Fantastic Dr. Fox

In mathematical terms, Derrida’s observation relates to the invariance of the Einstein field equation tex2html_wrap_inline1393 under nonlinear space-time diffeomorphisms (self-mappings of the space-time manifold which are infinitely differentiable but not necessarily analytic). The key point is that this invariance group “acts transitively”: this means that any space-time point, if it exists at all, can be transformed into any other. In this way the infinite-dimensional invariance group erodes the distinction between observer and observed; the tex2html_wrap_inline1395 of Euclid and the G of Newton, formerly thought to be constant and universal, are now perceived in their ineluctable historicity; and the putative observer becomes fatally de-centered, disconnected from any epistemic link to a space-time point that can no longer be defined by geometry alone

What you just read is complete and utter unadulterated nonsense.

But it’s important nonsense.


The quote is from a published paper called “transgressing the boundaries” by a physics professor at New York University called Alan Sokal. Sokal had a theory that much of what was published in literature journals at the time as post-modernism was nothing more than meaningless pseudo-babble and he decided to test that theory. The essay was submitted to the journal “social text” and was published. Later Sokal admitted that the whole thing was a parody. This became known as the Sokal affair. The fact that what was essentially meaningless rubbish was published in a prestigious journal is the central theme of this post.
So ask yourself this question; would you be able to see through complex sounding hogwash if you saw it?
The answer is most likely “no”.
As Ben Goldacre notes here, the use of complex terms and irrelevant but scientific sounding information tends to make it harder for non-experts to spot poppycock. This is a worrying finding for the field of TEFL in which teachers with very little training may have trouble distinguishing legitimate but complex descriptions of linguistic and mental phenomena (inverted pseudo-cleft sentences, lexical priming and voiced alveolar fricatives) from equally impressive sounding balderdash.
Jargon can often mislead people and  “blinding with science” really is a thing. In the same way that putting on a white coat, a suit or a uniform gives someone an air of authority, big words and fancy terms can cow critics and help to convince others of the legitimacy of an idea. So can “dressing up” daft ideas in TEFL help to give them more credibility?  Here’s a quote from the Neuro-linguistic programing TEFL representatives Revell and Norman:

The Meta Model in NLP defines and challenges linguistic imprecision. It consists of a list of different kinds of distortions, deletions and generalisations (often called Meta Model violations) and a parallel list of suggestions for challenging them (= Challenges) The Meta Model is too large to be described here in its entirety…but we can start with prt of it known as the precision model. (English teaching professional)

NLP writers are not the only ones guilty of this. Swan in a piece criticising the directions of EFL, notes that at IATEFL the array of complex sounding presentations is a worrying phenomena which might be discouraging for new teachers and notes here that the balance between language teaching and those things which are peripheral to it seems somewhat off. In another article he charts the rise of this kind of terminology, which he describes as “impenetrable”, during his days as a young teacher and adds that after grappling with these ideas he came to the conclusion that “If I couldn’t understand a professional book, perhaps it wasn’t my fault after all.” 


Dr Fox

And it’s not just laypeople who can be fooled. In the 1970s an actor was paid to pretend to be an academic; the impressive sounding Dr. Fox. He gave a completely meaningless lecture on the made-up subject of “mathematical game theory as applied to physician education” to a group of psychologists, therapists and educators. He practised the speech the night before and despite this, comes across as sounding very authoritative and crammed his speech full of intellectual sounding nonsense. The experiment was carried out three times and each time he was rated as being stimulating and those in the audience felt that they had learnt something from the lecture. I think that this is a cautionary piece of research for those of us in the TEFL world especially when watching conference speeches

Pluralistic ignorance.

One more factor which might stop you pointing out how awfully nude the king looks is pluralistic ignorance. Basically this is the situation whereby everyone secretly knows something is fishy, but they think everyone else is a believer and so are reluctant to stick their neck out and be the one to invite derision. Last year I was going to give a short presentation skeptically tackling reading skills and learning styles at a small EAP conference in the East Midlands. I ended up getting cold feet the day before and backing out. I had a horrible feeling that the room would fill with an embarrassed silence, my peers whispering “how did this guy ever get a job teaching EAP!?” I do regret that now because as the people who follow this website have shown me, I’m not the only one who thinks there are some dodgy ideas floating around out there.

I think we need to be less afraid to criticise sacred cows, common sense and received wisdom of EFL and education in general, it’s very healthy for the industry as a whole. Science uses complex terminology because it talks about very complex ideas. Calling a negative thought a “meta model violation” doesn’t, to my mind, move us any further forward and is just so much cargo cult science. We have no reason to try to outdo scientists or throw around impressive sounding words, -as English language teachers surely we should be skilled at, and proud of making things as accessible as possible. We need to be on guard against this kind of language, as “Tom” at Englishdroid writes:

superficially impressive jargon, when it’s not obscuring the bloody obvious is all too often obscuring the bloody ridiculous or at best highly questionable. Against such a background, is it any wonder that so many dangerously irrational and anti-scientific ideas flourish




It’s a man’s world

If I asked you to name the most influential figures in the TEFL world who would you choose? Ellis, Thornbury, Harmer? What about Swan, Scriviner and Underhill?

Any women?
I always thought it was strange that all the ‘top’ chefs were men, yet cooking was considered women’s work. It seems for some reasons that it’s OK for women to ‘do the cooking’ but the true artistry, the ‘cuisine’ as it were, is produced by men. How did that happen?

To my mind, the EFL world looks similar. Powell (in Byram 2001) wrote in 1986 (though on what evidence I do not know) that “most language teachers in secondary schools in the UK (and many, though not all, other countries) and in language schools worldwide, are female.” Byram adds that this rules doesn’t follow for universities where men seem to be in the majority.

The places I have worked provide anecdotal evidence that this is true. Women teachers and students have always been the majority. For instance, at my first job, I worked with two female teachers and at company meetings it was clear this was true for most of the other schools (except for the foreign staff). This also held true when I worked in Taiwan. Anywhere where the education was optional, female students always outnumbered male students. Where I work in the UK the majority of the full time teachers are female (8 to 2), but only one of the four senior tutors is. A few years ago when we held an interview for the top job, all five candidates were men. The university I’m currently seconded at has 10 or so English professors but only one who is female. I don’t think this is by design, but I do think it’s interesting.

A 2012 study (N127 double-blind) found that scientists discriminated against female job applicants, giving them lower ratings in “competence and hireability” than male applicants with identical qualifications. The startling thing about this report is that there was no difference found in ratings between those ranking the applicants. That is, women employers were equally likely to be biased against female applicants as men were.
We know there are differences in the way men and women speak, and there is quite a bit of writing about sexism and gender in EFL materials but less about the actual industry as a whole. if we employ the same arguments English as the Lingua Franca folk apply about the number of NNS of English indicating the need to move away from NS norms, doesn’t the number of women, both teachers and students likewise indicate a need for a more equal distribution of influential/prestigious positions in the EFL world?


From 1986 to 1995 an organisation called “women in TEFL” existed with the stated aim of:

giving women in EFL more confidence; improving the status of women teachers of EFL and making sure that they get equal opportunities for promotion; and improving the portrayal of women in language-teaching materials.(Walter & Florent 1989:180)

The organisation held conferences and there was even, at one point a magazine devoted to female TEFL teachers called ETHEl (Byram 2001:231) I have no idea what happened in 1995 to bring an end to the movement, -perhaps everthing became equal then?

So is this just my slant on things or are things really somewhat uneven in the EFL world? I would love to hear your opinions. What’s it like where you work? If you know what happened to “women in TEFL” or used to be a member, please get in touch.

