Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Michael West's life and career

As a colonial educator in Bengal for a period of twenty years, Michael Philip West (1888–1973) developed many original insights into problems of teaching English ‘in difficult circumstances’ and – on this basis – became a prolific writer of textbooks for Longmans, Green during the late 1920s and 1930s. His emphasis on the importance of reading chimed in well with pre-war preferences in the US modern language teaching establishment for the ‘Reading Method’, although it was the kind of oral methodology advocated by Harold Palmer which came to predominate in mainstream British and American language teaching approaches in the post-war years.

West was born at Ascham School in Bournemouth, Hampshire, where his father, a Church of England Minister, was headmaster. He was educated at Marlborough College, then Oxford. As a student at Christ Church College, he studied English, although with mixed success and little apparent enthusiasm. In 1912, having joined the Indian Education Service, he was posted to Bengal, and, from the first, he seems to have taken his duties as a colonial educator very seriously, beginning with an attempt to learn Bengali prior to his departure. In 1914 he published a textbook on educational psychology for Longmans, Green, apparently having taught himself in this area also.

On arriving in India, West was first assigned to David Hare [Teachers’] Training College, Calcutta, but was soon (in 1913) transferred to the Teachers’ Training College in Dacca (now spelt Dhaka), East Bengal (now Bangladesh). Following war service, he was reassigned to a large-scale survey of primary education in Bengal, and appears to have inspected numerous schools in Calcutta and Chittagong in 1919. This work involved the investigation of teaching in all subjects; indeed, one characteristic of West’s ideas overall – as with P.C. Wren and Horace Wyatt (see Smith, 2003, vol. 1), his seniors in the Indian Education Service – was the way he viewed English teaching within a broad educational perspective. (This kind of perspective was to be largely superseded in UK-based ELT in the post-World War II years by more narrowly linguistic emphases.) With regard to problems of English learning in Bengal, West’s conclusions were at this time broadly as follows:

The pupils were spending about ten hours a week on English study and the results were extremely poor. Owing to early elimination from school for reasons of health or finance only a small minority reached the Matriculation class [i.e. the final class of secondary school] and the time which they had spent on the language was more or less wasted. The problem was how to give those who never reached the Matriculation standard something worthwhile. Even in the Matriculation class the results were unsatisfactory: few of the pupils had real reading ability in English, nor were they able to speak more than disjointed sentences, and they could write only very slowly and laboriously.

(West 1960: 16)

Similar concerns regarding the inefficiency of the existing system were expressed by numerous respondents to a Calcutta University Commission survey of 1919. All subjects were taught in English at the university and its affiliated colleges but most respondents were concerned that matriculating students had insufficient English for academic purposes. While the majority of Indian respondents argued in favour of expanding Bengali-medium instruction, both at school and university levels, some – mostly British – voices were in favour rather of retaining English-medium instruction and improving the efficiency of English teaching. West, in his own responses to the Commission’s questions on the issue of medium of instruction (Calcutta University Commission 1919: 502–4), argued against the idea of concentrating on English to the detriment of mother tongue instruction. Instead, he stated that he was in favour of making English ‘the mere second language, in this case not so much a colloquial language as one for reading’, thus dooming it, he admitted, to disappearance as a ‘colloquial language’. The reasons he gave included the future needs of the country, the present poor state of English teaching, and the fact that increasingly the staff of universities as well as schools were likely to be Indian. From this point of view he was also implicitly critical of the ‘English-only’ attitudes of some of his peers and colleagues:

In so far as English men are needed I consider that it is cheaper to pay an English-man his salary for two years while he learns the language of the country than to pay for a whole educational system for two years while the pupils learn oral English. There is no reason why an Englishman should not lecture in Bengali as understandable as the English of a foreign professor. The missionaries give two years’ language teaching to their new recruits, and they do their propaganda in Bengali – and they know more of the country and its ways than the whole education service put together.

(Calcutta University Commission 1919: 502–3)

Given that West was in favour at this stage of a reduction of the amount of attention devoted to English at primary, secondary and tertiary levels, it should already be clear that he was not in favour of the propagation of English at the expense of education in local languages. The above quotations show, at the same time, that he was keen to improve English instruction in schools for all pupils, not only the relatively privileged elite who could afford to continue at school until matriculation level. To solve this problem he was later to emphasize the importance of developing reading to the exclusion of other skills; this emphasis was not yet clear in his thinking in 1919, but what was clear was his concern to base proposals on a careful analysis of the existing situation, and his assessment that the Direct Method (as promoted in India by P.C. Wren) was doomed to failure. The following ‘short note’ on the causes which, he believed, accounted for the weakness in English of the matriculate are instructive in these respects:

The ordinary method followed in teaching English is as follows:

The boy is set a certain passage of the English reader to “prepare”. Preparation means that he must be able to read the passage, translate it into Bengali, and, occasionally, give English synonyms. The preparation is done with the help of an “aid” or an elder brother. But the teacher sometimes goes through a new passage giving the Bengali equivalents. These are noted in the text-books. The preparation is usually very easy for during two-thirds of the year the boy is revising. The school calculates to get through most of the passages fixed for the term in the first half of the term. The rest of the time is spent in repeated revisions. The third term is all revision.

In the class-room the teacher calls on a boy to read. The boy goes on reading for a long time. There is no rapid change of reader so as to keep the class awake. The teacher very often stands opposite the boy reading and pays little attention to the rest of the class. He never interrupts with a question. When the reading is finished the teacher calls on the same boy usually (sometimes the better teachers ask another boy) to “expound” the passage.

[. . .] [Here, West explains that ‘expounding’ means word-by-word translation into Bengali, combined with parsing and paraphrasing of individual words.]

Translation from Bengali into English is taught only once or twice a week. A passage of Bengali is dictated in class and boys have to bring an English version next morning. The passage is short and difficult. Sometimes it is “gone through” in class. In any case, the translation is laboured out word by word with a dictionary or a brother, and it is all in writing. This is practically all the writing of English that a boy has to do.

The result is that:

(A) Boys can read English into Bengali, but they cannot read Bengali into English. They cannot translate at sight the simplest fairy tale into correct spoken English.

(B) They cannot understand spoken English (for half the lesson is in Bengali).

(C) They cannot write fluent English any more than a public schoolboy can write fluent Latin. They can only compose “proses.”

The direct method is a complete failure in Bengali schools. It asks too much of the teacher; it is useless for the upper classes, where complicated ideas or abstract words are needed. But, if only English were taught from Bengali into English, instead of as at present from English into Bengali, the matriculate pupil could be fifty per cent better in half the time. (It is to be noticed that all the text-books are in English, usually containing no Bengali at all, at most very little.)

(Calcutta University Commission 1919: 503)

At the end of 1920 West returned to Dacca to become Principal of the Teachers’ Training College, a position he remained in until he left India in 1932. It was from this base, and with the access to schools it offered him, that he was to carry out the experiments with methods which are reported most fully in Bilingualism (1926a) and which formed the basis for the New Method series of textbooks published from 1926 onwards. Under West, the College ‘rapidly grew into eminence’, becoming ‘the most widely known training college in the Sub-continent’ (Chowdury 1969: [168]): in 1921 it became a constituent College of the new University of Dacca (Huq 1969: [199]), and although it was mainly intended to serve the three eastern Divisions of Bengal and the Province of Assam, additionally ‘every year students from central and western Indian states used to come to receive their training’ (Chowdhury 1969: [168]). West had a ‘learner-centred’ view of education combined, however, with a sceptical attitude about the abilities of teachers to focus on learning. Hence, his emphasis on the need for good textbook materials which would, in a sense, bypass the teacher’s intervention:

Our great principle in those days was that school was a place where pupils were helped to learn and the danger of a training college is that it tends to produce too much teaching. The teacher is thinking too much of what he does so as to impress the Supervisor rather than of what the pupils are doing, and the commonest note in the student teachers’ record book was T.T.M (talks too much). It follows from this that successful learning in many subjects depends on the availability of good text books which enable pupils to learn.

(West 1968: 9)

As emphasized above, West was concerned with the majority of schoolchildren, not only the relatively small numbers who managed to complete secondary education. He borrowed the idea of ‘surrender value’ from the financial world to convey the idea that English teaching in the Bengali context needed to provide something which would be of value at whatever stage pupils left school. For West, the spoken language focus of the direct method was wasteful in this respect, whereas a focus on reading – he claimed – could provide pupils with an immediate pay-off and the potential to develop their abilities through self-learning should they drop out of the system. West saw his role as that of a technician, offering suggestions which would suit existing circumstances, rather, that is, than that of a social critic (nowhere does he delve deeply into the reasons why so many pupils were forced to leave school early, for example). His emphasis on reading derived from his conclusions about the wastage he saw in the existing system, and these conclusions formed the basis for the series of experiments with reading which he engaged in during the 1920s.

West adopted an experimental ‘action research’ type of approach in relation to the teaching of reading ability in a foreign language. His experiments in this area started in or around 1921, with the main study extending over two years (probably summer 1923 to summer 1925, when he returned to the UK for an extended period of leave, presumably to write up his experiments for his doctoral thesis, published in April 1926 as Bilingualism). The experimentation involved the use of thirteen different tests of reading applied to various groups of children from a few hundreds in number up to four thousand (West 1928: 5). In brief, his research work over this period can be summarized as follows:

I measured the speed of different sorts of reading, – aloud, muttering, rapid, skimming, scanning. I found that reading could be speeded up by the use of Before Questions and cultivation of a searching attitude. I found that speed of reading improved in Bengali transferred to English and vice versa. It is a technique applicable to any language by training in another.

Reading must be taught by reading and that requires reading books, – books which would gradually build up a reading vocabulary. Reading means getting ideas from print, – not just making noises.

(West, n.d.)

During his period of study leave (from June 1925 to April 1926), West wrote up his research and submitted it for a D.Phil at Oxford, hoping thereby to increase his chances of getting a job in England (he was afraid, he later admitted (West, n.d.), of being left alone when his children were at school there). At first the thesis was rejected by two examiners with, according to West, little idea of educational measurement and statistical techniques. Depressed and rather angry, he proceeded nevertheless to publish it in the form of a Government of India Occasional Report (Bilingualism, 1926a). He also prepared a shorter non-technical summary (Learning to Read a Foreign Language, 1926b) of aspects of the work which he felt would be of general interest in other countries. Encouraged by Sir Philip Hartog, Vice Chancellor of Dacca University, he then resubmitted his thesis with no changes at Oxford, and was awarded his D.Phil in 1927 by different examiners. Bilingualism and Learning to Read a Foreign Language attracted significant attention in the UK and, more particularly, the USA, where a trend in modern language teaching towards focusing on reading at the expense of other skills was gaining ground. Algernon Coleman, the principal exponent of this focus in the USA, commented (on Bilingualism) as follows: ‘This is the most comprehensive and the most significant contribution that has so far been made available on the problems of teaching young persons to read a foreign language’. (Coleman 1929: 155).

As part of the studies carried out for his D.Phil, West had produced a series of textbooks which had been extensively piloted with Bengali pupils. He later described the process as follows:

'The first attempt was hectographed (copied from jelly). It was a failure. The next was printed locally. It was a failure. The third was the original ‘Asses and Ants’ book – good except for some mistakes. Then followed Readers 1, 2, 3.'

(West n.d.)

Overall about a hundred classes were used in trying out the various printed versions, prior to their republication as the ‘New Series’ of New Method Readers in 1926–7 (West 1928: 5). In their gestation, then, the New Method Readers were ‘explicitly experimental’ (Bond 1953: 123). As West writes in Bilingualism (p. 305), ‘A textbook is never finished, because the teaching of every new class reveals new respects in which the book might be improved’, and he concurs with a suggestion made twenty years previously by H.G. Wells that school textbooks should be kept always standing in type, and no edition should exceed a year’s demand (ibid.).

The overall New Method (New Series) scheme, as published in India over a period of fifteen months in 1926–7, was as follows:

Readers Companions Supplementary Readers
Reader IA Companion IA  
Reader IB Companion IB Supplementary Reader I
Reader II Companion II Supplementary Reader II
Reader III Companion III Supplementary Reader III

Additional materials: Teacher’s Handbook (covering Readers IA, IB, II, III).

Original features of the New Method system included: the way it incorporated deliberate vocabulary limitation, graded by stage; the systematic presentation of new vocabulary through highlighting in bold type and deliberate recycling of words; and its provision of supplementary, or, as West sometimes called them, ‘plateau’ readers. West may or may not have been the first to offer simplified supplementary readers but he was certainly innovative in his association of these with particular vocabulary ‘radii’ governing a core course. He was later imitated in this by Lawrence Faucett (for the latter’s (1933) Oxford English Course), and Harold Palmer, too, incorporated this idea into his ‘Reader System’ in Japan from 1932 onwards. West explained the relatively late genesis of the idea of plateau readers as follows:

The difficulty [with the original set of readers] was that students tended to forget words. I noticed also that meanings were remembered in reference to their context and tended to have too narrow a meaning, e.g. Ring – finger ring, but not other related meanings, e.g. ring of people.

So, at Abingdon, I thought ‘Can I write a book within the vocabulary learnt so far?’ – so as to revive and stretch the meanings of that vocabulary. So I did Robinson Crusoe (Grade 3).

[. . .] Having done that I thought, ‘Can I do it at Grade 2? – even at Grade 1, and certainly at higher grades.

(West n.d.)

The original ‘Grade 1’ supplementary reader ‘begins with fables, goes on with short animal stories, and ends with longer and more complex fairy tales’ (West [1927?]: 22), the ‘Grade 2’ reader ‘supplies two of the very beautiful stories of Mary de Morgan’, and West planned to later add Ruskin’s King of the Golden River (ibid.). Although it is quite true, then, that West began by rewriting Robinson Crusoe (for ‘Grade 3’) – a choice of text both Phillipson (1992) and Pennycook (1998) have deemed symbolic even though West was not an advocate of the Oral Direct Method – this was not strictly speaking the first in the series. Later West was to add further elements to the New Method system, specifically Readers and associated companions and supplementary readers for higher levels (to cover the whole Bengali curriculum), and ‘Composition’ books (in 1928).

The New Method system proved to be a commercial success outside Bengal, although this had perhaps not been West’s original intention. Indeed, there are suggestions that the New Method may have saved Longmans, Green from severe financial difficulty. What is beyond doubt is that it established Longmans as the major player in an English as a foreign language market which was only just beginning to be identified. By 1928, according to Bond (1953: 118), the readers were in use in India, Ceylon, Palestine, Persia, Nigeria, Kenya, and Uganda. Other publishers imitated the idea of using supplementary readers associated with particular core readers (Faucett, for example, incorporated them in his (1933) Oxford English Course, under the direct influence of West). After a while the original New Method (New Series) course had to be revised ‘because schools got tired of the original books’ (West, n.d.), and from 1935 onwards an ‘Alternative Edition’ began to be published. In ensuing years West added considerably to the number of supplementary readers, and these began to take on a life of their own – in other words, even after the demise of the course they had been associated with, what West called ‘the potted books’ continued to ‘go on and on’ (ibid.).

In the meantime, West’s interest in other aspects of education had not abated. In 1929 he brought out a further book for Longmans, Green based on parts of his doctoral thesis, Language in Education. At the same time, he engaged in adapting the New Method system to the teaching of other languages, partly for non-commercial purposes in the Bengali context, and engaged in other textbook-related experiments:

We made a book for teaching the reading of Bengali by building up the letters as I did in the New Method Primer. [. . .] There was also a course for teaching pupils to read Sanskrit without the burden of too much grammar, and lastly there was a course for Primary schools which would enable one class to be occupied in learning while the teacher taught the other class. In most primary schools at that time, a teacher had to deal with two classes simultaneously. At an Imperial Education Conference in London, I said innocently that all Inspectors of schools ought to spend some time teaching in primary schools and have some experience of dealing with two classes at once. There was a gust of laughter from the whole audience at the idea of Inspectors of schools being made to do this, but we did this in Dacca.

(West 1968: 9–10)

In a pamphlet published in Dacca, The Construction of Reading Material for Teaching a Foreign Language (West 1927), West presented detailed technical reflections on how to construct course books, discussing illustrations, pronunciation signs and types of appropriate text among other matters. He indicates here how the Bengali reader mentioned in the quotation above was piloted with Zenana (i.e., ‘secluded’) women, but that the lack of a Bengali word-frequency list had hindered its development (p. 3). At the same time, he indicates how he had been attempting to adapt the New Method system to the teaching of modern languages in western contexts: by the time he wrote this pamphlet, a series in French was ‘under construction’, and suggestions were being considered for adapting the series to Welsh, German, Spanish, Italian and other languages (ibid.). Articles written for the British journal Modern Languages (West 1928) and, later for the American Modern Language Journal (West 1930, 1931) also indicate that he had become interested by this time in spreading his ideas into the teaching of modern foreign languages in western contexts. Indeed, the New Method system for teaching reading had an almost immediate impact as a model for the construction of texts for French and German in the USA, and by the end of the 1920s West had developed important contacts there.

However, the success of the New Method series was a double-edged sword for West. As he later recalled:

I produced various books in English which were far too successful so that I fell into the trap of getting too much money from them. That is a great problem. The teacher trainer who produces a successful book tends to be accused of working for profit.

(West 1968: 9–10)

On 30 April 1932 he resigned as Principal of Dacca Teachers’ Training College, apparently in protest against a proposed transfer to Islamia College, Calcutta. According to West’s own account, he had been ‘had up on the mat’ by the colonial education authorities, who were unhappy at what they saw as his ‘getting a lot of money for books and using the Training College to train teachers to use them’. This discontent related to their prior experience with another teacher ‘who wrote claptrap textbooks of no merit and got a lot of money – while neglecting his teaching duties’, but West felt the accusation of conflict of interest was in his own case unjustified.

Later, West clearly came to regret his decision to give in:

Instead of facing the major problem of my life, I just resigned and took Proportionate Pension.

What should I have done? I should have said that the only way of improving education where there are bad teachers, very evanescent (staying only a few years and big classes) is to get better textbooks, tried out again and again in classes, but help the pupils to learn, and put all the royalties into a Trust for repayment of cost of making such books and giving money according to need to those who made them.

(West n.d.)

Following his move back to the UK, West developed an interest in problems posed by the teaching of speaking which had previously been dormant in his work. To some extent his ideas in this area were based on experience in Bengal, and it seems that he had originally intended his doctoral studies to be extended into full-scale experiments in the teaching of speech. As he later recalled he had, to some extent, begun to experiment in this area, coming up with the idea that: ‘the main problem was to get the class all talking (as all the class were reading in a reading lesson). I timed lessons – TTT (teacher talking time), PTT (pupil talking time) to see what maximum PTT I could get’. His early conclusions and suggestions in this area were contained in a book published for Longmans in 1933, On Learning to Speak a Foreign Language (1933a), while in the same year Longmans also published his four-part New Method Conversation Course, entitled Learn to Speak by Speaking (1933b). West later expressed dissatisfaction about this course, noting that it had been ‘hurried on’ and was relatively ‘chair-borne’, in other words that he had not been able to carry out as much experimentation prior to publication as he would have liked, and that he had been forced to write lessons without testing them. Nevertheless, the course sold well in several countries, notably Egypt.

Prior to writing the New Method Conversation Course, West had come to the conclusion that a specific speaking vocabulary was needed, different from that for reading (West 1933c; cf. West 1930). Following his return from Bengal his research work was to be increasingly focused on issues of vocabulary selection with a focus on productive as well as receptive skills. After a year in the UK, West accepted an offer of a lectureship at the Ontario College of Education, Toronto, where he continued his research efforts to develop what he termed a ‘minimum adequate vocabulary’ for elementary level textbooks (Swenson and West 1934) , and to come up with a ‘definition vocabulary’ (West 1935) limited but flexible enough to serve as a basis for definitions in a projected learner’s dictionary (West and Endicott 1935). In these pursuits he was both influenced by and came increasingly into conflict with C.K. Ogden’s Basic English project (see Smith, 2005, Vol. 1, General Introduction). In 1934 West succeeded in gaining funding from the Carnegie Corporation, which had been sponsoring some of his research work, for a conference which would bring together the leading figures in the vocabulary control movement.

West played an important role, not only in convening the conference but also in the follow-up work of the sub-committee which had been charged with developing an agreed word-list. This list was published in 1936 within the Interim Report on Vocabulary Selection (Faucett et al. 1936). The work of revising the list contained in this report was entrusted to the sole care of West in 1939, and, with the addition of frequency statistics supplied by Irving Lorge, he published the revised list in 1953 as The General Service List of English Words.

One of West’s achievements during the pre-Carnegie years which deserves particular consideration was the publication in 1935 of The New Method English Dictionary (West and Endicott 1935). As Rundell (1998: 317) has remarked, this was the first ever monolingual learner’s dictionary, predating by seven years the better-known and ultimately much more widely used dictionary compiled in Japan by Hornby, Gatenby and Wakefield (1942). Stein (2002: 21) indicates that it was an immediate success, requiring at least one new impression per year – in the pre-war years it was ‘the EFL dictionary’ (ibid.). In his preface, West explains how the dictionary ‘economises space by omitting the rare and highly technical words which the foreigner is unlikely to meet’. Cowie (1999: 24–5) discusses another original feature which has stood the test of time, at least in Longmans dictionaries: definitions based on a ‘minimum adequate definition vocabulary’. As with his earlier experiments on reading, West’s approach to testing and refining the 1,490-word defining vocabulary of the dictionary was very systematic: beginning with the 1,779-word vocabulary he had used for producing the first five New Method Readers, he and Endicott attempted to draft a preliminary version of the dictionary within it, and this enabled him to alter the word-list on the basis of practical experience. For example, 61 additional words, including superordinates such as ‘behaviour’, ‘belief’, ‘engine’ and ‘furniture’ were ‘forced in’ by the need to define terms, while others were found to be unnecessary.

By 1936 West was firmly established as the leading UK-based EFL materials writer of his day. Following Palmer’s return to the UK in the same year, the two men continued their collaboration: West helped Palmer to secure contracts with Longmans, Green for The New Method Grammar (Palmer 1938a), three New Method Practice Books (Palmer 1938–9) and A Grammar of English Words (Palmer 1938b). Later they also co-wrote a New English Course (West and Palmer 1949) and a ‘Nouvelle méthode’ French course, published after Palmer’s death in 1949 (West and Palmer 1950–3). West himself continued to be a major figure in British ELT following World War II, contributing, for example, numerous articles to the newly founded journal English Language Teaching. Despite being based in the UK, and despite the ascendancy of orally based methods in the postwar years, he maintained his emphasis on teaching English ‘in difficult circumstances’ (and on the importance of reading in such circumstances), as witnessed by his 1960 book with the same title.

On the Indian Sub-continent itself, following Independence, there were some teacher educators who still valued West’s ideas and materials. Mehta (1950: 21), for example, praised the New Method Readers for their ‘variety of lessons, sound grading of vocabulary and stimulating and imaginative exercises’. However, while defending West’s materials, he also recognized and gave reasons for their contemporary lack of popularity as follows (ibid.):

Why these books are not as popular in India as they should be is because the worthy professors and principals [. . .] raise against them the usual bogey of their English background by which they really imply their English authorship, because the West Readers, at any rate, are specially written for Indian students.

Against this, Menon and Patel’s (1957: 6–7) assessment needs to be placed in the balance:

The New Method appealed to the teachers in the beginning because of graded and well-illustrated series of Readers, Companions and Composition books, Supplementary Readers and Teacher’s Handbooks accompanying them, and interesting reading matter they provided. In a few years, it was realized, however, that it was not possible to complete them in the time at the disposal of the teacher. [. . .] The vocabulary being graded, it was necessary to complete the whole book before a new book could be started. The books did not create necessary interest because they were written by the same author. Want of adequately trained teachers came in the way of the success of the method.

However, another factor militating against West’s success in the post-war years partly underlies these criticisms, namely the fact that from the late 1950s onwards ‘progressive’ Indian teacher educators began to be influenced by the orally (and linguistically) focused situational and structural methodologies emanating from Britain and the USA (see Prabhu 1987: 10–12; Smith 2005). It was probably this development which led Menon and Patel (1957: 55) to state confidently that ‘West has overestimated the value of passive work as an aid to active work [. . .] It is now agreed that that the best way to learn a new language is through speech’. By contrast, Tickoo (1988, 1991), in later assessments, reasserted the value of West’s broad educational focus, including his emphasis on reading as a general ability (transferable across languages), and argued that West’s focus on receptive bilingualism is still appropriate as a more realistic and useful goal than productive communicative skills in many Asian EFL systems (Tickoo 1991: 33).

While West’s influence on EFL teaching in India was less than he would have hoped, and the jury is still out on the appropriateness of his focus on reading, his overall contributions were still remembered and acknowledged for many years by former students and teachers of the Dhaka Teachers’ Training College. In his last published statement on problems of English teaching, a brief message published on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the College, West ended with the following words:

If there is a message which I would like to leave with you, it is that you should keep on experimenting, and that a school is a place in which the pupils learn and the greatest handicap to learning is an excess of teaching.

(West 1968: 10)



Ali, S.N.Q. Zulfaqar. 1969. ‘My life in the College’. In Teachers’ Training College, Dacca (eds.). 1969, [145]–[167].

Anon. 1973. Obituary entitled ‘Dr. Michael West: English for foreigners’. The Times, 24 March 1973.

Calcutta University Commission. 1919. Evidence and Documents. Classified Replies ot the Commissioners’ Questions 8–12 . Report of the Calcutta University Commission, 1917–1919, Volume 10. Calcutta: Superintendent Government Printing, India.

Chowdhury, M. Soloman. 1969. ‘Reminiscences of the College’, in Teachers’ Training College, Dacca (eds.). 1969, [168]–[172].

Coleman, Algernon. 1929. The Teaching of Modern Foreign Languages in the United States: A Report Prepared for The Modern Foreign Language Study. New York: Macmillan.

Cowie, A.P. 1999. English Dictionaries for Foreign Learners: A History. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Faucett, Lawrence W. 1933. The Oxford English Course. London: Oxford University Press.

––––––, Harold E. Palmer, E. L. Thorndike and Michael P. West. 1936. Interim Report on Vocabulary Selection for the Teaching of English as a Foreign Language. London: King.

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.]

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

Huq, M.N. 1969. ‘An address of welcome’, in Teachers’ Training College, Dacca (eds.). 1969: [199] – [201]

Mehta, R.L. 1950. The Teaching of English in India. Bombay: Orient Longmans.

Menon, T.K.N. and M.S. Patel. 1957. The Teaching of English as a Foreign Language (Structural Approach). Baroda: Acharya Book Depot.

Palmer , Harold E. 1938a. The New Method Grammar. London: Longmans, Green.

–––––– 1938b. A Grammar of English Words. One thousand English words and their pronunciation, together with information concerning the several meanings of each word, its inflections and derivatives, and the collocations and phrases into which it enters. London: Longmans, Green.

–––––– 1938–9. English Practice Books. New Method Series. Book 1. Elementary Oral Exercises; Book II. Oral Exercises and Written Compositions; Book III. More Advanced Oral Exercises amd Written Compositions. London: Longmans, Green.

Prabhu, N.S. 1987. Second Language Pedagogy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rahman, S.M. Bazlur. n.d. [1995?]. ‘Brief lives of the Principals of Dhaka Teachers’ Traning College’ [in Bengali]. In Dhaka Teachers’ Training College (eds.). n.d. [1995?]. Brochure for the 86th Anniversary and Reunion of the Teachers’ Training College. Dhaka: Teachers’ Training College.

Rundell, Michael. 1998. ‘Recent trends in English pedagogical lexicography’. International Journal of Lexicography 11/4: 315–42.

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

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

Stein, Gabriele. 2002. Developing Your English Vocabulary: A Systematic New Approach. Tübingen: Stauffenburg.

Swenson, E[laine] and Michael P. West. 1934. On the Counting of New Words in Textbooks for Teaching Foreign Languages. Bulletin No. 1, The Department of Educational Research, Ontario College of Education, University of Toronto. Toronto: The University of Toronto Press.

Teachers’ Training College, Dacca (eds.). 1969. Dacca Teachers [sic] Training College Annual, Sixtieth Anniversary Issue, 1968–69. Dacca: Teachers’ Training College.

Tickoo, M.L. 1988. ‘Michael West in India: A centenary salute’. English Language Teaching Journal 42/4: 294–300.

–––––– 1991. ‘Learning languages orientally: a case for RAGA’. In Chulalongkorn University Language Institute (eds.) Explorations and Innovations in ELT Methodology: Selected Papers Presented at CULI’s Second International Conference on Explorations and Innovations in ELT Methodology, 2–4 December 1991, Bangkok. Bangkok: Chulalongkorn University Language Institute, 32–52.

West, Michael. n.d. 'The origin of the New Method series' (unpublished typescript in the Warwick ELT Archive collection.

––––––– 1914. Education and Psychology. London: Longmans, Green.

––––––– 1926a. Bilingualism (with Special Reference to Bengal). Bureau of Education, India, Occasional Reports No. 13. Calcutta: Government of India Central Publication Branch.

––––––– 1926b. Learning to Read a Foreign Language: An Experimental Study. London: Longmans, Green.

––––––– 1926–7. The New Method Readers (New Series) Readers IA, IB, II, III; Companions IA, IB, II, III; Supplementary Readers I, II, III; Teacher’s Handbook. Bombay & Calcutta: Longmans, Green.

––––––– 1927. The Construction of Reading Material for Teaching a Foreign Language. Bulletin 13 of Dacca University, published in association with Oxford University Press.

––––––– 1928. 'The "New Method" System of teaching the reading of foreign languages'. Modern Languages 10 (October 1928): 5–10.

––––––– 1929. Language in Education. Calcutta: Longmans Green.

––––––– 1930. 'Speaking-vocabulary in a foreign language: One thousand words'. Modern Language Journal 14/7 (April 1930): 509–21.

––––––– 1931. 'The problem of "weaning" in reading a foreign language'. Modern Language Journal 15/7 (April 1931): 481–9.

––––––– 1933a. On Learning to Speak a Foreign Language. London: Longmans, Green.

––––––– 1933b. Learn to Speak by Speaking. (The New Method Conversation Course). Section 1: The Elements; Section 2: Guided Speech; Section 3: Beginning to Talk; Section 4: Free Speech. London: Longmans, Green.

––––––– 1933c. ‘Speech vocabulary and reading vocabulary’. Oversea Education 5: 20–25.

––––––– 1935. Definition Vocabulary. Bulletin No. 4, The Department of Educational Research, Ontario College of Education, University of Toronto. Toronto: The University of Toronto Press.

––––––– 1935 onwards. New Method Readers (Alternative Edition). London: Longmans, Green.

––––––– 1953. A General Service List of English Words, with Semantic Frequencies and a Supplementary Word-list for the Writing of Popular Science and Technology. London: Longmans.

––––––– 1960. Teaching English in Difficult Circumstances: Teaching English as a Foreign Language with Notes on the Technique of Textbook Construction. London: Longmans.

––––––– 1968. [Untitled message on the sixtieth anniversary of Teachers’ Training College, Dacca, dated 18 December 1968]. In Teachers’ Training College, Dacca (eds), [9]–[10].

––––––– and J[ames] G. Endicott. 1935. The New Method English Dictionary. London: Longmans, Green.

––––––– and Harold E. Palmer. 1949. New English Course. Primer; Reader 1; Reader II. London: Longmans, Green.

––––––– and Harold E. Palmer. 1950–3. Cours de Français – Nouvelle Méthode. Premier livre de lecture; Deuxième livre de lecture; Troisieme livre de lecture. London: Longmans, Green.



The above essay by Richard Smith (written and uploaded here in 2007) is an adapted version of the Introduction to Smith, Richard C. (ed.) 2003. Teaching English as a Foreign Language, 1912-1936: Pioneers of ELT. London: Routledge, Volume 3, where full details of sources and further information are provided. Howatt (1984), Tickoo (1988), Cowie (1999) and Stein (2002) have all provided overall assessments of West’s career which both inform and complement the account presented here. The present account aims mainly to add supplementary details obtained from primary sources not referred to by these authors.




Photograph of Michael West, from Teachers' Training College, Dacca (eds.) (1969).