Playing Dumb in Language Teaching

 

Thor May
Adelaide, Australia
November 2021
thormay@yahoo.com

 

"Playing Dumb in Language Teaching" was an invited Zoom presentation to the 2021 Dongseo University ( 동서대학교) TEFL Conference, Busan, South Korea. A very basic Youtube video of this paper is at https://youtu.be/jFkaSRrsGZg (55 minutes). There is also a 5 minute video sample of the author actually teaching a class of nursing students in Zhengzhou, China (2010) called "Teaching English is Fun" at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmGVsC7OshA .

 

 

Introduction

 

"Do I really want to do this? Hey, I mean you want me to spend hours and months and years parroting a foreign language. Life’s short. The truth is mister, I might never use this language. Or I might get away with a few phrases”.

Is this the story of you learning Korean? Is it the story of your students learning English? It could be either one, couldn’t it. In fact you probably both have a problem. If you and your students both have a similar problem, maybe it would be smart to invest in a bit of reverse psychology and stop playing god. Whoever commands the target language has an awful lot of power. Standing on that pinnacle of knowledge is intoxicating, even if your home turf was flipping hamburgers in Pittsburgh, or pouring soju in Somyeon. Leave your learner(s) crawling in the dust and they’ll turn to drink. So the First Law of Language Teaching is to be an ordinary mortal again, mucking through in the way your fellow traveller sees it at this time & place and level of ignorance. In other words, play dumb when you have to. Be humble enough to learn something yourself from the other guy/gal when you can.

 

Outline

 

1. The paradox of power in teaching

 

2. The psychology of reciprocation

 

3. Playing dumb inside a frame

 

4. Playing dumb as a licence for clear language - not jargon

 

5. Playing dumb to justify speed and redundancy

 

6. Playing dumb to build from a common base

 

7. Playing dumb to licence character roles - you and the students

 

8. Playing dumb to dismantle text books for humour, chaos and memory

 

9. Playing dumb to learn from colleagues

 

10. Hey I really am dumb. Help me with Korean

 

This talk is going to use the term “playing dumb” a lot. Playing dumb can mean lots of things, but for our purpose here I mostly use it as shorthand to mean putting aside stereotypes about the roles of teacher and student, as we understand them from our particular cultural background. Our intent is not to suggest pointless anarchy, but rather to free ourselves to find creative ways of teaching and learning in the most productive ways. Before a stereotype can be put aside, it has to be understood. Therefore I will also spend some time on looking at a few habits we tend to take for granted.

 

1. The paradox of power in teaching

 

a) Paradox is at the heart of our profession. Paradox 1 : The professional purpose of all teaching is to improve the actual learning outcomes for learners. The learners in our case here are students in institutions. However, from a management perspective, as teachers or lecturers we are deemed to be productive if we can transit the maximum number of (paying) students through our courses at a level which earns them an academic degree. Our medium of judgement happens to be student acquisition of a second language. That’s a problem. Why? For the institution, for employers, for the general public, and for students themselves, the overriding objective is generally the academic degree. For a majority of students, the final relevance of actually acquiring useful control of the second language – say English – is secondary. Indeed many of them will hardly make use of the second language beyond their formal education, and they know it. For teachers and lecturers this is a huge dilemma. It is easy to become cynical.

b) Paradox 2: In the fortress which is our classroom, as teachers we wield great power. It is a very temporary power, which is easy to forget. Part of our power is institutional, but that is the least important part. The largest source of our power is control of the target language, English in this case. However, out on the street in a Korean speaking society, typically as English speaking foreigners with little or no control of the local vernacular, we are as weak as kittens. Suddenly, back in a classroom, we are a god wielding mysterious powers. Power corrupts, and nothing corrupts like the language power a teacher controls. In fact, we are the first to be corrupted – into self-delusion.

