Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Implementing the Lexical Approach by Michael Lewis

Subtitle: Putting Theory Into Practice

(Book Review)

Finished: August 28. 2017

Why I Read This Book
This book is part of my project to read more for professional development (i.e. this is not pleasure reading, and would not be recommended as such).

This book is a follow to The Lexical Approach by the same author.
Ever since I read The Lexical Approach, it's been on my list to read this book as well.  But I put it off for a while.
However, now that I'm doing a professional book club at work, we decided to read this book as the next book in our book club.
Everyone had enjoyed the previous book by Michael Lewis, The English Verb, so we decided to just keep going with the same author.
Michael Lewis always has strong opinions, so his books make good fodder for discussion in a book club.

Brief Background
The Lexical Approach was published in 1993, and Implementing the Lexical Approach was the follow-up in 1997.  These two books together are the foundation for the lexical approach, or at least Michael Lewis's version of it.  (Although as the folks at TEFLology point out, Dave Willis arguably came up with many of these ideas first.)

Implementing the Lexical Approach retreads much of the same ground as the original The Lexical Approach, but it also has more ideas for practical activities and implementation.

One or the other of these books will usually pop up on suggested DELTA reading lists.  (There is apparently no uniform DELTA reading list--it seems to vary from center to center.)
More often than not, websites tend to recommend Implementing the Lexical Approach for the DELTA rather than the 1993 original The Lexical Approach, presumably because it covers all the same theoretical background, and also has a lot of practical ideas for implementation.
And indeed, among my colleagues, more people seem to be more familiar with Implementing the Lexical Approach than with The Lexical Approach.

(The fact that either of these books pops up at all on DELTA recommended reading lists is surprising to me, given how Michael Lewis is so strongly against the CELTA teaching method.  But, as Michael Lewis himself emphasizes, many of the activities in Implementing the Lexical Approach  can be done as just small additional activities without radically restructuring traditional classroom practice.)

The Review
The theory behind this book is the same as the original The Lexical Approach and much of the same ground is retread again.
In my review of The Lexical Approach, I spent considerable time trying to sort out all my mixed feelings to the theory, and it would be a waste of time for me to go through all that again.

So I will try to keep this review nice and short.  (Or at least I'll keep my general comments nice and short.  In the collected Facebook posts at the end, I go into a lot more details).

What's notable about Implementing is that it contains much more practical activities and suggestions.  In fact chapters 5, 6, 7, and 8 were all practical activities.
Any practicing teacher finds activity ideas imminently useful.  (A few of these ideas I've already tried to use in my own class.)  And yet, a list of activities does not make for exciting reading.

This was something that everyone in the book club noticed and commented on.  But at the same time, we all knew that these DELTA reading list books were never supposed to be pleasure reading, so we soldiered on through it.
However, the book begins and ends with more interesting chapters which give Michael Lewis's views on the nature of language, and his usual rants against traditional teaching methods.  (Chapters 1-4 at the beginning, and then chapters 9-11 at the end.)
Again, much of this is a retread of ground already covered in The Lexical Approach, so people who have read both books (like me) will get less out it than new readers.
But in our book club, I was the only one who had already read The Lexical Approach, so it was new for everyone else in the book club.

Someone at the book club meeting made the comment that the title of the book is somewhat misleading.  It's called "Implementing the Lexical Approach", but it is actually not contained to lexical matters at all, and also contains Michael Lewis's thoughts on diverse topics such as P-P-P, error correction, teacher talking time, and reported speech.

This was something I had already noticed and commented on in my review of The Lexical Approach, so I just answered him, "Oh, believe me, I know. The original The Lexical Approach was even worse!"

Also, as with the original The Lexical Approach, I sometimes got the feeling that not everything was consistent.  Some parts of the book appeared to me to be contradicting other parts of the book, but it could be that I just wasn't reading it with enough nuance.

One part that appeared to be somewhat inconsistent was Michael Lewis's own evaluation of how big a deal the lexical approach actually was.  At times he appeared to be arguing for a radical change in teaching, and at other times he was at great pains to emphasize that he wasn't arguing for a radical change at all, just a few small supplementary activities that could be used with existing teaching styles.

My favorite line from the book (the one that got the biggest laugh at our book club meeting) was from page 3.
"Implementing the Lexical Approach in your classes does not mean a radical upheaval, likely to upset colleagues, parents and learners. On the contrary, if introduced with thought and sensitivity, its introduction will be almost invisible, involving perhaps 20 or even 50 small changes in every lesson, each in itself unremarkable..."
50 small changes!  And he thinks this is a small change?!  I'm not even sure I could identify 50 things in my lesson to begin with.

But to be fair, many of the activities he lists in chapters 5, 6, 7 and 8 do actually only represent small changes.
For example, he suggests activities to help learners notice useful phrases and common collocations in reading tasks that they're already doing anyway.
So, for example, if you have an assigned reading from the textbook, that you have to do anyway, you could simply take on some activities to help learners notice these phrases and collocations.

Some of the activities in this book sounded very appealing to me, and I'm going to be trying them out in my own classes in the future.
Some of the activities in this book sounded impractical, and I don't think they'll work.  (My past experience has made me very skeptical about vocabulary notebooks--it's a good idea in theory, but in my experience it's impossible to get students to actually use them.)
But that's true of every TESOL book.  I always find I like half the activities, and find half to be impractical.

Note 1:
Something that became very clear in this book is that Michael Lewis is defining The Lexical Approach as being against the teaching of individual vocabulary words, and for the teaching of phrases and collocations.
This was something that was hinted at in the original The Lexical Approach, but it's not something that I fully realized.  After reading The Lexical Approach, I thought that Michael Lewis was advocating teaching individual vocabulary words AND lexical phrases.  But after reading Implementing the Lexical Approach, I now understand that Michael Lewis is advocating teaching lexical phrases INSTEAD of  individual vocabulary words.
This means that a lot of the vocabulary work I did after reading The Lexical Approach (movie worksheets, Storytime worksheets, quizlet, etc) actually weren't part of the lexical approach after all.

Note 2:
Scott Thornbury has published a critique of the lexical approach:
The Lexical Approach: A journey without maps
which is a critique of The Lexical Approach, Implementing the Lexical Approach, and also a 1996 article by Michael Lewis (Implications of a lexical view of language--which I've not read).
In our book club, I printed Scott Thornbury's article out, and encouraged people to read it alongside of the book.
We got some interesting discussion out of it.  (At least one member of the bookclub sided more with Scott Thornbury's critique than with Michael Lewis).
In the critique, Scott Thornbury says that Michael Lewis appears to have started off promising a radical new approach in 1993, and then backed away from that revolution by 1997's Implementing a Lexical Approach.
Nevertheless, Thornbury says, "the fact is by calling it an Approach (with a capital A, moreover) rather than, say, Techniques for Teaching Chunking, he runs the risk of it being evaluated as such."

Scott Thornbury then goes on to criticize the lexical approach as one promising radical change, but offering teachers no guidance in how to actually carry out that change.
If one takes Michael Lewis's more moderate proposals of simply a list of supplementary lexical exercises, then Scott Thornbury's critique is invalid.
However, if you take Michael Lewis's proposal at its strongest form, as a radical change, then Scott Thornbury's critique is not only valid, but potentially devastating.

Thornbury also wrote about his relationship with Michael Lewis on his blog: "L is for Lewis"

Facebook Posts
Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with this by now.  (I've done this - for - several - books - now.)  A few months ago, some members of the book club told me they were having trouble motivating themselves to read these professional development books, and wanted more discussion on Facebook to help motivate them to keep reading.
So, I committed myself to posting about the book on Facebook as I read it.
I've taken all those Facebook posts, and copied and pasted them below.  For whatever they may or may not be worth.

Post 1
The next book is Implementing the Lexical Approach by Michael Lewis.
We'll meet up again on Tuesday, August 29th.

Post 2
A word or two of introduction about the new book (Implementing the Lexical Approach by Michael Lewis).
At the last meeting, we decided we were enjoying Michael Lewis enough that we wanted to keep going with him.
Although the titles of his books often sound dull, they are usually a lot more interesting than they sound. Michael Lewis writes in a conversational style that is very easy to read. And, if you like a bit of controversy and squabbling injected into your professional development reading, Michael Lewis is great because he usually has very strong opinions about how everyone else is teaching wrong. Whether you agree with him or not, he's seldom boring.
There are a couple more books by Michael Lewis on the DELTA reading list. And we went with "Implementing the Lexical Approach"
Given how much Michael Lewis hates the CELTA method, I'm surprised he makes it onto the DELTA recommended reading list at all. But not only is "Implementing the Lexical Approach" on their list, it's marked as one of the core texts.
It's actually The Lexical Approach (and not verb tenses) that is Michael Lewis's main claim to fame.
The Lexical Approach is associated with Michael Lewis and Dave Willis.
Dave Willis, you may remember, was actually the author of the first book we read for this book club.
Michael Lewis is probably the better known name of the two, just because he has a more charismatic and forceful personality. But apparently it was Dave Willis who actually came up with most of the ideas first. (At least according to the TEFLologists--see their episode on Dave Willis here:
Michael Lewis published "The Lexical Approach" in 1993.
It's an interesting read, but it's short on any practical suggestions. Basically it's a long rant about everything NOT to do in the classroom, but gives the teacher very few helpful suggestions on what actually TO do.
In response to this criticism, Michael Lewis published "Implementing the Lexical Approach" in 1997.
Unlike the last couple books we've done, I've not yet read "Implementing the Lexical Approach". So I'll be going in for the first time like the rest of you.
However, my understanding is that it's much more practical than "The Lexical Approach". And indeed, just flipping through the book, it looks like there are lots of practical classroom ideas and worksheet templates.
But I'm hoping we'll also get the usual angry polemical Michael Lewis as well. (And if the first chapter is any indication, we will. Michael Lewis actually takes the space in the middle of the chapter to respond to several of the criticisms people leveled at his earlier book "The Lexical Approach" ).
The original book, "The Lexical Approach", is actually not on the DELTA syllabus, so we're skipping over it. I'm told that you don't actually need to read "The Lexical Approach" to understand "Implementing the Lexical Approach". (XXXX, for example, is a big fan of "Implementing the Lexical Approach" despite the fact that he's never read "The Lexical Approach"). And besides, Michael Lewis summarizes what he thinks are the main points of "The Lexical Approach" in the first chapter of "Implementing the Lexical Approach".
However, if anyone is interested in doing some extra reading, you can for extra fun read the original "The Lexical Approach" as well. (We'll leave it as an open invitation for the real dedicated readers in the group.)
"The Lexical Approach" is not on the drive, but there is a copy online here:
I actually read "The Lexical Approach" last year. So I'm one step ahead in that respect. But I'll try my best to not be annoying and keep bringing it up on every point.
I will jot down some thoughts summarizing "The Lexical Approach" , but I'll save that for another post.

