a steering wheel, he’s even got some dosh in the bank. Yeah?
  • It’s past midnight, they’re all falling asleep, but I haven’t even got to the best bit yet.
  • I don’t know what Chomsky said, I don’t understand Nick Ellis, I can’t even spell my own name.
  • Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
  • Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
  • zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz


15 thoughts on “Dellar on Grammar Teaching

  1. Hi Geoff
    By chance this study on the local grammar of thanking(open access – )popped up on a feed recently;
    This seems one way to follow up on Hugh’s intuition about “patterns”; as this particular study was on pragmatics then applications to the classroom may seem achievable but work for less pragmatic language will be tougher (recalling that Hunston/Sinclair work on CoBuild ressources was less than successful in lang teaching)
    Anyway food for thought may be

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for this Mura. It’s certainly an interesting article and it shows, I think, the advantages of focus and careful scholarship over poorly-described intuitions.


  2. Dellar’s methodology has at its heart the task of presenting and practicing lexical chunks, a task which makes the labour of Sisyphus look like a walk in the park

    I used to have a Russian colleague at IH in Moscow who, it turned out, would try to learn at least one idiomatic expression in English a day. I found this out when I asked her a question one day and she replied “I’m sorry, I haven’t the foggiest.” I remember that clearly because I remember being struck at the time by the impression it made on me – it did sound more natural and it did sound more fluent (for a speaker of English who at the time was likely high B1 / low B2 or thereabouts).

    I mention this really because learning and using common formulaic chunks (or lexical bundles if you prefer) can have a striking effect on making an L2 speaker sound more a part of the L1 community more or less regardless of accent and pronunciation. This in turn can be helpful to students so long as they have a high intermediate level to begin with – because if more proficient or native speakers believe that this person is much more fluent than they are then they might be willing to engage in conversation with them in a freer and more relaxed way (rather than worrying about whether or not the interlocutor has understood them every other minute) and in that way the learner might gain more and more useful or interesting input.

    Those are a couple of things that make lexical bundles and fixed expressions so seductive, I think, to many teachers regardless of whether the teacher has English as their L1 or L2 (L3 etc.) themselves.

    Unfortunately, there are several issues with this. As you rightly point out, it can actually take quite a lot of effort for intermediate learners to learn and use a phrase such as There’s no pleasing some people. and given the frequency with which they are likely to be in a conversation where that phrase will be suitable (i.e. not often at all) you do have to wonder how much use it will be at that level.

    An advanced learner is likely to pick up and recall that kind of phrase more easily – however infrequently they get to use it – but that surely has a lot more to do with their having reached an advanced level of proficiency and usage rather than any inherent efficacy of learning such fixed expressions.

    As you point out, it is probably far more valuable for a lot of students to have them understand why we use no instead of not in There’s no pleasing some people. and/or that is … pleasing is not a present progressive form of the verb please (which is what I imagine many students might reasonably assume on first encountering that particular expression).

    Training a language learner to identify when something is a bundle and when not is therefore probably more useful. And they could do that better if they understood e.g. that adjectives can have complements (e.g. pleased to-verb; pleased that-clause; pleased for/with noun) or whatever.

    And although I’m not especially fond of – well, not really fond of at all in many respects – ELF, I do at least acknowledge that There’s no pleasing some people. could be replaced by something like *I don’t why does he do that. *It seems to me not good. and the sentiment would arguably be just as clear.

    That said and in Dellar’s defence, I would say that there is something motivating to language learners about the ability to correctly and appropriately use phrases like I haven’t the foggiest or There’s no pleasing some people. or The more, the merrier and The bigger they are, the harder they fall. (that last two of which I taught to my students yesterday as part of a lesson on comparison that included double comparatives). And I don’t think the draw of that motivational factor for learners should be underestimated.

    On the other hand, has Dellar really said the following?

    Phrases colligate in weird ways. You can say

    I can’t be bothered but not
    I can be bothered.

    Because that doesn’t sound right to me. Saying I can be bothered would be marked, for sure, but in context and used with contrastive stress I’d say it would be perfectly suitable in the right context. And as Hoey’s lexical priming is really concerned with the sensitivity of grammar to a particular context and situation it would be odd to say I can be bothered is not possible (as opposed to possible but restricted to very particular circumstances).

    I think a lot of the issue might come down to how centrally a teacher places lexical chunks and bundles in relation to everything else.


    1. Thanks for this, Nicholas. Learning useful bits of language is obviously a good thing. There are lots of things one can talk about regarding which bits to learn, when, how to use them, possible pit falls, and so on. My objection to Dellar’s talks on grammar teaching is that his views on bottom-up grammar are so badly presented as to be almost incoherent, and in my opinion are unlikely to help teachers to do a better job.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Hi Geoff,

        Just realised that was probably longer and more rambly than I’d intended it to be – I appreciate your points and think the criticism valid, for sure.

        But I was kind of speaking to the side of the issue and wondering what makes an approach like Dellar’s so attractive to so many people. And I think it may be that:

        It can be interesting as well as motivating for the learner
        It can be seductive for the teacher, especially (but not exclusively) the NS teacher (because students using such phrases may sound more natural in the sense of being less ‘other’ and more like an in-group member of the L1 community

        But for sure the problem with the approach (potentially at least) from my side is that it can make the learners dependent on the teacher (a point I think you also make). If closer attention to patterns, structure and formation of clauses and phrases is made then there is a fairly good chance of students being able to pick out and find phrases for themselves as and when they need them or are simply attracted to them.

        Anyway, interesting post as always.


      2. Thanks for the follow-up Nicholas. There’s A LOT to be said for paying more attention to learning lexical chunks. Those who study instructed SLA, including Robinson, N. Ellis and Long, all agree that we must look for ways of helping learners acquire them, but none of them has ever suggested approaching the problem as Dellar does. As you say, we have to look for ways of helping learners get a hold on these things for themselves, and one good way seems to be by designing appropriate pedagogic tasks using adequate materials.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Hi Geoff,

        Accordingly, Dellar would have to show how his approach, presenting lots of “authentic” bits and pieces of language, can bring about a systematic structure. That is, how teaching the specific produces the general. I guess, it is this strong claim that makes his approach flawed. Can we show that explicit lexical teaching fails to produce “any” grammatical knowledge?

        Failing to “help teachers do a better job” seems to rest with the un-principled guidance to the presentation of “useful chunks.” Why this and not that? What first? This sounds like the old problem of sequencing in language teaching.

        Instead, if I get it correctly, vocabulary learning should assume an accessory role in purpose driven activities. The question of what to teach is answered by the students’ need in a given context. Words are strapped to the back of the climber on the way up the wall and are used, searched for, taught, when needed.

        To me it seems that vocabulary instruction does represent a bootstrapping opportunity for language learning. That is, meaningful exchange can happen due to prior vocabulary teaching, if we allow some distance between exposure and production. Words become available to students over time. Also, students might not give us the chance to show them some valuable vocabulary if we rely only on the just-in-time strategy. Artificially pushing a vocabulary agenda, including chunks, collocations, etc. compared to explicit grammar instruction has the advantage that these bits of language do not need processing other than initial recall. Of course, students will have to gauge for appropriatness.



      4. Hi Thom,

        Dellar claims that it’s better to teach “bottom-up grammar” than “big grammar”. His characterisation of “big grammar” is absurd – a ridiculous straw man argument which makes no attempt to give a fair description or ctitique of the grammar presented by Quirk or Huddleston, or of Swan’s more pedagogical grammar. His own “bottom-up grammar”, as presented in successive talks over the last few years, is a hotch potch of badly-selected, badly-organised and badly-explained examples of collocation, colligation, and lexical chunks that lacks any coherent argument – any grammar, we might say.

        Whether or not explicit lexical teaching “produces grammatical knowledge”, and whether or not vocabulary teaching is a good way of bootstrapping language learning, my intention was to show that Dellar’s talk is unhelpful to teachers because he talks ignorant nonsense about grammar, fails to provide any principled way of selecting which words (and their collocates, colligates, etc.) to teach; and suggests that teachers should spend an innordinate amount of classroom time on the explicit teaching of a random collection of words. Teachers unlucky enough to attend Dellar’s talks not only learn absolutely nothing useful about grammar, they also have to endure listening to him trotting out his suffocatingly boring, seemingly endless list of bits of language, none of which has much to do with any other. The list is of course, not just boring but futile.


  3. Hi again,

    … answering the questions “Whether or not explicit lexical teaching “produces grammatical knowledge”, and whether or not vocabulary teaching is a good way of bootstrapping language learning” would mark the difference between being drunk and groping for the key to open the door, or trying to get through the wrong door with the wrong key. Teaching collocations and chunks might need sobering up; that is, provide a principled sequence, replace the “badly” with well-selected, etc.

    Does part of the problem lie with the a priori selection of language items before students call for the language? Couldn’t explicit vocabulary teaching dove tail with task based approaches?

    “His own “bottom-up grammar”…lacks any coherent argument”. What would the coherent argument look like? I guess Dellar would refer to Hoey whose lexical priming was critiziced in this place. Is there a better argument in mainstream ELT? I don’t think so. At least for the moment, I’d encourage more lexical teaching at the risk of being still ill-defined over doing the old present perfect routines.



    1. Hi Thom,

      One principled way of deciding what lexis and grammar to teach is by using corpora to find relevant and frequently-occurring language suitable for a certain level and certain needs. See my latest post which refers to the new book “Successful Spoken English” for more. Another way is through the task-based teaching that Long recommends, which starts with a needs analysis to identify target tasks associated with the professional & other needs of the learners, and proceeds by setting out the language needed to perform the identified set of tasks (which can be examined by using concordancers to search specialist corpora) and incorporating it into materials used to perform pedagogic tasks. These are examples of coherent arguments for deciding “What” to teach; Dellar doesn’t provide any such arguments, maybe because he’s blissfully unaware of the need for them.

      I can’t see how Hoey’s work can provide principles for selecting what vocab. items are worth exploring for the way they “grammar”; can you?

      As for “lexical teaching” versus “doing the old present perfect routine”, that sounds like exactly the sort of false dichtomy that Dellar uses to support his hopeless case.


      1. Yes, I agree that corpus studies are very helpful when identifying learning targets. Will take a look at the other post in a moment. I’d be surprised if Dellar had not used similar strategies for his choice of lexis.

        Yes, I can see how the Long approach can be successful. The missing thing for Dellar would be the needs analysis (I think this is not a straight forward tasks…much English learning is lacking clear needs).

        I think Hoey comes in when one tries to answer the question whether lexis can lead to grammatical knowledge. Also, his claims will lead to greater attention, as a principle, to word-patterns in praxis, not because his inferences are correct, that lexical priming produces the system—that is the debate, but because his text analysis unearths intriguing material. The principle would be, when reading 1) pay attention to verbs and nouns, 2) pay attention to frequent verbs and nouns (as defined by corpora and pointed out by the teacher), 3) scan for collocations (look left to the noun, look out for prepositions) 4) notice unusual collocations (i.e. that differ from L1: prestar atención versus pay attention), and similar. BTW, I think Hoey’s conclusions are the weakest when he tries to suggest consequences for the language classroom. To me it seems, he does not really know yet what lexical priming, were true, meant for the classroom.

        About the false dichotomy, I take the old routine to be the presentation of auxiliary + participle followed by practice. The main learning task is a) to remember the correct participle, b) getting the sequence right with a third person S now and then, and c) intuitively know when to use the present perfect (the most difficult part). This, I think, can be accomplished more easily by teaching the phrases in context (hearing, seeing, repeating) instead of teaching (which is merely showing a sequence) the structure and then practice (the odious PPP*).

        I am not saying that explicit reference to an apparent grammatical feature of the language would be mutually exclusive to a focus on vocabulary first. After all, students frequently want to know what it is they are looking at. A question that is often best answered by a grammar reference. When I say that I would encourage more lexical teaching as opposed to grammar presentation/practice, I am not suggesting a dichotomy, but a preference.

        *I think working through Murhpy’s Grammar in Use is right up there in terms of eternal boredom with Dellar´s …Lexisperplexis.



      2. Hi again, Thom,

        I’m sure one can get to know about grammar from looking at colligation, the problem is the haphazard way Dellar goes about it. Telling teachers that, in the case of the word responsible , the adjective form and the noun form and the negative form grammar, or pattern grammatically, in different ways and that it’s “necessary” to think about the grammar of individual words instead of the big top down grammar, is, I think, less than helpful, unless you can bring some guiding principles to bear on it all.

        My point about the false dichtomy is that, mercifully, we don’t have to choose between Murphy’s Grammar in Use and Dellar’s “Bottom-up Grammar”.


  4. “My point about the false dichtomy is that, mercifully, we don’t have to choose between Murphy’s Grammar in Use and Dellar’s “Bottom-up Grammar”.

    Exactly, I am writing a textbook where I tell teachers and students exactly what they have to do, the title–Speechless.




