The Littlest Hobo (And Other Unsung Language Teaching Heroes)

Browsing the British Airways Business Life in-flight magazine (as you do), I noticed a feature called Think like…, where unlikely characters from everyday life or entertainment are co-opted as surprisingly profound business gurus.

This got me thinking about all the characters from the entertainment world who we could learn from if only we were more aware of their relationship to language teaching.

With this in mind, here are four long-hidden language teaching gems recovered from my childhood.

Fair Warning

This post should not be taken seriously  😉

The Littlest Hobo


Wanderlust keeps this one on the road but he ends up staying much longer in places than originally intended.

He soon realizes that here are many out there who would benefit from his organizational and communication skills, and he sets out in search of clients.

Forging a niche as a trainer specializing in general English and Young Learners, he focuses on audio-lingual approaches, eschewing the use of L1: he doggedly refuses to communicate in their mother tongue with his students, sticking with the target language even when they are clearly barely CEF A1 in this language.

Interestingly, his method works effectively and efficiently, as his students reach remarkably high levels of receptive competence in the language within the space of an episode – sometimes within a scene.

In this way, the littlest hobo is one of the most powerful positive arguments for Krashen’s input and Long’s interaction hypotheses.

See also: Benji, Flipper, Gentle Ben

The Incredible Hulk


A mild-mannered and analytical advocate of cognitive approaches to learning, he is trying to hide a volatile other self which emerges under the right – or is that wrong? – conditions.

Afflicted by the incapacity to control his primitive pre-language roots, he is forced to walk the earth alone until he can control his condition.

His problem? He is thrown into uncontrollable rage and becomes a monster of unleashed fury whenever his students fail to form a valid hypothesis from the linguistic data – guided discovery tasks become Russian Roulette for his learners as he tries to cling to his faith in Lewis’ Observe-Hypothesise-Experiment paradigm, despite the obvious negative affect that his transformations arouse in his learners.

One day he hopes to find a cure, little suspecting that a small group of Humanistic practitioners on the other side of the world may be able to help him come to terms with his true teaching nature…

See also: Mad Max, John Rambo, Professor Higgins

Caine (Kung Fu)


Once a cloistered disciple studying the ways of minimalism and focus, he is forced into the outside world after stringent rites of passage which throw him back on his own resources and test his native cunning.

Wandering the earth, he witnesses the damage wrought by an obsession with material things and the degradation in human relationships and communication to which this leads.

Initally reticent to get involved, he is slowly stirred to decisive action. Taking a firm stand against the tyranny of materialism and top-down decisionmaking, he establishes the conditions for true dialogue to emerge and for those around him to self-organize for a more communicative future.

That he himself speaks very little may betray some roots in Silent Way, and his affinity for Far Eastern philosophies may suggest connections with other linguists who worked in the region, such as Harold Palmer and A. S. Hornby.

See also: Hong Kong Phooey, Top Cat, Yoda

The A-Team


They are a group of highly trained specialists who were charged with crimes against ELT that they did not commit (rumors abound – but it seems connected with Interactive Whiteboards or DVD ROMs in coursebooks). Working incognito using a variety of usernames and Avatars, they maintain a presence worldwide, swooping in (often virtually) whenever and wherever help is needed.

Their modus operandi is straightforward: complete a thorough needs analysis, engage with the local population, identify those resistant to change, and eliminate them spectacularly using a range of co-opted technologies ranging from #Twitter to #SecondLife.

They love it when a plan comes together (which may explain the awkward relationship with other, less plan-oriented mavericks) and they pity the fool who gets in their way. So if you have a problem, if no-one else can help, and if you can find them using #Google, then – maybe – you can …

See also: Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, Joe 90, Six Million Dollar Man

Have you identified any covert ELT icons out there? Comic, cartoon, small or silver screen?


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