Post 3

Post 4
The Lexical Approach by Michael Lewis--a mini review
So, as I posted yesterday, I don’t think it is necessary to read “The Lexical Approach” in order to understand “Implementing the Lexical Approach.” In fact, I get the impression most people only read “Implementing the Lexical Approach”.
But, as it happens I read “The Lexical Approach” last year, so I’ll give a mini-review here if anyone is interested in knowing what the book was about before plunging into “Implementing The Lexical Approach”.
It’s a bit difficult to summarize “The Lexical Approach” because Michael Lewis goes off on so many different tangents. Basically he complains about everything associated with the current state of ELT.
Despite the fact that the book was published in 1993, it appears that nothing has changed. Or at least all of the things Michael Lewis hated about the ELT industry in 1993 are still applicable now.
Although Michael Lewis never mentions the “CELTA” by name, many of his criticisms apply directly to the CELTA method.
Among the things Michael Lewis hates about the CELTA method:
* Michael Lewis hates it that people get to call themselves certified teachers after only a one month course.
* Michael Lewis doesn’t like the P-P-P method
* Michael Lewis doesn’t approve of error correction or even delayed error correction
* Michael Lewis thinks it’s absurd that teacher trainees are taught to avoid teacher talking time
Not surprisingly, “The Lexical Approach” didn’t make it onto the DELTA reading list. I’m a bit surprised that anything Michael Lewis wrote made it onto the DELTA reading list, given how critical Michael Lewis is of their methods.
(When I finally get around to taking the DELTA, it will be interesting to see how “Implementing the Lexical Approach” is treated by them. It is listed as one of the core texts.Perhaps “Implementing the Lexical Approach” is less critical of Cambridge methods than the original “The Lexical Approach” ? I guess we’ll see as we read it.)
Despite going on a lot of different tangents, the main point of “The Lexical Approach” is that Michael Lewis thinks we should be spending a lot more time teaching lexis, and a lot less time teaching grammar.
His reasons for this are as follows:
* Michael Lewis thinks that the main meaning of a sentence is carried by the lexis, not by the grammar. When communication breaks down, it’s almost always because the student couldn’t produce/comprehend the necessary lexis, not because they couldn’t produce/comprehend the grammar
* Despite the authoritative voice in which most grammar books are written, the truth is that spoken English grammar is only partially understood by linguists. Whenever we present our students with any sort of “grammar rules”, we are invariably giving them an oversimplified and false view of how the language actually works.
* Michael Lewis considers himself a Krashenite--meaning he believes with Krashen that grammar can not be acquired through conscious studying, and instead must be acquired through exposure to the input. However, Michael Lewis believes that when Krashen talked about the limitations of conscientious studying, Krashen was referring only to grammar structures. Vocabulary and Lexis COULD actually be studied consciously. (Krashen himself would not have approved, but Michael Lewis makes this addition to Krashen’s theory). Michael Lewis recommends that in addition to a steady diet of comprehensible input, learners should be supplementing their input by studying vocabulary lists. (Michael Lewis even argued that we should bring back the old decontextualized vocabulary lists).
* In contrast to the traditional Chomskyian view of grammar, Michael Lewis believes that most of our speech consists not of sentences constructed from abstract grammar rules, but stock lexical phrases that are stored in our brain as chunks. Although Michael Lewis doesn’t disregard our capacity to use grammar to create novel sentences, he believes that our brains have a dual system for processing language--one for creating novel sentences, the other for storing and retrieving language chunks. In order to meet the time demands and processing constraints of using language in real-time conversations, we tend to rely mostly on prefabricated language chunks in real-time conversation. So, for example, when we say, “Would you like a cup of tea?”, Michael Lewis believes that instead of constructing this sentence from our grammatical system, we are simply grabbing out of our brains the prefabricated lexical chunks “Would you like a” and “cup of tea” and putting them into the appropriate slots. Furthermore, Michael Lewis believes that once these lexical chunks have been stored into the brain, the language system can break them down and analyze them for grammatical input. So there is the possibility that we get our grammar knowledge from the memorized prefabricated chunks, and not the reverse. Therefore Michael Lewis believes that we should teach students as many of these prefabricated lexical chunks as possible. (Like everything else Michael Lewis says, this view of language is controversial. For a counterview--a writer who believes that most of our language is NOT prefabricated chunks--see “The Language Instinct” by Steven Pinker).
* As with Dave Willis (another author we previously read) Michael Lewis believes that the line between lexis and grammar is blurred. A lot of the grammar of the sentence is determined by the vocabulary. So we should spend more time teaching the students the collocations and word patterns associated with the lexis. (This is very similar to Dave Willis’s thoughts on word patterns and grammar, that we read previously).

Post 5
More related:

Post 6
Problems I Had With the Lexical Approach
In yesterday’s post, I gave a short summary of the arguments in “The Lexical Approach”.
I should mention that after I initially read that book, I was quite captivated by it. (I have a bad history of being captivated by whatever book I’ve just read.)
But a lot of the arguments made intuitive sense to me.
It made sense to me that increasing the lexis of a learner was of more communicative value than increasing their grammar.
This especially resonated with because when I first read the book, I was finishing up at my old school in Cambodia, and I was teaching out of a curriculum that required me to devote a lot of time to teaching all the inversions required for “reported speech” and “conditionals”. (It was on the test for the levels I was teaching.) I spent ages drilling those structures, and making sure my students could perform the structures flawlessly for the test. (Half of them still didn’t get it).
But despite the fondness that textbook writers have for conditional structures and reported speech, mastery of these forms does not increase the students’ communicative ability at all. All the communication in the sentence is supplied by the lexis.
And, to add insult to injury, Michael Lewis claimed that the way textbooks teach conditionals and reported speech doesn’t even reflect the way native speakers use them in real-life anyway. (Using evidence from the cobuild corpus, Michael Lewis claims that "We do not, typically, manipulate the speaker's words when 'reporting'; we either report the event synoptically, or narrate using the speaker's words" (The Lexical Approach p.136) )
So it made a lot of sense to me at the time to just de-emphasize the grammar structures and focus on lexis instead.
That, plus I was very sympathetic to Krashen, and Michael Lewis’s reading of Krashen appealed to me. It was like having your Krashen cake and eating it too--you could still use lots of comprehensible input, but add in conscious studying of lexis.
Focusing on lexis also seemed to me like it would be a good way to beat the “intermediate plateau” (the fact that most students stop seeing big gains in their progress once they reach the intermediate level, and get discouraged). When I first started teaching adults at our school, my manager warned me that intermediate students often get discouraged at their perceived lack of progress and don’t re-sign. I thought that helping my students to build up a new vocabulary list would be a tangible way they could see gains in their English ability.
So, a lot of the materials I’ve designed in the past couple years have been heavily influenced by “The Lexical Approach”. For example, before I read The Lexical Approach, my movie and story worksheets mainly focused on conveying the meaning of the story to the students. After reading “The Lexical Approach”, I completely changed my focus to the vocabulary in the movie and story in all the materials I designed since.
See for example all the vocabulary work I put into the movie worksheets:
Or all the vocabulary in Story Time Worksheets:
I also started using quizlet to assign a lot of vocabulary to my adult students.
See, for example, all these quizlet quizzes I made for the Elementary and Pre-Intermediate book: ,
And I started making vocabulary lists for the Super Juniors, which we would do at the beginning of every class.
See, for example, here:
However, in the course of trying to Implement “The Lexical Approach”, I encountered a lot of problems.
It’s possible that many of these problems were just a result of me doing everything wrong, and not knowing how to effectively implement “The Lexical Approach”. Which is, hopefully, where a book like “Implementing the Lexical Approach” can be useful in helping to implement “The Lexical Approach”.
Or, it could be, that there are some flaws inherent to the idea.
It is a question in my mind whether or not the ideas Michael Lewis has in “Implementing the Lexical Approach” will help with the problems I encountered.
But in no particular order, here are all the problems I encountered:
1) I burned myself out trying to design too much of my own new material.
It’s all well and good to say the classroom should focus more on lexis, but your average teacher who is teaching a full schedule (or more in the peak seasons) doesn’t have time to spend hours re-designing the curriculum by themselves.
2) Students wouldn’t do the homework
In my adult class, my idea of building up a vocabulary list completely fell apart because none of the students would study the vocabulary outside of class. Despite all my efforts to encourage or persuade them, it was impossible to get them to review the vocabulary lists at home.
Actually, I should have seen this coming. At my previous school, the management was on a big kick to get students to use “vocabulary notebooks” Each student was given a vocabulary notebook at the beginning of the term, and teachers were encouraged to teach effective ways of recording and retrieving vocabulary. But will the students nodded their heads during the explanation, none of them ever used their vocabulary notebooks ever again.
3). Students had trouble memorizing lexis
It was very simple to present students with lots of lexis, but getting them to actually learn it was something different.
Even single word lexical entries caused problems. In the rare cases where students would study the word at home, they would often learn it with the wrong pronunciation.
Simple nouns or verbs were fine for studying in lists, but anything more complex than that would often be learnt wrong, or used with the wrong nuance.
Michael Lewis is fond of lexical chunks, but these were very difficult to get into the long term memory of my adult students. They would mangle these chunks in their brains, and remember them with the words all out of order. (So much for these lexical chunks providing the basis for grammatical input. If the students memorize the chunks with the wrong grammar, then they’re memorizing the wrong grammar).
4). From my own language learning experience: I used to spend a lot of time studying vocabulary lists when I lived in Japan, and very few of those words ever made it into my productive vocabulary. It was only when I noticed a word on TV, or I heard it in conversation, that I took notice of it. And after I started noticing it, I was able to use it productively.
Michael Lewis seems to be implying we can short-cut this process by having the students study decontextualized vocabulary lists, but I wonder.
Although to be fair, studying the word in a list first helped me to notice it when I heard it on TV. So in that respect the lists helped, but only as an aid to noticing it in the input.

