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July 2018 update

I’m a bit ashamed that I haven’t sent any updates since last December but as you’ll see I’ve been pretty busy in the past half-year.

Beginning with Lendava in Slovenia. Back in August I was due to give a plenary to language teachers at the Slovenian-Hungarian bilingual secondary school, but I had to cancel it because I’d stepped into a pothole. When I asked my wife if I should see a doctor, she said I needn’t worry, she’d had a similar injury two years earlier. ‘Walk cautiously, you’ll be okay in a couple of weeks.’ Two weeks passed by and it only got worse, so I had my foot x-rayed. It turned out that it was broken, but the doctor said it was too late to put it in cast because the bones had already begun to knit. Hearing what had happened to me, my hosts kindly postponed my presentation till November. By that time, lo and behold, I was more or less fit.

The trip to Lendava was a rare and welcome occasion, because I was asked to give my dinosaur talk in my mother tongue, which even those colleagues whose Hungarian was broken  (oh no, ‘broken’ again!) seemed to enjoy. By the way, Lendava is a lovely town, a few kilometres from the Hungarian border, the only place in Slovenia with a sizeable Hungarian population.

Not long before Christmas I flew to Murcia for a Cambridge Assessment conference. Actually I landed in Alicante on the Eastern coast of Spain. From there I took a taxi to Murcia, some 80 kilometres inside the peninsula. As we dashed past Elche, I reminisced about my visit there the year before: ‘Oh, those beautiful palm trees!’ The municipality of Murcia is said to be the orchard of Spain, nay, the orchard of Europe, which I guess is a bit of an exaggeration. But it’s certainly true that even in the middle of December the weather was gorgeous, especially compared to the freezing cold in Hungary.

This was shortest conference I’d ever been to: starting at 10 a.m., finishing at 1.30 p.m. Three plenaries in a row with long coffee breaks in between. Thus I had the opportunity to take long walks in the city centre, enjoying the hustle and bustle of the weekend. I was most impressed by the 14th century Cathedral of Murcia, which is a beautiful blend of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architectural styles.

Christmas, New Year, January, February, March – diligently tapping away on my computer to finish my… (oops, wait!). At the end of March, I drove to Berehovo (Beregszász in Hungarian), my second trip to Ukraine in four years. Just like Lendava, this town is just a few kilometres from the Hungarian border, but in the opposite direction. The stop at the border took nearly two hours – better be on the lookout for smugglers…

It was a three-language conference: English, Ukranian and Hungarian, and each speaker could present in their preferred language. I chose to give my lecture on the native/nonnative issue in English. The venue of the conference was the Ferenc Rákóczi II Transcarpathian Hungarian College of Higher Education, a vast building, which had recently been restored. It’s indeed the gem of the small town. As I was listening to the talks delivered in Ukranian, I was pleased to discover how much I could still understand through my half-forgotten Russian.

A month later, my wife Vali and I hopped on the plane to Tbilisi via Istanbul. We were invited by the International Black Sea University to their annual IRCEELT conference (in case you couldn’t guess the full form, here it is: International Research Conference on Education, Language and Literature). My gregarious host, Nikoloz, who said he’d already heard me speak in the year 2000, had kept asking me for an increase in the number of my presentations before I went (‘Tell me if you’d rather not do it, Peter!’), but he luckily stopped at three.

It’s incredible how much Tbilisi had changed during those less than twenty years: the drab Stalinist feel was gone, being replaced by a vibrant city. And the food they served at the gala dinner was the most delicious one I’d ever eaten. Don’t ask me what dishes the tables were packed with – I wouldn’t know. Wait, I remember khachapuri, probably because it sounds so funny. Wikipedia explains that ‘khachapuri (Georgian: ხაჭაპური) is a traditional Georgian dish of cheese-filled bread. The bread is leavened and allowed to rise, and is shaped in various ways, usually with cheese in the middle and a crust which is ripped off and used to dip in the cheese. The filling contains cheese (fresh or aged, most commonly sulguni), eggs and other ingredients.’ Yam, yam.

Tbilisi dinner table

And here’s a montage of Tbilisi.

On our return trip we had merely one hour’s layover time in Istanbul. Throughout the flight I kept whimpering to Vali that we wouldn’t be able to catch our flight back to Budapest. ‘Trust Turkish Airlines,’ she said. ‘They won’t leave us in the lurch.’ When I saw the never-ending queue snaking between the bars to get through the security check at Atatürk Airport, I ran to a security man begging him to let us use the queue reserved for business passengers or we’d miss our flight. ‘Business passengers only,’ he said. ‘Please, sir…’ ‘Business passengers only,’ he repeated adamantly. ‘I told you we’d be late,’ I hissed to Vali as we were meekly lining up. ‘Why the f**k do I still travel? Why don’t I sit on my ass at home?’

When we finally got through security, we ran towards the designated gate pulling our rolls-on behind us. Happy ending? No! By the time we arrived at the gate, it was already closed. In dismay, I dumped myself on the nearest bench and said to Vali, ‘Your turn. Do it.’ She ran off looking for a service desk. A good half an hour later, she returned gasping, ‘Why didn’t you answer the phone?’ ‘I forgot to turn it on again,’ I said. Then she explained that we’d have to go back to the arrival hall because they insisted that only after I presented myself at the desk would they issue my ticket. Once this done, we elbowed our way through the security again, and as we were waiting in the departure hall for the next plane due to take off five hours later, I hummed to myself the well-known promo song: ‘We are Turkish Airlines! We are globally yours!’

And here’s my final travel in the spring. The only unaccomplished one. And the story goes like this. I’m a new dog owner. Well, actually it’s my son who is the master, but I’m the one whose job it is to walk her. As I was sitting next to Mirek, a Polish colleague, at the dinner table in Istanbul back in 2017, I happened to show off with my recent acquisition.

‘What breed?’ he asked.

‘A Hungarian pointer.’

‘Are you kidding me? I’ve got a Hungarian pointer too. It’s called vizsla in Hungarian, isn’t?’

‘Exactly. Boy or girl?’

‘Boy,’ Mirek said. ‘And yours?’

‘Zserbó is a three-month-old girl.’

‘Kevin is a couple of months older then.’

And so the conversation went on for another half an hour about our dogs. A far more stimulating topic than talking about English language teaching, wouldn’t you agree?


A few days after I arrived home, Mirek sent me a message to invite me to their conference for their 2018 spring conference. Then a day before I was due to leave for Konin, I was walking Zserbó, as is my wont every day. Then she began to play with a huge hairy dog, chasing each other like mad. The next moment I found myself on the ground after the huge monster ran into me from behind. Since I was in the middle of nowhere, I had to limp home unaided. By the time I arrived, my left foot was twice as big as before. My wife said that this time I must go and see the doctor because my foot is sure to be broken. ‘It isn’t broken,’ said the doctor, ‘you just pulled a muscle, but it might take a good two weeks for it to heal.’ Well, it took a good four weeks in fact, and I was virtually confined to bed. That’s why I had to cancel the Konin conference. Should I get another invitation from Mirek, I’ll insist on taking  Zserbó with me. By that time she’ll be old enough to delight me with a few lovely puppies fathered by Kevin.

And here’s the punchline! For a year and a half, I’d been working on my book under the title ‘I’ve run away from home’. Its subtitle is ‘How does an English language teacher get into 100 countries?’ I’m pleased to say that it’s hot off the press now. If you’d like to read it, start learning Hungarian, because I wrote it in my mother tongue. An easy read, ideal for the summer holiday. Unputdownable (ha, ha, ha).

Világgá mentem

December 2017 update

Update: 1 December

Before you break up for Christmas, here’s a bit of update of my 2017 escapades that I haven’t shared with you yet.

The end of May welcomed me back to Salamanca, one of the most glorious towns in Spain. This time my wife joined me after I’d told her that she shouldn’t miss it. The fast train from Madrid to Salamanca was opened a year ago and, boy, it was fast. It took less than two hours to cover a distance of 175 kilometres. Sorry, 110 miles. And this time again the conference was held and we were accommodated in the beautiful Hotel Palacio de los Castellanos. Leisurely strolls in the old city, with an elephant statue standing on its trunk right in the middle of Plaza Mayor. As we were sitting in an outside café, we could enjoy the sight of the huge animal farting away indiscriminately, emitting big puffs of smoke from its rear.

Salamanca, Plaza Mayor

In the middle of the summer, I joined my friend Rakesh running a workshop in Zaježova, a small ecovillage hidden in the Lower Tatra mountains in Slovakia. And what a gorgeous place it is! The resthouse we were staying at is reserved for people doing joga. And strictly vegetarian – I was warned. In compensation I had the privilege of marvelling at large bushes of yellow potentilla, my favourite wild flower.


At one end of the ranch there was a tiny building. I was told that anyone eager to meditate for a week may crawl into this pitch dark shovel. His or her daily ration of food is stuck in through a small opening. ‘But what if they can’t bear solitary confinement?’ I asked. To my relief the chief manager said that they’re free to leave any time.

My wife was kind enough not only to drive me to Zaježova from Budapest but come back for me with our son, Bálint, two days later. I took the steering wheel and was driving slowly, as is my wont, especially in foreign lands for fear of being stopped by the police and fined for speeding. At one point Bálint cried out, ‘Watch out, dad, that snail has just overtaken us!’ Cheeky boy.

The fourth humour conference was held at the Pázmány Péter Catholic University at the end of the summer. This is the only Hungarian campus recently built in a small provincial town. It was designed by a leading architect with a flair for folklore.

Pázmány Péter Catholic University

As I entered the campus it looked like a movie set specially built for the purpose, waiting to be demolished now that the shooting was over. Not a single person in sight. I headed for the main building, entered and was warmly welcome by the main organiser. She apologised that the conference was not very well attended. Indeed it wasn’t. About a dozen people were sitting in the auditorium with a capacity of about 500 seats, laughing at my jokes and stories meant to be funny.

A couple of months later I learnt why the campus was so desolate. Department after department was gradually moving to the capital city, whose draw appears to be irresistible. According to recent news, the whole complex in Piliscsaba is destined to close for good by 2020. It’s up for grabs. Anyone interested?

A lot more teachers turned up for the annual IATEFL Hungary conference, of which I’m the proud patron. There would have been twice as many colleagues attending had the venue in Budapest been a bit closer to the city centre. This time I wasn’t scheduled to speak, so I could chat away with no butterflies in my stomach. We sorely missed our dear friend, David A. Hill, the most frequent speaker at our conference since IATEFL Hungary was established a good quarter century ago. Sadly, he passed away prematurely a few weeks after the conference.

I’m kind of a regular at INGED conferences, always happy to attend because I love Turkey. The venue of this year’s conference was Aydın University in Istanbul near Atatürk Airport. Talks often had to be interrupted by the earsplitting noise of planes landing. However, hospitality was overwhelming; I had a student minder who would follow me everywhere except for the restroom. A lovely guy and lots of lovely young teachers too.


INGED conference

From the hotel window I could marvel at the spires of the Blue Mosque. ‘Let’s go and see it close-up. It can’t be more than a few hundred metres up the hill,’ I said to myself. So after I dumped my stuff in my room around midnight, I walked up the narrow cobbled lanes. But then it struck me that I forgot the name of my hotel. What if I get lost here? How shall I find my way back? Too risky. Sorry, Blue Mosque – next time.

When I reported on my unforgettable trip to George Town in my previous update, I wouldn’t even dream of returning to Malaysia half a year later. But then again there I was, this time in Kuching, at the invitation of my dear friend, Hazelyn Rimbar.

Anyone know where Kuching is? Well, it’s the capital city of Sarawak in the Malaysian part of the island of Borneo. If I said that George Town is a wonderful place, the same should apply to Kuching. A bustling city on one side of the River Sarawak, but once you take the boat to the other side, you’re in the middle of Nature – with capital N.

When I received the invitation to the ‘symposium’, I asked about the number of people expected to attend. ‘Over one thousand,’ said Hazel with abandon. Wow, and you call it a symposium? The event took place in the toniest hotel of Kuching and all the one-thousand-odd teachers of English were accommodated there too. ‘How on earth can teachers afford this luxury?’ I asked Hazel. ‘All the expenses are covered by the Ministry of Education of Sarawak,’ she replied. ‘Food and travel costs included.’ Compare this generosity to the indigent circumstances under which Hungarian educational organisations operate.

One afternoon we visited the Semenggoh Wildlife Reserve, home of the Borneo orangutan. Needless to say, orangutans belong to the growing list of endangered species, owing to the fact that (1) the number of rainforests is shrinking and (2) females deliver just one baby once in seven or eight years.


Now here’s an orangutan and a photo taken in the reserve together with Hazel, Tamás, me and John.

In Semenggoh we learnt that 17 of a total of 28 orangutans were born in the reserve. We were lucky to be there at feeding time, watching an enormously big male munching on huge quantities of bananas and pineapples after he had deftly peeled and cracked them. Incidentally, orangutan means ‘forest man’ – his eating habits reminded of me eating my lunch when nobody is around.

Although I was planning to go on another trip, I couldn’t for lack of time. This would have been to the Bako National Park where pot-bellied proboscis monkeys can be seen. These monkeys are famous for their long nose, which they have to push away with one paw to be able to put the food in their mouth with the other. One more reason to return to Kuching.

proboscis monkey

You didn’t know where Kuching is, right? Now here’s a rescue question. Where’s Pontianak? OK, I’m being mean. Well, Pontianak is in Indonesia, some 650 kilometres from Kuching, also situated in Borneo. I knew Pontianak is not as attractive as, say, Bali, and certainly not as metropolitan as Jakarta, but it’s definitely closer. It can’t take more than four or five hours by bus, I thought. I would spend one night there, then take the ride back to Kuching the next day.

‘Don’t you dare!’ exclaimed Hazel. ‘Pontianak is home for female vampires. They lure men only to kill them. They’re similarly cruel to pregnant women and especially to babies whose flesh is consumed as a delicacy.’ Although I’m not easily frightened, I clicked on Wikipedia, just to be on the safe side. I read that vampires had been expelled from the town by Emperor Syaraf Abdulrahman Alkadrie centuries ago and a beautiful mosque was built where their nests had been. I felt much relieved.

‘But why go to Pontianak of all places?’ Hazel insisted. ‘Don’t you like Kuching?’ I explained that, first, I’d never been to Indonesia, so this way I could tick one more country off my list. Second, Pontianak lies right on the Equator. After my visit to Equador many years before, this would be the second country where I could have the Equator between my legs, with one foot on the Southern and the other on the Northern hemisphere. Hazel agreed but warned me that I’d better fly because the bus ride could easily take eight hours. That’s what I did.

To cut a long story short, I flew to Pontianak and visited the Equator Museum. And it was well worth it. For those who take my bragging with a pinch of salt, here’s the certificate I received there.

I believe this should be enough for now but I promise to come back after I’ve collected my gifts from Father Christmas. Until then, Happy New Year!

25 August update

In anticipation of the rush of the new academic year, let me reminisce about those events of last spring which I didn’t include in my July report.

It goes without saying that the epitome of my year was the IATEFL Glasgow conference. For one thing, I was one of the speakers of the ELT Journal debate, which is a regular forum at IATEFL conferences to discuss topical issues. This year the theme was what I like to call the ‘English as a Lingua Franca movement’.  Moderated by ELTJ editor Graham Hall with a touch of humour, I argued that ELF may be interesting for researchers, but it’s not important for teachers and learners. At the other end of the table sat Alessia Cogo, who opposed my motion. The two exposés were followed by comments from the floor. Whereas I felt that the sympathy of the audience lay with Alessia, I was relieved that no bad eggs were thrown at me.

If this wasn’t enough, I also wrote an article for ELT Journal, in which I called into question the relevance of academic research beyond the narrow confines of ELF too. My arguments were challenged by Amos Paran. Both my article and Amos’ response are due to appear in the October issue of the journal. I’m ready for the worst and wouldn’t be surprised if I were ostracised from the noble ranks of researchers.

Back to Glasgow. Next to the registration desk stood Susan Holden throughout the four days of the conference. As publisher of the third edition of my book, ‘The Non-native Teacher’, she gave a free copy to each participant – a total of nearly two thousand copies! As I joined her at the desk, my heart was filled with joy as the delegates were queueing up to have their copy signed by the author. Should you be interested in buying the book, place your order here: The English Language Bookshop, Brighton, (This is called self-promotion, isn’t it?)

Whereas I love Scotland, I must admit that Malaysia promised to be a far more exotic country to visit. After a never-ending flight, I arrived in George Town. I wonder why a Malaysian town should still wear the English name decades after it became independent from British colonial rule. Anyhow, it’s the capital city of Penang, a smallish island in the Malacca Strait opposite Sumatra. And what a wonderful place it is! Cosmopolitan in character, with a healthy mix of Malay, Chinese and European faces, plus a vibrating old city. On entering the hotel where I was staying and where the conference was held, I noticed this sign:

no durians

What on earth is durian? It looks like a fruit, but I didn’t find it among the dozens of fruits served at breakfast. Having checked it in a dictionary, I found that durian is such a malodorous fruit that it’s banned from public places. Some people feel sick even at the sight of it, while others call it the king of fruits. Durian is nearly as divisive in South East Asia as marmite in Britain. By the way, the fruit looks like this outside:


and like this inside:

durian inside

Go for it if you have a stomach less sensitive than mine – and if it is available in your country.

At the conference I met my friend Tamás Kiss, who had arranged my invitation to PELLTA, the local English teachers’ association. Until recently Tamás taught in Singapore but now he works in China. He’s a regular speaker at PELLTA; he says this is his favourite conference venue – and after this wonderful conference it’s  my favourite as well. Another apparition revenant is Tony Wright, a gregarious colleague from England, who was instrumental in founding the association in the late 1980s. Since then he’s never been absent from the biannual conferences, partly in order to revisit the same places in George Town that his father had taken pictures of many decades before. Like father, like son.

While the time difference between Hungary and Malaysia is six hours, Mexico is seven – albeit in the opposite direction. No sooner had I got back from Penang than I was off to Guadalajara. Well, not quite because I had a few days’ rest in Copenhagen with my family, barely enough time to get over my jetlag, let alone the climatic change.

Well before the conference I sent a video message to greet the prospective conference participants. You may watch it here:

The flight to Guadalajara with layover time in Amsterdam and Mexico City took as much as the one to Penang. Cramped seats, delays, turbulence. Arrival in Guadalajara, transfer to the hotel, on and off sleep, early breakfast. Half a day for my own pleasure. Let’s go sightseeing! I ask the receptionist:

“How can I get to the city centre?”

“By taxi, sir.”

“Could you change fifty dollars into pesos please?”

“I’m sorry, sir, we’ve run out of pesos.”

“Can I pay the driver in dollars?”

“No, you can’t, sir, he’ll take pesos only.”

“But then how can I get to the city centre?”

“By taxi, sir.”

Catch-22. In despair I ask for a city map. Well, we’re here and here’s the city centre. Hm. Should be within walking distance. It’s half past eight in the morning and the sun is shining brightly. I’m walking east along a busy main road towards the centre. Half an hour later I’m in the middle of an industrial part of Guadalajara with factory yards on either side. Now I have to cross railway lines and then a motorway. Run, Péter, run! By that time the sun is hitting me harder and harder. I’m getting tired.

