(Guest speaker in April 2013)
How did you first get into EFL?
I think like most people – a little by accident! I’m a classics graduate and studied classical Greek and philosophy, so clear opportunities weren’t too numerous. I went on honeymoon to Jordan and got a job (accidentally!) there at a University teaching English, and then at a Palestinian camp school. It was a great experience, so when I got back to the UK that’s what I decided to get into.
Has the way you teach evolved or developed since your earlier years? If so, how?
That’s an interesting one. I think more than anything it’s the people who have evolved rather than my own teaching. I started with group teaching in a language school, and slowly evolved towards more needs based teaching and one to one teaching, which is what I do now along with materials writing.
Do you have favourite level or ‘type’ of English to teach?
I really miss teaching mixed nationality groups of beginners. I’ve never laughed so much in all my life! You don’t find many of them now - people’s levels have moved up and I’ve moved away from that sort of group teaching, but that would definitely be my first choice.
You mention task based learning as a particular area of interest. What about it interests you?
I think everyone is and everyone should be interested in needs based teaching – that is, responding to the needs of their students. I realised early in my career that task based learning was one way to do that, that is, to create a task that simulated what people really needed to do In English. I think we know that when we hit the mark in that way, and we teach students something they’re going to need to say and do, then that’s the learning holy grail. They want it, they need it, and they love it.
Your main focus now is writing materials. What do you feel are the key ingredients to a successful course book?
The key thing for me now is putting a strong emphasis on cultural diversity. Course books up to now have tended to produce a rather one dimensional view of the world. Whether that reflects the market into which the books sell I don’t know, but I think they’re missing something. I think by presenting stories from around the world and different cultural contexts, it actually helps learning. It allows people to think about their own cultures and assumptions, and it creates a more critical pedagogy. As a course book consumer, it was always my priority to have interesting stories, and the same is true now as a materials producer. If I can get a good, engaging subject, I’m happy.
What changes have you noticed in EFL over your career?
I think these things are cyclical. I started off in a rich period in EFL history, with a lot of new methods and approaches coming out. I recently heard a talk by Jim Scrivener in which he spoke about ‘demand high teaching’, and I was quite taken aback because what he was describing was exactly how I was taught to teach back in 1986 or 1987. He said that we had lost a lot of the rigour of teaching, and that we needed to bring it back. I couldn’t agree more – I’m sorry that that aspect of teaching has gone out of it.
Do you speak any foreign languages? If so, do you think the fact that you’re a teacher helped you learn better?
As I told you, I studied classical language, so I do speak French. Also, teaching in France helped me pick it up. I haven’t formally learnt another language yet, but I’d love to have the experience of doing that. Having to speak in another language has certainly given me more respect for teachers and the patience they need!
What changes do you envisage in the future of EFL?
The big thing at the moment is the move towards digitisation. To be honest, I haven’t quite worked out what that means for the classroom and the way teaching happens. It’s interesting to know what effect it will have -whether digital material will replace face to face teaching, for instance. There have been various attempts at that in the past, but it hasn’t particularly worked. But digital media is the way it’s going and it’s hard to predict exactly where it’s going.
What are your personal plans for the future?
I’ve been writing nonstop for two and a half years, so I’m off on a month long holiday to the West Coast of America. I guess I’ve been inspired by some of the places mentioned in the National Geographic material! After that I’ve got some work on an English for Academic purposes course, and then I’ll be doing more writing, which is what I like doing.
What do you think of Malta?
I’ve really been in and out very quickly this time. I arrived last night and am off again in a few hours, so I haven’t really had much chance to look around. I’d love a bit more time here – from what I see it looks fabulous. That old town, what is it, Mdina? Fabulous. I can see Malta has a very rich history, and the people are very nice. Of all the places I’ve come to talk, this has definitely been the most animated crowd.
What do you like to do away from EFL?
I’m quite big on sport. I play a lot of tennis, and I swim or cycle most days. Increasingly, I like nature – weirdly. I like taking myself to the hills and walking places.