ELTforum.sk Conference 2015

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Beatrix Price: Let Your Learners Fly

An interview by Martina Bednáriková

Learning is the journey that the young learners have to depart on. Let them navigate and explore it on their own, for they know more than we teachers often see. Our ELT Forum presenter Beatrix Price also advises to support their Beathinking and allow them to struggle. Push them to explore and watch them discover… and do not forget to encourage them in the meantime.

Slovak Chamber of English Teachers (SCET): As a Young Learner Specialist, you are an expert on children’s learning processes. