Sweet Words vs Monstrosities

More than a century ago, Henry Sweet wrote The Practical Study of Languages and through it, criticized the existing methods of the day, much as we still do now.   The book's myth-busting objectives reviews phonetics, alphabets and pronunciation issues before diving into methods, grammar, vocabulary and texts. 

In fact, while scanning through the text, I honestly couldn't help but think I bet he'd have been a blogger if he were around today.  His prose is tight, easy to read and the language direct.

His obvious annoyance at the 'insufficient knowledge of the science of language' (1899:3) like my own, literally jumps off the page.  Given that this post is part 2 of No Evidence for a Fixed Aquisition Order, I'll hone in on this one quote which I wanted to share with you, for reflection, as it neatly wraps up the debate on authenticity vs manufactured texts:

...the dilemma is that if we try to make our texts embody certain definite grammatical categories, the texts cease to be natural: they become either trivial, tedious and long-winded, or else they become more or less monstrosities' (1899:192).

Really sounds like he was describing Headway long before it ever arrived to influence all the other copy-cat productions from then on and into today.  The question is though, will it influence tomorrow's or can we teachers at least try to stop it before it does?


Image credit
Wikimedia commons, wolf in sheep's clothing

Sweet, H. (1899). The Practical Study of Languages.  London, UK. J.M. Dent & Co.
(Available for free online from Google Books)

7 Responses to “Sweet Words vs Monstrosities”

  • tbs says:
    January 29, 2012

    I love the connection between century-old work and today's industry, Karenne--very valuable and ultimately insightful connections indeed. History, long enough broadened, contains so much of the same.

    This disgust surrounding Headway I've seen throughout a number of blogs is so interesting to me. It's really not on the Top 5 coursebooks list in use around here during my entire career, so I have very little interaction with it. I am being influenced to pre-judge though. ;)

  • Tyson Seburn says:
    January 30, 2012

    Ack... this use of my Google account has prompted me to update it. I hope it does.

  • Kathy Fagan says:
    January 30, 2012

    I can't over how relevant that quote is, I'm not sure whether to be reassured because today's issues are nothing new, or to be dismayed because we haven't gotten farth er along in addressing them!

  • Cristina Ciuleanu says:
    January 31, 2012

    Hi!Very nice post again!
    I guess the issue is not a certain course book, but the English language itself.We cannot "live the language" if we search the components,if,instead of expressing ourselves, we count the "past simple" or quantify the occurrence of certain grammar items.
    Why do we need to learn a language?Because we would enjoy making ourselves understood by our fellow humans/friends/acquaintances,we have fun in sharing feelings, agreements or greetings in a different language from our mother-tongue.
    The teaching process should always focus on this rather than assuring a high-profile grammar explanation. Imagine yourselves in a forest, the cool spring wind, the leaves swishing, the sun shinning...Now start counting only the 25 inches stones in your path...:)

    February 05, 2012

    Hi Christina, I couldn't agree more. Language learning is a social process - too often it gets look at analytically from the a linguistic perspective and ultimately this distracts the learner from the main function, i.e. to communicate and to be communicated to/with


    February 05, 2012

    Hi Kathy,

    I think I'd go with dismay :)

  • Stephen Greene says:
    February 16, 2012


    A great blog post.

    I was saying something similar about the furore over dogme in that I am sure I heard very similar arguments about the Lexical Approcah and other new ideas when they first came out.

    It seems there really is nothing new under the sun.



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