 

2. The psychology of reciprocation

 

a) If I give you a gift, the first time might say thank you, and feel some obligation. However, if I force gifts upon you every day, pretty soon you are likely to feel guilt, then resentment, then perhaps anger. This is a common cycle in all mass education. As educators we have a captive audience. We stand there shoving stuff down people’s throats repeating “this is good for you”. One of the resources I’ve attached to a written version of this talk is a little paper by Paul Doyon, who teaches EFL students in Japan. He discusses perceived value. To have your gift of English accepted by students they have to feel that you are offering something of value to them personally, so you need to give them paths to reciprocate the gift.

b) If you look at human societies everywhere, at any time in history, gift giving rituals are universal. Why? Because gift giving is a way to establish close connections with other people. Gift giving is also often how we express power relationships. For gift giving to establish close connections, it has to be reciprocal. Gifts are exchanged. Now do you want a close relationship with your students, or do you want a power relationship? Teaching<>Learning is possible in both power and close relationships. However, at least in my experience, in language learning, a close reciprocal relationship leads to much better outcomes than a purely power relationship.

c) Why are close reciprocal relationships superior for language learning? They are superior because this kind of reciprocal relationship creates intrinsic motivation, where students actually want to learn the language. Power relationships depend upon extrinsic motivation, like being awarded a degree.

d) What can students offer you in exchange for your gift of language? Few will know what to offer you. That possibility of exchange has usually not been part of their school experience. You have to make it easy for students to give you gifts. No, not money! For example, maybe you can graciously accept their help with Korean language. Or accept their help with understanding Korean politics. Or accept their help with fixing your phone. Or accept their help with a million other things. It really doesn’t matter. IN OTHER WORDS, BE A DUMB FRIENDLY FOREIGNER who is eager to help with English (which you know about) but who is also eager to accept and appreciate help with a million other things. If you can manage this kind of friendship, you and your English language will be remembered forever.

 

3. Playing dumb inside a frame

 

a) You live many lives and play many roles. You are a particular kind of person to your family, to your relatives, to your friends, to your colleagues, to the institution you work for, and maybe to the social media ghosts whom you “know”. You are certainly a particular kind of person to your students, just as they as individuals are to you. These multiple lives and roles you play might overlap, or they might not. Who is the real you? You might kid yourself that there is only one ‘you’, but the people you meet in those many contexts know only a bit of you, and fill out the missing stuff with their own stereotypes. If you could see their inner image of ‘you’, you would be shocked. So let us consider these many versions of ‘you’ as frames.

b) Once you accept that a framed version of ‘you’ faces your students, you can set out to shape a version of you which is the best one to help students learn. I have already suggested that the best teaching version of you is “A DUMB FRIENDLY FOREIGNER who is eager to help with English (which you know about) but who is also eager to accept and appreciate help with a million other things”. Privately you might consider yourself to be a hero who should be ruling the world, or an academic genius, or a bum. It doesn’t matter. Put that stuff aside. In a classroom you need to be the most effective possible teacher.

 

4. Playing dumb as a licence for clear language - not jargon

 

a) There are certain (truly) dumb kinds of professionals who build walls around themselves with obscure, important sounding language. We see this endlessly amongst the most pompous medical professionals, lawyers, academics … and so on. They see profit and prestige in over-awing their clients. They are the descendants of witch doctors. This kind of stuff is poison to effective teaching. The world of self-important people might see you as a fool, as dumb, if you use the simplest, clearest language you can manage to help your students with learning English (or anything else). However, if students don’t understand you clearly then the cause is lost. Remember, they are climbing out of a pit of confusion, from L1 to L2. Climb the ladder with them.

 

5. Playing dumb to justify speed and redundancy

 

a) Maybe, very occasionally, you have met a person who talks very fast, is very concise, and is actually very clever. That can’t be you in a classroom. To the ears of people struggling to learn your native tongue you will seem to be talking very fast. They have to decode what you are saying, and for most of us the mental computer goes into slow crawler gear for such decoding. It’s exhausting. There’s a big temptation for a learner to simply switch off. If you, super god native English speaking teacher that you are, rattle on as if you are chattering with your best friend, you won’t be very clever. “They have to learn to understand natural speed”, you say. Well yes, but maybe not at this moment. Be selective about when to push listening skills to the next level. Calibrate to the listeners or you won’t be actually teaching anything. Nor will they be learning.

