An Interview with ... Tim Bowen


Tim Bowen is currently Course Director of the Executive School at International House in Hastings. He combines this role with teacher training and trainer training both at International House Hastings and at in-service seminars in various countries. Originally a student of Slavic languages, he began his EFL career in the then Czechoslovakia and, after completing a PGCE in TEFLA at UCNW in Bangor, North Wales, was an EFL lecturer for 5 years in the former Yugoslavia. 

Among the countries which have not disintegrated as a result of his working there (Tim’s words not mine) are Hungary, Germany, Poland, Italy, Greece, Switzerland, Belgium, Portugal, Finland and Spain. 

Since 1981 he has been involved in teaching and teacher training (RSA/CELTA, RSA/DELTA and non-native speaker training courses) at International House, Hastings and in 1990 was involved in setting up the schools which have now become International House Prague and International House Brno respectively. In the same year he completed an MPhil thesis on Second Language Reading Skills at Southampton University. 

In cooperation with Jonathan Marks of the British Council in Gdansk, he has published The Pronunciation Book (Pilgrims/Longman) and Inside Teaching (Heinemann). A solo effort, Build your Business Grammar, was published by LTP in 1997. 

He is a regular visitor to Malta and has led 4 very successful, enjoyable and useful seminars for MATEFL over the last 8 years.


How and why did you choose to go into EFL teaching? 

I didn’t actually choose it, it just happened. I was a post graduate student in Czechoslovakia and my meagre grant wasn’t enough to live on so I started teaching English to supplement my income 

You are involved in various aspects of the EFL business: teaching; teacher training; trainer training; CELTA course assessment; lecturing; writing books; managing. If you had to choose just one of these, which would you choose? Probably teacher training because it combines language teaching and working with teachers, the best of both worlds! 

Which is your favourite area of language teaching? 

Translation and comparative linguistics – I love other languages. 

Which is your least favourite area? 

It has to be the whole area of syllabus and course design I really can’t stand it probably because I’m very disorganised. 

Which is your preferred level when teaching? 

Either complete beginners or intermediate and above. 

Why don’t you like elementary and pre-intermediate? 

You can’t really have a conversation with learners at these levels and the progress is very slow so it becomes doubly frustrating. I can see real progress with complete beginners which is very satisfying and with the higher levels I can use materials I find interesting myself. 

I believe you speak several languages … which languages do you speak? 

Serbian and Czech along with the usual French, German, Russian and Spanish…. 

[Laughs] …You make it sound as if everyone learns these four languages … 

Well I learnt them at school…so I am not so proficient in these languages … I was bi-lingual in Serbian after living there for 5 years. I went back some time ago, in fact I was one of the first businessmen to go back there after the bombing. It was terrible but I had an incredible reception, people were walking up and shaking my hand welcoming me back, it was amazing. Speaking the language helped I suppose. 

Did learning a foreign language help you become a better EFL teacher? 


Did being a language teacher make you critical of the way your were being taught a foreign language? 

No, not really. I was quite lucky at school I had no trouble with the way I was taught. I learnt Latin in a very traditional way and I have nothing against traditional teaching methods. I learnt Serbian and Czech in the same way… thinking back it could have been more interesting I suppose, but I was quite happy with the way I was taught. 

Which country have you most enjoyed teaching in? 

Without doubt the former Yugoslavia… they are warm, friendly, hospitable people; great language learners and, despite what you read in the press, a very cultured people. 

From your experience which nationality has the most difficulty in learning English? 

I would have to divide this into two areas. For pronunciation the Far Eastern nationalities, Koreans, Thai, Japanese (though less so) and Spanish. Spanish learners have terrific problems with pronunciation. In terms of general language learning, Arabs are very good with basic fluency but have huge problems with accuracy and writing. 

You lead a very busy life, what do you like to do in your spare time? Long distance running, watching football, playing the guitar and I am particularly interested in comparative beer studies. 

[Laughs]…. Have you been able to do much of that on your visits to Malta? 

Yes and I must say Cisk compares very well!! 

Are you planning another book? If so what is the subject this time? 

Yes, I’m planning a book on vocabulary which will involve other languages, not just about English … something a bit different. 

That should be interesting. What are your hopes/ambitions for the future? 

I’d like to emigrate! If I could get a few more books published I would like to live on a small Greek island… well big enough for an airport or at least a heliport … 

What are your thoughts on the future of EFL? 

Beware of the Internet!! 

In what way? 

It will begin to dominate language learning… on-line classes…lea

rners and teachers with video cameras on their computers … it’s going to make a big difference to the EFL teaching business… and if you’re not in it soon it will be too late. 

What are your reactions to Malta in general and Maltese EFL teachers in particular? Malta is very pleasant, full of surprises and Maltese EFL teachers have a sunny attitude! 

Do you have any advice to give the profession in Malta? Relax and enjoy it. At least you’re not sitting in a dark, gloomy office all day seeing the same 2 or 3 people day in day out. 

Finally, will you be coming back to Malta in the foreseeable future? 

Definitely, but I think it would probably be better to give it a break for a year or so. 


[This interview was conducted in March 2000]

© Malta Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language