My grandfather keeps a photograph of me on his wall. In the picture, I am smiling for the camera, overcome with disbelief and euphoria as I am presented with a 2009 British Council ELTons award by the Right Honourable Neil Kinnock.
That was a very special moment for me and one that I will always cherish. And it was impossible not to recall and relive the memory last Thursday as I attended the 2015 ELTons awards ceremony in London.
The ELTons is an annual event that celebrates innovation in English Language Teaching. It was held at the British Medical Association which meant that if anyone had collapsed with excitement as I almost did 6 years ago, there would have almost certainly been help at hand.
I was there to interview guests as they arrived and stepped onto the red carpet. Now in its 13th year, competition was particularly high and this became apparent as I chatted with nominees and asked them to describe their products.
In a profession which is increasingly driven by markets and data, the need to recognise and celebrate innovation in ELT has never been more important. There are seven different ELTons categories for entries and these include innovation and excellence in learner and teacher resources, new talent in writing, courses, digital products and a lifetime achievement award. (You can see a full list of categories and nominees here).
Sometimes, it’s the simplest ideas that have the advantage – the ones that can be described in seconds rather than minutes. This was certainly the case for Chris Lima who took the MacMillan Education Award for New Talent in Writing. EAP Shakespeare – Chris’s winning entry – is a set of classroom materials, based on Shakespeare’s plays, for learners of English with an interest in literature.
The award for innovation in learner resources went to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary of Academic English and it’s hard to believe that this is the first of its kind. As far as I am aware, this was the first occasion that a dictionary should pick up an ELTon and personally, I feel that it is about time. Dictionaries are a staple resource for any language learner and the last few years has seen a lot of innovation in products such as this one. As an eternally frustrated learner of Spanish, I would give my right arm for a good dictionary for Spanish learners.
Also on a personal note, the Award for Local innovation would seem, for me, to encapsulate much of what the ELTons is all about. This is a category which recognises specific solutions for specific needs within specific local contexts. This year’s award went to Talk English, a UK-based adult education project which provides support to people with low levels of English and encourages them to improve their language skills and access services by getting involved with the community. The award was picked up by Michaela Salmon and Nuala Trace who told me that the project has been supported by over 650 volunteers and that to date, more than 3,500 learners have benefited from it in Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire and Lancashire.
The other awards for innovation went to Oxford Discover, (Excellence in course innovation), MacMillan Life Skills, a free online resource for teachers (Innovation in teaching resources) and Little Bridge, an online interactive resource for young learners of English (Digital innovation),
Finally, of course, there was the lifetime achievement award. As always, the audience is teased with a montage of video clips in which well-known ELT names speak about the mystery winner. Alan Maley (a previous lifetime award winner himself) referred to him as, “undoubtedly one of the most important – if not the most important influence in applied linguistics in Britain during the time when the communicative approach was being developed.” He was, of course, talking about Henry Widdowson, who accepted the award in his typically humble manner.
The evening was compered by TV journalist, newsreader, writer and presenter, Angela Rippon OBE. As well as telling a delightfully rude joke, she told us about a situation in which she had been thrown into a classroom in Kenya to give an impromptu English class. Her account of the improvised lesson that she gave sounded decidedly dogme. Who would have thought?
A seasoned professional meets a total amateur. But can you tell which is which?
Congratulations to all nominees and ELTons winners. May the innovation continue!
Find out more about the ELTons and see interviews with the winners on the EnglishAgenda ELTons pages!