2014 update: Potential positive developments in the ‘fair list’. One to keep an eye on (Thanks Tyson)





I couldn’t care fewer*

I got told off by a guy at work once for saying “We have less students this year”.

“for god’s sake” he said “fewer!”

Especially shameful, supposedly because I’m an English teacher and so should know better. But doesn’t the fact I had lived a good thirty years without knowing better, not perhaps tell us something about this word?  In fact, it’s completely possible that  large numbers of people will live and die in English without knowing that they are getting it ‘wrong’. And the people they are talking to  often don’t know that they are also getting it ‘wrong’. In fact the only people who are bothered seem to be the ones getting it right.
Yeah Jane Moore!  You idiot!

And my god are they bothered. People actually get very worked up about this (check the tweets, right). You can read blogs about just how bothered here, here, here and here. Or here, here, or here. And some more here and here. People really hate this.

So what are the rules?

GrammarGirl, (who I talked about here) gives us this handy guide and it’s actually fairly straightforward. Countable nouns use “fewer” and uncountable nouns use “less”. If that isn’t clear then look at this table:

Time, money, bread
Students, problems potatoes

Simply put, things that you can count, (1 monkey, 2 squirrels, 3 turnips, etc) should be used with ‘fewer’, with other things, like money, (moneys) you should use ‘less’. Simple really, -so why can’t thick thickos like me (and supermarkets) get this into their thick thicko skulls?

Well when we examine GrammarGirl’s advice we find this interesting note:

There are exceptions to these rules

Oh yes?….do go on!

for example, it is customary to use the word less to describe time, money, and distance (2, 3). For example, you could say, “That wedding reception lasted less than two hours. I hope they paid the band less than $400.” So keep in mind that time, money, and distance are different, but if you stick with the quick and dirty tip that less is for mass nouns and fewer is for count nouns, you’ll be right most of the time

Ah-ha! so things are not actually that straight-forward. I don’t want to be right “most” of the time dammit, I want to right all of the time! OK, so just use “fewer” with count nouns, except for time money and distance…right? right, I’ve got it!

But what about weight?  Can I say “I weigh 5kg less than last year” or should it be “I weigh 5kg fewer?” The latter sounds ugly so I’m going to go ahead and add weight to those exceptions.  OK so, time money, distance and weight, got it!

Well not quite, it also seems that you can’t use “fewer” with singular count nouns. For example “that’s one less thing to worry about.” should be wrong but no one say “one fewer thing to worry about”. So is this another exception or do we have to make some ugly compromise like “Now I don’t have so much to worry about”

And what about “less” in the phrases “more or less”? Surely regardless of what number was being referred to  a person would always say less, like “I ate 10 of those cakes, more or less”, but they would never say “more or fewer”. So set phrases seem to be exempt as well. (This is turning out to be as useful as the I before E rule.)
“Illiterate” signs? Hmm

Don’t even get me started on the mind-boggling world of “least number/amount, fewest number/amount”. I’ve never heard anyone get upset about this, but a Google search shows a huge state of disarray. If you’re going to get upset at supermarket signs, then don’t go anywhere near this one. workers in the UK take the least number of paid holidays” says the daily mail, noting later in the same article that they take the fewest. If ‘holidays’ are countable then it should be “fewest”, no? And least number? Shouldn’t it be ‘least amount’ and ‘fewest number’? or just fewest? (head asplodes)

An important question that the people who get angry about this never seem to ask is, -why does  English even need two words for things being smaller in number/amount when we manage to get by fine with one word for things being larger in number? No one has a problem saying “more money, more friends, more time and more stupid grammar rules.” No one gets confused and feels the need to invent a word to fill that gap. So why do people get so upset about this? Why the mindless observance of this useless rule?
Some people might say that we need to retain the historically correct rules of English. That’s a nice idea but as the Motivated Grammar blog notes, this so-called rule has only been around for a few hundred years:

As it turns out, this whole notion that fewer is countable and less is uncountable has been traced back to 1770 by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage. And it wasn’t a rule back then, but rather a preference of a single author, Robert Baker.

