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Harold E. Palmer's life and career

Harold Edward Palmer (1877–1949) was instrumental in establishing the ‘ground-rules’ of what came to be the mainstream British approach to ELT in the post-World War II years, situational language teaching. As Howatt (1994: 2915) has indicated,

It is difficult to over-estimate Palmer’s contribution to twentieth-century English language teaching. [. . .] After Palmer, ELT was no longer merely a junior branch of modern language teaching, but an independent profession which led the way in applied linguistic innovation.

Palmer was born in 1877 in London, but his parents moved to Hythe on the Kent coast in 1883. His father had started his career as a school teacher, but in Hythe became a local businessman, setting up a stationery and fancy goods store and starting other small local ventures before (in 1890) launching a weekly local newspaper, the Hythe Reporter. In contrast to the other principal pioneers of ELT, Michael West and Lawrence Faucett, both of whom were Oxford-educated, Harold Palmer only received a secondary education until the age of fifteen and never went on to university. Instead, he seems to have spent a relatively carefree youth, only starting serious work on his father’s newspaper in 1897, before becoming its editor in February 1899. His writing for the newspaper shows considerable humour, creativity, independence of thought and, in some cases, an academic orientation; his creativity was engaged also in photography and illustrations for supplements to the newspaper. However, in 1901 he resigned as editor and in 1902 arrived in Verviers, a town in French-speaking Belgium near the German and Dutch borders. As his daughter (Anderson 1969: 136) records,

Although Father found life to be full of interest and excitement, he felt that he must break away from work that was leading nowhere. So, in his mid-twenties, feeling cramped and frustrated, he had the urge to go abroad.

In Verviers he started work as an English teacher in a language school run along Berlitz lines, although not, apparently, itself associated with the expanding Berlitz empire (for more on which, see Howatt and Smith, 2000). His training consisted partly in observing lessons taught by another teacher, and partly in learning German himself according to the Berlitz method. This was ‘a revelation to him, especially as he had hitherto been in complete ignorance of the Direct Method in any of its forms, and at once he became an enthusiastic admirer of it’ (Anderson 1969: 136). As Howatt (1984: 213) has suggested, this kind of revelation was to repeat itself again and again in the induction of British recruits to the EFL profession in the twentieth century, relating to the striking contrast of the Direct Method with their own previous language learning experience at school. The Reform Movement (see Howatt and Smith, 2002) had had and was to continue to have relatively little effect on modern language teaching in British, as opposed to Continental European schools.

In Verviers Palmer very quickly showed his own entrepreneurial mettle in setting up an independent language school (later to be known as the ‘Institut Palmer’) and even developing a distinctive ‘Palmer Method’. His first published materials – a correspondence course for French-speaking learners of English – were privately printed and issued as early as 1904. In their rejection of the Berlitz dogma of exclusive use of the target language and their incorporation of a system of phonetic transcription apparently of his own devising, these already gave evidence of the independence of thought and desire to innovate which were to mark Palmer’s contributions to language learning and teaching throughout his career.

As these materials – and others he published during his time in Belgium – also show, Palmer had rapidly developed his abilities in French to the point where he could make use of his (mostly adult) students’ mother tongue in order to convey meaning, while maintaining the importance of practice exercises in the target language (he was to emphasize this useful distinction throughout his career). German, Spanish, Polish and Esperanto were some of the other languages he studied during his time in Belgium, consciously using insights from these and his teaching experiences in an ‘action research’ manner to further develop his ‘Palmer method’:

He explored the possibilities of one method after another, both as teacher and student. He would devised, adopt, modify or reject one plan after another as the result of further research and experience in connexion with many languages – living and artificial.

By this time, he had become fascinated by languages, all languages, his own and other people’s, fascinated by the way they worked. He was naturally eager to teach what he learned and to learn as he taught.

(Anderson 1969: 136–7)

Early on, Palmer became heavily involved in the promotion of Esperanto in the context of his active membership of the Société Polyglotte de Verviers, an association dedicated to internationalism, and the encouragement of internationalist attitudes through language learning. In 1907 his textbook Esperanto à l’usage des français was issued by the leading publisher of Esperanto materials in Belgium. After 1907, his internationalist sympathies were also engaged via his memberhip of the International Phonetic Association (IPA), which exposed him to ideas on language teaching developed by Reform Movement theorists including Sweet, Bréal, Jespersen and Passy (see Howatt and Smith, 2002). Palmer’s major achievement during his time in London (see below) was to be the way he combined practical teaching ideas developed out of his experimentation in teaching adults in Verviers with the principled overall approach and linguistic emphasis of the leading Reform Movement theorists. His increasingly active association with the IPA during his time in Belgium (involving several contributions to the IPA’s bulletin, Le maître phonétique) was clearly crucial in this respect, not only in developing his own thinking but also in leading to Daniel Jones’s invitation to him (in 1915) to work at University College London. In 1913 Palmer published a Manuel d’anglais parlé which clearly shows the growing IPA influence on his work, both in its particular concern with the nature of spoken English and in the pedagogic use it makes of phonetic transcription. By now Palmer was a convinced advocate of phonetic symbols as a means for avoiding excessive reliance on written forms, particularly in the early stages of learning. In this, as in his tolerance for providing information in students’ mother tongue, and in his desire to provide such information in a clear and systematic fashion, he had clearly staked out his own territory, different from that of the Berlitz method for language teaching to adults.

When German troops invaded in August 1914, Palmer, his Belgian wife and young daughter were forced to make a dramatic escape. Arriving in Kent along with other refugees, he at first organized English lessons there, but soon moved to London, where he had been offered employment as a secondary school French teacher. Daniel Jones, who had previously met and corresponded with Palmer, also invited him to give three public lectures at University College, London on methods of language teaching (in the autumn term of 1915), and subsequently offered him (part-time) employment as a teacher of spoken English and phonetics to foreign students and as a lecturer on methods of language teaching. An article published in May 1916 in the British journal Modern Language Teaching was Palmer’s first widely diffused statement on principles of language teaching. Being divided into three sections on (i) aspects of vocabulary, (ii) typical (adult) language learners’ ‘vicious tendencies’ (i.e. bad habits to be avoided), and (iii) the use of substitution tables, the article (Palmer 1916a) probably relates closely to the contents of his three 1915 public lectures (see Smith 1998b). Two short but innovative textbook publications in 1916 – Colloquial English. Part 1. 100 Substitution Tables (Palmer 1916b) and Colloquial French. 1. French Fluency Exercises (Palmer and Motte 1916) were books of substitution tables in phonetic script giving evidence of an interest in grammar for production which was to retain its importance for him throughout his career. The English textbook in particular has been cited for prefiguring the ‘pattern drill’ exercises which were characteristic of Charles Fries’s Oral Approach in the post-World War II era (Diller 1971: 40).

However, unlike the post-war advocates of ‘linguistics applied’, Palmer was no longer by this stage attached dogmatically to particular procedures – instead, since around 1908–9 he had been motivated by the realization that his previous ‘search for the one true standard and universal method’ (Palmer 1917: 5) had been misguided, and that what was needed instead was a principled basis for methods and for their selection, in other words a ‘science of linguistic pedagogy’ (Palmer 1917: 6). In the course of preparing his first full year of lectures at UCL (1916–17), Palmer wrote his first large-scale work, The Scientific Study and Teaching of Languages (1917). Like Henry Sweet’s (1899) The Practical Study of Languages before it, this book prefigured applied linguistics as constituted in the immediate post-World War II era, but with less of an emphasis on the direct ‘application’ of existing linguistic insights to language teaching. Instead, Palmer presented strong and original arguments for the establishment of a wholly new ‘science of language-study’ which would combine insights from philologists, phonetics, grammarians, lexicologists, modern pedagogy and psychologists, with these insights ‘placed in such order and with such observance of proportion that the inevitable conclusions will suggest themselves’ (Palmer 1917: 22). The book shows how this might be done by considering, in turn, the ‘nature of language’ and preliminary factors and principles of ‘linguistic pedagogy’, and then proceeding to show how insights established on this basis of principled enquiry can be utilized in the design not only of ‘an ideal standard programme’ but also special programmes for specific types of learner with different language learning purposes.