Post 7
So, our old friend Scott Thornbury is a critic of the Lexical Approach.
Scott Thornbury wrote an article criticising it in 1998. The article was published just after "Implementing the Lexical Approach", and is primarily a response to it.
The whole article is worth reading, and I think it should provide good fuel for discussion. And it should provide good guiding questions as we read the book. As we read the book, do we find ourselves siding more with Michael Lewis, or Scott Thornbury.
As I wrote before, I found the original "The Lexical Approach" fascinating, but lacking in a lot of concrete ideas about how to implement it. I was hoping that "Implementing the Lexical Approach" would give some good practical ideas about how to implement the lexical approach.
But Scott Thornbury doesn't seem to think so. Some quotes from his critique:
"Nevertheless, it is not so clear what implications this view of language has on syllabus specifications...."
"Nor is it clear whether Lewis has a coherent theory about how languages are learned..."
" Richards and Rodgers (2001) note, the Lexical Approach “is still an idea in search of an approach and a methodology” (p. 138)."
Michael Lewis was not happy about this critique, and Scott Thornbury recalls his personal clashes with Michael Lewis on his blog: An A-Z of ELT.
L is for (Michael) Lewis
Although the blog post is critical of the Lexical Approach, it does end with this appraisal:
"But Michael is enjoying a well-earned retirement, and I suspect that he’s satisfied in the knowledge that the Lexical Approach, his Lexical Approach, whatever exactly it is, is well-established in the EFL canon, and that his name is stamped all over it."
So in other words, we're not wasting our time by reading about it. Agree or disagree, the Lexical Approach is now part of the established landscape of ELT.

Post 8
Similar to what Lewis argues?

Post 9
Did anyone else get the sense in these opening pages that Michael Lewis is simultaneously insisting that he's not advocating for radical change, and yet at the same time kind of arguing for a lot of radical changes.
For example, his quote on page 3.
"Implementing the Lexical Approach in your classes does not mean a radical upheaval, likely to upset colleagues, parents and learners. On the contrary, if introduced with thought and sensitivity, its introduction will be almost invisible, involving perhaps 20 or even 50 small changes in every lesson, each in itself unremarkable..."
50 small changes in every lesson? I'm not even sure I do 50 things in a lesson. If I made 50 small changes in every lesson, there'd be nothing left to change! I'd have completely changed everything about everything by the time I made 50 small changes!

Post 10
Greg once told me what he loves about Michael Lewis is Michael Lewis's tendency to carry his arguments with other author's into the texts of his books. (Hopefully I'm not breaking a confidence by sharing that.)
Pages 12-15, where Michael Lewis quotes from reviews of his previous book, and then responds, are classic examples.

Post 11
This first chapter, as Michael Lewis states directly in the first paragraph, is meant to get everyone up to speed who didn't read "The Lexical Approach". How did everyone feel it worked as a summary?
Speaking as someone who read "The Lexical Approach", I think this summary more or less got the main points. It certainly left a lot of stuff out, but then the original "The Lexical Approach" went off on several tangents and digressions that didn't need to be included here.
I'd be curious in the reaction of people who haven't read "The Lexical Approach".
I'm still slightly confused as to what Michael Lewis's stance is regarding teaching grammar in the classroom, but then I was confused about that after reading "The Lexical Approach" as well. Maybe that will become clearer later in the book.
Also, how did people feel about the quote on page 11? "Modern analyses of real data suggest that we are much less original in using language than we like to believe. Much of what we say, and a significant proportion of what we write, consists of prefabricated multi-word items."
Despite Michael Lewis stating this as a fact, it's worth noting that many linguists would disagree with this. (Steven Pinker in "The Language Instinct" for example.)
None of us are linguists, of course, but what is your gut reaction to this assertion?

Post 12
p.17-19 Arbitrariness of Lexical Items
Did anyone feel that this was a bit inconsistent with what Michael Lewis was saying in "The English Verb" ?
In "The English Verb", Michael Lewis spent the whole book arguing that verb tense use was not arbitrary, but instead consistent across all usages.
Of course he's talking about Lexis here, not grammar, so it's completely different. And that probably explains the contradiction right there.
And yet...I still felt like it was a tonal shift from "The English Verb". Did anyone else get that impression?

Post 13
From p.18
"Many important linguistic phenomena are arbitrary, for example, irregular plurals (there is nothing wrong with *childs, but children is standard), or past tenses (went, but we could accept *goed). Students frequently ask why the language behaves in a certain way, and are unhappy to be told English is like that, but unfortunately that is the only accurate answer."
Anyone else feel like he's over-stating his case slightly here? I mean, I understand that in the classroom "English is just like that" is probably the simplest and best answer, because not everyone has an interest in etymology and the history of languages. But that's different than claiming that the language is inherently arbitrary. It appears to be arbitrary, but there are usually historical reasons for irregularities.
Michael Lewis acknowledges etymology in the next paragraph, but then seems to dismiss it too quickly (to my mind anyway).
"Etymology, for example, may reveal the sources of some words or patterns, but the explanations are never more than of details. Language remains essentially arbitrary."
I'm not sure I agree. Etymology isn't just details, it's the reason for all the irregularities that Michael Lewis claims are arbitrary.
That being said, though, for the purposes of classroom explanations, I agree that it is probably best to just pretend etymology doesn't exist and tell the students "English is just like that."

Post 14
More classic Michael Lewis, getting into disagreements with other authors.
By the way, if you haven't come across the name before, it's worth noting that Paul Nation is a respected author on vocabulary acquisition and extensive reading. (XXXX and I have been enjoying his books).
You can listen to his interview on TEFLology here:
Did anyone else feel that on page 20 Michael Lewis was kind of missing Paul Nation's point? I felt like in the quotation Michael Lewis gave, Paul Nation meant "speak English" in the sense of getting your point across effectively.
My own experience in Japanese is that once I reached an intermediate level, I had a big enough vocabulary that I could paraphrase and explain what I wanted to say even if I didn't know the technical names of everything. I suspect that is what Paul Nation is talking about here.

Post 15
p. 22
Did anyone else think the section on contractions didn't make a lot of sense?
Michael Lewis uses the example of:
I can't tell you anything more about it.
Don't wait for me!
and then he writes:
There are good reasons for saying that can't and don't are independent lexical items, that is, they are single words. If that is so, they should be treated linguistically, and perhaps even pedagogically, without direct reference to can and do. Notice, for example, in both cases, simply substituting the so -called "positive equivalent" for the supposedly negative can and don't will not produce sentences which are plausible and natural "correct opposites" of the originals.
Is it just me or does this not make sense?
You could totally substitute "can" and "do" in these sentences.
You'd have to change "anything" to "something" in the first sentence, but other than that, the sentence would work.
"Do wait for me" has more emphasis than simply "wait for me", but it works.

Post 16
I'm not sure I'm entirely comfortable with any of Michael Lewis's examples on the "Arbitrariness of Collocation".
Michael Lewis is claiming it's arbitrary that we say "rise to the occasion" but not "fall to the occasion". But it's not arbitrary, it's that the idiom only makes sense if you rise to the challenge. You would never "fall" to a challenge.
Similarly, I think there are good reasons why you would "gaze at a person" but not "gaze at a problem". "Gaze" is a certain type of looking that only makes sense with a physical object.
I get the sense that, at least based on these examples, collocation is not as arbitrary as Michael Lewis is claiming.

Post 17
p. 29
Gapfill number 3 read:
"I know you haven't had time to think about it yet, but what's your ...... reaction?"
To me, this just screamed "gut" as the correct answer.
Which was why I was a bit surprised that Michael Lewis didn't include "gut" in his suggested answers.
Michael Lewis wrote:
"Example three strongly suggests 'initial reaction' though 'first' and a few other words are possible."
I wonder, is this a regional thing? A British-American thing?