That’s right, if you’re insisting on this in 2012 then you’re basically peddling the preferences of some eighteenth century dude. You’re getting angry over something someone 200 years ago didn’t like the sound of. You might imagine yourself the arbiter of “good grammar” but you might as well be running around shouting “don’t use the word bully, Jonathan Swift didn’t like it!”

The earliest example of someone getting it “wrong” was Alfred from Batman the Great who in 888ad wrote Swa mid læs worda swa mid ma, swæðer we hit yereccan mayon” or “with less words or with more, whether we may prove it.”. However I don’t think that people are concerned with historical value at all, they are concerned, as always where language is involved, with showing that they are more educated, more discerning and thus better than those oiks who get it wrong. Thus, like so much maven prescriptivism, this is yet another foundationless linguistic Shibboleth.

If we listen to these kinds of people we’ll end up with supermarket signs saying “10 items or fewer”, teachers saying “Write an essay of five-hundred words or fewer” and people being forced to say “that’s one fewer thing to worry about” and let’s be honest, that just sounds crap. Ignore these pedants, and if they insist then tell them that you couldn’t care fewer.

* Thanks to Florentina Taylor for pointing out that there is a difference between the adverbial use of “less” and the adjectival use.


It’s not easy and it takes time.

Of all the EFL quackery out there, perhaps the most commonly employed by advertisers is the notion of learning a language in a extremely short space of time using some fantastic new method.  This closely parallels weight loss and fitness advertising, and both of these play on the human tendency to want something but not want to have to work for it. People want the gains but they don’t want the pain. Unfortunately the value of being able to do something difficult is that it is difficult to do. 

Advertisers get round this because “learn a language” or “become fluent” mean different things to different people and there isn’t really a way to objectively measure this. For people who don’t speak another language this might seem odd as the notion of “fluent” might be, to them, connected with the idea of a native speaker, but it’s not that simple. Non-native speakers rarely reach levels comparable with native speakers and it’s questionable if that is even a desirable target for many. Like most things in language learning, when you scratch the surface you find things are a bit more complicated.
The Guardian recently had an article with the headline “How I learned a language in 22 hours” which uses this same fuzziness in order to get away with a very misleading headline. The author later adds several caveats:
It goes without saying that memorising the 1,000 most common words in Lingala, French or Chinese is not going to make anyone a fluent speaker. That would have been an unrealistic goal. But it turns out to be just enough vocabulary to let you hit the ground running once you’re authentically immersed in a language. And, more importantly, that basic vocabulary gives you a scaffolding to which you can attach other words as you hear them

This though, is quite different from the claims made earlier in the article:
When I asked Ed if he thought it would be possible to learn an entire language in such a minuscule amount of time using Memrise, his response was matter-of-fact: “It’ll be a cinch.”

The article also claims that the learning happened in just 22 hours with the headline “How I learned a language in 22 hours”. What we’re talking about here though is the time Foer spent studying the words. But as he notes in the article.  
Cognitive scientists have known for more than a century that the best way to secure memories for the long term is to impart them in repeated sessions, distributed across time, with other material interleaved in between.
So Foer tells us how important the time distribution is (learning goes on when we’re not studying, for example, when we’re sleeping) but yet implies that this process only took, in total, one day. I suppose the headline “I learnt some basic words in a foreign language over a period of three months“, wouldn’t have made such a good headline.
The piece is ostensibly a huge advert for an app called memrise and to some extent Foer’s books.  I download the app and was pleasantly surprised to find that memrise was free and had no ads. It’s quite a fun app too, but it’s quite limited in what it can do. For instance you can’t check your pronunciation listen to any of the language, nor can you practise writing characters or making sentences. It’s basically just a app for memorising things.
Memory techniques like using mnemonics or the method of loci can help us to store information in our brains. Language learning however isn’t just about learning vocabulary items and switching them between languages. Take this phrase in Japanese:
yoroshiku onegaishimasu
It is used, in some contexts, daily and it has no simple English translation. If you tried learning Japanese from English, you wouldn’t learn this phrases because it doesn’t exist in English. The reason I mention this is because there is an interesting part later in the article when Foer writes:

I told him, “Omona, nayoka Lingala malamu mingi te. Nasengeli kozala na mosalisi koloba Anglais” – “Look, I don’t understand Lingala very well. I need to have a helper who speaks English.”

Now I don’t know this language but as it’s not related to English, it would be very surprising if they also used “look” in this way. Any Lingala speakers out there please feel free to comment.
In order to speak a language successfully you need to be able to process what is being said to you almost instantaneously and be able to formulate an appropriate response in almost the same amount of time. You need to understandable and you need to understand the grammar and pragmatics of the language. It’s not easy and it takes time certainly more than 22 hours. In a memorable article on “principles of instructed language learning” in which Rod Wllis lays out what we know for sure about language learning, the claim made with the most certainty is this:

If the only input students receive is in the context of a limited number of weekly lessons based on some course book, they are unlikely to achieve high levels of L2 proficiency


If you want to get in shape then exercise and eat less. If you want to learn a language then study it and practise a lot. There’s no magic solution.

well the 22 hours article/advert continues to buzz round twitter. The makers must be very happy and memrise has whizzed to 3rd place in the educational app chart.  

Amazingly this isn’t the first Guardian piece on Memrise, in fact they had one back in March another in January, another mention here and another plug here -all part of their memory series. Amazingly in an article just titled “what you like” a reader apparently felt the urge to write in and say how much he liked memrise in December 2011. Just fancy!


Machine Translation
Another article that caught my eye and also had some rather suspicious claims was this one on, forwarded by @ScottThornbury no less.  I won’t dwell on this one too long suffice to say its headline “machine translator speaks in your own voice” is very misleading. firstly the speech recognition software, as the guy says “makes a lot of mistakes” -you can see a number of them on the screen as he’s going along, and secondly and more importantly, it doesn’t speak “in your voice” at all. I’m sitting here listening to this Chinese translation, and it sounds like a generic Chinese computer voice to me.  

NLP notes

I just saw this post get retweet. I had to quickly knock out a reply to it here. It deals with one of my pet hates, Neurolinguistic Programming which has become more popular over recent years in the EFL world but which makes some quite remarkable claims. I’m currently trying to a get an article on NLP published and I don’t want to repeat too much of that here, but  since it was retweeted by someone quite influential I thought I would dash off this response. I wrote this in about 20 mins so sorry about typos etc.
NLP is a weird therapy type of system which was dreamt up in the 1970s and makes spectacular claims about both the human body and what NLP itself is capable of. Similar in genre to books promise to help you get rich in 7 easy steps or to eat yourself thin, NLP makes some quite spectacular claims. One book (Agnes 2008:3) for example claims that using NLP can help you to:
Be what you want to be
Have what you want to have
Do what you want to do
Have the personal success you want now
Be more aware of your thoughts
And who wouldn’t want all that. Yet there is actually no research that supports any of the claims that NLP makes. This is hardly surprising when you realise just how odd those claims are. NLP practitioners, like the author of the blog that was retweet claim that watching a person’s eye movements can tell you what kind of learner they are. That is, in the dubious VAKOG sense of learner styles
You can also listen to the pitch of someone’s voice or check the way they walk to find out what kind of learner they are. If this doesn’t work then check out the words they use. A person who says “I see what you mean” is visual and and someone who tends to say “I get your drift” is probably kinaesthetic. These are called predicates in the NLP world and no, I’m not kidding, -this is really what they teach.
If you check the blog you see this quote: 

