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Feb 2019 - Year 21 - Issue 1

ISSN 1755-9715

Humanism is Alive and Well

Alan Maley has been involved with ELT for over 50 years. He has lived and worked in 10 countries worldwide, including China and India. He is a prolific author. He is a founder member of the Creativity Group (The C group). In 2012 he was given the ELTons Lifetime Achievement Award. He is a regular contributor to HLT Mag. Email:

I entered the ELT profession in 1962, before it had any pretensions to being a profession at all.  At that time, accredited post-graduate courses were in their infancy and thin on the ground.  In UK, only The Institute of Education, London, University of Edinburgh and University of Leeds were offering Applied Linguistics courses.  The spate of teacher qualifying courses offered by institutions such as the Cambridge Syndicate and the RSA had not yet got under way.  There were a few well-established private language schools, like Bell in Cambridge, IH in London and Eckersley in Oxford.  There were few publications apart from Palmer (1917), Hornby (1954), Michael West (1960) and Billows (1961) and, of course Daniel Jones’ Pronunciation Dictionary (1917) and The Advanced learners’ Dictionary of English (1948). The first ‘modern’ introduction to the new discipline of Applied Linguistics was Halliday, McIntosh and Strevens – The Linguistic Sciences and Language Teaching was only published a little later in 1964. The journal, ELT (later to become the ELTJ) existed as a rather slim item but with a small circulation, and IATEFL was only to emerge as a teachers’ association in 1967.

By contrast, the 1970’s and 80’s saw a burgeoning of ideas, publications and flamboyant personalities.  The ideas of Wilkins and others were finding concrete substance in the ‘Communicative Approach’.  New unorthodox methods, such as The Silent Way, Suggestopaedia, Community Language Learning, Total Physical Response and Psychodrama were attracting attention and debate. The exciting ferment arising from the Humanistic ideas of Moskowitz (1978), Stevick (1980), Fanselow (1978) and Rinvolucri (1984) was evidenced by a whole new range of publications, conferences and workshops.  And Krashen’s iconoclastic views on Comprehensible Input (Krashen, 1985) were challenging received opinion as to how languages should be taught.  This period also saw the beginnings of the commodification of English through a proliferation of MA courses, the growth of English for Special and Academic purposes (ESP/EAP) to meet the needs of the growing number of overseas students in UK universities, the introduction of new-style examinations, and an explosion of publications and language courses.


The coming of conformity and the ‘Gang of Five’

By the time the first HLT Mag appeared in 1999, the methodological waters were beginning to calm.  The exuberance of new ideas and their practical implementation was giving way to a rather different set of trends which have come to dominate the profession ever since.  The creative, buccaneering spirit of the 70’s and 80’s was everywhere in competition from the forces of conformity.  In particular:

  • Testing

The huge and rapid expansion of testing which took place in the 1990’s and continues today has exerted a huge influence on curricula, published materials and on courses offered.  Following the spread of IELTS and TOEFL in particular, the teaching of English is now firmly shackled to the testing bandwagon.  This leaves little room for the exercise of the individual, creative methodology which was so common in the earlier period, since all efforts are now directed to fulfilling the demands of the test.

  • Technology

What had been no more than a flirtation with technology until the late ‘80’s became an obsessive love affair as we moved into the ‘90’s and beyond.  Inevitably, teaching has come to depend on a range of technological systems and practices, partly as a reflection of the digital revolution which is a major component of most students’ daily lives and partly for their intrinsic attraction. Despite the valiant efforts of responsible proponents of IT to harness technology to pedagogical purposes in appropriate ways (Dudeney & Hockly, 2007), the danger of using technology as a new toy is still very much part of the scene.

  • Academicisation

Increasingly, teachers have come under pressure to acquire academic qualifications.  Following on from the rapid expansion of MA programmes, many teachers are now urged or tempted or obliged to pursue PhD programmes.  In many cases, the prospects of promotion without a PhD are negligible.  The spread of PhD fever is accompanied by a dedication to the idea that ‘more research is needed’.  The research paradigm is now widely accepted as central to progress in the profession.  (For a contrasting view, see Maley, 2003, 2016)

  • Publishing

ELT publishers were previously at the forefront of promoting creative ideas in teaching methodology.  However, under the combined pressure to cater to the demands of examinations and tests, and the rising investment costs involved in publishing comprehensive, global course book packages, the major publishers have become risk-averse.  One result is that most course packages are near-clones of each other.  Another is that it is now far more difficult for an aspiring writer with a good idea to get published. Yet another is that teachers are increasingly expected to follow the expensive course packages their managers have purchased for them.  Creative exploration has thus become more difficult.

  • Bureaucratisation

In the late 80’s, ELT was bitten by the management bug.  Many, if not most, teaching institutions were squeezed into a business model, with an emphasis on ‘the bottom line’, efficiency, delivery of learning packages, vision statements, all run by ‘managers’ wielding spread-sheets, pocket calculators and an impressive command of jargon borrowed from business.  Furthermore, especially in the public sector, the plethora of instructions, regulations and box-ticking now required tends to divert teachers’ energy from the primary task of helping learners to learn.


