A Reply to Dellar on the difference between his “Lexical Approach” and TBLT

Dellar has a new video on YouTube explaining the difference between his “Lexical Approach” and Communicative Language Teaching (CLT).

Dellar’s Lexical Approach is distinguished by its special “approach to language”. While most ELT approaches wrongly see language as “grammar and single words”, his approach sees language as more “patterned and formulaic” than is commonly assumed, where collocations, chunks, “fixed and semi-fixed expressions, discoursal patterns that are predictable and repeatable” should be the focus of teaching. That’s it – that’s the special approach which Dellar claims teachers need training in, so as to think about language in “a more sophisticated, nuanced way”.

On the other hand, CLT is “primarily to do with classroom methodology” – “interaction is both the means and the ultimate goal of study (sic)”.  Dellar has no objections to communicative activities, but he thinks teachers can do them better by adopting his more sophisticated approach to language, because it better equips them to provide students with “the actual language that they need in order to carry out communicative tasks”. Thus, TBLT and Dogme could be improved by doing what he does – “predict the language students need to perform these tasks”.

On Language

Dellar fails here, as he does elsewhere, to give any coherent description of this special view of the English language. I’ve discussed Dellar’s view of language in a separate post, so suffice it to say here that Dellar & Walkley’s Teaching Lexically gives one of the most absurd misreprentations of pedagogical grammars (“grammar plus words”) ever published, and follow it with an incoherent account of the important role that collocations and lexical chunks play in understanding the English language. Dellar’s various attempts to describe his special approach to the English language  – in this video, in Teaching Lexically, in his podcasts, videos and conference presentations (note particularly his contorted versions of a “bottom-up” grammar) – are an unscholarly sham.

On Teaching 

Dellar, as we’ve seen, says that teachers following TBLT and Dogme syllabuses would benefit if they shared his more sophisticated, more nuanced understanding of English, because this would allow them to predict the language which students need to perform tasks. But how would it do that? What guidance does Dellar give teachers to inform their “predictions”? Given his focus on lexical chunks, and given that proficient English speakers know tens of thousands of lexical chunks, how does Dellar suppose that teachers, once trained in his approach to language, will select the chunks that their students need? What criteria  will they use to narrow down the many thousands of candidate chunks to a managable number? Dellar has never offered any coherent criteria or principles for making such a selection, nor has he shown any critical acumen in assessing the enormous problems involved in selecting and teaching lexical chunks. For example, what principles or criteria inform the selection of chunks to be found in Dellar’s One Minute videos? A recent aticle in Applied Research on Language Learning, lists the most frequent idioms used in contemporary American English, in the academic, fiction, spoken, newspaper, & magazine genres. Not one of Dellar’s over 200 selected chunks (which include the gems “It does my head in”, and “budge up”) is mentioned in the lists. So if teachers ever make the mad decision to base their teaching on presenting and practicing chunks, how will they “predict the language their students need”? Throw darts at a board full of “Hugh’s Favorite Chunks”? No, of course not – all they have to do is leave it Hugh, and use the Outcomes series of coursebooks.

I wonder if “Help! Get me out of here!” appears in any of them.