  5. Hi Geoff,

    Fascinating analysis and I have to say, having worked with Dellar and Walkley at one point in my career, for over 6 years, you have perfectly described the problem with Dellar and Walkley’s approach to second language learning. I came across your site after following through on Dellar’s comments on Twitter regarding a recent IATEFL conference, after one of my infrequent visits to their social media sites. Since retiring from EFL teaching, I have continued pursuing a linguistic aspect of language, inspired from 40 years of teaching EFL and my own particular interest, human concepts and the function of language, Emolinguistics. Having read other posts you have made regarding their approach to language teaching and the subject of your analysis on this page of the Lexical approach, I decided that I would add my personal knowledge of these two teachers. Whilst I appreciate that most of your posts are very much academic linguistic theory debate, I would like to draw attention to both the human side of D&W and the more practical aspects of everyday language teaching, particularly from a student’s perspective, an area which I have seen little or no reference.

    In his various comments about the conference, two caught my eye. One an ad hominem personal attack on Stephen Krashen, “Yet another aging guru who has long since lost any interest in the efforts of everyday classroom practitioners, I fumed”, used to undermine, in Dellar’s mind, the points being raised by Stephen Krashen. A perfect valid learning point, ‘reading is a proven method of increasing language knowledge’. Their ageism showing up once again, for in their minds if one does not accept their ideas it is frequently because you are an “oldie”.

    The second being an example of his arrogant attitude regarding a student’s (a human being) ability to motivate themselves and the well established concept of “student centred” learning in all aspects of life ,since there is nothing better for the memory process and the progress achieved throughout the ages by humans who have studied a subject in isolation from teachers, self-learning being the ultimate practice of student centred learning. Dellar: “Personally I’d like to see the term ‘student centred’ banned from talks. It is maybe the most debased term in our entire industry”. To ban any term which is used to discuss the process of human learning is bad enough, to ban this particular term is bordering on irresponsible.

    I mention all this since I agree completely with your analysis and you actually touch on an aspect of the clause/phrase/sentence approach which is missing from every talk/missive and that is, the level of a learner. There is also the intellect of the learner to take into account as we progress in a language. As far I am aware this approach does nothing to help the speed of learning which has not increased over the years, something I was always interested in.

    Hence my interest in CALL and my specialities, Video and in particular, Language Laboratory, which with proper training and access, a student could almost double their speed of learning. Another process of learning which they have decried, “students listening, again and again, is demeaning”. Followed by a statement that Language Laboratories can offer nothing in the way of helping to learn a foreign language. In effect stating, using a tape recorder for listening comprehensions in a classroom is permissible, however, it is taboo for learners to record themselves in order to compare themselves to a native speaker. It makes one wonder how Linguaphone and their ilk, plus phone apps and the proliferation of web-based student-centered learning programs have managed to survive and grow and learners are able to listen again and again at their own pace, to sounds they have problems in recognizing.

    I certainly do not feel I am demeaning myself, in fact, I get great satisfaction in eventually recreating the foreign sound perfectly. My partner taught herself solely through this process to reach advanced level in both French and Italian in a year, 3-4 hours a day, with a month spent practising both, with friends, in France. I encountered 100s of students who thoroughly enjoyed the process. Whilst anecdotal, it signifies that there are other learning styles other than the D&W approach.
    They are also unwilling to debate anything contrary to their opinions, Dellar utilising the raspberry techniques to interject whilst someone is expressing their opinions or knowledge. It would seem to me that they are evangelically emotionally disturbed by the thought of technology aiding humans to learn more effectively which precludes them from accepting the factual realities of learning. One can surmise another reason for their dislike of Language Laboratories is that its use in a school environment it is also an individual (mistake) language problem analyser which can show how ineffective their teaching can be over a term, for example, lower level students still struggling to master contractive forms of simple grammar constructions or recognise different contrastive structural forms.

    There is ample evidence to believe the problem with these two teachers is that Dellar in particular, is more concerned with their image in the academic world of EFL. There is nothing new about their Lexical approach other than self-promotion. Harsh words, however, I know the extent that these two will stoop to force their concepts on other people and, as you have pointed out, the Toby Young comments show clearly Dellar’s use of personal attacks, is part and parcel of his academic pronouncements. Socially sending colleagues to Coventry for 5 years for challenging their prescriptive ideas of language teaching, is not a sign of human beings who are interested in working towards helping students expedite their learning by experiencing the many aspects of the learning processes and the cooperation which colleagues ought to show in encouraging learners to experience many different learning styles. They are no different from the average EFL teacher and in some areas worse, evidence, their own videos.

