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Inaugural HELE-India webinar - Insights for English Language Education from Historical Research

Webinar abstract: Historical research is not very widespread in our field, and I do not claim that it has a direct relevance to English language education (ELE) today. Nevertheless, perspectives from history can inform current practice, as I aim to demonstrate in this lecture, in which I make some specific reference to research into Indian ELE as well as referring to my ongoing research into the roots and development of UK-based ELT. Apart from discussing particular findings which are perhaps surprising, or at least thought-provoking for teachers and teacher educators, I aim to demonstrate some basic principles of historical research and to encourage others to join this neglected but rewarding field of study.


References and links


1. Why history? / What kind of history?

Fundamental Concepts of Language Teaching by H.H. Stern. Published by Oxford University Press (1983).

'History of language teaching and applied linguistics' by Richard Smith (2021), in Coombe, C. & Mohebbi, H. (eds.) Research Questions in Language Education and Applied Linguistics: A Reference Guide. Springer, 743–747.

'Harold E. Palmer, IRLT and "historical sense" in ELT’, by Richard Smith (2013). IRLT Journal 12: 1-8 (Journal of the Institute for Research in Language Teaching, Tokyo: Special issue to celebrate the Institute's 90th anniversary). Pre-publication version.

'Building "Applied Linguistic Historiography": Rationale, scope and methods', by Richard Smith (2016). Applied Linguistics 37/1: 71-87. Online (Open Access).

Foundation Day lecture by Richard Smith (2014), on 'Building Applied Linguistic Historiography', Department of English Studies, University of Hyderabad, India.

2. HoLLT, HELT and HELE as fields of research

Special Open Access issue of Language & History (57/1) on ‘History of Modern Language Education in Europe’. Online (Open Access

Special Open Access issue of The Language Learning Journal (46/1) on 'Histories of language learning and teaching in Europe', co-edited by R. Smith and N. McLelland (2018)).

The History of Language Learning and Teaching, 3 volumes (Vol. I: 16th-18th Century Europe Vol. II: 19th-20th Century Europe; Vol. III: Across Cultures), co-edited by N. McLelland and R. Smith (2018). Oxford: Legenda (for the Modern Humanities Research Association).

HoLLTnet: AILA Research Network on History of Language Learning and Teaching (website)

3. Focus on HELT (history of 'global' ELT)

1) Establishing 'global' ELT 'mainstream' history

A History of English Language Teaching by A.P.R. Howatt. Published by Oxford University Press in 1984 / 2004 (2nd edition, with H.G. Widdowson).

Tickoo, Makhan L. 1968. 'A critical study of some developments in, and opinions on, the application of linguistics in language teaching'. PhD thesis, Institute of Education, University of London.

The Writings of Harold E. Palmer: An Overview, by Richard Smith (1999). Tokyo: Hon-no-Tomosha.

'S-O-S' (e.g. Lionel Billows and the 'Madras Snowball') vs. American structural approach

'ELT and the British Council (1934–2014): Research notes' by Richard Smith (2015).

Warwick ELT Archive website


2) 'Side-streams' / Alternative streams within ELT:

Horace Wyatt (1923) The Teaching of English in India. London: Oxford University Press, in Teaching English as a Foreign Language, 1912-1936: Pioneers of ELT, vol. 1, edited by Richard Smith (2003). London: Routledge

Michael West (1960) Teaching English in Difficult Circumstances. Published by Longmans (1960), in Teaching English as a Foreign Language, 1936–1961: Foundations of ELT, vol. 6, edited by Richard C. Smith (2005). Abingdon: Routledge.

'Harold E. Palmer's alternative "applied linguistics"' by Richard Smith (2011). Histoire–Epistémologie–Langage 33/1: 53-67.

HERstory of ELT (blog post)


3) Needs to localize / 'decentre' ELT`;:

Appropriate Methodology and Social Context by Adrian Holliday (1994). Cambridge University Press.

Prabhu, N.S. (1990) 'There is no best method; Why?' TESOL Quarterly, 24(2), pp. 161-176.

Kumaravadivelu, B. 'Postmethod pedagogy'. Chapter 9 in Understanding Language Teaching: from Method to Postemethod. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum (2006).

'Decentring ELT' (Hornby Trust website)


4) Historically decentring / localizing 'global' ELT:

'The history of Teaching English as a Foreign Language, from a British and European perspective’, by A.P.R. Howatt and Richard Smith (2014). Language and History 57/1: 75-95. Online (open access)

Smith, Richard. 2018. 'The role of historiography in decentring ELT'. Invited lecture at Dr. B. R. Ambedkar University, Delhi, and Keynote paper at ELTAI National Seminar on 'English Language Education: Theory and Practice', University of Hyderabad, India.

'A brief history of ELT Journal' by Richard Smith (2021), ELT Journal 75/1: 4–13.

4. Focus on HELE (history of English learning/teaching in particular educational contexts)

HELE in Japan -

‘Lessons from the past: traditions and reforms’, by Richard C. Smith, with Imura Motomichi (2004). In Makarova, V. and T. Rodgers (eds.) English Language Teaching: The Case of Japan. Munich: Lincom Europa. Also available online: opens in a new window

HELE in Germany -

e.g. Klippel, Friederike. (1994) Englischlernen im 18. und 19. Jahrhundert: Die Geschichte der Lehrbücher und Unterrichtsmethoden. Münster: Nodus.

See also Giesler, Tim (2019) 'Munich works: German perspectives on the history of language learning and teaching'. Language & History 62/3: 265-269.

HELE in India -

‘Bilingual English teaching in colonial India: the case of John Murdoch’s work in Madras Presidency, 1855–1875’, co-authored by R. Smith & R. Vennela (2019). Language & History 62(2), 96-118. Corrected pre-publication version here.

Smith, R. & Vennela, R. ‘Countering some myths around Macaulay’s Minute and English linguistic imperialism in 19th-century Indian education’. Paper at the 7th International Conference on Late Modern English, University of Catania, Ragusa, Italy, May 2022.

Foreigners and Foreign Languages in India: A Sociolinguistic History by Shreesh Chaudhary (2009). Delhi: Foundation Books

Language Policy and Education in India: Documents, Contexts and Debates, co-edited by M. Sridhar and Sunita Mishra (2017). Abingdon: Routledge.

HELE-India research group: contact Prof. Amol Padwad, Centre for English Language Education, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar University, Delhi.


Presenter biodata

Dr Richard Smith is a Professor of ELT and Applied Linguistics at the University of Warwick. He is known for his work supporting teachers of English in public education systems in Global South contexts, through his work as founder and coordinator of the Teaching English in Large Classes network and his work to support teachers and mentors with their own exploratory action research.

He has collaborated with colleagues in India for a number of years, firstly in co-leading the British Council’s Survey of Indian ELT Research together with Professor Paul Gunashekar of EFL-University, in -co-leading a British Council scheme for researchers in India with Professor Rama Mathew and as co-leader with Professor Amol Padwad of the Action Research Mentoring Scheme – known as ‘ARMS’ - in its first year. More recently he has been collaborating with the HELE-India research group in its Hornby Trust supported project to document the history of English language education in India.

In 2002 Richard founded the Warwick ELT Archive – which is a unique historical collection of documents, textbooks and recordings relating to the history of English language teaching. In 2015 he founded HoLLTnet, an international Research Network on History of Language Learning and Teaching within AILA, the International Association of Applied Linguistics. Via this work and via his publications he is a leading figure in recent moves to place ELT and language teaching more generally on a more solid historical foundation. For more information, see homepage.