Post 18
In his discussion of sentence number 1--"She's got rather a .......... accent"--Michael Lewis says that only the word "strong" is highly likely, and that "weak" and "delicate" are doubtful, and then goes on to say that this is another example of "Collocation is not determined by logic or frequency, but is arbitrary, decided only by linguistic convention."
I'm probably beating a dead horse at this point, but this seems to me another case where his examples don't match his thesis. The reason that "She's got rather a weak accent" doesn't seem likely is not because collocation is arbitrary, but because accents are only noticeable when they are strong. Similarly, "delicate" accent just doesn't seem to make a lot of sense.

XXXX Commented:
 My first thought was "thick accent" and he didn't even make mention of it.

Post 19
Michael Lewis writes: "Examination of learners' written texts clearly shows that mis-collocation is a common source of errors".
I think this is right. Whenever I correct students' writing, mis-collocation is always one of the most common errors that pops up, if not the most common error.
That being said, there's a grey area between collocations that are outright wrong, and collocations that sound slightly unnatural, but are probably acceptable.
To be fair to Michael Lewis, I think he did mention earlier in the book that there was a spectrum of acceptability.
But a lot of the things he is mentioning as examples of "errors" are things I would classify as "slightly unnatural, but not wrong".
I suppose some of this gets in to a debate about how natural we expect our students to sound. Should they use language exactly the same as native speakers, or is it acceptable if they invent their own collocations?

Post 20
p. 30
Michael Lewis gives a task:
"Write a short definition of the word golden. Now list six nouns which you think very commonly occur with golden."
In the commentary on the task, Michael Lewis says:
"Almost certainly your definition would be something like 'made of' or 'looking like gold.' Equally certainly your collocations probably include opportunity, wedding, age, mean, boy/girl, handshake...."
Anyone else have stylistic issues with "Equally certainly your collocations probably..." Is it certainly or probably?
Moreover, I don't even recognize half of these collocations. I know of a golden anniversary, but not a golden wedding. I've never heard of a "golden mean". "golden boy" strikes me as a relatively rare usage. I've never heard of a "golden handshake"
Is this just me? Maybe I'm just out of it?
And is this just nitpicking, or does the fact that I don't recognize half of Michael Lewis's "certainly probably" collocations call his whole premise into question?

XXXX Commented
Yeah, I also took issue with this. I've heard 'golden boy' quite a bit, but not several of the others. I had thought of golden years, golden egg, golden grahams...very different things from him. Seems he dropped the ball by making such an assumption.  Especially since he thought it such a big deal that students were missing out on possible collocations with that grid exercise he showed. I'm an native speaker and an English teacher and I would also have missed many possible collocations, so the question arises "who cares?"

Post 21
One of the things I've noticed in my own teaching is that it's very easy to present learners with collocations and lexical phrases, but it's often very difficult to get the collocations into their long term memory.
Perhaps later in the book some more effective strategies will be introduced.
I'm skeptical of page 33, however.
"Benson and Benson report that learners who had been introduced to Using The BBI Collocation Dictionary had considerably increased scores on Collocation Tests."
I Googled "BBI Collocation Dictionary" and it is written by Benson and Benson (and Ilson, which is apparently where the "I" comes from).
It's not surprising that Benson and Benson are reporting that using their own dictionary will increase learners scores. It's a pity Michael Lewis couldn't cite independent research.

Post 22
Michael Lewis is arguing throughout this book that lexical phrases and collocations are more important than grammar. (Or am I misinterpreting him?) He also argues that most of our sentences are using pre-fabricated lexical phrases instead of using generative grammar.
For an interesting counterpoint, see here:
(Start reading from the bottom of page 89)

Post 23
The section on "Expressions and Grammar"
So Michael Lewis is talking about the arbitrariness of collocation and expressions again, and I was going to write a comment about how there are actually sound pragmatic reasons why all of his examples sound unnatural, and that it wasn't purely arbitrary....
And then I thought, "Wait, I've said all this before. I'd just be repeating myself."
But then I thought, "Wait, why are we still going on about this on page 36. Am I the one repeating myself, or is Michael Lewis?" Doesn't it seem like he's just saying the same thing again and again and again in the 1st couple chapters?

XXXX Commented:
It did seem repetitive, perhaps intentionally to get the reader on board. Or perhaps all that repetition is like a cloud of smoke used to hide the fact that he never bothers to reassure the reader on how to accurately identify a "chunk", or god forbid how to explain to a student if their chunk is different from your chunk other than 'My intuition is better than your intuition'.

Post 24
For what it's worth, I completely agree with Michael Lewis here that most people misunderstand the word "idiom". People (often teachers and students alike) think idiom only refers to the more picturesque expressions, when actually the most common idioms are "those made of common words where the meaning of one or more of the key words is in some sense metaphorical rather than literal"--e.g. "I see what you mean".
That being said,
I disagree slightly with Michael Lewis when he says "many traditional [i.e. picturesque] idioms are less problematic for learners, at least receptively,than we might imagine..." [because the picturesque image is usually easy to understand].
It's easy for the learners to understand if the idiom is quoted in full. The problem is, in natural texts, the full version of the idiom is almost never given. It's usually just alluded to with a partial quotation. "When in Rome", "The grass is always greener", "the early bird" , etc.
I started to notice that this was lack of knowledge of English idioms and proverbs was causing problems for my IELTS students when they tried to read advanced texts.
I also noticed it with my Vietnamese girlfriend, who was attempting to read books in English. Despite her high level of vocabulary, the idioms always threw her off, especially because they were usually quoted only partially.
So... I started experimenting with teaching a proverb a day to my adult classes.
If anyone is interested in the lessons, they are here.
(These lessons take partial inspiration from Michael Lewis, and partial inspiration from Scott Thornbury. After teaching the proverb, I tried to treat the proverb as a complete text and analyze the grammar of it, just like Scott Thornbury does in "Beyond the Sentence")

Post 25
An issue I have with The Lexical Approach (something I think I've mentioned a few times before) is that the students don't actually learn the words and phrases that the teacher gives to them.
It turns out I've been speaking too soon, because Michael Lewis highlights exactly this problem on page 38.
The teacher presents the useful phrases to the students, and then it is up to the student to learn them. And if the student does not?
"Accepting learner autonomy also means accepting that teachers cannot guarantee what is learned. The teacher must be content and fulfilled by the role of learning-manager." (p.38)
This makes a lot of sense, and is more or less what I've come to accept in my own classrooms over the years.
An alternative way to view this, however, is to acknowledge that while ultimate mastery of English will only be attained by self-study and learner autonomy, the 4 hours a week spent in the classroom should aim to help students master bits of discrete language items.
This is, I think, pretty much our school's philosophy, no? We can't ensure the student will become fluent, but we can ensure they will master the formation of the present continuous by the end of J2A.
And this does seem to keep the customers happy.

XXXX Commented:
Right, as Lewis says in the book "most vocabulary is acquired, not taught." Ah, how distressing it is then to see that so few of my students read for pleasure. Sure, the young ones are overworked as it is, but do the adults have the same excuse? And must reading really be work? I did the most reading recreationally during Uni when I was also required to read the most academically.
The book stores here have all the basic children's stories. I've seen Where the Wild Things Are, The Rainbow Fish, The Little Prince, Dr. Seuss, Road Dahl.
Hell, I learned more Vietnamese through the two children's books I read than any standard studying. I wish the learners understood this.
I Commented:
Yes, it's frustrating isn't it? But in the meantime, you can bring one story every lesson to them:

Post 26
"Older teachers may remember when any use of 'would' was impossible until book 4 on the (spurious) grammatical grounds that it was 'the conditional'..."
What is he talking about? He doesn't even name the series of textbooks he's criticizing. Was there just one set of textbooks in the old days? And were they just known as books 1, 2, 3, and 4?

Post 27
p.49-50 have Michael Lewis again challenging CELTA dogma--he believes it's a mistake to try to decrease teacher talking time and increase student talking time. Or at least he believes it's a mistake to dogmatically cling to this.
He said similar things in the original "The Lexical Approach"
“Every trainee I have ever met is convinced that student talking time (STT) should be increased and teacher talking time (TTT) decreased. Since well- directed listening is the best, perhaps unique, way of acquiring the spoken language it is clear that this absurd methodological over-simplification is the precise opposite of the truth in many circumstances. What matters is the kind of TTT, and its purpose, and the strategies and techniques through which it is employed. It is a matter of critical awareness, knowing what you are doing. Regrettably, the simple slogan of initiation courses ignores this and simplifies to the point of absurdity.”-- (From "The Lexical Approach" p.191)
What do we think? Agree with Michael Lewis or agree with the CELTA?

XXXX Commented:

I'm certainly no expert, but I think too much attention is spent on reducing TTT than improving its quality. Perhaps at one point teachers were monopolizing class time with as much as 80% TTT, but it seems the target nowadays is unnecessarily low (maybe 25%?). There's little interest in striking a balance and lots of focus on just trimming that TTT as much as possible.
That said, I skimmed through a study before that found that ESL students overall said they thought STT was too low in their classes, and since it is about the customer I can see increased STT being argued on that basis.

XXXX Commented:

I agree with your thoughts on this! I think the quality of TTT is what we should improve on. Balance is key in anything. It benefits students to hear their teacher speak, especially just using natural language, story telling, etc... they hear our sounds and mimick our tones, expressions, question tags, etc... 

