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A. S. Hornby and 50 years of the Hornby Trust Richard Smith and Roger Bowers

A. S. Hornby’s life and legacy Richard Smith Biography

Albert Sydney Hornby (known to his friends and colleagues as ‘AS H’) was born on 10 August 1898, in Chester.1 He was educated at the local grammar school and then studied English at University College London. In 1923, he was recruited to teach English in a college in Kyushu, Japan. Although originally employed to teach literature, he found it equally if not more necessary to focus on the teaching of language. His developing interests in this area brought him into contact with the pioneering Institute for Research in English Teaching (IRET), which had been set up in Tokyo by Harold E. Palmer (1877–1949). Hornby became an active member, and he was invited by Palmer in 1931 to assist with IRET’s developing programme of vocabulary research. In 1934, Hornby moved to Tokyo, and, when Palmer left Japan in 1936, took over the leadership of I R E T research activities and the editorship of its Bulletin. He and his I R E T colleagues also brought to fruition a project initially conceived by Palmer, namely the compilation of a special dictionary for learners of English. Originally published in Tokyo in 1942, this dictionary was republished by Oxford University Press (OUP) in 1948 as A Learner’s Dictionary of Current English. It was retitled in 1952 The Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English and is the achievement for which Hornby is perhaps best remembered today.

E LT Journal Volume 66/1 January 2012; doi:10.1093/elt/ccr085

ª The Author 2011. Published by Oxford University Press; all rights reserved.


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A. S. Hornby can justly be considered the ‘father’ of UK-based E LT. He was the founder and first Editor of English Language Teaching (now known as E LT Journal); he established the ground rules for situational language teaching, the dominant E LT methodology in the United Kingdom up until the 1970s; he was the chief originator of the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary; and, last but not least, he set up the A. S. Hornby Educational Trust, which has just completed its 50th year of charitable activity. In the following article, Richard Smith provides an overview of Hornby’s career and important overall legacy to E LT and then Roger Bowers describes the history, nature, and current activities of the Hornby Trust.

Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hornby returned to England (in 1942) and immediately departed again to take up a British Council post as lecturer and teacher trainer in Teheran. When the war ended, he was appointed to the prestigious-sounding new position of Linguistic Adviser at British Council headquarters in London. However, as Hornby himself recalled, this meant chiefly desk-work: the reading of reports from British Council centres in many parts of the world, much correspondence, and dealing with files. [ . . . ] I felt that whatever knowledge and abilities I might possess were not being used in the best way, and I became impatient. (Hornby 1966: 3)

At the same time as he was editing English Language Teaching, Hornby was contributing in a major way to BBC ‘English by Radio’ programmes. He was also being courted by O U P. Following the successful publication of the Learner’s Dictionary in 1948, Hornby accepted an invitation from the Press to write materials full time, and in 1950 he resigned both from the Council and from the editorship of English Language Teaching, although he remained on its editorial advisory board. A series of influential publications then followed: A Guide to Patterns and Usage in English (1954), the popular course Oxford Progressive English for Adult Learners (three volumes, 1954–1956), and The Teaching of Structural Words and Sentence Patterns (four volumes, 1959– 1966). Primarily it was Hornby, through these publications and his early articles for English Language Teaching, who established the ‘situational approach’ which formed the mainstay of UK-based E F L until the advent of communicative language teaching in the 1970s. During the 1950s, in particular, Hornby engaged in several long lecture tours overseas for the British Council, travelling through the Middle East, Latin America, and South Asia. With the addition of Africa and South East Asia, these were to be the main beneficiary regions for aid from the A. S. Hornby Educational Trust, which Hornby set up originally in 1961 as a way to put a considerable proportion of his royalties to good use for the benefit of the ELT profession. Since 1969, when the first grants were made, the Trust has principally been devoted to providing scholarships and grants to selected teachers in developing countries for the purpose of furthering their studies, usually at Masters level, in the United Kingdom. Hornby’s primary motivation ‘as the slightly bewildered recipient of, in his view, a somewhat excessive return of worldly goods’ (Brown 1978: x) was to ‘put some of it back where it came from’ (ibid.). The last years of Hornby’s life were marked by a series of honours, notably the award of a Fellowship at University College London in 1976, an honorary degree at Oxford in 1977, and, in 1978, the publication of an 80th birthday festschrift, In Honour of A. S. Hornby (Strevens 1978), with which he was presented shortly before he died. As Howatt (1984: 317) has recorded, ‘He was greatly loved, kind, modest, and gently humorous’, and his influence on the profession has been profound. 2

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Practically minded as he was, and with his several years’ experience of editing the IRET Bulletin in the pre-war years, Hornby quickly came up with the idea of launching a new journal, English Language Teaching, and succeeded in persuading the head of the Education Division at the Council to fund the venture, despite post-war paper shortages.