b) Redundancy in communication is about presenting information more than once. In native speaker speech redundancy varies greatly with the person and the situation. Redundancy is needed because listeners or readers are not efficient when they receive and understand information. A common estimate is that there is 50% redundancy in native speaker speech. I actually think it is more than 50%. Also, I have noticed that the design of information web pages (e.g. news sites) has changed recently to include a LOT of redundancy. That is not accidental. When parents are teaching young children to speak, they spontaneously repeat themselves often.

c) How much redundancy should be in your language classroom presentation? That will vary with the students and their level. You don’t want to be condescending. But hey, you are a dumb, friendly teacher and maybe a foreigner so you already know that condescension is death to your enterprise. If you have sold this somewhat dumb looking persona successfully, students will forgive a lot of repetition. The truth is, they need a lot more repetition than native speakers. There is a secret trick here. You do need to make your many repetitions interesting, and even a little funny. Interesting + funny is magic for memory.

 

6. Playing dumb to build from a common base

 

a) Korean culture, like many other cultures, has traditionally put a lot of emphasis on social hierarchy. There may be some revolt against this amongst young adults (especially) but the expectation is still there. You are given a free pass as a teacher to be a somewhat socially elevated person who is also supposed to be wise. OK, you are allowed to be wise, but be careful about managing the social elevation because it is a barrier to the kind of language learning you want to encourage. Lowering your own status might seem dumb to some students. Each teacher will solve this problem in their own way. I happen to be Australian, which (at least ideally) does not favour displays of social hierarchy. My particular pitch is that while this classroom might be in Korea geographically, for now it is a temporary bit of Australia. So pretend to be an Australian. I’ll help you do that. I’ll help you to talk like an Australian. But more than that, I’ll help you to act like an Australian. Next time it’s your turn. Next time you can help me to talk like a Korean and act like a Korean. Sure, we’ll both make fools of ourselves and have a bit of fun, but we’ll also learn something useful while we are doing it.

 

7. Playing dumb to licence character roles - you and the students

 

a) We are always playing a bunch of roles – we are a teacher, a student, a foreigner, a local, a child, an adult, a friend, a husband, a wife … whatever. It is worth helping your students to think over this idea. Once they have grasped that there is more than one of themselves, it is not such a big step to add some imaginary roles to help with language learning. There is nothing new in this as a ‘method’ of course. It has been used for centuries. But some people are natural performers, while other personalities have trouble not being ‘the real me’. They might even think that playing a role is somehow dishonest, or a game that only kids do. Some teachers might even feel this way themselves. That is why it is useful to go through the process of discussing the many roles we play in life, and persuading them that to speak another language well, we have to adopt a persona and style which will fit the new way of talking.

b) The way human memory works, we tend to remember and recall things that are new to our experience. They have an emotional punch. For example, if Korea is not your home country, as a foreigner you will notice and marvel at things which the locals don’t even notice. You might even keep a blog to write about your weird experiences, and you will talk about them for the rest of your life. Now put yourself in the shoes of a Korean student. Classrooms, study, being forced to learn lessons, have been a part of your life forever. Most of it is a blur, a routine to get through and forget at the first opportunity. Part of that forgetting will be the boring text book English which was force-fed to you and often carried a tinge of failure. So the language teacher who wants L2 (say, English) to be remembered past exam time has to involve those students in some kind of exotic experience. Convincing role play engaging both the teacher and students in a new language and culture can be one kind of memorable experience.

c) Where does ‘playing dumb’ come into language role play? In this discussion I have mostly used ‘playing dumb’ to mean a willingness to put aside stereotyped roles such as ‘teacher’ or ‘student’ in order to get past the psychological barriers to language learning. Now if a teacher runs a stereotypical so-called role play – maybe from a text book or curriculum - with the general air of someone who is really above this kind of nonsense but is required to do it, then the whole process will be a pointless sham. If you, the teacher, are into role play yourself as an exotic, interesting exploration then you have a good chance of bringing even jaded students along with you. The process will have a double emotional charge if you encourage and accept innovations along the way by the students themselves.