    Dellar’s use of personal, cherry-picked, anecdotal opinions are never backed up by empirical evidence and are picked, on many occasions, to mock both students and teachers, for comedic effect. Dellar’s personal comments about Toby Young, a journalist who has no connection with the world of EFL, are particularly disgraceful in an apparent academic debate who he also picks out for derision in his propaganda videos. Attacking someone’s features and threatening violence because of those features is a mindset similar to racial hatred. He obviously has forgotten, or does not even know, (lack of research) it is a Factual Reality that people are judged by their language use, whether he likes it or not, “you was” being a fine example.

    Dellar’s videos on YouTube of him teaching are identical to classrooms around the world and provide no revelations of an evangelical nature which would convince any teacher he is a new aging guru in the making. His choice of extreme versions of grammar-related teaching and exercises bear no resemblance to what happens in the majority of classrooms. One could say his face has similar characteristics to Toby Young’s, however, violence should never be a tactic in an academic debate. They also actively undermine other teachers in pursuit of their prescriptive ideas, thereby depriving students, who all have differing learning styles, from speeding up the retention and production of a new language. Furthermore, they seem to be incapable of understanding that language is sound and learners have great difficulty in both recognition and reproduction and they pay scant regard to the variety of classroom techniques which can be applied to enhance memory.

    As you rightly point out they provide no new evidence or insight into why they are in possession of the Holy Grail of Language Teaching, everything seems to be discussions about opinions on what to teach as opposed to how, neglecting all the time the interference of Mother Tongue concepts and structural constructions which the intellect of the individual learner helps to either hinder or help in the learning process. The true art of teaching is understanding what, and how to utilise the multitude of the learning processes available to a teacher, no single process being the answer. The problem with D&W is also on the human level where they are only too willing to lie and distort reality, in order to undermine colleagues and detractors abilities and integrity.

    Reading the comments in your critiques, it seems that some of their supporters also apply ad hominem tactics which serve only to discredit the people who indulge in such Trumpistic tactics. One could well argue that their chunk or word of the day is demeaning learners since the concept of the word has already been learnt in the Mother Tongue and its usage known at the level they are aiming at. Like most of his examples, one can easily challenge the interpretations they choose.

    Just examining their glorification of “chunk” which I always found risible when it was first muted as an EFL term. Using their own insistence on the use of what they call “real” language, since when has anyone asked for an alternative “chunk” as opposed to an alternative phrase or sentence as a substitute for another. If we are discussing language let us use related language not cooking vocabulary. “ I’ll rephrase that” Vs “I’ll rechunk that”. I have always believed that this word is a sign of linguistic intellectual immaturity and an emotional interpretation of the grammar terms, clause, phrase and sentence. Will it be “chunky verbs” next?

    All languages have their own grammar forms and in my experience of listening to 100’s of students over 40 years, the conflict between their own language structural concepts and the target language are the main causes of confusion, and grammar and its concepts can be a great shortcut to help learners analyse and enable them to mentally readjust to new structural concepts. Grammar terms, after all, are universal concepts. There are also the different learning styles which apply to all human beings. I once carried out a survey of students, for a course I did, of all the classroom techniques, based on memory retention, and it was very surprising what the results were, many myths of modern teaching techniques were soundly rejected by the students.

    Grammar words and their concepts, both in meaning and emotional impact are not just a fill in for vocabulary, how many average human beings even understand the concept of lexis? If they want to talk about real language then use technical terms the learner will understand. If their system is so excellent how is it they presided over the closure of the EFL unit at the University of Westminster which had been running for decades.

    Language is the result of concepts which relate to the functions of life. Tenses have the concepts of time and have evolved into direct emotional messages as well and in conjunction with other grammar vocabulary helps to direct many other functions and emotional concepts, not forgetting, of course, the massive influence intonation has on any spoken form. Analysing how these functions are applied in different languages and in the target language provides the learner with the fluency required by those who wish to be proficient with repetition and emotion being the two memory systems of human knowledge retention. Since books are constantly quoted I will add my template for courses in all languages, from beginners to upper-intermediate, Functions of English by Leo Jones, a practical guide and template for reaching competency to a point of moving forward through self-centred learning techniques.

    Never found Dellar and Walkley’s lower level course books inspiring and as colleagues, they are two emotionally driven human beings who prefer confrontation to cooperation and debasing to debate.

    The time, however, is coming when learning a language will encompass all aspects of the human learning process and teachers could possibly become redundant.


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