Hornby’s legacy to ELT

English Language Teaching ( Journal)

Even on the basis of the above brief synopsis, three areas in which A. S. Hornby’s work had a lasting impact may already be clear: E LT Journal itself, situational language teaching, and his Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, each of which I shall consider in more detail now. The more specific, indeed, literal legacy represented by the A. S. Hornby Educational Trust (the ‘Hornby Trust’) will then be described by Roger Bowers, further below.

It is mainly due to Hornby’s close association with the periodical in its earliest years that he deserves to be called the ‘father’ of E LT in post-war Britain. During the first four years of its existence, Hornby was himself by far the most prolific contributor to English Language Teaching, writing 18 out of a total of 119 articles. As he later admitted, the first issue in particular was ‘something in the nature of a one-man band’ (Hornby 1966: 4). Of course, other contributors did start to come forward, for the most part Hornby’s British Council colleagues, with just a few articles being written by academic phoneticians. However, expertise was generally thin on the ground at this time, thus, even as late as 1952, R. T. Butlin, Hornby’s successor as Editor of English Language Teaching, lamented ‘the very limited number of experts available to contribute’.2 Before World War II, indeed, the teaching of English as a foreign language (E F L) was not much engaged in or thought about as a specific activity within the UK at all. Overall, the foundation of English Language Teaching signalled the start of a new era, both in the way it clearly indicated, for the first time, official (British Council) acknowledgment of the importance and specificity of E F L and due to the fact that it heralded and facilitated an increase in overall UK-based activity in the field. At the same time, while the early issues reveal an evident desire to establish a sense of ‘centre’—a sense in which the British possessed a special expertise in the area of E F L—such expertise did not yet, in reality run very deep, with a rather small group of men [sic] based in London being called upon to fulfil multiple roles, Hornby most prominently among them.

Situational language teaching

In fact, in the absence of a pre-existing UK power base for ELT or of academic applied linguistics as a source of authority, it was the pre-war overseas experience which Hornby, in particular, brought to bear that set the tone of UK-based E LT for many years to come. More than anyone else, it was Hornby, through early articles in English Language Teaching and books like The Teaching of Structural Words and Sentence Patterns (1959–1966), who laid the foundations for situational language teaching, the dominant methodology in UK-based E LT (and ELT as exported from the UK) before the rise of communicative language teaching (CLT) in the 1970s. Situational language teaching differed from audiolingual orthodoxy as developed in the A. S. Hornby and 50 years of the Hornby Trust


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In October 1946, the first issue of English Language Teaching was sent out around the world from the British Council’s offices in Hanover Street, London. Since then, the journal has continuously served as a focal point for the profession, to the extent indeed that its title, abbreviated to ‘ELT ’, came to be adopted as an umbrella term for the whole enterprise of teaching English as a foreign or second language. This abbreviation gained even wider currency after English Language Teaching was renamed English Language Teaching Journal (ELT J) in 1973 and then simply ELT Journal in 1981.

United States primarily in the stress it placed on setting up meaningful (though not communicative) classroom situations for the presentation and controlled practice of grammar and vocabulary, primarily by means of pictures, objects, and actions. Although it is rarely mentioned in accounts of teaching methods these days, situational language teaching retains its significance in having informed the first two stages of P-P-P (PresentationPractice-Production) in ‘weak versions’ of contemporary CLT, to a much greater extent, indeed, than has generally been recognized. From what sources of experience, though, did Hornby derive his authority to promote what he termed in his early ELT articles the ‘situational approach’? His own answer came in the following reminiscence, nearly at the end of his life:

Underlying Hornby’s confident assertion of certain ideas and principles during the immediate post-war years, then, were almost 20 years of pre-war classroom experience in Japan, combined with the lessons he had derived from active participation (over the same length of time) in the research and development work of IRET in Tokyo. In a wide variety of ways, indeed, Hornby’s post-war efforts to help establish a base of EFL expertise in the United Kingdom can be seen to have drawn sustenance from his importation of ideas and practices that had been thoroughly experimented with in pre-war Japan. These experiments were carried out by Japanese as well as foreign teachers like Hornby himself, under the auspices of IRET, an institute—or, more properly speaking, a research- and reform-oriented teachers’ association—which, it is no exaggeration to say, had constituted the only true ‘centre’ of E F L expertise worldwide during the pre-war period.

