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 ย ๐Ÿ˜‰

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 trainedย 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?


  • Knightrider

    “one man can make a difference”.

    If you get fired from one ELT job have plastic surgery, get a nice car and go freelance.

    Buck Rogers

    If you wait 100 years you’ll be fashionable again.

    Don’t keep up with the trends just rehash old ideas with a new name.


    Always have your costume ready or a Plan B.

    • Though to be fair:

      Knight Rider does show how technology can steal the show! (best keep my head down for that one, but come on, KITT was way cooler than the Hoff…

      Buck Rogers I see more positively – no need to jump on Pedagogic Bandwagons, just stick to what you know works and let time catch up with you!

      Superman is the best, though – behind our everyday, mild-mannered teaching personas, there beats the heart of a Superhero ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Hilarious.
    I think there is a novel in this (thinking of a comedic intro to the main movements of ELT… it could be studied in schools across the world as ‘Sophie’s world’ has been for philosophy!)

    • Thanks Thomas (though the choice of a full stop rather than an exclamation mark after ‘hilarious’ does leave me wondering… ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Maybe with enough comments, we could come up with a novella, at least!

  • Shaft

    “I got to feeling like a machine, and that’s no way to feel”

    =teaching from the book


    “I’ve found from past experiences that the tighter your plan, the more likely you are to run into something unpredictable”

    =say no more


    “Whatever happened to that flyin’-by-the-seat-of-your-pants stuff?”

    =Dogme teaching

    Quantum Leap

    “If we knew the unknown, the unknown wouldn’t be unknown.”

    =Pointless anticipating class development


    “Who loves ya, baby?”

    =positive reinforcement

    There’s a clear Dogme strand here I think. Perhaps a long conspiracy dating back decades which has been subliminally drilled into us via 70/80’s TV series and is only now revealing itself. But who could be behind such a global conspiracy?

  • One more from the files of Police Squad.

    This refers to post lesson FB of a Dogme class:

    Mr. V: That was nice work. You took a big chance doing that.
    Frank Drebin: Well, you take a big chance getting up in the morning, crossing the street, or sticking your face in a fan.

    This could be a tag line on Teaching Unplugged????

    • Very true, very true… Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go stick my head in a … ๐Ÿ˜‰

      One of my next posts is going to be about risk-aversion, funnily enough, so this was a funny and timely reminder! Thanks!

  • Excellent!

    What about Inspector Gadet?

    Gadet always comes out ahead at the end and it appears it’s all thanks to his wonderful technology. Really though we know that his students (Penny and Brain) did all the work and foiled the evil plots (mechanical rote learning) through interaction and their own cognitive powers. It’s like one giant crime-fighting ZPD.

  • 2 more from David Brent in The Office:

    I don’t live by “The Rules” you know, and if there’s one person who has influenced me in that way of thinking, someone who is a maverick, someone who does ‘that’ to the system then it’s Ian Botham.

    =A new Dogme guru perhaps?

    Some people are intimidated when talking to large numbers of people in an entertaining way. Not me.

    =Reference to TDSIG discussion on ‘fun’.

    You just have to accept that some days you are the pigeon, and some days you are the statue.

    =Say no more. We’ve all felt like the statue from time to time.

    • I have to say I might need to draw the line at David Brent being a Dogme guru – a distinction between self-organizing emergence and disorganizing collapse ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Funny though! Keep ’em coming!

  • We’re onto something with Beefy…

    “Bloody medieval most of them” [on the English cricket administration, 1995]

    =old fashioned methods still used in some depts/schools

    “There are times when you feel you simply can’t go on.”

    =end of term/after an hour of photocopying/after lecturing grammar for 2 hours

    “What’s happened has happened, so what can we do to make it better for tomorrow and the day after? That’s why we’re here.”

    =reflective practice.

    “Young people need models, not critics…”

    =ease off on focussing on errors so look at what they could say instead.

  • More classic sports people and their TEFLy musings:

    “There’s no in between – you’re either good or bad. We were in between.” Gary Lineker

    =good reflection and honesty

    โ€œMost people doing the decathlon these days are quite boring, so people don’t relate to them.โ€ Daley Thompson

    =change ‘the decathlon’ to ‘teaching’

    There’s a book here or perhaps an IATEFL presentation waiting to happen.

    Could you incorporate this into the CELTA course? An ‘alternative’ reading list?

    • Phil, you’re incredible! Deadly funny and apposite to boot. I think you’d be just the person to do this at pecha kucha night at IATEFL Glasgow!

      It would make a cracking half hour diversion for tired conference goers in its own right too!

      As for making it CELTA recommended reading: consider it done ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Cheers. Sounds tempting.

    It is definitely worth investigating EFL from different angles and then you realise every field has the same problems, even the A-Team.

    I’ll leave you with some darts quotes to mull over:

    “That was like throwing three pickled onions into a thimble!” Sid Waddell

    =teaching communicatively without Dogme

    “We couldn’t have more excitement if Elvis walked in and asked for a chip sandwich.” Sid Waddell

    =the first Dogme class

    “Before a match I like to relax with 25 bottles of Holsten Pils and six steak n’ kidney pies”. Andy Fordham

    =the essential pre-Dogme class warmer

    • ROTFL!!! Phil, this is just about the best present I’ve ever had! BA, Dogme, satire and eulogy all in one ๐Ÿ™‚

      I really hope you continue this blog – I#d definitely subscribe: there are a few questions I’d love to send BA as a comment ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • “I understood the rules, I knew what I was supposed to do, but I didn’t. I couldn’t. I was compelled to stay, compelled to disobey. And now, here I stand because of you, Mr. Anderson. Because of you, I’m no longer an Agent of this system. Because of you, I’ve changed. I’m unplugged. A new man, so to speak. Like you, apparently, free. ”

    Agent Smith.

    The hidden EFL gurus continue to spread the DOGME word.

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