Post 28
Michael Lewis writes:
"Many researchers have concluded that we acquire an individual word by meeting it a number of times; typically they suggest you are likely to have acquired a word after meeting it seven times. This does not mean the word needs to be explicitly taught seven times; indeed, according to some linguists, meeting it frequently with no explicit teaching is both a necessary and sufficient condition for its acquisition. The broad consensus is that each time you meet a word in context and (at least partly) understand it, you understand more of its meaning, and gradually integrate it into your lexicon for immediate access."
What do you guys think of this?
My own experience (learning Japanese) is that although I frequently studied word lists, none of those words became part of my active vocabulary until I would meet the word in context in the real world. (Either on TV, or in a book, or hear it in conversation). Then, the word would jump out at me as something I had learned before, and I would remember the context, and the next time I was in a similar context I was able to use the word.
Also, in the above quote, Michael Lewis says that "according to some linguists, meeting it frequently with no explicit teaching is both a necessary and sufficient condition for its acquisition. "
This appears to contradict Michael Lewis's earlier quotation of Swan (p.46) that Vocabulary will NOT take care of itself if the language is well organized, and that explicit teaching of vocabulary is necessary.

XXXX Commented:
 As an adult native speaker who is (and will always be) still learning his L1, I do find that many if not most the vocabulary I learn now comes from frequent exposure without explicit teaching, but if we're talking about ESL learners, that's a whole other question.
One of the reasons I am so drawn to resources like language podcasts for my own L2 aquisition, is that they heavily recycle new vocabulary throughout each season so that by the end the words have been encountered multiple times. It is one of the issues I have with ESL coursebooks that are split into such diverse subjects so that vocab from unit 1 often never shows up again throughout the entire book. If frequent exposure is necessary, why aren't coursebooks designed to take advantage of this? Diving from the topic of, say, global warming to the topic of shopping centers and ignoring all the newly learned language seems utterly nonsensical, yet I see it all the time.

Post 29
I mentioned before that Michael Lewis was not a fan of the P-P-P method.
(The P-P-P method is the method usually taught on the CELTA courses. First the teacher presents the language, then the students practice it, then finally the students produce the language).
What's interesting about page 51 is that Michael Lewis not only dislikes the P-P-P method, but he talks about the P-P-P as if it was already in the past.
He talks about the "remnants" of the P-P-P method, and said that the P-P-P method has already been "both theoretically and practically discredited" (p.51)
Interesting to note that Michael Lewis wrote these words all the way back in 1997. And here we are in 2017, and the P-P-P method is still the dominant method used at most language schools.
(...or at least that's been my experience in the language schools I've worked at, both at ILA and elsewhere. Anyone else have any different experiences?)
I suspect that the truth is that instead of being "theoretically and practically discredited" for all time, these things actually just come in and out of fashion. P-P-P was popular in the 1980s, fell out of fashion in the 1990s, and then came back again with the dominance of the CELTA and the explosion of private language schools.
TEFLology has an interesting episode on the history of P-P-P:
The criticism of P-P-P is this:
P-P-P assumes that you can introduce a new language item to the students, and then have them use it in free production by the end of a 90 minute lesson.
In actuality, in order for the language item to be available for active use, it takes a long time. The learner has to be exposed to the item several times over many weeks/months. Then they have to slowly notice the item. Then they start experimenting with it. And then finally, several months later, it becomes acquired.
To expect the learner to acquire a new grammar or vocabulary item in a 90 minute lesson is unrealistic.
Or so the critics of P-P-P (like Michael Lewis) claim. Your thoughts?

Post 30
Michael Lewis writes:
"The key idea of 'noticing' informs all Exercises in Activities in the Lexical Approach. While agreeing with Krashen's main proposition in The Natural Approach, namely 'we acquire language by understanding messages' the Lexical Approach differs in one important respect. The Natural Approach claims conscious learning has no influence on acquisition. If Krashen is right, then all formal instruction is pointless, or even impedes acquisition."
I actually read "The Natural Approach" a couple years ago, and I think Krashen is being slightly misrepresented here.
Krashen argues that a language teacher is still useful, because the language teacher can help structure and organize the input that a student receives to make it most beneficial for the student's current level. (eliminating the "hit and miss" style of picking language input up on the streets).
Krashen also never claims that conscious learning could impede acquisition. Rather Krashen thought that conscious learning goes to what he called the "monitor", which a learner could use to consciously edit what they produced in free speech. Krashen thought that the "monitor" was useful in helping students perform above their abilities in tasks such as writing.

XXXX Commented:

I agree that this is a misrepresentation. I understand that Krashan argued a learner's 'acquired system' allows them to produce spontaneous speech, but their 'learned system' checks whether what is being spoken is accurate. The learner can scan their sentence before or after uttering it. This is how he explains self-correction - the learner speaks spontaneously and then uses the 'Monitor' to correct the sentence.
I don't remember Krashen ever arguing that instruction is pointless, but he does see the Monitor as a weak language tool since the learner needs to have enough time to use it, know the language rule, and focus on accuracy at the expense of meaning (all of which create unnatural conversation).
Maybe Lewis was writing about an earlier (more radical) version of Krashen's hypothesis before the monitor idea came out? I'm not really sure of the timeline of Krashen's ideas...
I Commented:
It is true that Krashen has changed his ideas several times over the years. I have to confess, I'm not sure what the current state of his theories are.
Michael Lewis, however, explicitly references "The Natural Approach", so I think it's fair to critique his representation of Krashen's ideas against what Krashen wrote in "The Natural Approach".
And within "The Natural Approach", my understanding of the monitor versus the acquired system is exactly how you've stated it. 
XXXX Commented:
Well in that case, I think he needed to read the book a little more carefully!

I Commented:
While I'm complaining, he also forgot that "The Natural Approach" had a second author. But I guess everyone overlooks poor Tracy Terrell. 

Post 31
p.52-53: Noticing and Conscious Raising
Despite my complaint that Michael Lewis is slightly misrepresenting Krashen, I do agree with Michael Lewis that Noticing and Consciousness-raising are useful additions to Krashen's Comprehensible Input theory.
Scott Thornbury argued the same point in Uncovering Grammar (another book on the DELTA reading list)
Input by itself is not enough. The students need to notice the grammar items in the input. And the teacher can aid noticing with conscious raising techniques.
After reading "Uncovering Grammar", I started adding grammar noticing sections to all of my movie lessons. (Before reading "Uncovering Grammar", I just assumed that if the students were provided with input, they would notice the grammar patterns on their own. But after reading "Uncovering Grammar" I decided they might need a little push to notice these patterns.)
I tried to do this with these movie lessons on Disney's Robin Hood. The end of each Slideshow has a little grammar noticing lesson about the grammar from that section of the movie.
Granted, my own material is much more teacher centered than the consciousness raising exercises Michael Lewis describes on pages 52-53

Post 32
Interesting post on Geoff Jordan's blog the other day:
I thought there were maybe a couple interesting points of discussion here. But I found this description of a successful classroom intriguing:
"I went to a language school in London to learn English. I was placed in a group at pre-intermediate level (B1) .The lessons were run in a completely different manner. First of all, the teacher was great – open, energetic. She worked the room. I don’t remember if there was a textbook accompanying the course. What I do remember is a lot of speaking tasks, problem solving activities and group discussions. The teacher also used to tell us anecdotes about her teaching experiences and life in Spain. I still remember some of the stories and even use them in my lessons if they serve the topic."
This would seem to support what Michael Lewis says on page 52: "Increase carefully-controlled teacher-talking-time".

Post 33
Michael Willis is borrowing from our old friend Dave Willis here.
We read one of Dave Willis's books back in January (Rules, Patterns, and Words), and I think that although Michael Lewis is quoting from a different book, the list of Consciousness Raising techniques look similar to what was in that book.
Interesting that on page 53, Michael Lewis goes on to expand this to pronunciation as well, quoting from David Brazil, who talks about the "receptive" aspect of pronunciation work.
Just as a side note, it's not at all clear that receptive work is a pre-requisite for pronunciation.
Perception and production are clearly closely interrelated, although the precise relationship between them is still not completely clear (Bohn & Flege, 1997). The literature seems to be split on whether production leads perception, or whether perception leads production.
Some studies have shown that at least in the early stages of L2 learning increased perception accuracy may result in more accurate production (Bohn et al. 1997).
Others have argued that the reverse is true and that the ability to produce correct phonetic distinctions shapes perceptual abilities. According to this theory, articulation and perception are connected in the mind. A non-native speaker will adjust their pronunciation until they are understood by a native listener, and this change in articulation results in the re-shaping of their mental phonetic categories, resulting in an increase in perceptual abilities (Sheldon and Strange, 1982).

Post 34
p.53-54 The Importance of Negative Evidence
A couple thoughts on this.
Michael Lewis says that not just Krashen's comprehensible input, but also negative evidence, is important in language learning.
Interesting, however, to consider that everyone learns their first language without any negative evidence.
I guess the million dollar question is whether learning a second language is more like learning a first language, or a completely different cognitive process.
And ironically enough, it's Michael Lewis who argues the processes are similar, not different, in the original "The Lexical Approach".
To quote from "The Lexical Approach":
"It is intrinsically more likely that L2 acquisition is similar to L1 acquisition rather than that the two should be totally distinct processes." (The Lexical Approach, p.54)
So then, why do we need negative evidence when learning an L2?
The second thing that bugs me about this section is Michael Lewis's aversion to direct correction. Assuming for the sake of argument that negative evidence is needed, then wouldn't the most efficient way of doing this be just to tell the student directly?
But Michael Lewis then writes:
"Nothing could be worse, however, than an obsession with errors or teacher-dominated correction. What is needed is reformulation, perhaps with 'Did you notice...?' comments, provided in a supportive way in a positive learning environment." (p.54)
I have no problem with a "supportive way in a positive learning environment" (other than the fact that these are unhelpful buzzwords instead of concrete proposals), but reformulation is not always the most efficient way of error correction.
Indeed, I believe in the previous book club book "How Languages are Learned", we found that students often did not even pick up on reformulations as being corrections, and children especially almost never picked up on reformulations.