The Advanced Learner’s Dictionary

As Cowie (1998, 1999) has demonstrated, Hornby’s pioneering Advanced Learner’s Dictionary was itself the product of a long period of gestation within IR E T in pre-war Tokyo. Indeed, the 1948 O U P first edition of the dictionary was photographically reprinted with only a few details changed from the Idiomatic and Syntactic English Dictionary first issued by IRET’s publisher Kaitakusha in 1942. The dictionary was notable for the detailed information it provided on collocations and verb patterns (hence ‘idiomatic’ and ‘syntactic’ in the original title), as well as the distinction it made throughout between countable and uncountable nouns. On this basis, the dictionary aimed to be useful for productive (‘encoding’) purposes as much as for reception (‘decoding’), and it enjoyed such success following publication that Hornby was enabled to resign from the British Council in 1950 and devote himself full time to materials and further dictionary production. The dictionary remained fundamentally unchanged from the original 1942 edition until 1963, when a second edition was produced. Although correspondence in the O U P Archive shows that Hornby had hoped, from the outset, that ‘Oxford’ could appear in the title, this was not to be granted


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I felt that I had had this long experience—actually in the classroom, then I’d been round the world and seen conditions in many parts of the world. [ . . . ] So that gave me what I felt was a solid background. Then there was the research that we’d done in Tokyo. So I felt I was qualified to put something down on paper. I wouldn’t have dared to do that if I hadn’t had that experience. (Hornby 1974: 9)

until 1974, with the third edition Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English. After Hornby’s death in 1978, the pace of revision has steadily increased, with the current (2010) Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary being the eighth edition. This bears witness to the rapidity of recent technological developments but also, more particularly, to the phenomenal success the dictionary has continued to enjoy as O U P’s bestselling book in any domain, after the Bible. The following are the ‘great corner-stones of the Hornby legacy’—according to Cowie (1998: 265)—where learner’s dictionaries in general are concerned:

The A. S. Hornby Educational Trust Roger Bowers Overview

Richard Smith has set out three reasons why A. S. Hornby is remembered and respected worldwide. There is a fourth and unique reason why the Hornby name is known in so many countries around the world, and for which the term ‘legacy’ has a specific as well as a general resonance: the A. S. Hornby Educational Trust which, in November 2011, celebrated its 50th anniversary. Two decades before his death in 1978, A S H explored ways in which the continuing income from his publications and the future use of his intellectual property, including the Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (ALD), could not only support his family but also—through the creation of a charitable trust—provide support to teachers in the expanding profession that he had helped to shape. In 1961, as described more fully by Collier, Neale, and Quirk (1978: 3): ASH outlined a proposal of outstanding generosity: to set aside half his income for charitable purposes—purposes that were strictly relevant to his life-long work and in furtherance of it. He wanted, he said [. . .], to ‘have the money used for education and go back to the countries from which it comes’. [ . . . ]

[Earning the money that made such benevolence possible was, he said,] ‘not the result of any unusual ability on my part, I happen to have provided three dictionaries . . . and some other textbooks . . . all during a period of years when the demand for English throughout the world was expanding rapidly’. The Hornby Trust was set up on 17 November 1961 with an initial fund of ten pounds. The signatories of the Trust Deed were A S H himself, his O U P Editor and co-author Eric Parnwell, his close associate and a subsequent A. S. Hornby and 50 years of the Hornby Trust


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a balanced concern for the needs of the learner as reader and writer; a continuing recognition of the central importance of grammatical words and patterns; an insistence on descriptive rigour as well as usability; and, above all, perhaps, an acknowledgement of the crucial role in language learning and use—and thus in the dictionary record—of collocations and idioms.

Chairman of the Trust David Neale, and Professor Randolph Quirk of University College London, who became Chairman of the Trust following AS H’s death in 1978 and who—now Professor Lord Quirk of Bloomsbury—retains a close interest in the Trust’s affairs. The Trust Deed provides for a percentage of the royalties from the sales of the ALD and other applications of its intellectual property to be received by the Trust in perpetuity for:

This remains at the heart of what the Trust does, within a programme of charitable activity that has grown and diversified as its income and reserves have allowed and as the changing nature of the E LT profession around the world has made possible and necessary. Over the 50 years of the Trust, among many creative and supportive relationships, two in particular have continued to be of key and indeed irreplaceable importance: those with O U P and the British Council. OUP has throughout the 50 years not only met its legal obligation to support the Trust through royalty income: it has sustained a friendship and spirit of cooperation that is exemplified by those individuals who have worked within or been published by the Press and at various times also served as Trustees, including Lord Quirk, David Neale, Peter Collier (each a past Chairman of the Trust), and Professor Gabriele Stein, Tony Cowie, and Moira Pavelin (currently Trustees). The industry, professionalism, and ingenuity of the Press in taking the ALD from edition to edition have served the interests of the Trust well, as also has the diversification into the wide range of formats, ‘secondary versions’, and media and technology applications in which all publishers are now engaged.