For me, one of the most important core concepts of NLP is the recognition of differences in cognitive style – or what NLP calls “representational systems”. There are five of these systems (Visual, Auditory, Kinaesthetic, Olfactory and Gustatory) of which the first three are most commonly used

Isn’t it funny how the olfactory and gustatory learners are always left out? No one wants to deal with learners who learn through smelling and tasting? too silly even for NLP perhaps? Also, if we’re going to use this old-fashioned five sense model then what happened to touch? No one fancy teaching touchy learners?
The blog mentions Revell and Norman’s book on NLP in EFL which I would advise you to take a look at. There are some quite impressive claims in there, even “live longer with this 3 minute exercise” -worth the price of the book alone I would have thought. The blog also quotes some NLP sayings such as: 


but there is no failure in NLP, only feedback 

This sounds great and appeals to me as a teacher but isn’t it just word play? The Chinese girl who paid out £2,500 for a pre-sessional course, not making the grade and being sent home probably wouldn’t see that as ‘feedback’. Some other claims that NLPers make are these:
There is no failure in learners only in the teacher’s intervention (Millrood 2004:29)

There is no such thing as reluctant learners only inflexible teachers (winch 2005:np)

All behaviour has positive intentions (Revell and norman 1997: 106) 

Now it might just be me but these claims are seriously questionable. Learners can fail, they can be forced to study English and they can almost certainly act with negative intentions.

The author of the blog also claims “I’m no NLP expert but…”. Well, don’t worry, that can soon be remedied. It’s easy to become a “master practitioner” of NLP in one short 10 day course. It will only set you back a few thousand pounds and it’s so simple that even a cat could do it

The fact that so many teachers have bought into this dubious and expensive practice doesn’t really bother me, that’s up to them. However the fact that they are wasting students’ time (and money) by staring into their eyes, or listening to which words they use does. You can find examples of teachers doing this kind of things here, here and here. Of course these teachers think these things “work” and that’s great, -but just remember, the students didn’t sign up for pseudoscience, they signed up to learn English.

Agness, L. 2008. Change your Life with NLP Edinburgh: Pearson education LTD
BBC. 2009. Cat Registered as Hypnotherapist. In BBC news. Retrieved September 20 2012,
Millrood, R. 2004. ‘The role of NLP in teachers’ classroom discourse.’ ELT Journal. 58(1): 28-37
Revell, J. and Norman, S. 1997a.  In Your Hands – NLP in ELT. London: Saffire Press.
Winch, S. 2005. ‘From Frustration to Satisfaction: Using NLP to Improve Self-Expression.’ in EA Education Conference, English Australia, Mercure Hotel, Brisbane, QLD.

Cargo Cult Science

One of my favourite stories about human beliefs is the story of Cargo Cults described here by Richard Fenyman:

 In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to imitate things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas–he’s the controller–and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land. (1974)

The whole piece can be heard here and is well worth a listen. He goes on to talk about cargo cult sciences and includes education among them. A cargo cult science is one which emulates science, but only superficially. So is applied linguistics guilty of being a cargo cult science? Well at times it doesn’t cover itself in glory. One thing I’d like to look at here is the use of supporting quotations in EFL writing. 

Citations are obviously necessary and useful for identifying sources and avoiding plagiarism but I’m a bit suspicious of some of the ways in which they are used at times. There follows a couple of examples of what I’m talking about. Recently writing a piece on Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) I came across this odd discovery:
NLP claims to help achieve excellence of performance in language teaching and learning, improve classroom communication, optimise learner attitudes and motivation, raise self esteem, facilitate personal growth in students and even change their attitude to life (Thornbury 2001:394)

This quote is from a paper by Millrood (2004)  promoting the use of NLP among EFL teachers that appeared in the ELTJ.  What I would like you to think about is, what function does a quote like this serve? If you’re anything like me then you probably innocently assumed that page 394 of Thornbury’s article contains some glowing recommendation of NLP or at least, a description of NLP that mirrors the one above. Here is the reference in question:
More often, the discourse of therapy is interwoven into quai-humanaistic and anodyne concern for personal growth and social hygiene….Personal growth in this kind of discourse [NLP] is often associated with improved self-esteem, but it often seems that it is as much the teacher’s self esteem that is being targeted as that of the students. Unsurprisingly, NLP literature can only be found in the self-help section of book stores…a strong health warning should be attached to therapeutic practices when applied to non-therapeutic situations.

