The past few months have been pretty busy, that’s why I haven’t written for such a long time. By the evening I usually felt so tired that I couldn’t bring myself to put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard?). However, with the academic year over I feel recharged, so here it comes.
In November I flew to Barcelona at the invitation of Cambridge English Language Assessment. At its Platinum Event I delivered Always look at the bright side, a lecture intended to give an ego-boost for non-native English-speaking teachers – or non-NESTs as I like to call ourselves. If this wasn’t enough, I repeated my Dinosaur talk, but instead of the head-gear and the tail I’d worn at the IATEFL-Hungary conference a few weeks before, I just put on a dinosaur mask to symbolise who I was. Why not the entire costume? Because it needs a large suitcase – an additional cost on cheap flights. By the way, the time of the conference coincided with a Barcelona home match. A Barça fan that I am, I’d have loved to go to Camp Nou to see it in the flesh, but I had to make do with watching it on TV in a pub in the company of fellow fans and a gin and tonic.
Dispiriting as it may sound, I spent New Year’s Eve at Doha Airport waiting for my connecting flight to Dhaka, Bangladesh. But it was well worth the wait! The BELTA conference was wonderfully organised and I made friends with hundreds of participants. I’m not much of a photographer but I found it an honour to be taken hundreds of photos in the company of Bangladeshi colleagues. Whenever I go to a place I’ve never been to before, I insist on extending my stay with at least one day to explore the town. This time Shaon, one of the local organisers from the British Council, was kind enough to show me around. It was an eye-opening (and rather sad) experience to see artistically decorated cycle rickshaws drawn by emaciated men called wallahs. Some estimates put the number of rickshaws running the streets of Dhaka city as high as 400,000!
Then in April I was scheduled to attend the big IATEFL conference in Manchester to take over as president of IATEFL. However, a few months earlier I’d had a serious professional disagreement with an IATEFL trustee and as it became rather personal I decided to resign. Although all the other trustees kindly asked me to reconsider my decision I persisted. Even half a year later the mere thought of this devastating experience fills me with so much despair that I’d rather not elaborate on the details.
Nevertheless, I marched on as far as Alcalá. Alcalá? Where is it? Well, I didn’t know either before my trip. Alcalá was the home of Universidad Complutense, one of the oldest Spanish universities before it was transferred to Madrid in the middle of the 19th century. Fortunately, the ancient university buildings that hosted the Congress of Bilingualism were well preserved. Again, my nonnative lecture went down so well that afterwards I was asked by several Spanish colleagues to send them a copy of my book, The Non-native Teacher, which has been out of print for a long time. I was a bit upset to post the only copy I had, but it was returned safely after it had changed several hands. Incidentally, if you should decide to pay a visit to Alcalá, ask the taxi driver to drive you to Alcalá de Henáres, a mere 35 kilometres from Madrid – else you may end up several hundred kilometres from your destination: there’re dozens of Alcalás in Spain! One more thing, Miguel de Cervantes was born in this town and I had the honour to sit on a bench between Don Quijote and his squire, Sancho Panza – a bronze statue in the high street.
The last conference I attended last spring was held in Kosice, a beautiful town in Slovakia. Upon arriving at the city centre by car, I was circling around for an hour in search of the hotel I’d be staying at. In desperation I pulled up to ask someone to show me the way. I chanced to accost two Hungarian-speaking ladies. “But this is it,” they said, pointing to the multi-storied building across the street. Indeed, the sign at the top of the building said Hotel Central. So much for my sense of orientation! I was more lucky with my plenary, Why won’t the little beasts behave?, which is about my harrowing experience as a teacher who had returned to the classroom after a gap of twenty years. I assumed with all the experience I’d accumulated I would be able to maintain discipline. Well, I wasn’t. To cheer up the audience (and myself), in my workshop I presented a number of ideas about how to teach English with fun and laughter.
Although I’m an avid conference goer, I prefer sitting at my desk, writing away. There’re three pieces I’ve been working on recently. First, I finished a bulky volume which contains 25 of my favourite papers and lectures I have produced in the past thirty years. Each of the 12 chapters is introduced by an interview, in which I give details about how those pieces came about (and lots of other things). The interviews are in Hungarian whereas most of the papers are in English – so it’s a mixed-language book. I hope it’ll come out by my 70th birthday this August. Oh, the title is Töprengések a nyelvtanításról (Reflecting on language teaching) published by Eötvös Könyvkiadó.
My menu of lectures needs updating time and time again, so I’ve added a new piece under the title Elfies at large – Beware! The title is telling: I’m not a great fan of the trendy English as a Lingua Franca movement. Anyway, the lecture is due to have its premiere in Vitoria next spring. Ha, ha, another riddle! Where on earth is Vitoria? It’s the capital of Basque country in Spain.
Finally, IATEFL-Hungary is celebrating its 25th birthday this year and for this occasion I volunteered to put together a list of all the presentations given thus far. With the assistance of student helpers the repertory should be ready (and made freely available online) by the time of the conference early October. You’ll be surprised to see how many colleagues from Hungary and abroad have contributed to make this organisation a success!