 

8. Playing dumb to dismantle text books for humour, chaos and memory

 

a) Institutions vary about specifying text books for teaching English as a Foreign Language. For some places text books are part of the marketing pitch. For others they are offered as a crutch to teachers who were hired, “no experience necessary”. In some places using a text book is required. In other places the teacher has a free hand. In any case, the vast majority of language teachers seek out text books as an organized way to present a program without having to be too creative themselves.

b) How good and how useful are text books? Well of course they range from the very good (depending upon your point of view) to the awful. The value of a text book has almost nothing to do with its date of publication. Publishers are running a business, so they have to splash “the latest and greatest” every year or two, while truly valuable stuff often goes out of publication. The moral of this story is that if you see something good, grab it and hoard it. Now the clutter is multiplied by endless online resources too.

c) What is a good text book for a student? It depends very much upon the student’s personality, their language level, and the particular language teacher who helps them to navigate the material. One personal test I apply to language text books is “could I find anything actually interesting in this book if I wasn’t learning the language?” If the content is lifeless or pretentious, why would it be good for learning anything? Good learning material is memorable. Still, we are often stuck with texts that we don ’t like. Is there a remedy?

d) What can you do with a bad text book? My personal solution is to destroy it. Ha, I don’t mean to burn it. I mean destroy the author’s narrow vision and dull style. Bad books are a gift for playing the dumb genius, but for this you need the mischievous cooperation of your students. This is a task many will undertake with relish.

Here is a random model sentence from a text book: “How beautifully she sings. I have seldom heard a better voice.” Can you imagine actually saying that yourself? Well, maybe you could. I don’t know you. But me, nah. I could never pass for a 19th Century English lady of leisure. So with a spirit of cheerful anarchy take the sentence apart with your students. Look at the grammar briefly. Imagine the characters. How would you say such a thing? How would your students say their friend’s karaoke singing was cool? … The point of this game is that you are making stuff memorable, even the grammar of the original sentence which you satirized, plus you gave them the tools to say something useful.

 

9. Playing dumb to learn from colleagues

 

a) Almost all classroom language teaching poses as a simulation for language which will be useful in “the real world”. Maybe we don’t examine too carefully what language is really used in real life situations. However we do pretend to be relevant. Although classroom language tends to be a simulation, there is one group we encounter daily whose language is all about their real life. Those individuals are our peers. Maybe colleagues have to be handled differently from students. What do you think?

b) In every trade and profession practitioners have to master two perspectives: i) a set of procedures; ii) a storyline to justify the procedures. A dentist might be exquisitely skilled at pulling out your tooth, but if he removes it for the wrong reason, you are right to feel aggrieved. The teaching analogy is not so clear cut, but important. Supposing you process students through a curriculum and they duly graduate. Your official procedure was a success. However if those students are unable to use the language, or even motivated to try again, then the ‘storyline’ (your justification) for supporting your procedures was flawed. Were you really a professional, or just a day labourer?

c) University language teachers tend to have strong opinions about the competence of their students, or lack of it. After a while they also become confident about their own procedures, and the storyline(s) supporting those procedures. However the wider evidence for effective second language learning in countries like South Korea dire. The evidence for English speaking countries is catastrophic. Therefore, confronting teachers with what they do versus actual learning outcomes is not a path to popularity. Is there actually anything useful to learn from teaching colleagues?

d) Yes, there is always a great deal to learn from colleagues. You mostly won’t learn it by posing as an expert or offering loud opinions yourself. Ha, I’m in danger here of being hung on my own lamppost, you will say. That’s quite right! Why on earth are you still tolerating this presentation? But back in the daily staffroom, you might agree that your best chance of picking up ideas is to play friendly but dumb. You don’t want to close people down. Welcome advice and opinion. What can you really learn from colleagues? You can pick up hints, ideas, techniques … However, some of the most useful things you can learn are what NOT to do. Of course, you won’t announce that you are fishing for failures! Smile and make a private entry in your little black book of stuff to avoid.