Now I’ve edited this a bit, for example Thornbury doesn’t think this is a reason not to use these kind of techniques, but the tone of the section could be fairly summarised as cautious and critical. There is also a reference to NLP, which does mention some of these factors but it is Thornbury quoting another author, and so should probably appear as  secondary citation. So then what exactly is the function of Millrood’s citation? The first problem is that it only tangentially resembles what Thonbury wrote. Secondly, anyone reading the first article would assume that Thornbury was quite upbeat about NLP which seems quite far from the truth. We could argue that the word “claims” exculpates Millrood, but why include the Thornbury reference in a piece which promotes NLP and is not in any way critical of the practice? The only reason I can think of, is that the name of Thornbury adds a certain weight to the quote. But I’m ready to be corrected.

Another slightly different use of quotation which worries me is when the “authority” has been discredited or is somewhat dubious. Takeo Doi was a Japanese writer who wrote about a ‘uniquely Japanese’ phenomena/emotion called “amae” Doi’s work is highly influential though it’s not at all clear why. He didn’t test his theories nor did he produce any evidence for this unique Japanese behaviour.  Critics suggest that Doi’s ideas are unsubstantiated nihonjinron (theories of Japaneseness): 


[Nakae and Doi] rarely supported their arguments with objective information. Instead their claims of Japanese uniqueness are mostly supported by stories episodes personal anecdotes Japanese specific language expressions and other kinds of examples. (Mouer & Sugimoto 1986; Sugimoto & Mouer 1982 quoted in Kubota 1999: 754)

Dale (1986) is even more critical of Doi noting that numerous sections failed to appear in the English translation because ‘the logic is so circuitous that, were it included, Doi’s whole programme, with its semantic juggling, would have been exposed to withering ridicule.’ (1986: 132)   The notion at the centre of Doi’s work that since the term amae does not exist in Western languages it must be a uniquely Japanese concept is harshly criticised by Dale who notes that Doi only knew two European languages.

Yet Doi appears unquestioned in TEFL literature. For example, in an article on the ‘the acquisition of communicative style in Japanese’ (1992) Clancey examines conversations between Japanese mothers and children in order to highlight the Japanese communicative style which she characterises as ‘intuitive and indirect especially compared with that of Americans’ (1992:213) Clancey then cites Doi to orientate her theory noting that ‘The Japanese view of communication arises from and contributes to amae.’ (217) Somehow calling upon an authority figure gives this spurious claim more weight and once published, in turn, further retrenches Doi’s position as an authority figure. 

If you only read Clancey or Millrood, you would not have the slightest inkling that there was any contention about the theories of amae or NLP. Putting quotation marks, the name of an expert and a page number in an article like this is the same as wearing coconut headphones, sitting in a bamboo air control tower and waiting for planes.  You might look the part, but you’re missing something crucial.


Clancy, P.M (1992) The acquisition of communicative style in Japanese in schieffelin, BB & -Ochs, E. (Eds) Language Socialization Across Culture Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dale, P. (1986) The Myth of Japanese Uniqueness. Oxford: London. Nissan Institute, Croom Helm.

Doi, T. (1981). The Anatomy of Dependence English Tokyo: Kodansha

Kubota, R. (1999) Japanese Culture Constructed by Discourses: Implications for Applied Linguistics Research and ELT TESOL quarterly 33(1), 9-25.

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