I know, I know. I’ve clammed up for more than half a year. Sometimes I have the impression that I’m just writing for the bottom drawer of my desk and then, out of the blue, I receive a gentle reminder from my dear colleague Kata Csizér, ‘What happened? Have you died or what?’ So here I come again.
Conferences. Stirling – and not Sterling as I was corrected by my old friend and publisher, Susan Holden. Two presentations at the invitation of SATEFL (The Scottish Association for the Teaching of English as a Foreign Language). The first one is ‘Always Look on the Bright Side – Being a Non-native Teacher’. This I’ve delivered countless times at conferences, but it’s never been the same. I get an invitation, send a menu of my lectures for the hosts to choose from and then, bingo, it’s my non-native talk they request nine times out of ten. I say to myself, ‘Hurray! I won’t have to prepare for this one, I’ve done it some many times.’ I’m sitting at my desk, reading my old notes before I realise that it needs trimming here, updating there, adding a little here, deleting quite a bit there. And by the time I finalise it in a month or two, the whole talk has been rehashed. I’ve churned out at least fifty variations and I’m sure there’re many more in the offing.
You like the phrase ‘in the offing’? As I use it in one of my talks, a participant asks,
Sorry, what does ‘in the offing’ mean?
Well, it means that something is likely to happen soon.
I see. But what is ‘offing’? – she insists.
‘No idea. Anybody know?’
‘A distant part of the sea in view’ – says an elderly man in the audience.
Of course, he was a native speaker of English; you’ve got to be a native speaker to know such words, haven’t you? Truth be told, he was the only participant who knew this word. And you’ve got to be a Brit to know all these nautical terms, too, and not a poor Hungarian from a landlocked country.
Back to Stirling. My second presentation is entitled ‘Elfies at large – Beware!’. It’s meant to be a provocative talk, but this time no bad eggs were thrown at me, probably because there were no elfies sitting in the auditorium. ‘Who the heck are elfies?’ – I hear you ask. Well, they’re representatives of the ELF movement. ‘ELF movement? What’s that?’ It would take too long to explain it in this blog, but if anyone is interested, I’ll happily send them the text of my talk in an attachment.
The campus of Stirling University is the most beautiful one I’ve been to so far. It’s situated on the site of the historic Airthrey estate with an artificial lake (oops, loch) in the middle. Look how beautiful it is:
The conference itself was held in the 18th century Airthrey Castle. I was truly honoured to have the opportunity to deliver my talks in the central hall of this gorgeous building wainscotted all around:
BTW (read: by the way, as I learnt recently), it took me a thirty-minute walk from the Stirling Court Hotel (a student hostel rather than a fancy hotel) to Airthrey Castle on foot. It was crisp but sunny. I’ve always been so lucky in Scotland. I’ve been there at least ten times, and the weather has always been like this. I could hardly believe my host, Eddy Moran, who said that it had been awful the day before I arrived. When I returned home after the conference, he wrote in a message that the weather had turned miserable again.
The best time of my short sojourn in Stirling came when my dear friend Susan Holden drove me to her house in Callander, a small town in the council area of Stirling. As we were chatting, I couldn’t take my eyes off the River Teith just a few metres away from us. The carefree life of ducks was occasionally disturbed by canoes swifting by.
The first weekend of October is traditionally reserved for IATEFL Hungary, of which I’m the proud patron. I love conferences when I’m not a speaker. (It’s conferences when I am a speaker that I enjoy even more, says the man with the big head.) The highlight of the conference was Carolyn Graham, author of countless materials (‘Jazz Chants’, in case you forget who she is). She’s in her eighties, can hardly walk, needs to lean against the table for balance but as soon as she begins to tap the rhythm and plays the piano to accompany her own singing, she turns into a twenty-year-old beauty queen. I was not the only one whose eyes were filled with tears during these rare moments of miracle.
I was also invited to attend a Minsk conference at the invitation of Yuri Stulov, an old friend of mine. It was four years ago that I was a guest speaker there, and I would have loved to return, but I couldn’t. It was not so much the red tape one has to cut through to be granted a Belarus visa why I cancelled my trip, but rather my preoccupation with preparing the third edition of ‘The Non-native Teacher’. I was too busy to break the tempo.
Getting back to Susan Holden, she was the editor-in-chief of Macmillan when the first edition of ‘The Non-native Teacher’ saw the light of day. After the manuscript had been rejected by another major publishing house, I approached Susan whether Macmillan would be interested in bringing it out. A week later she answered in the affirmative and sent me a draft contract. I couldn’t believe my eyes! To cut a long story short, the book was published half a year later and went on to win the Duke of Edinburgh book prize the following year. I was on cloud nine! The book was republished five years later by the German publisher Hueber Verlag, and the third edition is due out any moment.
You won’t believe what I’m telling you now. As I’m writing this blog, I check my email and what do I see? This:
The printer has just delivered 6 advance copies – it took an extra day for the ink to dry properly! It is quite heavy, and I think looks pretty good (although I haven’t looked in detail yet!). I hope you will feel it was worth all that work – and the daily emails! Am looking forward very much to seeing you next week.
And here’s the book cover attached to the letter:
No, no, this is not an All Fools’ Day joke. It’s real. Hot off the press. I’m so overwhelmed with my new-born baby now that I must stop at this point. Please excuse me. Will come back as soon as I’m recovered.
Where did we stop in my July update? Oh yes, last spring.
March. When I told my friends I was planning to go to Iraq to run an inservice course, they said I was a complete idiot. “Why risk your life? Have you thought of your family?” So I turned to my wife with begging eyes: “Hm?” And she said: “Go!” Oh no, not because she wanted to get rid of me once and for all, but because she knew Iraq would be one more country for me to tick off: “Been to.”
The venue of the course was Erbil, the capital city of Iraqi Kurdistan. On arrival I had to pass several check-points to leave the airport, but no big hassle. Accommodation in a student hostel, shoes off in the corridor, pristine conditions. The group of primary teachers, all men, was the most rambunctious one I’d ever met. In and out of the classroom in the middle of the class, flying paper planes, eating, drinking, shouting, singing – you name it. However, when on the last day I was saying farewell to them, their gratitude came from the heart.
Erbil was a very pleasant surprise. No traces of war, a beautiful citadel with a lovely bazaar. One evening I was invited by a Jordanian-Hungarian couple with three daughters, with whom I’d made friends when we lived in Damascus. Since then, they’ve moved to live and work in Erbil, a much safer place. They took me out to a genuine Syrian restaurant where I had the pleasure of having mezze, the typical starter from the Levant, consisting of a dozen small dishes substantial enough not to ask for a main course. And a hubble-bubble after so many years of craving for it. (My wife won’t let me smoke one.)
Speaking of safety, one morning as I opened an online newspaper in the hostel, I read about the explosion at Brussels Airport. Now which is more dangerous to visit: Erbil or Brussels? No safe haven these days.
Next on my spring schedule was the pretty town of Graz. I love driving, so 400 kilometres can’t be an obstacle. I picked up the Andrews family in Budapest: Mark, Magdi and their son, Ronan, who is not only a charming boy, but a very well-behaved one as well. Or was it the chips that kept him so quiet and contented throughout the journey? Meanwhile, his dad entertained us by singing silly songs from my old book Linda and the Greenies. Mark may well be the last person who still remembers those songs – I was touched by his kindness.
The conference itself was not only intimate but a bit sad too after I’d learnt that it was to be the last TEA (Teachers of English in Austria) event. When I asked why, the organisers said that teachers were losing interest in live (and costly) conferences what with so many other opportunities available such as webinars. If you want my opinion, nothing can substitute for face-to-face encounters. But I’m a dinosaur, which happened to be the title of my plenary lecture too. Oh, before I forget, Lindsay Clanfield’s “Why teachers should love lists” was one of the funniest plenaries I’d attended for a long time.
The following week I flew to Birmingham to participate in the 50th IATEFL conference. Not quite, because I was present only at the pre-conference event hosted jointly by the Global Issues Special Interest Group and the Creativity Group. A series of TED-like talks with a maximum duration of 15 minutes was followed by reflection time and an open space for the participants to exchange views. As one of the speakers, I put forward the idea of the Youth Networking Scheme to prevent or overcome prejudices through channels of ICT. YNS would aim to encourage school-aged learners of English to contact peers from faraway countries and collaboratively seek answers to problems of mutual interest. I’m aware that this scheme is idealistic and cumbersome to realise, but it’s so nice to have a dream, isn’t it?
Upon arrival at Birmingham International I took a taxi. If it hadn’t been Sunday, the 45-minute ride would have taken three times that much. It cost me £37 (oh boy!). I learnt at the conference that there were trains between the city centre and the airport every ten minutes for £3.60. How do you think I found my way back to the airport two days later? Bingo! By the way, were you to consider a visit to Birmingham, better wait another couple of years, because the whole town is “closed for renovation” at present.
Recently I’ve had the good fortune to turn up in Spain several times. In quick succession: Madrid, Barcelona, Salamanca, Alcalá, Seville. Now, Valencia is just as beautiful. My impression is that there is no such thing in Spain as a not-so-beautiful place. The hotel I stayed at was just a few minutes’ walk from the City of Arts and Sciences. Still in the process of enlargement, this futuristic cultural and architectural complex is one of the “12 Treasures of Spain”. The EICE conference dinner was served in the Oceanographic Aquarium, the largest of its kind in Europe. All around the dinner tables, the huge acquariums (acquaria) were full of fish swimming anti-clockwise at rocket speed. After half an hour the world was spinning around in my head. Stop, fish, or I’ll throw up!
As usual, I skipped the conference for half a day to see the Old City of Valencia. I asked the receptionist how far it was. “About half an hour’s walk in the river,” he explained. “You mean along the river?” asked the English teacher. “Yes, sir, or in the river,” the receptionist insisted. “It should be fun to walk in a river,” I chuckled to myself. And, lo and behold, a few minutes later I was walking in the river. In explanation, after the terrible flood of 1957 the Turia was deflected, and the old course was turned into a green area called the “Garden of the Turia”. A relaxing three kilometre walk leading to the Old City, full of cyclists, joggers, footballers and children. Happy faces all around.
To the attention of language teachers, the language spoken by the citizens of Valencia is Valencian, which is a dialect of Catalan. Or if you prefer, Catalan is a dialect of Valencian. But of course everybody speaks Spanish as well. Except me. I don’t speak Spanish, Catalan or Valencian, which is pretty embarrassing, especially in the conference breaks when both presenters and participants happily chat away in Spanish and I’m just standing by speechless.
Kosovo was one of the few countries in Europe which I hadn’t visited before. I’d begged Grenville Yeo, the director of SOL, to get me invited to the Ketnet conference. Two kind ladies from the conference committee collected me at Prishtina Airport, drove along Bulevard Clinton, then turned left into Bulevard Bush (senior or junior, I wondered). They dropped me at the Hotel Ambassador (very stylish for a former ambassador to stay there). After dumping my stuff in the room, I asked the receptionist how far the city centre was. She said, just walk down the street across as far as Bulevard Maria Theresa and there you are. Why name their high street after the Habsburg monarch, I asked myself. Arriving there I read the street sign: “Mother Teresa.” But of course, she was Albanian by birth. Just like military leader Skanderbeg from the 15th century and Ibrahim Rugova from the 21st, who became the first president of the newly independent state of Kosovo. While adults were sitting in open-air cafes, hundreds of schoolchildren were lining up at one end of the bulevard, all of them wearing yellow t-shirts. It was Olympic Day and they were participating in a race. Ready, steady, go!
I don’t know why, but I take a liking to conferences held in our region. Is it my Central-Eastern European self calling? Be that as it may, the one in Prishtina was the loveliest audience you could ask for, young and even younger participants full of oomph and optimism. Interestingly, the most fascinating presentations had to do less with ELT than with Albanian folklore. I particularly liked the report on “sworn virgins”. These women take a vow of chastity, wear male clothing and live like men. A custom dying out, for better or for worse.
Spring was over, summer began with an inservice training course run by SOL (“Sharing One Language”). The venue was Barnstaple in North Devon, my co-trainers were Mark Andrews and Uwe Pohl, the participants came from Central and Eastern Europe. Mark was absolutely phenomenal: an ELT specialist cum tour guide. Performed with a huge amount of expertise and enthusiasm, his double-act was assisted by Uwe, who would stop Mark whenever he got a bit carried away.
What was my role in this spiel? Well, as patron of SOL I was there mostly as an understudy or extra.
The course took place a couple of weeks after Brexit, so it was only obvious to ask our host families (“if it’s not too personal”) about their choice. It turned out that almost all of them had voted for Brexit. When asked why, they referred to the incompetence of European leaders and their fear of immigrants. What immigrants? All I could see in the streets of Barnstaple were white faces – and white legs sticking out from under the pop-up shelters on the beach. Isn’t it paradoxical that every large city, populated with a vast array of colours, religions and languages, voted for “stay”, whereas small towns with zero foreigners chose “leave”? Could you explain why? However, what I mustn’t leave unmentioned is North Devon itself. It is undoubtedly the most beautiful part of England. See for yourself!
That’s all about my conferences. Now let me count how many countries I’ve been to so far. With Kosovo, it comes to 94. Which European states are still missing? San Marino, Monaco, Malta and Armenia. (Is Armenia a European country?) The first two are easy to cover in one drive. So my family hopped into the car and we drove straight to San Marino. (OK, we stopped en route at Venice for a day or two.) The enclaved microstate of the “Most Serene Republic of San Marino”, says Wikipedia, “claims to be the oldest surviving sovereign state and constitutional republic in the world.” However, a Hungarian online paper recently claimed that San Marino is also the most boring place in the world. Rubbish! It’s stunningly beautiful! We drove halfway up Monte Titano and then took the aerial tramway to the top. We’d have stayed longer to enjoy the fantastic view if we hadn’t left our jumpers in the hotel. Who would have thought that while it was 35 degrees down in Ravenna, it would be 15 degrees up on the mountain – with gale force wind?
In my humble opinion, the title of the most boring place should rather go to the Principality of Monaco, the second smallest state in the world (after the Vatican). Why boring? Well, there’re two types of people there: the super-rich and the tourists gawking with cameras ready to take snapshots of a wide variety of Ferraris, Bentleys, Jags and old-timers. Or selfies in front of the cars. My wife said that Monaco is like a safari, but maybe I’m being malicious simply because I’m green with envy…
Yesterday it was like summer, today the weather has turned nasty. Autumn is hitting us with rain and cold. I’d better get prepared for the trips awaiting me come October. Stirling, Kaposvár, Minsk, Paris, says my calendar.
Shame on me that I’ve kept silent for so long! My lame excuse is that I’ve been busier than ever in the past half year. But now, in the midst of the heatwave in Budapest, let me give an account of at least one of my recent trips.
Who hasn’t dreamt of visiting Nepal? Anyone? Well, I’m no exception. So when I was invited to the NELTA conference last autumn, I didn’t hesitate for a second to say yes, yes,yes! I was aware of the devastating earthquake the year before, but seeing is believing. Many of the wonderful sights of Kathmandu had been seriously damaged, but not all of them, thank God – as I witnessed during my sightseeing trip. It was an eye-opener to see how harmoniously Hindu and Buddhist temples live together, as do the people of the two major religions in Nepal.
Now here’s a quiz. Let me show you entrance tickets to two World Heritage Sites. Your task is to tell which one is Hindu and which is Buddhist.
1. Pashupatinath: 518 temples and monuments are huddled together. Hindu or Buddhist?
2. Bhaktapur: the ancient capital city of Nepal until about six hundred years ago. Hindu or Buddhist?
The corrrect answer is: 1. Hindu – 2. Buddhist. Well done! Never mind!
Then there’s Swayambhunath, built on top of a hill. This is probably the only smog-less place in the Kathmandu Valley. It is also known as the Monkey Temple – and indeed there are friendly monkeys hopping around all over the place. Here, I couldn’t resist the temptation to buy this wonderful singing bowl at half the price the shopkeeper asked for.
Now, what you have to do with the bowl is to place it on your flat palm and circle its rim with the stick. Soon enough, the bowl begins to vibrate and produces a beautiful sound, which is said to help you meditate and relax. At home I tried the trick many a time – to no avail. My son, however, managed to get it going at first try. And then he said, “Dad, you’re hopeless.”
Click the ‘Play’ button below to listen to the sound of the singing bowl:
What do you associate Nepal with? Mount Everest, of course, the top of the world at 8848 metres. Upon arrival I looked at several brochures advertising a one-hour flight around the Himalayas for about 90 dollars. So I asked the receptionist:
“Which airline company would you recommend for me to see Mount Everest?”
“To see the what, sir?”
“Mount Everest… Chomolungma.”
“Oh, you mean Sagarmāthā. In our language it’s Sagarmāthā, you know.”
Now I know. Yet I decided not to go. A visitor commented that the sky was so overclouded up there that he couldn’t see a thing from the window. I’m no fool to pay 90 dollars to see nothing but clouds. (This reminded me of a trip to Switzerland where the landlady took me on a day trip by car. With the mountains shrouded in fog, I joked that Switzerland was just like Hungary: flatland.) But now I regret I didn’t go. Never again will I have the chance to see Sagarmāthā, or at least the clouds around the peak.
Oops, I nearly forgot about the conference! To sum it up, it was great. Just like anywhere else in the world, English teachers are wonderful. Aren’t we lucky to live in such a close-knit family?
If you don’t believe me that I attended the NELTA conference, here’s the evidence:
I’d love to continue to talk about the other conferences I attended (Graz, Birmingham, Valencia, Kosovo) and inservice training courses I ran (Erbil, Barnstaple), but I have to go back to work on the third edition of… (I won’t tell you now). I’ll be back soon, inshallah.
Nearly half a year has passed since I last put pen to paper. Lots of things have happened in the meantime. While summer is leisure time for teachers, a pensioner like myself could as well laze around all year long. In this sense, however, I’m not a typical pensioner.
During the summer break there were two daunting tasks in the offing. One concerned my new book, ‘Töprengések a nyelvtanításról’ (‘Reflecting on language teaching’). After my dear reviewers Holló Dorka and Dróth Juli had vetted my text and made hundreds of corrections free of charge, I submitted the manuscript to Tinta Kiadó. But it soon turned out that life is not as easy as that. To cut a long story short, due to complications concerning the public procurement law, the book was eventually published by Eötvös Kiadó. Regretfully, printing took longer than expected and came out a few weeks after my 70th birthday. So on 6 August I was able to hug only the galley proof (and my family).
If you care to take a look at the photo of the book cover, you will see a beautiful painting by Corot, one of my favourite artists. A friend of mine asked if the windmill was meant to symbolise the quixotic hopelessness of teaching foreign languages. Perhaps, but the reason why I chose this picture is rather that there’s a road leading downwards…
My university (Eötvös Loránd University Budapest) not only footed the bill of the publishing costs, but also allowed me to keep all the 240 printed copies for distribution. Many thanks! I have already given complimentary copies to lots of friends and colleagues but I still have a few leftover copies. So if you’d like one, please let me know asap – as long as the stock lasts! By the way, the book contains 25 of my favourite articles, most of them written in English. The articles are arranged in 12 chapters, each being introduced with a dialogue between me and my interviewer, Borbanek Teréz, who had interviewed me on two previous occasions. Teréz is a real professional, who would never let me digress for too long.
Speaking of my birthday, you should know that members of the now defunct CETT (Centre for English Teacher Training) get together on a couple of occasions each year to reminisce and enjoy each other’s company. The venue is alternately at Caroline Bodóczky’s, Sillár Barbara’s or at some other friends’ house. ‘Why don’t we host this year’s party?’ suggested my wife and I happily agreed. Not for a moment did I occur to me that there was a conspiracy going on behind my back and that the real excuse for this get-together is to celebrate my birthday. The CETT choir sang a song in my honour, put together a ‘Medgyes quiz’ and awarded me with an Oscar statue with the inscription: ‘Academy Award to Péter Medgyes – Best performance by a teacher in a leading role – “Simply the Best” 2015’. To my knowledge, never before had an English teacher been awarded with an Oscar.
The wonderful programme was crowned with a book written in my honour under the title ‘Inspirations in foreign language teaching’ – my festschrift. Edited by Holló Dorottya and Károly Krisztina and published by Pearson, the volume contains 17 papers written by 19 contributors. There’re no words to express my gratitude to all of them, but especially to Dorka, who, it transpired, had been the engine behind this undertaking for two years. I was so deeply touched that when I was asked to respond to the well-wishers I was desperately looking for words! (photos here)
Oh, I’ve nearly forgotten about the other big job I did last summer. It’s the repertory. ‘The what?’ – I hear you ask. Well, a repertory is a collection, in this case a collection of all the talks delivered and workshops run at IATEFL-Hungary conferences since 1991. The repertory contains, in alphabetical order, the presenters’ name, the year when they spoke, as well as the title and blurb of each presentation. With the assistance of MA students, I worked on compiling the repertory and now it’s available at
Don’t start counting how many items it contains – I’ll tell you: over 2,000. Impressive, isn’t it?