e) Ah, if you are a foreign teacher of English in South Korea you do have Korean colleagues too. They have a huge amount to teach you, though it can be difficult to get at that cooperation sometimes. You are, after all, dealing not with students (who may culturally pretend to be your inferiors), but with Korean professors, some of whom may culturally and professionally consider you to be their inferior. Managing this can take a fair amount of tact. I have to admit that with my crude Australian ways (Australians are prone to teasing each other) I’ve crashed and burned these relationships more than once. Here it can sometimes pay to play the junior partner, dumb if you like. For example, what does your Korean colleague try to cover with the same students you are teaching? What is his curriculum and game plan. What are his expectations of students? How can you best supplement his efforts?

 

10. Hey I really am dumb. Help me with Korean

 

a) Teaching language is a very humbling profession, unless perhaps you are one of those effortless polyglots from Youtube, or unless you have a huge appetite for self-deception or hypocrisy. It is humbling because you realize that you might make a lasting change in the thinking or abilities of at least a few students. It is also humbling because you realize that for large numbers of students you might be no more than a prison guard to be endured on their journey to be gifted some pretty diploma.

But most of all language teaching is humbling because you realize that these students are making contact with you, a foreigner, across a huge language barrier in your language, not theirs. Now how many of your have really made that journey in the other direction, into Korean? Hey, it’s hard. Beyond a few trivial phrases, I’m guessing that most of your have rationalized your way out learning the other language. You have endless excuses. I certainly did. I lived a life of language hypocrisy, and looking back I cringe at how much bad teaching came out of that. Nowadays, twice a week I do a language teaching exchange In English/Mandarin Chinese with a young woman + plug away at an online course every day. It’s a magical mystery tour. All I want for Christmas is a big, red reset button in a time machine. I need to go back forty years to start teaching all over again, a better kind of teaching.


 

Resources

 

Thor May (2010) Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia. Thesis topic : "Language Tangle : Predicting and Facilitating Outcomes in Language Education". Through examining a series of twenty case studies, this thesis deals with issues of knowledge worker productivity. The thesis is online in the University of Newcastle research depository at http://hdl.handle.net/1959.13/804346 . A further link is the Australian Research Directory.(also available at http://independent.academia.edu/ThorMay/Papers/1605533/Language_Tangle_-_Predicting_and_Facilitating_Outcomes_in_Language_Education_-_PhD_Thesis_-_ThorMay  ).

Thor May (2007) Fractional Language Learning; Asian EFL Journal Quarterly Vol. 9, No.4, December 2007; presentation : Global Congress English International Language Conference, Korea University, Seoul, May 26, 2007 @ http://www.asian-efl-journal.com/index.php ; also online @ http://independent.academia.edu/ThorMay/Papers/1615667/Fractional_Language_Learning  || Abstract: Many users of a second language, especially English, have little productive mastery of the language. Rather, some requirement in their life forces them to use limited subroutines (maybe quite small and formulaic) which are effectively encapsulated as special elements within L1. This paper proposes that fractional language learning is a valid objective for large numbers of users, and briefly examines some of the contexts in which it has a pragmatic application. It notes that much fractional language learning occurs outside of formal educational environments, and then goes on to consider how both the classroom teaching and evaluation can be adapted to give proper recognition to student achievements on a fractional scale.

Thor May (2008) “Corruption and Other Distortions as Variables in Language Education” ; TESOL Law Journal, Vol.2 March 2008 @ http://www.tesol-law.com/Vol_2_2008_tm.php  ; also online @ http://independent.academia.edu/ThorMay/Papers/1615553/Corruption_and_Other_Distortions_as_Variables_in_Language_Education 

Thor May (2007) “Standing Room Only - Posture, Space and the Learning Process in ESL Classes”; online @ http://independent.academia.edu/ThorMay/Papers/1618207/Standing_Room_Only_-_Posture_Space_and_the_Learning_Process_in_ESL_Classes   Abstract : This article explores the role of posture in the language learning process, and concludes that it is sometimes critical for learning success. Principles of learning and moving are outlined. The history of physical movement in study is briefly traced. A Korean case study is presented of “failed” tertiary students who learn to learn on their feet. The paper is a practical guide for teachers who wish to experiment with physical movement and location in their own ESL/EFL classrooms.

