The Secret DOS

The Little Emperor Strikes Back


Forgive the break. I am busy reading, busier thinking and at a bit of a crossroads. I appreciate the people who have made the blog what it is and have been feeling bd about just abandoning everyone! I intend to return, but for now am off exploring. 

In the meantime, here are some questions that I think are worth thinking about:

1. Is there any more to language learning than memorisation, regurgitation and evaluation?

2. Can social science tell us anything about how to do our jobs better?

3. Is teaching primarily about psychological manipulation?

4. Does studying a language ever have to be fun?

5. Aside from fooling the students into thinking that they are above some others in a hierarchy, is there anything purposeful to be gained from putting students into levels?

6. Can language teachers ever really teach anything other than writing and lexis?

7. Might the old “traditional” ways have been the best ways?

8. Are fashions in teaching influenced primarily and overwhelmingly by ideological stances?

9. Does second language acquisition exist as anything other than an academic concept?

10. Should we be rewriting everything that we thought we knew about the field of language teaching and learning?

11. In a world of self-publishing, why have no decent coursebooks been written?

12. Might the communicative approach be precisely the feature of teaching that is largely responsible for holding learning back?

13. Why is ELT marginalised from the world of conventional foreign language teaching?

A baker’s dozen: I will leave them to prove.

May your summers be long, warm, restful and invigorating. 



04 Aug 2013 - Posted by | Rants and ramblings


  1. 1. Yes
    2. No
    3. No
    4. Yes
    5. No
    6. Yes
    7. Yes
    8. Yes
    9. No
    10. No

    12. Yes

    11 and 13 will require a bit more thought!

    Comment by Paul Duffy | 04 Aug 2013 | Reply

  2. 1. Obviously, Yes. I wonder what the point of this question is. “Regurgitation” is, I suppose, what you’re getting at. If you define it cleverly enough, then maybe you can defend such a stark view of the SLA process. Are you suggesting that the most commonly-held view these days,namely that SLA involves the development of an Interlanguage, doesn’t bear examination? .
    2. Yes. Social science is a very broad field, but IMHO sociolinguistics, which deals with such things as motivation and other affective factors, can help us understand SLA.
    3. What do you mean by psychological manipulation? It sounds awful, but, again, if you want be clever about it, spin it, make it mean something that underpins a certain view of learning, well…., …….
    4. No. It doesn’t HAVE to be fun. It has to be engaging, challenging, maybe, but fun is not a necessary prerequisite for learning anything.
    5. The question is loaded. There are very good reasons for putting people into levels, and good reasons for mixed-ability classes too.
    6. To teach – to show somebody the way; to pass on knowledge; to indoctrinate; …….In a humanistic context, Yes, teachers can teach more than writing and lexis. They can teach them how to learn, for example.
    7. They might be, but they probably aren’t as efficient as newer ways.
    8. No. Ideology is political, and while education will always have a political dimension, ideology does not determine (sic) educational practice, at least in many countries.
    9. SLA refers to learning a second language. Thus, it exists. The academic study of various parts of the SLA process is rightly seen by many teachers as having little, or nothing to do with their jobs, and in many cases (but not all), I agree with them.
    10. Yes. Constantly.
    11. Damn good question! Capitalism is my shot at a 1-word answer.
    12. Yes, it might be. But it probably isn’t. Lip service to CLT, the cover it gives to fraudulent teaching methods and profit-based chains of schools, and all that and all that rightly inspire cynicism – but don’t throw the baby out with all the very dirty bathwater.
    13. What makes you say that? What is the world of conventional foreign language teaching?

    Comment by geoffjordan | 05 Aug 2013 | Reply

  3. 4. If something is “engaging, challenging” then, in my mind at least, it is fun. That is why I answered ‘yes’. As you say, it has to be challenging and engaging, so therefore it has to be fun. To me, ‘fun’ doesn’t mean jumping around on one leg throwing a ball around in class!
    6. Yes, study skills. And things like discipline, behaviour etc: how to ‘carry’ oneself in an educational setting. Also, certain ‘life skills’; a lot depends on the age of the students.
    8. When I first read this question, I wasn’t thinking of political ideology. Does ideology have to be political? Did the Secret DOS mean it in a political sense?
    10. Does the original question mean that everything we thought we knew is wrong? Re-assessing, re-evaluating, yes. But rewriting?
    11. Maybe the books have been written, but I/we don’t know about them???
    12. In my personal and anecdotal experience (from my own and other teachers’ classrooms), the communicative approach largely ends up being students reproducing the language they already know at the level they are already at.

    Comment by Paul Duffy | 06 Aug 2013 | Reply

  4. Hi Paul,

    4. Fun is defined thus in the OSD: “enjoyment, amusement, or light-hearted pleasure; playfulness or good humour; behaviour or an activity that is intended purely for amusement and should not be interpreted as having any serious or malicious purpose”. So, I repeat, IMHO, language learning doesn’t HAVE to be fun.

    8. The OSD defines ideology as “a system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy”:

    10. I doubt very much that the original question means that everything we thought we knew is wrong.

    Comment by geoffjordan | 08 Aug 2013 | Reply

  5. If that’s what ‘fun’ is, then I would agree with you 100%!!

    Comment by Paul Duffy | 08 Aug 2013 | Reply

  6. 1. Yes
    2. Yes
    3. Psychology yes, manipulation, no.
    4. Stimulating rather than fun.
    11. English File 1 isn’t bad and probably better than anything I could ever be bothered coming up with for Elementary students unless they gave me 100 hours to plan a course. Ditto Tech Talk for engineers.

    Comment by alexcase | 22 Aug 2013 | Reply

  7. Hey, Secret one,

    This is completely off the wall and I’d rather send you a private email. Anyway, if you’re ever near Girona, you’re VERY welcome to come and see me and my wife – for lunch, a weekend, a holiday. I’d love the chance to shoot the breeze with you.

    Comment by geoffjordan | 06 Sep 2013 | Reply

    • Just when I think you can’t get any higher in my estimation, Geoff, you surprise me yet again! Your offer is very kind and if I am ever lucky enough to be Girona way, I assure you that I will let you know. By the way, my email address is thesecretdos at gee mail dot com.

      Comment by thesecretdos | 05 Oct 2013 | Reply

      • Will you marry me? I’m already happily married, and I don’t know your gender, but what the hell!

        Comment by geoffjordan | 05 Oct 2013

  8. […] a recent post, the Secret DOS asks, along with many other questions, if there is any more to language learning than memorisation, […]

    Pingback by Challenging Learners to listen with both ears! | ROSE BARD – Teaching Journal | 24 Apr 2014 | Reply

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