Tag Archives: IATEFL Hungary

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.

potentilla

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.

orangutan

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!

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.

Love,

Susan

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.

Péter

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

http://www.iatefl.hu/sites/default/files/Repertory_IATEFLHungary2015.pdf

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.

medgyes-mike-600

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!

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