Thor May (2013) “International Language Testing Washback – standing the monster on its head”; online @ https://www.academia.edu/3321484/International_Language_Testing_Washback_standing_the_monster_on_its_head  Abstract: The possible corruption of language learning by the requirements of testing is known as wash-back. Wash-back is not always malignant. The analysis in this paper is a tentative attempt to manipulate the wash-back from an international test in a manner which actually assists genuine language acquisition.

Thor May (2013) " Testing for Teaching; Teaching to What?"; online @ https://www.academia.edu/2393660/Testing_for_Teaching_Teaching_to_What || Abstract: The outline which follows analyses the two halves of a language teacher’s profession: a) The first half is daily classroom practice : what is taught and how is it evaluated?; b) The second half of a teacher’s profession is to know or at least estimate what is going on in the brains of her students : what is learned and how is it learned? ... Teaching is a simulation machine. Learning is for life. The implicit professional challenge is in making the simulation useful for living.

Thor May (2013; 2015) "The Probable Language Brain"; online @ https://www.academia.edu/2563032/The_Probable_Language_Brain_2013_extended_2015_  Abstract: Let us suppose that you are a research linguist, tormented by some doubts and questions about the state of your profession, and not constrained by having to repeat a catechism of "known truths" to Linguistics 101 students, and not worried about employment tenure. How would you actually go about tackling "the central problem of linguistics", namely how we acquire and maintain knowledge of the probability of systemic relationships in a language?

Paul Doyon (n.d.) "Enhancing Value Perception in the Japanese EFL Classroom". The Asian EFL Journal @ https://www.asian-efl-journal.com/main-editions-new/enhancing-value-perception-in-the-japanese-efl-classroom/  [Quote1: "Mr. Paine is teaching English to a group of Japanese students in a required Japanese university English class. Many of the students are participating compliantly, yet they lack engagement in the task. Other students are obviously defiant, refusing to participate. A few students appear catatonic, staring blankly into space. To top it off, some students in this class are just outright nasty. Towards the end of this particular class, one of the students answers his cellular telephone in class and starts to speak. When Mr. Paine goes over to warn this student, the student responds in Japanese with a “shiniª”” (literally meaning, “die,” but comparable to the F word in English)".

Quote 2: “There once was a young man who had an old dog named Sandy. The young man had recently become a vegetarian and he wanted to see if he could get his dog Sandy to eat carrots. However, if he just handed her the carrot, he quickly noticed that she would not eat it. Rather, by getting her to do a number of tricks and then giving her the carrot as a reward, she would eat it joyfully. From that day forward, this dog loved carrots. Sandy had learned previously and had come to believe that to receive something of value (e.g., a biscuit or another snack), that she had to work for it – and the boy had used this concept to alter her perception of the carrot. If the carrot was just given to her, it was, in turn, not perceived as valuable. However, if that dog had to work in order to receive that carrot, then – in her eyes – it shifted to something perceived as containing inherent value. … In the same way, it is important for teachers – who seek deep learning engagement from students – to be able to enhance their students’ perception of value in what the teacher is trying to offer them. In other words, in order to engage students in an activity, they must first perceive value in the activity itself. Moreover, students need to perceive value in attending a course as a whole in order to participate actively and enthusiastically in that course – and in some cases, to attend at all!”]

Leslie Frances Reid and Jalal Kawash (2017) "Let’s Talk About Power: How Teacher Use Of Power Shapes Relationships And Learning". University of Calgary @ file:///C:/Users/ADMINI~1/AppData/Local/Temp/42628-Article%20Text-113244-1-10-20171108.pdf  [Abstract: Teachers’ use of power in learning environments affects our students’ experiences, our teaching experiences, and the extent to which learning goals are met. The types of conversations we hold or avoid with students send cues regarding how we use power to develop relationships, influence behaviour and entice motivation. Reliance on prosocial forms of power, such as referent, reward, and expert, have a positive impact on outcomes such as learning and motivation, as well as perceived teacher credibility. Overuse of antisocial forms of power that include legitimate and coercive powers negatively affect these same outcomes.]