Finally, briefly about the other conferences I attended recently. In Cracow I spoke at the 24th IATEFL-Poland conference – the second Polish conference in a row I participated in. In addition to the ‘Fifth Paradox’, a plenary I had delivered quite a few times in many parts of the world, I presented ‘Elfies at Large – Beware!’ for the first time. Successfully getting over my stage fright, I think it went down quite well. Mind you, it’s one of my most provocative talks, but after all what’s the point of a plenary if not challenging deep-seated views? In the picture you can see me in the company of two lovely colleagues from Bulgaria. When I had a bit of free time I explored Cracow, one of the most beautiful cities in our region. If you don’t believe me, discover it for yourself.
Next came the 1st International SKA ELT conference in Bratislava in Slovakia with ‘Always Look on the Bright Side’ plus my humour workshop. I felt very much at home in Bratislava as I had been there so many times before. In the picture, as I’m being equipped with a mike, I look like a football commentator.
The last trip this year led me to Seville. Well, I’ve been to quite a few cities in Spain and wherever I go I feel like, well, this one can’t be beaten in its beauty. This is exactly how I felt in Seville too. Alcázar, the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe, is a glorious place to spend your day. (I did spend a full morning there instead of attending the morning sessions. Shush, please don’t tell the conference organisers.) One of my favourite pastimes abroad is visiting botanical gardens. In Seville I didn’t have to look for one – the whole city is like a botanical garden. Wherever you go, you are dazzled by lantana camara (sétányrózsa), my favourite flower. I wonder why my lantana camaras are so puny in my garden.
Seville was the last leg of my annual tour and now I’ll take a bit of a rest. I’m due to attend quite a few conferences for 2016 too, but for the time being I’d better keep mum about the details.
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!
For this conference I decided to give a talk entitled The ventriloquist that I hadn’t delivered for years. Those of you who haven’t had the misfortune to listen to it should know that it is a ventriloquist act. Well, sort of. I hold a dummy in my right hand, with whom I conduct a dialogue. When it’s the dummy’s turn, I change my voice and try not to open my mouth too wide in order to make the impression that it’s not me speaking but the dummy. I must be doing it quite well because there are always a few participants who come up to me after my talk, saying that they didn’t know I’d been trained as a ventriloquist. Of course I hadn’t.
Just as I’d planned, I attended the second annual TETA conference in June. As Dijana Markovic Hajdarhodzic, acting president of TETA, wrote to me in her invitation letter, this association is the driving force of English teachers in Bosnia-Hercegovina – and indeed it is!
The conference was held in Tuzla, a pretty town in the North-Eastern part of the country. You may have read in the papers that the Tuzla region was very badly damaged by floods in May, and there was a danger that the conference would have to be cancelled. However, the organisers and the participants, mostly primary and secondary school teachers, didn’t budge.
The annual IATEFL conference in Harrogate (a town between Leeds and York) was a pleasure to attend. And not only because I was elected Vice President with a show of hands, but also because I had the pleasure to attend several sessions, including four plenaries. My favourite was Sugata Mitra’s plenary, who spoke about his exhilarating experiments about how computers can do the job of the teacher. I think a few participants got his message wrong, complaining that Sugata would wish to get rid of teachers altogether. Not so! What he was suggesting was that children who are deprived of having teachers available in rural India (and in many other remote places in the world) may well learn a lot from the internet and also from one another.
My 2014 calendar is pretty full – as you can see below.
The first conference I attended this year was the International House Director of Studies Conference in January. I gave the opening plenary to a well-packed audience. Sadly, I could afford to spend only two days so I had no more than a couple of hours to marvel at the beautiful sights of Greenwich where the conference was held. Chief Operating Officer Lucy Horsefield – thanks a lot for the invitation.