Another half hour and I’m in a more lively district. Look, there’s a bank over there. Hurray! The bank clerk shakes his head and the little that I can understand from his Spanish is that they won’t change money. Why don’t you walk three blocks down the road, he says, and you’ll find a cash machine. I drag myself on. This should be it, three machines in the wall. I try to stick my card into the hole: it won’t fit in. The guy on my right waves me to the one at the opposite end. I’m hesitating. What if my card disappears in the interstice and won’t reemerge? No, better not.

I keep walking. Wow, there’s another bank over there. Sorry, sir, we don’t change money, says the guy, but if you walk five blocks down this road, you’ll find one that will. Opposite a McDonald’s place. Don’t give up, Péter, pull yourself together. Trot, trot, trot and then, lo and behold, the bank as said is there just across the McDonald’s. After waiting for my turn for a good half hour I have the precious pesos in my hand. I hail a taxi and in about fifteen minutes I get off at the foot of the main cathedral. And next to it what do I find? A hop on-hop off bus. I walk up to the booth selling tickets for the sightseeing tour. When does it depart, I ask the fat lady. Come back in about forty minutes, she says. OK, I’ll be here by eleven.

I enter the cathedral and dump myself in a seat exhausted. It’s pleasantly cool inside. Half an hour later I return and ask the same lady what now. We still need another nine passengers, sir, and then we’re off. How many are there yet? You’re the first one, sir. Thank you very much. I take the next taxi pulling up, back to the hotel, up to my room, into bed and have a sound sleep until the next morning. Guadalajara, you’ve missed the only chance you could have entertained me! Tough luck.

Otherwise, the conference was very well organised and my hot-off-the-press book was displayed on a faraway stand. The sales representative was just sitting there without a yen to sell my book or any other book for that matter. Then I bumped into Andy Cowle, a guy I’d never met before. It turned out that he’d been working with Susan Holden and had actually been employed by her at Macmillan in the early nineties. After a few drinks he suggested that I hold up my book at crucial points during my presentation. I told him I would be the last one to promote my book in such a flamboyant way. As the audience were leaving the auditorium after my talk, Andy nearly blocked the exit, waving my book and shouting that this was the last chance to buy my book. And he would step aside only after all the copies were sold. Meanwhile the rep was just standing there idly. God bless you, dear Andy!

This should be enough for now. Next time: Salamanca and Zaježka – you’ve been warned!

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: 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.

1 April 2017 update

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:

Stirling, Airthrey Castle.

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:

Dear Péter,

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:

The Non-Native Teacher by Péter Medgyes

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.


September 2016 update

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.

Mark Andrews
Mark in action

What was my role in this spiel? Well, as patron of SOL I was there mostly as an understudy or extra.

Peter Medgyes, Uwe Pohl, Mark Andrews
With Uwe Pohl (center) and Mark Andrews (right)

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.

July 2016 update

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! smiley Never mind! sad-face

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.

November 2015 update

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.

Medgyes Péter: Töprengések a nyelvtanításról
Medgyes Péter: Töprengések a nyelvtanításról

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.

And this was just the beginning. On the first day of the 25th anniversary conference of IATEFL-Hungary early October, unsuspectingly I was ushered into the beautiful central building of our university and, lo and behold, it was chock-full of friends and colleagues who came specifically to congratulate me on my birthday. Even the newly appointed dean of our faculty honoured me with his presence.

Inspirations in Foreign Language Teaching
Inspirations in Foreign Language Teaching

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

repertory-iatefl-hungaryDon’t start counting how many items it contains – I’ll tell you: over 2,000. Impressive, isn’t it?

medgyes-cracow-2Finally, 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.

See you in 2016. Until then, Happy Christmas!

June 2015 calendar update

Péter MedgyesThe 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 thePéter Medgyes delivering his Dinosaur talk 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 The non-native teacher by Péter Medgyeswere 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.

Mark Andrews, Rakesh Bhanot, Csilla Járay-Benn and Péter Medgyes 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!

October 2014 calendar update

Oxford University Press conference in Budapest

ventiloquist-1-400For 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.

Continue reading October 2014 calendar update