Post 35
Michael Lewis writes:
"Research suggest we use all of these storage systems, sometimes storing the same item in more than one place, rather as "my brother John" may be stored as the name of "a member of my family" a list which comes to mind in certain circumstances, and on "the list of Johns I know" which comes to mind when someone at work says "John is on the line for you."
Of course I immediately thought of the "Daves I Know" song. (I never thought of this song before as an example of how we organize our mental lexicon, but now I'll never hear it again without thinking of it.)

Post 36
Michael Lewis writes: "We know we can recognise our own language being spoken even when we cannot hear a single word of what is being said, so it must be the sound patterns which we recognise."
What do you think? Is this true? Has anyone ever had the experience of recognizing that English was being spoken even though you couldn't make out the words?

Post 37
Michael Lewis writes:
"Even a prose text is more likely to become intake if it is heard."
I agree with this.
At my old school, the lead teacher was a big fan of having students read the text while listening to the audio CD. He said that reading and listening helped the students to absorb more of the language than simply reading it alone. And this made intuitive sense to me.
So whenever there is an audio recording of the reading text, I always make sure I play the audio recording at least once during the lesson. (The English World textbooks have audio recordings for most of the reading texts in the book).
However a note of caution--if ever you do this for a formal observed lesson at our school, make sure you don't play the CD until the end of the lesson. I learned this the hard way myself. The preferred structure at ILA is to keep the skills separate--i.e. reading lessons are reading lessons, and listening lessons are listening lessons. (My manager told me, "If the students are reading and listening at the same time, then they're not really doing either'). So work through all the normal reading lesson stages first, and then only at the end play the CD for the students to follow along with.

Post 38
XXXX (former lead teacher) gave me a bunch of materials that can be used to help learners identify chunking, intonation, and word stress when listening to movies and TV shows.
These would work great with the activities Michael Lewis describes on pages 56-57. I'll post them below.

Post 39
Chapter 4: The Role of L1 in the Lexical Approach
What do you guys think of the role of L1 in language teaching? (XXXX, I think you have some opinions on this, right?)
It's an issue I've gone back and forth on several times during my years of teaching. I'm usually most influenced by whoever I've read last. During periods, I've made use of the L1 (more so in Japan, when I actually new the L1 of the students). During periods, I've banned the use of L1 in my classrooms. (I think this is the policy of our school--I lost points in one of my first observations because the students were using too much Vietnamese. Although the TAs do make active use of the L1 in the reminder, so...).
TEFLology has a really good episode on English Only Policies in which they examine all the pros as well as all the cons of English Only classrooms.

Post 40
p.61--Oh, wow! Paranoid conspiracy theory alert here.
"It is worth a brief digression to see quite why translation has had such a bad name for the last 30 years. Two powerful forces have worked against it. Much of the innovation during that period in both materials and methods has come from Britain and the United States. Native speaker teachers (NSTs) and materials perceived as linguistically reliable have had high status, and have been supported by powerful financial interests. The publishers prefer global to country-specific textbooks; NSTs often work in polygot private schools with multi-lingual classes where translation would be impractical or impossible even if it were desirable. These powerful factors mean translation had to be condemned--but for commercial rather than theoretical or pedagogical reasons. It is a surprise that so many non-native teachers (non-NSTs) have been persuaded so easily to undervalue their own abilities, and discard a classroom technique of great potential value."
Actually I should clarify---I'm not necessarily saying he's wrong. (I lack the expertise in the history of EFL techniques to critique this). But the language that he's using just sounds like the language of a conspiracy nut.
But then, that's why I like reading Michael Lewis. He may be wrong, but he's never boring.
What do you guys think? Does he have a point here?

Post 41
Michael Lewis writes: "In the examples above 'appendicitis' is, most people would agree, the 'most difficult word', but ironically it is the easiest to translate, at least into the languages of cultures with a medical system similar to our own."
An interesting little caveat there at the end, I thought. It reminded me of when I taught in Cambodia. All Cambodian students who wanted to enter into medicine had to learn French first to study medicine at Cambodian universities. The reason was, I was told, that the Khmer language simply lacked the precision to talk about modern medicine.

Post 42
Michael Lewis writes: "Few grammar mistakes ... impede communication and thus do not merit more than occasional correction. In contrast, lexical mistakes do matter and activities at raising awareness of false friends are correspondingly valuable."
This is perhaps the essence of the entire Lexical Approach summed up in one sentence.
For all my criticisms of Michael Lewis, I find this argument persuasive. It also corresponds with my own anecdotal experience. (For example, in my IELTS classes, when students can't understand a reading or listening text, it's almost always a vocabulary issue and never a grammar issue.)
But strange that he starts with this justification, and then in the following paragraph he quickly slides in to the importance of teaching students about collocation.
Collocation mistakes do not harm communication. If a student says "the high boy" instead of "the tall boy", my ears may wince slightly, but the meaning is perfectly clear.

Post 43
On p.64 Michael Lewis writes: "L2 word=L1 word; this is unhelpful and frequently untrue. But it is, as Swan points out in a famous article, frequently very nearly true, and if the equation becomes L2 lexical item=L1 lexical item it is very often true. Correctly identified chunks do have equivalents in other languages, and to ignore this fact is to make the task of learning the L2 unnecessarily burdensome."
So what's everyone's experience with this?
My own experience is that, as often as not, the L2 lexical items do not have equivalents in the L1. (But maybe my memory is biased, because it's possible the negative examples stick in my mind more than the positive examples? I don't know.)
When I did my lessons on proverbs:
with the Vietnamese adult learners, I would always ask if there was an equivalent proverb in Vietnamese. They almost always said no.
Of course, proverbs are very idiomatic, so this could be an exception.
But I also remember my experience teaching English in Japan.
Japanese people always wanted to know "What's the English for....?" And often, I just had to tell them that there was no English equivalent. All of these phrases were unique to Japanese culture.
Like "Irashaimase" (What the shop clerks said when you entered a store)
"itadakimasu" (What you said before you started eating)
"ittekimasu (what you said when you left the house)
"tadaima" (what you said when you came back to the house)
"Okaerinasai" (What the person in the house said to the person returning)
What is other people's experience with other languages? Can you usually find correspondences between lexical phrases?

XXXX Commented:

Perhaps those phrases could be translated into meaningful lexical items in English, with the preface that the English equivalent would never actually be used? Like, imagine a group of people who don't say anything after someone sneezes. We could probably find something that means "bless you" whether or not they would actually use the equivalent phrase in an equivalent way.
And I wonder about those Vietnamese students. I've come across many English-Vietnamese proverb translations online. Sometimes I think our learners simple aren't learned enough.

I Commented:

Oh yeah, perfect example. There is no equivalent of "bless you" in Japanese. (Nor in Vietnamese, correct?)
I agree that the lexical items could be explained in the L1, but I still think Michael Lewis is wrong when he says there are usually L1 equivalents..
Post 44
p.75-85: Notebooks
I'm repeating myself slightly here. I've made this complaint before in previous posts. But I'll say it again for the record now that I'm officially up to the part in the book where Michael Lewis talks about notebooks.
I think well-organized vocabulary notebooks are all well-and-good in theory, but I've never seen any students actually do it.
I base this mostly off of my experience at my previous school in Cambodia. At my previous school, I taught on the English for Academic Purposes program, and as part of the curriculum each student was given a vocabulary notebook, and there were study skills lessons in which students were taught how to organize their notebooks.
The students sat there and listened to all the input about how to effectively organize their notebooks, but it was impossible to get them to actively use their notebooks.
At the beginning of every class, I would ask to see what words they had recorded in their vocabulary notebooks, and at the beginning of every class their vocabulary notebooks would always be empty. Eventually I gave up.
Of course that's just one man's experience. But I throw the question out to everyone else: I know teachers love the idea of vocabulary notebooks, but has anyone ever known a student to actually use a vocabulary notebook?

Post 45
On page 82, Michael Lewis gives an example exercise:
"Give three possible responses to the following:
1. We're having a party on Saturday. Would you like to come?
2. We've run out of coffee.
3. I don't feel very well."
Once again, I feel like my intuitive responses are a lot different than his suggested answers. (Perhaps this is a British-American thing?) I thought the most appropriate response to number 2 was usually a howl of rage, or perhaps some sort of threat or maybe a curse. I was a bit surprised then to see that on the next page he had instead listed:
"Oh, right. I'll get some on my way home from work."

