TWO FABLES FOR OUR TIME: designing L2 teaching syllabuses:

Vivian Cook 
SLA Home

Dunsford Papers in ELT Course Design, British Council, 1981


Once upon a time a fox was strolling beside a stream when he saw a fat hen sitting on the other side.

'What's it like your side of the stream? asked the fox.

'Oh it's beautiful,' said the hen, 'the grass is lovely and green, there's cool shade beneath the trees and it's quiet and peaceful.'

'Tell me more,' said the fox, who was now very interested.

'Well' said the hen 'just behind that little copse is our henhouse. Thirty-five of us live there and it's very friendly.'

'Fantastic' said the fox and he jumped into the stream to get to the paradise on the other side. But he'd forgotten one thing: he couldn't swim and so he drowned before he could reach the other side.

Moral: It's better to know how to get there than to know all about the place you're going to.

Interpretation: It is more important when designing syllabuses to think about the processes of language learning than the description of the target.



Many years ago the King of Ruritania decided that it was time to find a bride for his daughter and he announced a competition. 'The man who can bring me the most beautiful rosetree shall have her hand and half my kingdom,' he proclaimed.

Now there was a miller who had two sons, both of whom decided to win the competition. The eldest son looked at all the roses in the miller's garden and he found that while one had beautiful leaves, another had perfect flowers, and still another the most graceful stem. So he took the leaves from one, the blooms from another, and the stem from a third and cunningly stitched them together. But when he took it to the king, the leaves started to curl and the blooms were fading for lack of moisture. The second son, however, put a seed in a pot and bided his time. He watered it and fertilised it until it was the most handsome rose tree that anyone had seen. And the king was delighted to give him his daughter and the keys to his kingdom.

Moral: Some things can't be built up from bits, they have to grow.

Interpretation: The learner's language evolves through systems of his own, not by adding one piece of the target language at a time; hence a syllabus should reflect the stages and systems of the learner, not just the description of target competence.


[Footnote: it is not in actual fact a good idea to grow roses from seeds!]