My name is Mario Rinvolucri and, as you can see, my name is not English. My father was from Italy. He immigrated to UK where he married my mother who was half German and half English. To be this mixed in terms of blood is a bit odd in UK but would be totally normal in Toronto, Chicago, Sao Paulo or Buenos Aires.

Important in my upbringing was that I never went to primary school and was educated at home by my parents up till the age of 13. This left me with the advantage that I am a natural self-starter but with the minus of being weakly socialised. I still sometimes find being around with people in a full, adequate way a bit hard. (I am lousy at small talk.)

My first career choice was consciously away from school and teaching. After university I joined the news agency, Reuters, and worked there for a year as a sub-editor.
This was a harsh writer’s apprenticeship which I hated at the time but for which I have subsequently become extremely grateful. What those rough journalists taught me was that you can sit down and write a piece at any time and you do not need await any form of divine inspiration. The appetite to write comes with writing… which is just what is happening now as I write to you.

I lived three years in Athens, Greece and my first book was about the Greek Orthodox Church and its relationship to the other Christian Churches, so you see I was clean of any thoughts of language teaching until I was in my mid-twenties!

I think that having started out in life as a journalist and not a teacher gave me a breadth of thought I might not have possessed had I had fallen from school into university and then straight back into school.

I am very grateful to Chile for having allowed me to live the two most exciting years of my life (1971-73) during the Allende attempt to socialise the structure of Chilean society. I worked teaching English in a small university in Valdivia, in the Chilean South until Kissinger’s coup came on 9/11/73 and the Pinochet period of savage repression set in.

I currently live in Canterbury, East Kent, UK and have worked for Pilgrims since 1974, a period of 34 years or nearly half a career. Pilgrims is a leading EFL Teaching Training Institute and we have had trainer teams in India, in China, in Ukraine and Greenland. We currently offer intensive in-service courses to people from across Europe who come to us on EU grants. In 2008 we will have worked with rather more than 1000 such grant-holders on 2-week courses.

In 1999 I was lucky enough to become the founding editor of Humanising Language Teaching (HLT), our webzine for EFL teachers which you can visit at www.hltmag.co.uk. This was one of the most thrilling jobs I have done so far in my career as it meant helping quite normal teachers from round the globe to write articles and make their voices heard. People who had no idea they could write and much less so in English. I will never forget publishing a brilliant piece by a woman in Ekaterinburg (near the Urals) in which she thanked her three most dreadful students for all they had taught her! The current editor of HLT is Hania Kryszewska, who you can contact here.

Pilgrims colleagues have been responsible for writing around 70 Teacher Resource Books over the past 30 years, and these have been published by a broad selection of UK EFL publishers. I have collaborated on 20 of these titles and all but two of my EFL books have been collaborative efforts.

  • The best known book I am associated with is ‘Grammar Games’, CUP, and this has sold 134,000 copies over 25 years.
  • The book I am most proud of is ‘Once Upon a Time’, CUP, a book I wrote with John Morgan about the timeless technique to telling stories. This book has become a little ‘niche’ classic.
  • Maybe my broadest and most substantial book, again written with John, is ‘Vocabulary,’ OUP.
  • My most elegant book, I think, is ‘Creative Writing’, Helbling Languages, which I co-authored with Christine Frank.
  • The book most teachers will immediately find most useful at 8.45 on a Monday morning is ‘Humanising your Coursebook’, Delta.

Outside the confines of work I read fairly widely in the areas of history, popular science and fiction, focusing on works from outside the UK-US consensus. I read novels from Africa in both French and English and anything I can lay my hands on from China, Japan and Korea in translation. I maintain my command of Italian by sporadic reading in the language.

Two things I love doing with my hands are gardening and cooking. For me the former leads naturally into the latter. Both these activities, both these realms of thought, lead me to live with rhythms that are different from people rhythms, and these are the beats that dominate my professional life.

I suggested above that reading, gardening and cooking are ‘outside’ the confines of my work.  Not true. I do not believe my professional work as a language teacher, trainer and writer has confines and I know for sure that many things from the three ‘hobby areas’ mentioned feed directly into my work. I am a unitary being and do not divide life up into ‘work’ and ‘non-work’ I find this very Western sort of compartmentalisation absurd.

My two articles to set our debate going in November will be:

  • Listening and reading are receptive skills - do you really think so?
  • Story-telling: the world’s oldest language teaching technique

Mario Rinvolucri, Canterbury, UK (2008)