Peter Watkins’ Six Advertising Slogans and their relevance to ELT

Great! The guest lists keep coming. This one is by Peter Watkins, author of Learning to Teach English (Delta publishing) and The CELTA Course (Cambridge University Press, with Scott Thornbury). Peter is a senior lecturer on ELT at the University of Portsmouth. Always on the lookout for ways to make material interesting and relevant for his MA students, here Peter has come up with six famous advertising slogans and how they might be relevant to ELT. I share them with you here… because you’re worth it (groan)!

1 “The greatest show on earth” PT Barnum coined this slogan in the late 19th century to describe his travelling show. Does it have any relevance to English language teaching? I believe it does. Teaching is to some extent a performance skill and teachers (particularly new teachers) often feel a pressure to perform. The metaphors used about teaching practice show this and often suggest a stage and performance (‘I’m on next’ and so on). However, it may be worth thinking about lessons as belonging to the learners, rather than the teacher – and not every lesson has to be a great teacher performance. Coaxing performance from learners is usually more valuable – so not every lesson has to be ‘the greatest show on earth’.

2 “A little dab’ll do ya” In the mid 20th century Brylcreem (a forerunner of modern hair gel) coined this slogan. The message (‘you only need a little bit’) could refer to many aspects of teaching. The one I tend to apply it to most at the moment is grammar. I do believe in explicit grammar teaching but in small doses and where it seems relevant to the needs of learners. This slogan is worth remembering before we launch into long grammar explanations and copious exercises!

3 “Getting there is half the fun” This was the Cunard Steamship Company’s slogan for their White Star Line in the mid 1950s. We could use it to refer to almost anything in teaching that can be separated into ‘process’ and ‘product’. Think of a process approach to writing skills, for example, where it is argued that the benefit is in the journey (planning, drafting, editing and so on) rather than the final ‘product’. We could also apply the slogan to the value attached to creating a good classroom dynamic and making learning enjoyable so that the process of learning is seen as fun, as well as the product of learning being useful. Of course, the idea that learning should be fun and enjoyable is not a notion that is necessarily shared in all cultures.

4 “It’s good to talk” This slogan was first used by the telecommunications giant BT in 1994 and it’s not hard to see the relevance to language teaching, particularly usage-based views of language acquisition that place an emphasis on learner output. Of course, ‘talk’ implies that the exchange is meaningful and relevant to the participants (so genuinely communicative) – and not just an opportunity to display language skills.

5 “Where do you want to go today?” Microsoft started using this slogan in the mid 1990s – and what could better sum up a learner-centred approach to teaching? The lesson is in the hands of the learners and the teacher is a resource they can use to help them on their language journey.

6 “What’s the worst that could happen?” The soft drinks giant Dr Pepper started using this slogan in 2004. And as far as ELT goes the message is clear – experiment! One of the great joys of our work is that really bad things are very unlikely to happen even if a lesson goes badly – compare our circumstances to those of a surgeon or an air-traffic controller, for example. This gives us a beautiful freedom to experiment and try things and as we do that so we constantly add to our repertoire of teaching techniques and our own professional development. If in two minds about trying something new in the classroom, just remember the slogan.

Have you got any slogans that could have relevance to ELT?

Published in: on April 17, 2009 at 3:44 pm  Comments (5)  
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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. “The appliance of science” (Zanussi). More relevant in ELT now than ever before?

  2. I fear a can of worms might well have been opened here, Lindsay! There must be many more than just six slogans to define or describe teaching EFL, and none of them are particularly flattering or positive, whether used ironically or otherwise.

    I mean, what about, erm, … “You’ve got an Ology” for starters? That’s all you need to go and teach EFL, innit? OK, maybe it’s not that easy to conjure up six appropriate slogans or sayings…

  3. ““The appliance of science” (Zanussi). More relevant in ELT now than ever before?”

    I think just a tiny bit of history shows us that this is hardly the first time that ELT has been sure that it was finally on a firm scientific footing, and in my opinion neither will it be the last when most recent theories turn out to be tosh. The secret is to know which ones…

    TEFLtastic blog-

  4. “I’d like to teach the world to sing” – if you’re heavy on Jazz chants and drills, etc.

  5. “…this is hardly the first time that ELT has been sure that it was finally on a firm scientific footing, and in my opinion neither will it be the last when most recent theories turn out to be tosh.”

    Of course, the problem is perhaps that the theories themselves are not tosh, but that they are not applied wisely. The secret is in the appliance (sic) of the science.

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