Anonymous (2018) "The 5 Types of Power". EPM (Expert Program Management website) @ https://expertprogrammanagement.com/2017/06/the-5-types-of-power/ 

Miranda Parr (19 May 2021) "How to do a language exchange: 10 steps to success". Preply website @ https://preply.com/en/blog/how-to-language-exchange/#scroll-to-heading-0  [Comment: This link is included because the advice is a no-nonsense look at what to aim for in a language exchange. The mindset of 'effective exchange' is a good one to aim for, even in paid teaching employment. Preply itself is a company which puts independent language learners in touch with L2 tutors]

Ana (10 June 2014) "How To: Get Along With Your Korean Coworkers". Koreabridge @ https://koreabridge.net/post/how-get-along-your-korean-coworkers-anasayswhat 

Barnes, B. D., & Lock, G. (2010). “The Attributes of Effective Lecturers of English as a Foreign Language as Perceived by Students in a Korean University”. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 35(1). http://dx.doi.org/10.14221/ajte.2010v35n1.2 

Jay Mathews (February 25, 2012) "Why textbooks don’t work and hurt schools". Washington Post @ https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/class-struggle/post/why-our-textbooks-dont-work/2012/02/25/gIQAvI16ZR_blog.html 

Ju Seong (John) Lee (16 June 2017) "Hidden Challenges of Novice English Teachers in a Korean Independent School". The Qualitative Report, Volume 22 Number 6 Article 11, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign @ https://nsuworks.nova.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2876&context=tqr 

Marjory Rosenberg (22 January 2016) "Cooperative Learning". EFL Magazine @ https://eflmagazine.com/cooperative-learning/ 

Nancy Barile (n.d) "A Guide to Giving Clear Instructions to Students (That They Will Actually Follow)." Western Governors University @ https://www.wgu.edu/heyteach/article/guide-giving-clear-instructions-students-that-they-will-actually-follow2001.html 

Wang F, Guo J, Wu B and Lin Z (2021) “It Is Utterly Out of My Expectation”-A Case Inquiry of Teacher Identity of an EFL Teacher in a Chinese Shadow School Setting. Front. Psychol. 12:760161. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.760161 https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.760161/full  

Wang, D., Kirkpatrick, A. Code choice in the Chinese as a foreign language classroom. Multiling.Ed. 2, 3 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1186/2191-5059-2-3 

Wikipedia (2021) “Reciprocity”. @ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reciprocity_(social_psychology

ZaRa Salih (2009) "Non-native English-speaking teachers, context and English language teaching". Academia.edu @ https://www.academia.edu/1578360/Non_native_English_speaking_teachers_context_and_English_language_teaching?from=cover_page 

Johnjoe McFadden (11 October 2021) "Why Simplicity Works". Aeon Magazine @ https://aeon.co/essays/why-is-simplicity-so-unreasonably-effective-at-scientific-explanation?  [comment: This is about cosmology – the origin of universes – not teaching or learning. However, as with so many ideas, the underlying concepts pose tantalizing questions about how they may apply in other parts of nature. For example, in thinking about the most effective forms of teaching, over time we tend to multiply methodologies, techniques, curriculums, ‘insights’. In fact if you teach for a few decades, you see these ‘innovations’ burst onto the scene, fade, then recycle to fit the ambitions of a new generation. Is there some general principle of simplicity we can apply, a kind of Occam ’s Razor, to prune this proliferation to the most likely potential for improving learning outcomes?


Thor May has been teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language since 1967, lecturing Linguistics, and training wannabe teachers. This work has taken him to seven countries, and included seven years in South Korean universities. His PhD was on language teaching productivity. Nowadays he broods in Adelaide, Australia. About 150 articles he has written on a wide variety of topics can be found at https://independent.academia.edu/ThoroldThorMay