At this time Palmer seems to have been hoping to influence teachers of modern languages, particularly French, in British secondary schools, but this avenue of influence did not prove fruitful. In 1918 he began to teach part-time at the recently established School of Oriental Studies (later, SOAS), and began to concentrate more and more on issues connected with language learning (see Smith 1998b). This development motivated The Principles of Language-Study (1921a), the first work in the present volume. This presents a more ‘thought-through, distilled and authoritative’ (Howatt 1984: 237) overview of principles of language pedagogy than the earlier Scientific Study (1917). Discussion of language teaching and course design takes up the latter two-thirds of the book, but this is preceded by an innovative exposition of the theory of language learning (see Howatt 1984: 240–43), largely replacing the discussion of the ‘nature of language’ which had taken up the first chapter of the earlier book. Absent also are the practical examples of course design and pedagogy which characterize the former work. However, The Oral Method of Teaching Languages (1921b) – also included in the present volume – largely fills this gap. This work sets out in schematic fashion many of the language teaching procedures Palmer had developed in the course of his career to date, showing the extent to which he had moved beyond his early Berlitz training and developed a wide variety of innovative techniques for oral teaching (English through Actions (Palmer, H.E. and Palmer, D. 1925), jointly authored with his daughter, was to continue to develop this strand of his work).

Further innovative publications related more specifically to the teaching of spoken English (and his classes in this area at UCL) were English Intonation with Systematic Exercises (1922a) and Everyday Sentences in Spoken English (1922b), the latter presenting a collection of sentences along functional lines (indeed, it was to be one of the books referred to by those responsible for drawing up the Council of Europe unit-credit scheme in the 1970s). These were followed slightly later by his classic pedagogic grammar, A Grammar of Spoken English (1924a), which he had begun to write as early as 1919–20. The period 1915–21 when Palmer was based at the University of London saw the beginnings in the British academic world, due to his efforts, of something resembling a general ‘discipline’ covering language learning and teaching. However, these beginnings were not to be developed – from 1922 onwards Palmer’s energies were redirected to reform in another context – Japan –, this time with a very specific reference to English as a foreign language.

In 1921 he accepted an invitation to advise the Japanese government on methods of English teaching in schools (for more on the nature of this invitation, see Smith 1998c). In April 1922 Palmer arrived in Tokyo to take up his new post of ‘linguistic adviser’. One of his first actions was to establish a semi-official ‘Institute for Research in English Teaching’ (IRET) in 1923, the first research centre to be devoted wholly to problems of EFL teaching in the world. The IRET Bulletin was to be edited by Palmer until his departure from Japan in 1936, at which point its editorship was taken over by A.S. Hornby (1898–1978). Hornby, following his own departure from Japan in 1942 and his own appointment as ‘linguistic adviser’ to The British Council at the end of the war, suggested that a similar periodical should be published in London under the title which was then to give the ‘new’ profession its name – English Language Teaching (now, ELT Journal). In this manner, and in many other ways, the pre-war activities of IRET, led by Palmer then Hornby, were to make a direct, though generally underacknowledged contribution to the establishment of ELT in the post-world war era.


During his first year and a half in Japan Palmer carried out relatively individualistic background research, combined, however, with some school visits and numerous public lectures. In these lectures, he refrained from making specific recommendations for the Japanese context, preferring instead to stay at the level of generalities, repeating ideas from his previously published works which might serve to help him and his future work to be understood. This period came to an end with the publication in 1924 of the Memorandum on Problems of English Teaching in the Light of a New Theory (1924b), included in the present volume. The ‘new theory’ referred to in the title was that of Ferdinand de Saussure, whose posthumously published lectures (Saussure 1916) Palmer had read in the original French and been inspired by at a time when established philologists and phoneticians in the UK were still unaware of Saussure’s linguistic contributions. The Memorandum has remained little-known outside Japan but it is a classic in the history of language teaching, constituting an important development of Palmer’s previous, more widely appreciated thinking on the relationship between theory and practice. It ties an eclectic range of possible teaching procedures (‘Forms of work’) to a scientifically based model which emphasizes the need to develop ‘Speech habits’ for actual use of English (identified with Saussure’s ‘parole’) as contrasted with (mere) knowledge about English – ‘langue’, or ‘code’ in Palmer’s translation.

The practical significance of the Memorandum in the Japanese context was that it indicated a range of theoretically justified paths, or ‘lines of approach’, along which reform might proceed, and the following three years were devoted to collaborative experimentation with Japanese teachers to see which of these would bear most fruit. Palmer worked hard to issue a great variety of different materials for the different possible lines of approach, encouraging teachers to use them in various combinations and design programmes which would work for them. By about 1926 it had emerged that, overall, reading and writing were more important in the Japanese middle school context than Palmer had perhaps at first realized. His recognition of this is stated clearly enough, though, in The Reformed English Teaching in the Middle-Grade Schools (1927). This represents a definitive and authoritative-sounding restatement of ‘appropriate’ principles which had been worked out – in co-operation, it is clear, with Japanese colleagues – with a view not only to background learning thoery but also to the (perceived) constraints of the existing education system. The same year saw the completion of a set of core texts, the Standard English Readers (1926–7), which were designed (within an overall ‘Reader System’) to be amenable to oral work. These brought to an end the first phase of Palmer’s ‘mission’ to Japan. Fundamentally the reader system, with its oral components, remained in place as Palmer’s major contribution to reform in the Japanese context, and Japanese teachers began to appropriate his ideas and materials, adapting them further to meet needs in their own context.

Following the above first phase of intensive reformist activity, Palmer began to turn his attention towards problems relating as much to the contents of instruction as to suggested methodology. 1927–8 was a turning point in that from then on he began to pay increasing attention to issues of grammar and lexicology, at first with a view still towards reform in the Japanese context, but increasingly also with at least half an eye on developments in other contexts (Basic English, West’s ideas, and the ‘Reading method’ in the USA). In 1928 he produced publications in Japanese which attempted to place grammar teaching on a new footing, via what he termed ‘mechanism grammar’. He also devoted much attention to attempting to define ‘the word’ for purposes of vocabulary limitation, and it wsa not until 1930 that he felt ready to bring out a 3,000-word list for Japanese middle-schools (Palmer 1930). In 1931–2 he embarked on an extended ‘world tour’ which brought him into contact with experts abroad including West, Ogden, Leonard Bloomfield, Sapir and Algernon Coleman (the chief exponent of the ‘Reading method’ in the USA). It was from this time onwards that Palmer began to pay more attention to developments outside Japan, partly due to increasing demands from native speaker teachers based there that he should recognize the claims of statistical lexicology on the one hand and Basic English on the other.

As Palmer became more active on a world stage, and as the domestic political situation in Japan became increasingly uncomfortable, he and his wife began to turn their thoughts towards leaving. In 1936 Palmer did retire as director of the Institute and, having been awarded a D.Litt from Tokyo Imperial University for three of his publications, he returned to the UK in the spring. He remained active in the UK as a materials writer for Longmans, Green, but seemed to suffer from the absence of the opportunities for collaborative research with reformist potential which the Institute in Tokyo had given him. He gave occasional lectures at the Institute of Education on methods of language teaching, but did not attain a position of influence in the UK comparable to that which he had enjoyed in Japan. In 1944 his only son was killed, and from then on, it seems, his health deteriorated. Palmer died in 1949, ‘surrounded by his beloved books’, as his daughter recalls (Anderson 1969: 161).

