Blogging for ETAI International Conference – An Interview with Hugh Dellar

Hugh Dellar
Hugh Dellar



That word alone is enough to spark heated debates in any gathering of EFL teachers. The issue of how much grammar to teach, what is the best way to teach it, what will happen if lexis is emphasized over grammar –  are all “hot” topics indeed.

Hugh Dellar, the experienced teacher, teacher-trainer and author will take up such  “burning” issues in his plenary talk at the upcoming ETAI International Conference (July 4-6) .  In this interview he shares some of his insights and his own personal journey. 

Q: The title for your plenary talk is “Making the LEAP from Grammar to Lexis”. Based on your extensive experience, what constraints do teachers have to overcome? 

A: Well, obviously, to a large degree, the constraints depend on the context teachers find themselves working in. There may well be external exams that teachers need to prepare students for, and these exams may be very grammar-heavy; there may also be internal school or larger national curriculum pressures that lead teachers to believe a certain way of approaching grammar in class is required; this may also be exacerbated by perceptions teachers have about what students, parents, colleagues, etc. want from them. Ultimately, though, the biggest constraints are internal, and these are often the result of our training. So much of the way we are trained to see language and thus to think about what’s important when trying to teach grammar, vocabulary, etc. stems from our training, and it’s there that the biggest breakthroughs can be made in terms of helping teachers overcome or at least tackle outdated ways of thinking about language. 

In my plenary, I’ll be acknowledging some of the reasons why PPP (Present-Practise-Produce) has become so entrenched as the dominant way of tackling grammar, before going into more detail about why it really is time for it to be at least partially replaced with an approach that addresses some of the many limitations inherent in PPP.
Naomi's Photos
Naomi’s Photos
Q: How did you become a teacher and what attracted you about the field of lexis?
A: That’s a tricky question. I guess the short answer would be that I did English Literature at university and was always interested in literature, words, and language. I was also in a semi-professional band that split up soon after I graduated, leaving me at a bit of a loose end, and initially at least just drifted into ELT – as so many native speakers do – as a way of getting out and seeing a bit of the world. In terms of what drew me to a more lexical view of language, it was partly my own experience of learning Indonesian when I was living in Jakarta in the 90s, as I very quickly realised that the memorization of countless single words from bilingual word lists coupled with the study of grammar forms and meanings wasn’t helping me produce anything particularly resembling Indonesian as it was really spoken; there was also a growing frustration with the language coursebooks they were giving me to teach, little of which bore much resemblance to English as I spoke it. What then helped crystallise these vague feelings of dissatisfaction into something more focused and coherent was reading The Lexical Approach by Michael Lewis in 1995, when I did my DELTA. It provided me with a way of looking at language that very much tallied with my own experiences thus far and which then forced me to reassess my own classroom practices and – ultimately – to get into writing materials too. 
Hugh Dellar 1
Q : You are a teacher,  a teacher-trainer, and an author of ELT books – do you enjoy doing any of them more than the other?
A: This is the easiest question I’ve been asked for a long time! If I had to give up everything else and only keep one of the areas I’m involved in, it would without a doubt me classroom teaching. This was my first love, and the thing that’s made everything else I’ve done possible, and I still love the immediacy and excitement and satisfaction of teaching. 
Q: You work with teachers all over the world. Do you find any differences between their approaches to the issue of lexis?
A: Yes, there are quite noticeable differences. One hates to generalise, but in certain countries such as Russia, Poland and Ukraine, for instance, teachers generally speak remarkably good English and are very receptive to the kind of ideas I’ve been banging on about for years. They don’t seem afraid of the hard graft aspect of language learning, and generally have high expectations of their learners and how much language they can shoulder. Other markets – Italy and Japan spring to mind – are still very very rooted in what’s essentially little more than Grammar Translation, and the teaching reflects this. 
Q: What do enjoy doing when you aren’t working?
A: Recently I’ve been so busy working – writing, setting up our new school (, teaching, training, travelling, etc. – that I honestly haven’t had much free time, but as and when I do get some I still play in a rock’n’roll band; I collect old 60s vinyl 45s; I watch Arsenal Football Club; I read; I cook; I have been known to frequent a pub on occasion; I go to the cinema . . . all the usual stuff, to be honest.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *