I come from a family of teachers, on my father’s side at least, and I have Cornish, Irish and Swedish blood as well as English. I went to school in Liverpool and later went on to study German at Durham University. I got into ELT during my undergraduate year abroad, when I was an assistant teacher in the English Department of a boys’ grammar school in Düsseldorf. I found that I enjoyed teaching English and so I went on to London University Institute of Education to take a Postgrad Cert. Ed in EFL (as it was always known then). Though I have taught some German to adults, I have essentially remained in ELT as a teacher, trainer, trainer of trainers and consultant since I started out in the late sixties.
I have worked in a number of different places, first in language schools in Germany for three years, then at Filton Technical College in Bristol from 1971 to 1974. In 1974, I returned to Germany to work at Konstanz University for three years, and this was an important and formative stage in my career as I had so much time for reading, research and experimentation in my teaching. I was by then married with a young daughter and this led to a decision to return to the UK in 1977 to put her into primary school in the English system. I found a post with the Bell Educational Trust, first as Senior Tutor in the Cambridge School where I was lucky enough to meet Frank Bell, the founder of the trust and a true visionary, and to work under Peter Strevens before he died prematurely, and afterwards as Director of Studies in Saffron Walden. Then in 1980, we moved to Devon, where I was appointed Head of ELT and later Head of Modern Languages at South Devon College in Torquay. I stayed there for 8 very happy years, living in nearby Totnes, before accepting an offer to move to The College of St Mark & St John (or Marjon as it is widely known) in Plymouth as Deputy Director of International Education. I resigned from Marjon in 2006 after over 17 years there. I never grew tired of the range and variety of work there, from tutoring on and leading postgraduate programmes to consultancy and training work on all sorts of projects overseas. Along the way, I had spells as Chief Examiner for the RSA Diploma in TEFL (now the DELTA), as Reviews Editor for English Language Teaching Journal, and as a member of the British Council’s English Teaching Advisory Committee. At present I am working as Academic Director at Norwich Institute for Language Education, a specialist Teacher Training and Professional Development institute in East Anglia.
Among the projects I’ve contributed to as a consultant are textbook projects in Romania, Russia and Belarus, curriculum reform projects in India, Uzbekistan and Ukraine, INSETT or staff development projects in Russia, Hungary, Cyprus, Malaysia, Uzbekistan and Brazil, a mentoring project in Malaysia, and vocational education projects in Romania, Austria and Croatia. I have led seminars and given conference presentations in many countries across the world, most recently in Lithuania, India, Malaysia, Germany, Greece, Austria and Colombia, as well as at IATEFL Conferences in the UK. I have also worked with colleagues from other countries in workshops and on publications for the European Centre for Modern Languages in Graz, and have directed a number of specialist seminars for the British Council including (in 2007) the Hornby Latin America Summer School in Brazil.
On the whole, I have enjoyed the consultancy work more than any of the ‘one-off’ assignments, largely because it always involves repeat visits and the opportunity to form lasting relationships with colleagues overseas, but also because you get deeper and deeper into a context, thereby learning so much and broadening your horizons. Through these consultancies, too, I have been privileged to meet and work with some of the ‘unsung heroes’ of ELT, usually local staff in British Council offices who provide the continuity and commitment in their offices as one London-appointed Director or Assistant Director moves on and the next one arrives: people like Ruxandra Popovici in Romania, Lena Lenskaya and Lena Borovikova in Russia, Natassha Demtchenko in Belarus, Jamilya Gulyamova and her young and talented team in Uzbekistan, Jasna Jemersic in Croatia, Danila Beloglavec in Slovenia and Janet Ooi in Malaysia. These are among the very best professionals I’ve worked with. Favourite countries among those that I’ve worked in? India for its people and its bombardment of my western senses, Romania for all its undiscovered beauty and the kindness I always met there, Cuba for its unspoilt cities and landscapes and its wonderful teachers who achieve so much with so little, and Brazil for its vibrancy and energy, always evident in the teachers I have worked with there as well as in the atmosphere that surrounds you wherever you go.
I’ve always hesitated to call myself a specialist, and have certainly never set out to be one as I think it can be narrowing and restrictive; it can also be tedious for others, especially when a ‘specialist’ brings her/his discourse to the dinner table! In the course of my career, however, I guess I’ve gained some useful experience and know-how in English for Specific Purposes, in Language Awareness, in Materials and Curriculum Development, in Trainer and Teacher Training and Development, and in Project Design and Management.
It has been in these areas, mainly, that I have published articles and books. I can manage an article quite happily on my own, but have always preferred to work with a colleague on full-length books. The books that I am proudest of are Discover English (co-authored with Brian Tomlinson and now published by Macmillan), and Trainer Development (co-authored with Tony Wright and self-published since none of the big publishers were prepared to take a chance on it!). The former is a language awareness workbook for teachers and advanced learners, born out of collaboration with Brian during our shared time at Bell Saffron Walden, and still ‘alive and kicking’ almost thirty years after its first edition was published. The latter is the result of my collaboration with Tony over our years at Marjon, mainly on the M.Ed programme in Trainer Development, but also in team-teaching in a number of contexts at home and overseas. I’ve been scolded by a number of professional colleagues for not writing more, for not committing more of my ideas to paper so that they can be shared with others in our field. I accept this reproach but in my defence would like to claim that I’ve always been too busy with face-to-face encounters and with commitments to the institutions I have worked for to carve out the time for writing a lot. I’ve never really wanted to compete with the more prolific writers in our field, such as Nunan, Richards, Thornbury & co, whose next books always seems to follow hard on the heels of the last one. I simply don’t know how they manage it. When I’ve had something to say, I’ve usually found a way to say it, whether through a conference presentation or an article. Maybe I’ll organise my thoughts and get down to some serious writing when I cut down on travelling and ‘doing’.
In the meantime I value my ‘other life’: my relationship with my soon-to-be second wife from Siberia, who I met through my work and who has made such a huge difference to my outlook and perspectives; my lifelong devotion to Liverpool Football Club, my two lovely daughters and my little granddaughter, and my love of cooking, reading and walking in the countryside or on the coast.