An Interview With ...Jon Hird
Jon Hird has been a teacher and teacher trainer for over twelve years and during this time he has taught in France, India and Vietnam. He is particularly involved with Inside Out, having contributed to the Student Books, co-authored the Intermediate and Advanced Teacher Books and also written for the Resource Packs. Jon is a co-author of Move Upper-Intermediate and Advanced and has also co-authored resource books for ELT in Spanish secondary schools. He is currently involvedin several other ELT writing projects.
How and why did you choose to go into EFL teaching?
During the Easter holiday of my PGCE back in the late 80s a friend knocked on my door early one morning as asked if I fancied doing some English teaching to earn a bit of money during the holidays. I’d never done it before, but said yes, why not and asked him when. ‘Five minutes’ was the reply. Unshaven and half-asleep I embarked upon my career.
What is your favourite area of language teaching?
A little bit of everything. But I guess I’m particularly interested in grammar in the broad sense, not so much the mechanics of the structures, but the linguistic choices we make. In terms of material, I’m interested in the whole issue of engagement with the language and using it meaningfully as opposed to going through the motions.
Do you have a preferred level?
Again, a little bit of everything. It’s important to teach all levels, especially for a bit of a change after teaching one level for a while. But in a word, the higher the better.
You have taught in a number of countries. Which country have you most enjoyed teaching in?
I’ve taught a little bit in Paris at the beginning of my career and more recently in Macedonia. Both were great fun. Paris is an amazing city to experience and it was equally great to spend time in Macedonia, which is a place people tend not to visit that much. Also, I’ve been very lucky to have given workshops and talks in a number of countries and regions that I’d normally probably never visit, such as South America, Russia and a number of ex-Soviet States. I don’t think I can choose a favourite.
From your experience, which nationality has the most difficulty in learning English?
It’s probably more down to the individual and previous learning experiences than the nationality. However, as a sweeping generalisation, I’d say that the closer the learner’s L1 and culture is to English and English-speaking countries, the easier it is.
You are a teacher, teacher trainer and author. If you could choose just one of these, which would you choose.
As above, a little bit of everything.
What do you find the most rewarding part of your job?
In teaching, seeing learners learning and being able to express themselves. In writing, hearing that activities that I’ve written go down well and are popular.
What is the most interesting thing that has happened to you in your career?
Back in the late 90s I had a small class and the students were each giving a ten-minute talk about anything they wanted. An elderly lady, whose husband was a visiting professor at Oxford University, was in the class. After a few minutes of her speaking we realized she was talking about her time as young girl when she was separated from her family and sent to Belsen concentration camp. She never saw her parents or brothers and sisters again. It was deeply moving and many in the class were quite tearful. In a way, it is the greatest moment I’ve had in a classroom.
You lead a very busy life, what do you like to do in your spare time?
I play the drums in a band. In a previous life I always wanted to be a drummer. And I go and see The Mighty Millers (that’s Rotherham United) when possible!
Do you think that the internet will dominate language learning and will eventually make EFL teachers obsolete?
I don’t know, but at the moment my thinking is that this won’t happen. I don’t believe the Internet can replace the empathy and response-ability of a real live teacher.
What are your reactions to Malta in general and Maltese EFL teachers in particular?
I had a great couple of days in Malta and enjoyed giving the sessions. All the teachers I met were very professional and dedicated. It seems there is a very positive and thriving EFL community. Why come to rainy old UK, when you can go to Malta!