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Chaos and dynamism in English Language Teaching The Fractal Approach


The Fractal Approach to English Language Teaching is a concept, a vision and a work in progress.

This view of the future of ELT has its roots in the mathematics of fractal geometry and their graphical representation.

The mathematical groundwork was carried out by the father of fractal graphics, Benoit B. Mandelbrot who gave his name to the most famous fractal of all, the Mandelbrot set.

It was in the early eighties that educator and linguist Maurice Claypole began to explore the parallels between these geometric forms and the models we use for describing human language, but it was not until advances in computing power made it possible to visualise and observe the wonder of these amazing forms that the true significance of this analogy became apparent.

Towards the end of the nineteen eighties, Michael Barnsley and others developed the theories still further and produced fantastic colour images which illustrated how remarkably similar these amazing forms are to the shapes found in nature.

Maurice Claypole renewed his association with these exotic notions when in 1992 he was asked to translate a book on business process re-engineering. The German-speaking author, Prof. Hans-Jürgen Warneke, Head of the Fraunhofer Geselleschaft, drew parallels between fractal forms and the development of production processes.

The resultant work was published under the title The Fractal Company and it was whilst working on this book that Claypole refined his ideas on the related concepts of chaos and dynamism in language teaching.

The basic ideas were passed on to the ELT community during a series of publications, conference papers, talks and workshops held between 1999 and 2004 after which the author moved on to other topics and projects, whilst still experimenting with the notions of chaos and dynamism in the background and developing methods of implementing the theory.

In early 2010, the time seemed right to return to this topic and publish selected content and material from talks and workshops in book form, adding a new chapter on how to implement the Fractal Approach in everyday language teaching.

As a result, the author was invited to present his vision of the future of ELT as the opening plenary of the English UK Teachers’ Conference in London in November 2011.

A modified version of this plenary talk was given at the BESIG Annual Conference in Stuttgart in November 2012.

The story continues…