Despite the undoubted achievements of IRET, overall assessments of Palmer’s work in reforming Japanese English education have tended to be negative (e.g. Redman, 1966; Yamamoto, 1978). To some extent these assessments have been based on false premises regarding his mission – he had not, after all, been invited to reform teaching in Japan single-handedly but encouraged to engage in research and suggest appropriate methods (see Smith, 1998c).

Nevertheless, it remains true that Palmer had high intitial expectations of leading a full-scale “Reform Movement”, and – despite his optimistic assessment in a speech to the Japan Society, London, in 1938 (Palmer 1938) – political events, and the increasing perception that English was the “enemy’s language”, ultimately conspired to undermine the possible benefits of patient IRET research work in the Japanese context. The original roots of Palmer’s ideas in adult (as opposed to secondary school) language teaching experience and in linguistic but not educational theory also need to be considered as possible explanations for their relative failure to take hold in the Japanese middle school context.

From a more positive viewpoint, however, it is clear both that Palmer succeeded in implementing a context-sensitive, experimental approach to the development of appropriate methodology and that Institute ideas were appropriated by a number of Japanese teachers, who adapted them further to their own contexts. The “Fukushima plan” (Isoo and Shimizu, 1934) – a scheme of work for English teaching in a particular middle school in Fukushima prefecture – is generally held in Japan to represent the high-point of this achievement. This and another highly-valued curriculum developed by Japanese teachers, the “Shonan plan”, are seen to have succeeded because Palmer’s ideas on oral work were combined with more traditional forms of grammar instruction in Japanese and translation from English, thus ensuring an adequate preparation for university entrance examinations (Imura, 1997: 117). Despite the overall strength of American influence in the immediate post-war years Japanese supporters of Palmer’s ideas had a major role in writing the first post-war Ministry of Education courses of study for secondary schools, proposed in 1947 and 1951 (see Bryant, 1956: 28–9); Finally, the Institute itself (under the slightly different name “Institute for Research in Language Teaching”) has continued until the present-day to be one of the most important associations for Japanese secondary school English teachers and university teacher trainers. It has around 1,000 members all over Japan and is active in promoting research work, editing publications and organizing teacher training seminars and an annual Convention, very much under the influence, still, of the ideas of Harold E. Palmer (see IRLT 1985, 1994, 1995/1999; Smith, 1998c, 2000).

Through A.S. Hornby, his successor as leader of research activities at IRET, Palmer’s influence was to be much stronger (although less well-acknowledged) in the post-war ELT years in the UK (see Smith 2005). In 1942 Hornby, Gatenby and Wakenfield had published the Idiomatic and Syntactic English Dictionary – drawing heavily on and further developing the IRET research into collocations and construction patterns instigated by Palmer in the 1930s – which was later reprinted by Oxford University Press for worldwide sales as the (Advanced) Learner’s Dictionary. Via the new journal English Language Teaching and his own post-war publications, Hornby diffused ideas regarding a ‘situational approach’ to EFL teaching which owed much for their inspiration to Palmer’s influence. Palmer’s legacy was under-acknowledged within post-war ELT, but his influence has been exceptionally pervasive.


 For further details of publications by Palmer, see the separate 'Works' page on this site.

Anderson, Dorothée. 1969. ‘Harold E. Palmer: a biographical essay’. Appendix to Palmer, Harold E. and H. Vere Redman. 1932/1969. This Language-Learning Business. London: Oxford University Press, 133–66.

Bryant, W. C. 1956. English language teaching in Japanese schools. PMLA, 71/4, part 2: 21-48.

Collins, Beverley and Inger M. Mees. 1998. The Real Professor Higgins: The Life and Career of Daniel Jones. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Diller, Karl Conrad. 1971. Generative Grammar, Structural Linguistics, and Language Teaching. Rowley, Mass.: Newbury Hourse.

