20 July 2017 update

Do you remember why I stopped short in my previous update? Bingo! Because I

got wind of the publication of the third edition of ‘The Non-native Teacher’ and I

was so excited that I wasn’t able to continue my account. Now it’s only fair to go

back to 2016 and finish off the year with my participation at the TESOL France


To be in Paris is a gift from God. I’ve been there quite a few times but I’m always

stunned by the beauty of the town. As is my wont, I curtailed my presence at the

conference site by half a day just to be able to take a long walk in the 13 th district

where the conference was held, and beyond as far as the Notre-Dame. Many

thanks to my ex-student Csilla Járay-Benn, who invited me to the conference in

her function as Vice President of TESOL France. (Since then she has become

President.) My opening plenary ran under the title ‘The Ventriloquist – I’m a

(Relatively) Happy Teacher’ and this is what a kind colleague presented me with

after my talk:

It was a pleasure to listen to Diane Larsen-Freeman’s excellent plenary on the

role fractals play in language learning. If you don’t know what this means (I

didn’t), do watch a keynote lecture of hers on the same topic, available here:

http://www.tesol.org/attend-and- learn/international-

convention/convention2014/featured-speakers/diane- larsen-freeman- keynote-


The third plenarist was Harry Kuchah Kuchah, who is not only an outstanding

speaker but also one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. In addition, he

moderated a panel discussion on how ELT in Africa is doing. A real eye-opener.

2016 done and dusted – over to 2017!

The 40 th TESOL Spain convention was held in Elche. Well, Elche is certainly not

one of the highlights of Spain but the hotel we were staying at was gorgeous.

Here’s Hotel Huerto Del Cura:

It was in the shade of palm trees beside a little pond that Susan Holden and I

checked the final proofs of ‘The Non-native Teacher’ before it went to print.

Speaking of palm trees, I was told that there are more palm trees than

inhabitants in Elche. I didn’t take a roll call.

Although I spent only two days in Elche it may well have been the most compact

conference I’d ever attended. In addition to my devilish plenary (‘Elfies at Large –

Beware!’), I ran a workshop, participated in a forum and played a small part in a

funny sketch written and starred by my old friend Luke Prodromou. As always, it

was a pleasure to listen to Michael Swan’s opening plenary on the Goldilocks

Principle in language teaching. A couple of weeks later Michael sent me a

complimentary copy of the fourth edition of his ‘Practical English Usage’. Run to

buy it – an absolute must!

Next came Topolšica, the traditional venue of IATEFL Slovenia, but it was the

first time for me to be there. Surrounded by mountains it’s an ideal place to relax.

And whenever we had an hour to carve out of the conference programme, we did

relax in the sunshine. Isn’t life wonderful?

In Topolšica I gave two plenaries: a version of the Non-native Teacher and a talk

on why I wasn’t able to keep discipline when I took on a group of teenagers at

the beginning of this century in the school where I’d started my teaching career.

However, for me the epitome of the programme was Lyn Steyne’s plenary

entitled ‘What teachers make’, a talk full of humour and substance accompanied

by smartly selected quotes and cartoons. My favourite slide is this one:

I’m yet to meet someone who knows where Horgen is. Now you will. Horgen is a

small town along the south bank of the Lake of Zurich. The Annual Cambridge

English Spring Seminar, to which I was invited, took place in the Seminarhotel

Bocken. Oh, this should be one of those drab conference centres in the middle of

nowhere, I thought to myself. Now look at this photo and judge for yourself.

It was Lori Kaithan, the CEO of Swiss Exams (an offshoot of Cambridge Exams),

who extended the invitation saying how much she’d enjoyed my ventriloquist act

many years before. ‘Could you do the same, Peter?’ she asked. ‘My colleagues

would love it.’ I said yes, relieved that I wouldn’t have to come up with a new

talk. A few weeks later I received a thorough description of what they’d expect

me to do. Two plenaries on how to teach the reading skills and the writing skills,

respectively. And this is how they should be built up: one, two, three, four, five. I

was devastated but there was no way to go back on my promise. To cut a long

story short, it took me three months and a massive amount of work to prepare

my two plenaries. I learnt it the Swiss way. The conference ran like clockwork,

yet in a very friendly atmosphere.

Now I’ll take a break but will be back soon.