Post 46
Michael Lewis writes:
"The emphasis on input runs through the Lexical Approach, but changes as learners' language level increases. A mature adult L1 lexicon is simply too large to have been acquired by formal vocabulary teaching. In both L1 and L2 a mature lexicon is acquired in very similar ways--firstly by large quantities of listening which is largely comprehensible, and later by similar quantities of comprehensible reading. I therefore advocate learners listening and read as much as possible, confident that this is the best way to develop their lexicons. This alone is, however, obviously unacceptable. Learners expect to be taught and we ignore this at our peril."
This is what Krashen has been saying all along really--there is too many features of language to be learned consciously, so they need to be absorbed from comprehensible input.
It's refreshing to see Michael Lewis saying the same thing, but it's a bit strange to find this paragraph buried in the middle of his book.
This is, I believe, in journalism parlance what is known as "burying the lead".
Correct me if I'm reading him wrong, but he's essentially saying here that input is the key to acquiring lexis, and that all of his activities are just kind of a little extra bonus because, after all, learners have paid good money for their classes, and they expect the teacher to have some sort of activity for them.
That is what he's saying in the above quote, no?
But if he's admitting that input is how learners acquire the vast majority of their language, then why not just focus on that? Why not make that the focus of the approach?
I feel like a number of ELT books I've read lately have done this. They make off-hand comments about how learners can't fully learn the language without vast amounts of input, but then they go off to focus on something else. (Scott Thornbury did this in "Uncovering Grammar", and Dave Willis also did this in "Rules, Patterns and Words").
But if input is the key, then why not just focus on that?
There seems to be an assumption that learners and teachers have plenty of access to sources of input, but I don't know if that's true.
I don't know about you, but I feel like I have very little guidance in how to find input for my learners, how to structure it, how to break it down for them, how to help them understand input, etc.
I suppose in this day and age of the Internet (which wasn't around in its current form when Michael Lewis wrote this book 20 years ago), material has never been more available, but I still feel like it's difficult to find accessible, comprehensible, interesting input for students. Too often I feel like I have the following conversation with my students.
Me: "You really need to do a lot more extensive reading if you want to improve."
Student: "Okay, where can I find stuff to read?"
Me: "I don't know. Go on the Internet somewhere."

Post 47
p.89 Identifying Chunks
This AGAIN? Oh FFS! How many times is he going to repeat himself in this book.

Post 48
Chapter 6 p.86-107
Some really great practical activities in here. But am I the only one who finds this chapter incredibly boring to read straight through?
And flipping ahead through the rest of the book, it looks like much of the rest of the book is going to be like this.
Ironic that we chose this book specifically because we thought it would be more interesting than the other books.
But I guess this is, after all, the DELTA reading list we're working through, so we have to expect that we're going to find more broccoli reading than pleasure reading.
Plus, I complained of the original "The Lexical Approach" that there was very little practical suggestions of how to implement it. So I guess I shouldn't complain that "Implementing the Lexical Approach" has a lot of practical ideas.
PS--We're meeting up on Tuesday, and I'm still 100 pages away from the end. So I've got some heavy duty reading ahead of me the next few days. But sometimes I work best under a deadline.
Plus XXXX, who's already finished the whole thing, tells me that the second half reads very quickly in part because it's just lists of suggested activities.
I'm going to aim to have the whole book finished, but just a reminder that you don't need to have read the whole thing to come to the discussion. (In case some of the rest of you are behind as well).

Post 49
Michael Lewis writes: "These slight variations are similar to the variations we find in good poetry, rather than doggerel."
I'd never heard of the word "doggerel" before, so I looked it up.
According to Wikipedia:
Doggerel is poetry that is irregular in rhythm and in rhyme, often deliberately for burlesque or comic effect. Alternatively, it can mean verse which has a monotonous rhythm, easy rhyme, and cheap or trivial meaning. The word is derived from the Middle English dogerel, probably a derivative of dog.[1] In English it has been used as an adjective since the 14th century and a noun since at least 1630.[2]
Appearing since ancient times in the literatures of many cultures, it is characteristic of nursery rhymes and children's song.[3]
The Scottish poet William McGonagall is famous for his doggerel,[4] which is remembered with affection by many despite its seeming technical flaws, as in his poem "The Tay Bridge Disaster":
Oh! Ill-fated bridge of the silv'ry Tay,
I now must conclude my lay
By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay,
That your central girders would not have given way,
At least many sensible men do say,
Had they been supported on each side with buttresses,
At least many sensible men confesses,
For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed.
Julia A. Moore, "The Sweet Singer of Michigan," was a surprising best seller in 1876 with her Sentimental Song Book, despite the ineptitude of her poetry.[citation needed]
Ogden Nash made a virtue of writing what appears to be doggerel but is actually clever and entertaining despite its apparent technical faults. Hip hop lyrics have also explored the artful possibilities of doggerel.[5]
Shakespeare uses doggerel in The Comedy of Errors to help establish the intellectual and socioeconomic status of the Dromio twins (III.i). 

Post 50
Chapter 7: Adapting Activities
Okay, so this chapter is also very boring. But there are some good activities here.
I'm particularly attracted to activities which direct learners to look more closely at a text they have already processed for meaning based input. (Like activity 1: Text Search--on page 108 and 109)
This was something I remember about Dave Willis's book (Rules, Patterns and Words)--Dave Willis encouraged the teachers to only use example sentences that the students had already processed for meaning based input
These activities can hopefully "help turn input into intake" (as Michael Lewis says on page 111).
However, I'm slightly less enamoured with activities that just present students with lists of collocations and word patterns (like "Examine a word" on pages 112-114). Surely these lists will just bore the learner to death, and not be remembered, right?
If I can toot my own horn a for a second and plug my own material....
One of the things I've tried to do with my movie worksheets is to find movies that the students are interested in, and then after the movies have been processed for input, use the script from those movies to illustrate grammar points. I think that helps the grammar lessons stick in the students mind a lot more.
For example, the confusable words that Michael Lewis talks about on page 113-114 such as say/tell, I illustrated with dialogue from "The Emperor's New Groove" that the students had already processed for input in previous lessons
And I think that's a much more effective way of doing it then just giving them lines of text.
Ideally they should be interested in the input first (a movie they enjoy, or a story book they enjoy) and then the teacher can exploit that text to find interesting word patterns.

Post 51
p.124--Bottom of the page
Michael Lewis suggests the following activity:
"Give learners these questions:
For each of these Expressions, can you guess:
who said it--a man, a woman, a child, someone with a special job?
where it was said? why it was said?
what had just happened or been said immediately before the expression?
what was the response--the next thing someone else said or did?"
So far, so reasonable. But then we get to the examples of expressions he suggests giving the learners, and one of them is:
"Not tonight. I've got a headache."
He's not seriously suggesting that this one gets brought into the classroom, is he?

Post 52
Michael Lewis writes:
"While theoretical insights are essential, other factors are more to do with the social expectations brought to particular learning contexts. In private schools, the students must come back next week; in the official system, demands may be made which teachers are only too aware conflict directly with the teachers' own understanding of best practice. Although such factors may be a source of irritation, teachers can only ignore the everyday social requirements of their job at their peril."
So true.
It is, also, arguably, another example of Michael Lewis burying the lead again, because it means much of his book is simply impractical to implement. But at least he acknowledges that.

Post 53
Chapter 7, p.108-141
I thought there were some really good ideas in here. As I said the other day, I'm particularly attracted to activities that gets students to recognize chunks of texts in input they are already reading (either from the textbook, or supplementary books/movies).
I'd kind of like to play around with some of these activities. The problem is.... it's very hard to find the time. If you're teaching a full schedule (and this time of year, a lot of us are working a lot of overtime), you just have no time to do all this extra planning.
But if we all had 6 hours to plan every lesson, I think there would in theory be some very useful ideas in this book

XXXX Commented:
This is what makes the shared planning at schools like BC such a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it is exactly the opportunity to use these new activity ideas in a lesson. The downside is that many teachers haven't read the ESL literature or simple aren't feeling particularly creative when their time comes to contribute. Selfish as it may sound, many of us didn't uproot our lives in order to spend *more* time working, so the odds of these TEFL advancements seeing the light of day are low unless the coursebooks themselves undergo change.

XXXX Commented:
TEFL/CELTA teachers definitely did not come abroad to pour their hearts into lessons, unfortunately. However, these changes are alive and well in other educational environments outside of English Institutes

Post 54
Actually despite my complaining in a previous post that implementing the lexical approach is impractical, I actually did experiment with throwing together some activities this afternoon, and I found it only took me about 15-20 minutes.
I did it as a quick addendum to a movie worksheet for "The Sword in the Stone"
The movie worksheet was already made up anyways (since I was using it for input), and so I just added a brief section on phrases at the end:
Find phrases that match the meanings below:
a bad period of time: _______________
something you say when you are angry: _______________
something you say when you are trying to remember something: _______________
We will wait and find out what happens: _______________
I think he is almost 20 years old: _______________
exactly on time: _______________
It has a lot of wolves inside: _______________
You will die, not me: _______________
visit someone to drink tea together: _______________
My nickname is Wart: _______________
You should say sorry to me: _______________
You shouldn’t be angry with him: _______________
a bad period of time: a dark age
something you say when you are angry: Oh hang it all!
something you say when you are trying to remember something: let me see
We will wait and find out what happens: we’ll just see
I think he is almost 20 years old: he must be close onto 20
exactly on time: right on schedule
It has a lot of wolves inside: it’s swarming with wolves
You will die, not me: It’s your skin, not mine
visit someone to drink tea together: drop in for tea
My nickname is Wart: Everyone calls me Wart
You should say sorry to me: I beg your pardon
You shouldn’t be angry with him: You must forgive him
It may have even been possible to do this with zero prep time, if I didn't write down the questions on the worksheet, but just conducted all of this orally or on the whiteboard.