The British Council, too, has a legally binding relationship with the Trust and one which has been unfailingly friendly and constructive. Much of the Trust’s programme of activity benefits not only from the Council’s unique worldwide network but also from its expertise in English teaching worldwide, its overseas contacts and awareness, and its capacity to provide parallel funding for activities funded by the Trust. Over the years, a number of former British Council specialists have served as Trustees and (myself included) continue to do so. Other long-standing relationships have extended the reach of the Trust: for example those with I AT E F L (as ATEF L, an early beneficiary of Trust funding), EU R A LE X (the European Association for Lexicography), V S O (Voluntary Service Overseas), and various E LT associations and academic departments as well as British Council offices worldwide where a particular local requirement has been identified.


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the advancement of the study of English Language and the teaching and learning of English as a Foreign Language in such manner and by such means as the Trustees shall from time to time think fit and in particular by providing scholarships and grants to be called ‘the Hornby Scholarships’ to enable foreign and commonwealth teachers to come to the United Kingdom and there to study the English Language.

In 2011, the aims of the Trust and our corporate relationships remain intact, as does our determination to remain, as ASH himself always was, excited by new demands, opportunities, and modes of delivery.

A timeline

The remainder of this summary of the Trust’s work offers some examples from our 50 years, before we take a brief glance into the future. In 1968, as recorded in the minutes of its annual meeting with the British Council, the Trust agreed its first programme of donations, supporting 52 teachers from ten different countries to attend ELT summer schools in the United Kingdom in 1969.

In 1971, the Trust funded a teaching post for a UK lecturer in Czechoslovakia: such grants were made for a number of years. The Trust also made its first grant to what is now I AT E F L to support its conference and the publication of its newsletter. By 1975, the Trust was able to support six scholarships for study in the United Kingdom, subsidize the costs of British lecturers abroad, and contribute to the ESL/E F L work of VS O. By the late 1970s, support was being given to a growing number of scholarships, posts abroad including in South Africa, various British Council E LT programmes, and I AT EF L conferences in the United Kingdom and abroad. AS H died at the age of 80 in 1978. ASH’s widow Marian Hornby then

became a Trustee, and prior to her death in 1987 gifted to the Trust her share of A S H’s O U P royalties. In the early 1980s, along with IATEFL and VSO, the English-Speaking Union was among the regular grant recipients. The Trust’s records for 1986 include the gift to a project in Brazil of an electric typewriter, along with new generation language laboratories and overhead projectors, the ‘hi-tech’ of the time! 1987 saw a contribution to the Cultura in Chile following earthquake damage. In 1989, the Trust contributed to the costs of the library at the Krakow Institute of English Philology; Eastern Europe has been a significant recipient of Hornby support. By the early 1990s, the Trust no longer funded summer schools in the United Kingdom or lecturer posts abroad, preferring to concentrate its resources on scholarships for studies in the UK—seven, for example, in 1991, eight in 1992—the number each year being guided by the funds available. Then, as now, the costs were shared with the British Council, whose network of overseas and UK offices proposed and managed the scholarships, reporting annually to the Trust on the Scholars’ achievement. A. S. Hornby and 50 years of the Hornby Trust


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In 1970, the first overseas candidate, from Kenya, was accepted for a one year scholarship at Moray House College, Edinburgh. Peter Collier, ASH’s Editor at O U P, replaced Eric Parnwell on the Board of Trustees and remains a Trustee in the Trust’s 50th year.

