How Sherlock Holmes has made me a better instructor

Jeroen Bode

Archetypes of classroom personae: Mine, approaches Woody Allen (Jewish, US Northeast), whereas an erstwhile colleague from Cowboy Country was a ringer for Will Rogers. A friend, who is the son of a preacher, in the classroom sounds like, well, the Son of a Preacherman. However, yours is the freedom to choose, even from a culture and time outside your own, as Justice Ministry-licensed translator, legal researcher, and University of Tsukuba faculty Jeroen Bode has done. What pedagogical mysteries can a fictional character unlock?

How Sherlock Holmes has made me a better instructor 

The lessons to be gained from Sherlock Holmes are different for each reader depending on background, experience and occupation. Donning disguises and investigating a crime scene is not a likely concern for most L2 teachers and students, but his other trademarks are. For example, Sherlock Holmes’ way of listening to the whole story: Although it is easier to take the “just the facts” approach of Joe Friday and correct errors as they occur, the Holmes technique helps me order all the elements of a student’s statement. This facilitates remembering singular details and finding weak points in statements that are the source of errors. Sherlock Holmes is also a very organized thinker inspiring students to collect their thoughts in a clear and organized way. 

Reading his stories in their various editions can also increase competence. Students use both graded readers (Oxford editions) for the general story line, and the original (Conan Doyle, 2007) for checking pre-selected sections. With these sections, one can check things left out in the process of intralingual translation (Jakobson, 1959), or rewording text in the same language. Nation and Wang (1999) observe that the graded reader could be a first step towards reading unsimplified texts. Applied to the different Sherlock Holmes editions language learners can observe that graded readers use high frequency vocabulary, while the original uses low frequency vocabulary in the text body. In language learning, comparing similar sections shows a difference in the choice of words and the way abbreviation can help comprehension. With this as a practice, students can use similar methods of reading when complex first language sources are used. And, lastly, are his words that are a constant inspiration for me: “Education never ends” (Conan Doyle, 2007, p. 806).


Conan Doyle, A. (1989). Sherlock Holmes Short Stories (C. West, ed.). Oxford: Oxford University press.

Conan Doyle, A. (1989). The Hound of the Baskervilles (P. Nobes, ed.). Oxford: Oxford University press.

Conan Doyle, A. (2007). The original illustrated ‘Strand’ Sherlock Holmes, The complete facsimile edition. Bath (UK.): Robert Frederick Limited.

Conan Doyle, A. (2010). Sherlock Holmes: The Sign of Four (J. Page, ed.). Oxford: Oxford University press.

Jakobson, R. (1959/2000). On linguistic aspects of translation. In L. Venuti (Ed.). The translation studies reader 2000 (pp. 113 - 118). London: Routledge.

Nation, I.S.P., & Wang, K. (1999). Graded reader and vocabulary. Reading in a foreign language, 12(2), 355-80.