A Christmas Carol (With apologies to Charles Dickens)


Once upon a time — of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve — Deff Jawdum sat idle in his study, watching a video of the President of TESOL giving her historic opening address to the first TESOL North Korea conference. Her address was the one she gave wherever she went, entitled “You Do It Our Way” and had, on this occasion, a totally silent but appreciate audience of 50,000 state officials and 24 EFL teachers from Pyongyang. Having dealt at length with her well-known themes “The need for discipline”, “We know what’s best” and “A little knowledge goes a long way”, she had just reached the coda: “There’ll always be an English!”

“Crap! Bullshit!”, shouted Deff, “What could be worse than this stupid, sentimental hogwash!”

As if to answer his question, a new message flashed up from his email.

All of us here at MacSwindle’s Coursebooks For Every Occasion wish you a Merry Christmas!

“Merry what?” Deff spluttered, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”

Deff moved from his desk to his dining room, and having finished his melancholy dinner, repaired to bed, where he began to read A. Underhill’s Back-chaining in the 21st Century. He was just getting the hang of “I’m pist, I’m pist, I’m a ty…pist” when sleep overcame him and the book slid from his hands to the floor. Not long afterwards, his sleep was interrupted by someone shaking his arm. Starting up into a half-recumbent attitude, Deff found himself face to face with an unearthly visitor who looked just like Michael West.



“Who, and what are you?” Deff demanded.

“I am the Ghost of ELT Past.”

“Long Past?” inquired Deff, trying to remember when the General Service List of English was first published.

“No, your past. Rise! and walk with me!”

As the words were spoken, they passed through the wall, and stood upon the ground floor of a building which Deff immediately recognised as that of the language school where he was first employed: The Fenix School Of English, Barcelona.

“Why have you brought me here?” asked Deff.

“To show you the havoc that your ill-considered teaching practice caused”, said the ghost. “Look on now and weep”.

Deff hovered above Classroom 3 and watched as a long-haired young man, dressed in a Che Guevara t-shirt, faded jeans and dirty Spanish boots walked into the classroom. It was he, Deff, 40 years ago.


His students seemed less than energised by his arrival, and Deff watched in less than awe at his younger self in action.

Er, Montse.. What’s your job?
Finance manager.
Great. Terrific. Fantastic. You’re a finance manager!
Finance manager.
Yes, you’re a finance manager. Great. Terrific. OK, class, What’s Monste’s job?
Chorus: Finance manager.
Yes, she’s a finance manager . Fantastic. Great. Yes. OK, Montse, how long have you been a finance manager?
How , how long have you been a finance manager? How many years?
Great. Terrific. Fantastic. You’ve been a finance manager for five years. OK, Montse, when did you start your career as a finance manager?
When did you start, when was your first year, you, as a finance manager? What year did you start as a finance manager?
1998. Yes. Great. Fantastic. OK. You started as a finance manager in 1998. You’ve been a finance manager since 1998. You’ve been a finance manager for five years. You’ve been a finance manager since 1998. For five years. Since 1998. Great. Terrific. Fantastic.
No entiendo nada.
¡Joder, Montse! Es que llevamos dos meses practicando for and since with the present perfect.

“Pathetic!” said the ghost hovering next to Deff.

“Not great, I’ll give you that, but well, that’s the way we did it back then”, said Deff.

“That’s the way you did it, Deff, because you were as mean-spirited then as you remain today. You failed your students. Have you any idea what happened to the students in that class? They all had promising careers wrecked by their inability to distinguish between for and since”.

Suddenly Deff was jerked away and transported to Girona. The ghost pointed down towards a bridge near the cathedral, under which sat a woman glugging wine and muttering “Me cago en los huesos de Deff!”

“Oh no! It’s Monste!”, cried Deff.

“Yes, indeed, Montse it is” said the ghost. “After her twelve courses at the Fenix school with you, Montse got promotion to the international section of the finance company where she worked. One day she wrote a panic-stricken message to the company’s head office

Since God’s sake, please send me records of ACME Ltd. for 1999 ASAP.

Of course, she meant “For God’s sake, please send me records of ACME Ltd. since 1999 ASAP.” But her confusion meant that the key data from 1999 to the present weren’t sent, the company went bankrupt, Montse was sacked and her life destroyed. All thanks to you, Deff.”

Awaking in the middle of a prodigiously tough snore, and sitting up in bed to get his thoughts together, Deff was relieved to realise it had all been a dream. But his relief was short-lived because suddenly he saw another shadowy figure, which this time bore an uncanny resemblance to David Nunan.


“Who are you?” Deff demanded.

“I am the Ghost of ELT Present.”

“ELT present? What, you mean the teaching of Australian English through dud coursebooks to everybody in the Chinese Communist Party?” scoffed Deff, bravely.

“You’re lucky I’m too busy writing a new book to answer that, Deff. No, I mean your present. Take a look at this.”

The far wall of Deff’s bedroom was suddenly lit up with projections of banks of laptop monitors. Each laptop belonged to an MA TESOL student and each monitor showed an email from Deff himself.