From 1995, the Trust has funded attendance costs at the biennial conference of E U RA L EX. Since 2000, the Trust—guided by the funds available from the continuing success, edition by edition, of the ALD—has concentrated its resources on a combination of scholarships, regional schools (British Council managed teacher education events overseas), materials development projects, alumni activities (proposed and conducted by Hornby Scholars), internet-enabled networking among teachers, and support to E LT-related projects managed by VS O directly or within the Comic Relief aid effort. In 2011–2012, the Trust is supporting:

The Trust now and looking forward

It is a testament to A S H’s philanthropic vision that the original intentions of the Trust remain as valid today as they were half a century ago, although some of the delivery systems have evolved and diversified! The Trustees remain committed to postgraduate education for key individuals as a means of supporting local and national initiatives in developing and transitional countries, and we remain committed therefore to providing scholarships for MA studies in the United Kingdom for carefully selected individuals from locations that vary from year to year. We value the increased contact with past Hornby Scholars that our internetworked world makes possible, and an important benefit is the worldwide contextual understandings that Hornby scholarships bring to the cooperating UK university departments. Wider outreach also continues to be offered through teacher workshops overseas, frequently operating on a regional basis. The Trustees benefit from the skills and presence worldwide of the British Council, not only through its network of overseas offices but also from its online presence and resources. We also value and support the long-standing collaboration with other organizations that share or complement our aims, in particular, these days, I AT E F L, VS O, and E U RA L E X. We remain committed to ASH’s wish for the Trust to stay ‘lean and mean’, although I suspect that is not a phrase that passed his lips (its usage is well captured in the eighth edition of the AL D!). With the benefit of the British Council relationship and co-funding from our other partner organizations, the Trust provides ‘more bang for your buck’ (yes, the eighth edition has this one, too).


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n the MA studies in the United Kingdom of 14 Hornby Scholars from Africa, Central and South East Asia, India/Sri Lanka, and Latin America; n six ‘Hornby schools’ in Bangladesh, India (three schools), Malaysia, and Mali; n VS O work in Rwanda and Tanzania (Zanzibar); n a major Comic Relief/V S O project for girls’ education and employment in northern Ghana; and n local projects by returned Scholars in India and (in collaboration with IATEFL) teachers’ associations in Albania and Cuba.

The Trust welcomes interest from individuals and organizations but does not respond to individual requests for financial support. Updates of the work of the Trust are available at and through the British Council at We work within the statutory framework that governs UK charities and trusts, and all our activity reports and organizational returns, including our accounts, are freely available on the Charity Commission website at http://

Notes 1 This account incorporates material from Smith (2005, 2007), where fuller indications of sources are provided. 2 Minutes, British Council English Studies Advisory Committee, 22 January 1952, BW 138/1, in Public Records Office, Kew. References Brown, J. 1978. ‘Foreword’ to P. Strevens (ed.). Collier, P., D. Neale, and R. Quirk. 1978. ‘The Hornby Educational Trust: the first ten years’ in P. Strevens (ed.). Cowie, A. P. 1998. ‘A.S. Hornby, 1898–1998: a centenary tribute’. International Journal of Lexicography 11/4: 251–68. Cowie, A. P. 1999. English Dictionaries for Foreign Learners: A History. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Hornby, A. S. 1966. ‘Looking back’. English Language Teaching 21/1: 3–6. Hornby, A. S. [with C. Ruse]. 1974. Hornby on Hornby. Tokyo: Oxford University Press [cassette tape and interview transcript]. Audio available online at

(Oxford University Press ELT Journal website, accessed on 7 November 2011). Howatt, A. P. R. 1984. A History of English Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Smith, R. C. 2005. ‘General introduction’ in R. C. Smith (ed.). Teaching English as a Foreign Language, 1936–1961: Foundations of E LT, Volume 1. Abingdon: Routledge. Smith, R. C. 2007. ‘The Origins of E LT Journal’. Available at about.html (Oxford University Press ELT Journal website, accessed on 7 November 2011). Strevens, P. (ed.). 1978. In Honour of A.S. Hornby. Oxford: Oxford University Press. The authors Roger Bowers C M G, OBE is the current Chairman of the A. S. Hornby Educational Trust.

Richard Smith (University of Warwick) is Deputy Chairman of the A. S. Hornby Educational Trust.

A. S. Hornby and 50 years of the Hornby Trust


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Against the backdrop of 50 years of activity which must have exceeded in duration and extent even ASH’s expectations, and in these straitened times, we aim to explore opportunities for philanthropic giving from within and also outside the E LT profession, in order to raise funds that will help sustain the work of the Trust. The need for education and training as part of the global agenda is no smaller now than 50 years ago. Indeed, geographically and quantitatively it is far, far greater. There can only be one ASH: a unique teacher, academic, lexicographer, visionary, and humanitarian. But there must be others in our profession who share ASH’s aims and can contribute to their continuing realization.


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