Hornby, A.S., E.V. Gatenby and H. Wakefield. 1942. Shin ei-ei dai-jiten (Idiomatic and Syntactic English Dictionary). Tokyo: Kaitakusha. [Photographically reprinted and published in 1948 as A Learner’s Dictionary of Current English. London: Oxford University Press; subsequently (in 1952), retitled The Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English.]

Howatt, A.P.R. 1984. A History of English Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

––––––– 1994. ‘Palmer, Harold Edward (1877–1949)’. In Asher, R.E. (ed.), Encylopedia of Language and Linguistics, vol. 6. Oxford: Pergamon, p. 2915.

–––––– and Richard C. Smith (eds). 2000. Foundations of Foreign Language Teaching: Nineteenth-century Innovators, six volumes. London: Routledge.

–––––– and Richard C. Smith (eds.). 2002. Modern Language Teaching: The Reform Movement (five volumes). London: Routledge.

Imura, Motomichi. 1997. Palmer to nihon no eigokyoiku (Harold E. Palmer and Teaching English in Japan). Tokyo: Taishukan.

IRLT (ed). 1985. The Bulletin of the Institute for Research in English Teaching. [Photographically reprinted in seven volumes.] Tokyo: Meicho Fukyu Kai.

–––––– (ed.). 1994. Zaidanhojin gogaku kyoiku kenkyujo nanajusshunen kinenshi (A History of the IRLT to Commemorate the Seventieth Anniversary of its Foundation). Tokyo: IRLT.

–––––– (ed.). 1995/1999. The Selected Writings of Harold E. Palmer. [Photographically reprinted in ten volumes.] Tokyo: Hon-no-Tomosha.

Isoo, T. and Shimizu, S. 1934. The Fukushima Plan of Teaching English in Schools of Middle Grade. Tokyo: Institute for Research in English Teaching.

Ozasa, Toshiaki. 1995. Harold E. Palmer no eigokyojuho ni kansuru kenkyu: Nihon ni okeru tenkai o chushin to shite (A Study of Harold E. Palmer’s English Teaching Methodology, with Special Emphasis on its Development in Japan). Tokyo: Dai-ichi Gakushusha.

Palmer, Harold E. [n.d. (1904)] Méthode Palmer. La langue anglaise à l’usage des français. Conversation sans puérilité. Grammaire sans ennui. Issued in five instalments. Brussels: Castaigne.

–––––– 1907. Méthode Palmer. Esperanto [sic] à l’usage des français. Bruges: Witteryck-Delplace.

–––––– 1913. Manuel d’anglais parlé. Méthode Palmer. Verviers: Institut Palmer,

–––––– 1916a. ‘Some principles of language teaching’. Modern Language Teaching 12/3: 65–74.

–––––– 1916b. Colloquial English. Part 1. 100 Substitution Tables. Cambridge: Heffer.

–––––– 1917. The Scientific Study and Teaching of Languages. A review of the factors and problems connected with the learning and teaching of modern languages with an analysis of the various methods which may be adopted in order to attain satisfactory results. London: Harrap.

–––––– 1921a. The Principles of Language-Study. London: Harrap.

––––––1921b. The Oral Method of Teaching Languages. A monograph on conversational methods together with a full description and abundant examples of fifty appropriate forms of work. Cambridge: Heffer.

–––––– 1922a. English Intonation with systematic exercises. Cambridge: Heffer.

–––––– 1922b. Everyday Sentences in Spoken English. In phonetic transcription with intonation marks (for the use of foreign students). Cambridge: Heffer.

–––––– (ed.) 1923. Bulletin of the Institute for Research in English Teaching no. 1.

–––––– 1924a. A Grammar of Spoken English on a strictly phonetic basis. Cambridge: Heffer.

–––––– 1924b. Memorandum on Problems of English Teaching in the Light of a New Theory. Tokyo: Institute for Research in English Teaching.