“The peerless Mura made a corpus of all your correspondence with the Masters students who were unfortunate enough to have you as their tutor over the last 10 years ” said the ghost. “Then she used a concordancer program which she’d found in a dustbin outside OUP’s Dictionary Department to analyse your texts. The most frequently occuring words in the corpus are “crap”, “bullshit”, “rubbish” and “idiot”, for which the strongest collocates are “you”, “your assignment”, “bloody Derrida” and “postmodernist toss-pots.” There is not one occurance of any of the 365 uplifting lexical phrases recommended by J. Harmer in his Every Day in a Different Way, Say Something Nice teachers’ handbook, and no hint of encouragement is to be found in the entire half-million word corpus. The analyst cites this sentence, part of an email you sent to a student who soon afterwards developed locked-in syndrome, as illustrative of the general tenor of your texts:

“Unsurprisingly, your crap assignment fails to explain why Chomsky chose to abandon the projection principle and the chain condition; but while an idiot like you can’t be expected to appreciate the subtleties of Chomsky’s theoretical development, I should have thought that even you had enough wit to appreciate that the claim made by postmodernist toss-pots that the minimalist programme represents a U-turn where X-bar theory is cynically brushed aside is rubbish.”

The result of your bad-tempered, miserable attempts at tutoring, Deff, is that most of your tutees have abandoned their studies and can now be found working in a factory in Mumbai, packing camembert and rocket sandwiches for Marks and Spencers”.

Deff was trying to articulate his feelings of having been unfairly judged when he woke up for the second time. “Whew! Just another nasty dream”, he said to himself, only to see a third apparition, this time looking for all the world like Gavin Dudeney, but with a bit more hair.


“Who are you?” Deff said, adding quickly “Don’t tell me – you’re the ghost of ELT Future.”

“Right!”, said the ghost. “Guess where we’re going.”

“To your island in Second Life.”

“Right again.”


And suddenly there they were, in a very comfortable beach bar overlooking the calm pink sea, surrounded by avitars.

“We’ll use teleportaton to get to the ELT district” said the ghost, “I’m not taking my car down there.”

Deff didn’t understand most of what the ghost said, but he gathered that now, in 2064, ELT consisted mostly of maintenance services. Everybody in Second Life (the preferred place for people to ugrade their personal skills portfolios) talked to each other via electronic devices which used different versions of the Essex English Ap., but since these were constantly being hacked by a vast underground network of French-speaking right-wing anarchists, armies of low-level technicians were employed to maintain the “flow” of communication. Fluency was no longer measured by the DIBELS Oral Retell Fluency test, nor even by bandwidth, now it was measured by the rate of Streaming Repair Staff Success or STRESS.

“To be honest, Deffnoid, STRESS rates are worrying”, said the ghost, who managed to walk and talk at a terrifying speed while checking a mad array of gadgets and winking at selected passers-by as he went “and don’t bother to make any glib remarks on that one, cos I’m way ahead of you, right Deffy? Either you get up VERY early or you’re not on the same page as yours truly, the Gav page, eh? Anyway, I must come clean here, Defful, handsup on this one, straight up, the fact is that our technicians can’t apply the patches fast enough to keep up. But, weirdly, although, hey, weird is what works, right?, the result is that our EMC (Electronically-Mediated Communication, Deff, do keep up) turns out to be very similar to that of humans, who, in the good old bad old days of yore used to talk to each other directly in dear old Jenkins’ (Ever met her? LOvely she is) English-as-a-Lingua-Franca. The only difference, well I say the only difference, is that ums and ars have been replaced by random noiseless gaps. It’s a matter of taste, wouldn’t you say, Deffnoid, but, me, hey, I rather like it.”

Deff was reduced to breathless silence; his companion had used up all the oxygen.


As they walked along the badly-lit main street, they passed a succession of scruffy buildings where, behind the familiar logos of Longman, Macmillan, OUP, Pearson, etc., the overworked, underpaid minions worked through the night on the factory floor assembling and applying patches. Up above in the executive offices, the lights were on but nobody was home. Some things never change!

Then they came across a group of people wearing biblical attire who were standing around having an animated discussion in RP about the pros and cons of monogamy, while a guy with a white bandana plucked numbers from the sacred plate (said to have held Scott Thornbury’s Rice Crispies sixty years ago) to decide who spoke next.


“I see Dogme made it to the future then”, said Deff.

“Annoying, but true” snapped the ghost. “We should have outlawed RP and made use of EMC a condition of residency long ago.”

“What’s all this got to do with me?” asked Deff.

“The way you’re going, absolutely nothing!” said the ghost. “And that’s the point. You don’t need me to tell you about the butterfly effect, Deffner – nasty you might be, stupid you are not – so unless you change your ways right now, by which I mean before the sun disappears behind the Sagrada Familia tonight, I refer to the real one Deffo, well this will be the future. You’ll have crashed the car, pranged the project, failed the force, messed up the mission, dumped the… oh my goodness just look at the time!”


Deff woke up in a sweat. It was Christmas Day. Finally seeing the error of his ways, he sent a Fortnum and Mason hamper and L$10,000,000 to Montse and all those working in the Mumbai factory; changed his talk at the 2015 UG conference from “Chomsky’s UG: Still the best property theory” to “So, Noam, Does London exist or doesn’t it?”; and signed up for an empathy skills training course. A new start properly underway, he set off for the town, there to celebrate Christmas in Bar de Los Bloggers.


Merry Christmas to One and All!

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