Post 55
On page 153 Michael Lewis (or is it Mark Powell) records a learner's self-analysis of why he makes so many mistakes in free production. (The learner is talking to his teacher).
"It.... is easy for ... you ... When you begin a ... sentence ... you, of course, know where ... it will ...finish, but I ... never really ... know how I am going ... to stop ... until I am ... arrive at the ... end." (p.153)
I thought this was really insightful.
I often get frustrated with my students when they use constructions such as "is V1" or "was +V2", despite me telling them over and over and over again that no such constructions exist in English. But it's possible that a lot of the problem is that they don't realize where the sentence is going when they are speaking in real time. So they throw in a "be verb" to start things off, and then only later realize an active verb is also going to be required.
So I think the analysis of the problem is insightful.
The proposed solution (teaching chunking more), however, strikes me as a bit simplistic, and I'm skeptical it will really help.

Post 56
"Your English can be too fluent and rapid, and you can actually make your message clearer by slowing down, and pausing more, providing the pauses are in the right places."
So true! This is a problem I see often with higher level IELTS students. They speak so rapidly sometimes they are incomprehensible.
And at least with some of them, I think this is a problem we teachers have created by always emphasizing fluency, fluency, fluency, but never teaching them about creating meaning with appropriate pauses.

Post 57
p.156 Classroom Report 4: Jonathan Marks
I wonder if this is any relation to Jon Marks, the author of "The IELTS Resource Pack" ?

Post 58
Jonathan Marks talks about how even native speakers aren't really fluent, and that our speech often "contains mistakes, approximations, reformulations, and so on."
But then he goes on to say that it's exactly these mistakes, pauses, and reformulations that enable the listener to understand us.
"from the listener's point of view, fast speech with these performance factors smoothed out would soon become impossible to listen to with much understanding. As listeners, we rely on a certain amount of packaging of the message into bits, and at least a minimal amount of time to process what we have just heard, and perhaps to respond, if only with a "mhm". So factors that might at first seem imperfections are actually essential to both speakers and listeners in the process of successful communication."
Anyone remember that Scott Thornbury made the same point in "Beyond the Sentence" ?
And also, Scott Thornbury went on to say that when textbooks clean up speech, and remove all the "mistakes, approximations, and reformulations", they actually make it more difficult to process, not less.
I had occasion to remember this over the weekend, when I was administrating some listening tests. It was almost impossible for my students to follow the dialogue. This was probably for a number of reasons (inherent difficulty, poor recording quality, etc), but perhaps partly this reason as well--making the conversation too smooth and fluent made it difficult to understand.

Post 59
Michael Lewis (or Jonathan Marks?) is talking about how important context is for listening. Specifically he gives the example of "ship" and "sheep" and argues that the context is much more important than the vowel sound.
This is true as far as it goes.
In "The Language Instinct" Steven Pinker related how linguists did experiments in which listeners listened to conversations. Key words were removed from the conversation and covered with a cough sound.
When asked about it later, listeners not only understood everything perfectly, they hadn't even noticed that words had been removed from the conversation. Their brains had automatically filled in the gaps.
That being said, it seems like a big jump to what Michael Lewis says later on page 205, when he says teachers using the Lexical Approach will definitely not "worry about ship/sheep style pronunciation problems of individual words."
It's at least worth worrying about some of the time, isn't it? For example pairs of numbers like "15" and "50" could be used in the same contexts, and then you would have to worry about individual pronunciation.

XXXX Commented:
Another of Lewis's generalizations, eh? I think he's right about context being more important, but he seems to be cherry-picking. Not all minimal pairs are so different in context to be easily distinguished by context alone.
I guess a good take-away is not to waste class time on these pronunciation exercises unless chosen due to a reasonable chance of causing confusion in context.

Post 60
Did anyone else do a double-take with the classroom report from Heinz Ribisch?:
In his classroom report, he writes:
"Towards the end of school November a serious accident which happened outside the school led to the sentence, introduced as a single lexical item: 'Last week two girls were run over by a car.' Two weeks later, at a written test, 24 out of the 26 pupils in the first year were able to reproduce this sentence without a single mistake."
What what WHAT!
First of all, I hope those girls were alright. I'm reduced to simply hoping about it, because Heinz Ribisch thinks their survival status is less interesting than the fact that he got a good example sentence out of it. (You know you're reading a book on linguistics when this is their take-away from the incident).
Secondly, isn't it a bit insensitive to have the students memorize a sentence about their classmates getting run over?
Thirdly, I thought the whole point of the Lexical Approach was to direct students attention to useful generative phrases. And well I admit that people do occasionally get run over by cars, it's a sentence that probably has limited uses in one's weekly routine. Why focus on this sentence? How is this useful?
Fourthly... is the reason 24 out of 26 pupils could produce this sentence is because the other 2 were the ones who had been run over? That, at least, was my first reading of the sentence. I've thought about it, and decided that he couldn't possibly be that heartless. Or could he?

XXXX Commented:
Yeah, this section....Idunno man.

Post 61
Either Michael Lewis or Heinz Ribisch writes: "I cannot believe, however, that any parents or colleagues are going to complain if you encourage learners to keep lexical notebooks, and if these include multiple examples and collocation groups."
I don't know if this counts, but I got complaints from parents (or at least my TA did when he was calling them) that I was giving too much vocabulary homework on quizlet.

Post 62
An interesting observation here (and one that Dave Willis also made in Rules, Patterns and Words). EFL curriculums focus all of their time and energy on verb phrases, but it's actually the noun phrases where the most complex grammar usually occurs.

Post 63
p.181-182--Reported Speech
Michael Lewis made this same complaint in the original "The Lexical Approach" and for what it's worth, I agree with him 100%:

"EFL has always paid great attention to the grammatical construction called reported speech, but observation of used language shows it to be very rare and of little use to learners."

XXXX Commented:
Man, I had to do my homework when it came to teaching this crap. I could hardly remember the rules because, like Lewis says, it's so freaking rare.

Post 64
Michael Lewis writes: "all native speakers of English use 'lift', 'catch the bus' 'railway station' in ways which are so similar we can treat them as identical."
But then he goes on to say
"...the lexical items just listed are not in standard American English..."
Aren't they though?
I'll give him "lift" (assuming he's talking about elevators, and not what is done in preparation for carrying something--it's not 100% clear from his context). But we Americans say "Catch the bus", don't we?

Post 65
"L2 is more likely to be used with strangers than friends, while our most intimate relationships tend to be conducted in L1. Ironically, one of the exceptions to this generalisation is language teachers, who, more often than not, share intimate relationships in what is an L2 for one of the partners!"
Ha! Well he's got my number. (And the same for many of you, I believe.)

Post 66
Michael Lewis writes: "We have already seen that learners acquire most efficiently by learning wholes which they later break into parts, for later novel re-assembly, rather than by learning parts and then facing a completely new task, building those parts into wholes."
But have we seen this? He asserted it before, but I don't believe he ever did the ground work to prove it.

Post 67
Chapter 10: Teachers and Teacher Training p.192-207
So, after a couple boring and practical chapters, this brings us back to classic polemical Michael Lewis. And he's on full form in this chapter, arguing against everything from traditional P-P-P approach, to error correction.
But... I don't know, I always get the feeling when I'm reading Michael Lewis that he's constantly contradicting himself. It could be because I'm not reading him carefully enough But it seems in some parts of the book he's worried about fossilization, and in other parts of the book he's confident that errors will sort themselves out given time. In some parts of the book he's worried about the memory load on the learners, in other parts of the book he wants to increase their vocabulary work.
What do you guys think? Do you get the impression parts of this book contradict other parts of the book?
The most controversial parts of Chapter 10, for those of us coming from a CELTA background are Michael Lewis view that:
1) P-P-P is methodologically flawed
2) Increase Teacher Talking Time and
3) No error correction of speaking
I tend to agree with his criticism of's a useful introduction to a grammar point, but learners are not going to master it by the end of the lesson.
I've got mixed feelings on error correction. In my experience it can sometimes be helpful, but it can sometimes be unhelpful (depending on the nature of the error, and the current state of the learner's interlanguage.)

XXXX Commented:
The error correction certainly depends. I'd say for beginners error correction can be very important, but you wouldn't want to, say, interrupt a person well into a train of thought. Personally, I'm like my adult students. I'd like to be corrected as much as possible.
Side note: sometimes I wonder if there is a danger in ESL teachers getting too comfortable with Vietnamese English and allowing mistakes to slide because they still understand them. For example, at the western hospitals I often still encounter nurses and doctors who don't produce final consonants, and I wonder why this person of such education and position is still making such a basic mistake? Did a teacher allow this to go on uncorrected? Or is it simply too difficult to fix?

Post 68
p.198--Choosing Text Type
At my previous job, I was teaching both IELTS and Academic English.
I was initially frustrated with how poor the students' writing was, but after a while I realized what the problem was. The problem was that they were being expected to write academic essays, but they had never had any exposure at all to the genre. (All their previous English exposure had either been novels or ESL books).
I decided that they must first learn how to read academic essays before they could write them.
In my Academic English class (at my old school) I gave them several of my old school essays to read.
In my IELTS classes in particular, I developed a system of having them read through 10 sample IELTS essays for every one essay I assigned them to write.
I think this helped a lot.

Post 69
Here's the Slideshow. Let me know if anyone has any suggestions of things to add or to change.

Slideshow: slides, pub

Video Review
Video review here and embedded below

Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky "First Six Months of Trump Are A Horror Story" (August, 2017)

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