Enter HLT Mag

So why should we be celebrating the 20th anniversary of HLT Mag? 

The hegemony of testing and evaluation, the temptations of easy-fix technological solutions, the creeping encroachment of academic research at the expense of teaching expertise, the flat-lining of publishing, and the blight of bureaucratisation – all have contributed to a narrowing of the opportunities for teachers to explore independently the nature of learning and teaching and their role in it.  In the face of this sometimes depressing scenario, HLT Mag has kept the flame of humanistic inquiry and experimentation burning.

Just out of curiosity, I checked every issue of HLT Mag since it’s foundation in 1999.  There are certain recurrent themes.  Among the most frequent are:

~ Teacher Development.  In the very first issue, Paul Davis’ major article ‘What is Teacher development’ (Davis, 1999) in a way set the scene.  Effectively, all successive issues have been focusing, in one way or another on possible answers to that initial question.

~ Aesthetic approaches to teaching and learning: stories and story-telling, wisdom stories, creative writing, art, music, drama, clowning, literature.  There is abundant material on all these aspects of enriching learning through the arts.

~ The use of corpora.  One of the more accessible and rewarding uses of technology has been frequently explored.

~ Learner autonomy.  There has been repeated attention given to ways to honour the individuality of every learner and to give substance to the adage that ‘all learners are different.’

~ The importance of reading, especially Extensive Reading.

~ Critical thinking – including a re-examination of some contentious issues such as Translation as a teaching tool and the use of the Mother Tongue,

HLT Mag has also engaged with some of the emerging ‘memes’, while keeping others in sight.  For example:

~ There has been continuing coverage of Suggestopaedia and TPR, although in mainstream thinking, they have largely fallen out of fashion.

~ NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming) and MI (Multiple intelligences) have both enjoyed a good deal of continuing coverage.

~ The relatively few ‘new’ ideas which have arisen in the lifetime of HLT Mag including CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning), ELF (English as a Lingua Franca) and DOGME (Meddings &Thornbury, 2009) have also been given recurrent coverage.

All the above bear witness to the mission of HLT Mag to humanise language teaching. 

In my view, HLT Mag emerged, just at the time when these trends were becoming dominant, to provide an alternative perspective.  It has offered a platform for alternative ideas and practices, a space for debate on substantive issues, a seedbed of creative energy, a voice for teachers (and for learners) to make their views known, and an incredibly rich source of practical ideas for teachers to draw upon.  May it long continue to do so!



Billows, L. (1961)   The Techniques of Language Teaching.  London: Longman Green.

Davis, P. (1999) ‘What is Teacher Development?’ HLT Mag, Year 1, Issue 1.

Dudeney, G. & Hockly, N. (2007) How to Teach English with Technology.  London: Pearson Longman.

Fanselow, J.F. (1978) Breaking Rules.  New York and London: Longman.

Halliday, M.K.  MacIntosh, A. and Strevens, P.D. (1964) The Linguistic Sciences and Language Teaching.  London: Longman

Hornby, A.S. (1954) A Guide to Patterns and Usage in English.  London: Oxford University Press.

Hornby, A.S. et al (1948) The Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary of Current English.  Oxford: Oxford University Press

Jones, D. (1917) An English Pronouncing Dictionary. London: Dent

Krashen, S. (1985) The Input Hypothesis: Issues and Implications. New York: Longman

Maley, A. (2003)   A Modest Proposal: from Research to Inquiry.  HLT Mag. Year 5, Issue 6.

Maley, A. (2016) ‘More research is needed’: A Mantra too far?  HLT Mag. Year 18.  Issue 3.

Meddings, L. & Thornbury, S. (2009) Teaching Unplugged.  London: Delta

Moskowitz, G. (1978) Caring and Sharing in the Foreign Language Classroom.  New York: Longman.

Palmer, H.E. (1917) The Scientific Study and Teaching of Languages. London: Harrap. 

Rinvolucri, M (1984) Grammar Games.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Stevick, E. (1980) Teaching Languages: a Way and Ways.  Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

West, M. (1960) The Teaching of English in Difficult Circumstances. London: Longman.


Please check the Pilgrims courses at Pilgrims website.

Tagged  Various Articles 
  • Humanism is Alive and Well
    Alan Maley, UK

  • The Human Face of Language Learning: A Complex/Dynamic Perspective
    Carol Griffiths, New Zealand and UK

  • The “Hidden” Humanistic Teachers: Rudolph Steiner’s Followers in the Waldorf Schools Round the World
    Mario Rinvolucri, UK

  • Empathy as a Source of Motivation in Language Learning and Language Teaching
    Csilla Jaray-Benn, France