–––––– 1926–7. The Standard English Readers. Tokyo: Institute for Research in English Teaching.

–––––– 1927. The Reformed English Teaching in the Middle-grade Schools. [Supplement to The Bulletin of the Institute for Research in English Teaching 32.] [Tokyo: Institute for Research in English Teaching].

–––––– 1930. Interim Report on Vocabulary Selection. Tokyo: Institute for Research in English Teaching.

–––––– 1932. On Learning to Read Foreign Languages. A Memorandum. Tokyo: Institute for Research in English Teaching.

–––––– 1934a. The Grading and Simplifying of Literary Material. Tokyo: Institute for Research in English Teaching.

–––––– 1934b. The Institute for Research in English Teaching: Its History and Work. Tokyo: Institute for Research in English Teaching

–––––– 1936. ‘The history and present state of the movement towards vocabulary control’, Parts I and II, Bulletin of the Institute for Research in English Teaching, 120: 14–17 and 121: 19–23.

–––––– 1938. ‘The English language in Japan’. The Empire Review 447: 215–9.

–––––– and C[yrille] Motte. 1916. Colloquial French. I. French Fluency Exercises. Cambridge: Heffer.

–––––– and Dorothée Palmer. 1925. English through Actions. Tokyo: Institute for Research in English Teaching.

Redman, H. V. 1966. Harold E. Palmer’s impact on Japan. Asahi Evening News, 7–8 April 1966.

Saussure, Ferdinand de. 1916. Cours de linguistique générale. Edited by C. Bally, A. Sechehaye and A. Riedlinger. Paris: Payot.

Smith, Richard C. 1998a. ‘Harold E. Palmer’s formative years (1877-1901)’. Area and Culture Studies (Tôkyô Gaikokugo Daigaku Ronshû) 57: 1–37.

–––––– 1998b. ‘Harold E. Palmer’s London lectures and related publications (1915-21)’. IRLT Bulletin 12: 55–85.

–––––– 1998c. ‘The Palmer-Hornby contribution to English teaching in Japan’. International Journal of Lexicography 11/4: 269–91.

–––––– 1999. The Writings of Harold E. Palmer: An Overview. Tokyo: Hon-no-Tomosha. Available online:

–––––– 2000. Historical sense and the idea of an Institute. The Information (British Institute for English Language Teaching) 3: 17–19.

–––––– (ed.) 2003. Teaching English as a Foreign Language, 1912–1936: Pioneers of ELT (five volumes). London: Routledge.

–––––– (ed.) 2005. Teaching English as a Foreign Language, 1936–1961: Foundations of ELT (six volumes). London: Routledge.

–––––– and Motomichi Imura. 2002. ‘Harold E. Palmer, 1877–1949’. In Cortazzi, H. (ed.) Britain and Japan: Biographical Portraits, Volume 1V. London: Japan Library (Taylor & Francis), 233–46.

Sweet, Henry. 1899. The Practical Study of Languages. A Guide for Teachers and Learners. London: Dent.

Yamamoto, Norman Y. 1978. ‘The Oral Method: Harold E. Palmer and the reformation of the teaching of the English language in Japan’. ELT Journal 32/2: 151–8.



The above essay by Richard Smith (uploaded here in 2007) is adapted from the Introduction to Smith 2003, Volume 2 (see references above), and summarizes information presented in greater detail elsewhere (Smith 1998a, 1998b, 1998c, 1999). For full sources the reader is invited to consult, in particular, Smith 1999. Further, informative assessments in English of Palmer’s career and achievements include Anderson 1969 and Howatt (1984, Chapter16). Collins and Mees (1998) provide important detail relating to Daniel Jones’s Department of Phonetics at UCL, where Palmer was based from 1915–22, while monographs in Japanese by Ozasa (1995) and Imura (1997) discuss Palmer’s work in Japan (1922–36) in depth; on this, see also Smith and Imura 2002.

Photographs © Victoria Angela. Reproduced with permission.