F.L. Billows, 1992

(Photograph by Hans-Joachim Lechler)

A BBC Interview

GREAT BRITISH Harold E. Palmer * Michael West * F.L. Billows * A.S.Hornby LANGUAGE TEACHERS

F.L. Billows

"Since 1974 IATEFL Conferences have been enlivened by a rather colourful character who sees himself 'primarily as an entertainer' and whose personal life would necessitate an article in itself. Though modern-day EFL may seem well-established and flourishing, it has not always been the case. Lionel Billows has not only seen EFL develop worldwide but has played a significant part in that development."

"Lionel is one of those grand old characters of whom it is always said that 'they don't make them like that any more'."

"A man of many parts: teacher, trainer, author, poet, but above all an entertainer!"

(From: Lionel Billows: EFL pioneer, IATEFL Newsletter, around 1980) Read the whole article.

"It was not until 1962, when I had been teaching EFL for some years in Spain and South America, that I attended a short course in London given by the charismatic F.L. Billows. I found this valuable and exciting, but would not have done so to the same extent if I had not been able to relate it to previous experience."

(John H.M. Butler in a letter to the editor of the IATEFL Newsletter, Dec 1996/Jan 1997, p. 27)

Eine ehemalige Studentin erinnert sich

Im großen Hörsaal der Erziehungswissenschaftlichen Fakultät  war eines Tages eine Schulstunde zu sehen. Eine 5. Klasse sollte die Präpositionen in, on, under, among, between, etc. verstehen und am Ende der Stunde anwenden können.

Mr. Billows gelang es, die ca. 20 Schüler in Bann zu halten, obwohl ca. 200 Studenten als Zuschauer anwesend waren. Er hüpfte auf die Schulbänke, kroch unter Tische, arbeitete mit Gestik und Mimik - am Ende der Stunde konnte jeder Schüler diese besagten Präpositionen anwenden, richtig aussprechen und Sätze damit bilden. ...

Er schauspielerte gerne ... Der Merchant of Venice wurde von ihm in allen Hauptrollen dargestellt und interpretiert. Wir Studenten hatten im Literaturseminar unterhaltsamen Unterricht, der uns das Englischstudium mit viel Schmunzeln verbinden ließ.

Und wer kennt einen Englischdozenten, der einer frierenden Studentin im Hörsaal sein Hemd leiht?

Er selbst unterrichtete im Unterhemd weiter.

What a man!

... und man stelle sich vor: In einer 7. Hauptschulklasse wurde in zwei Englischstunden pro Woche und das ca. zehn Wochen lang der vereinfachte Merchant of Venice gelesen. Die Schüler verkleideten sich dazu und ließen sich nach der gelungenen Aufführung fotografieren.

[Eine Studentin macht das zum Thema ihrer Zulassungsarbeit Shakespeare in der Hauptschule.]

F.L. Billows
and other writings

Billows, F.L. (1961), The Techniques of Language Teaching, London: Longman (unfortunately out of print -
however see note on Richard Smith doon belaa)

One of the best books that have been written about language teaching - if not THE best. A classic - and more modern than some which have been published since. An eye-opener for a whole generation of English teachers all around the world. Still a must for any language teacher who wants to enjoy teaching and make his or her learners enjoy learning. An enjoyable and fascinating read, never dull, full of practical advice and sound theory, bursting with life - like his author.

"On rereading Billows' The Technique of Language Teaching (1961), one is immediately struck by its modernity and by the freshness of its insights. Much of what has occurred in English language teaching since it was written is foreshadowed in its pages. Billows' ideas, submerged in the structural trough, have resurfaced in the communicative wave." (Alan Maley (1990), Visuals and imagination, Cross Currents CVII (2), p. 155)
"I have always thought Lionel's book was a trail-blazer and deserves not to be forgotten. When I was starting out in 1962, it was about the only really useful thing on the shelves. Parts of it have retained their freshness and vitality, and still have something important to say, especially to new teachers, I think." (Alan Maley (1998), Personal communication)

[I have been informed by Richard Smith that 'out of print' is only half true. Dr Smith has republished the book together with Michael West's Teaching English in Difficult Circumstances (first published in 1960) in

Smith, R.C. (ed.) 2005. Teaching English as a Foreign Language, 1936-1961: Foundations of ELT, Volume 6: West and Billows. Abingdon: Routledge. ISBN: 978-0-415-29969-5]

Apart from 'the book', F.L. Billows has published numerous articles, he has written several hundred (autobiographical) stories, and poems in English and German. There are also several chapters from two planned books, one on teacher training, the other on the need for political education in schools.

Many of the stories seem suitable for classroom work, in fact, they have been written with adult advanced learners in mind. So far they have not been published in print. With the author's consent (given on 26 December 1997) a number of them will be published for the first time on this Webpage - see Stories.

F.L. Billows

On 5 April, 1992, F.L. Billows (then 83) was interviewed on BBC Radio 4. Listen here to the interview. (The mp3-file was taken from a cassette which Mr Billows kindly sent me at the time.)

The Glass and not the Wine
MP3-File (13 MB - 14 minutes)

Frederic Lionel Billows


F.L. Billows lived in Neuhaus, Pegnitz (Germany).

(Main sources: Two Curricula Vitae; Letter to Helm von Faber, 7.3.89)

See also the detailed essay on Billows' life by Dr Richard Smith at

Don't miss Mark Andrews' Edublog on Billows, his book and his admirers:

Between 1974 and 1995 F.L. Billows repeatedly gave lectures and demonstrations at the Reutlingen and Schwäbisch Gmünd Colleges - fascinating and inspiring students and teachers alike. The last time he came to Schwäbisch Gmünd was in June 1995. (see the invitation poster)

Last updated 25.9.2013
Burkhard Leuschner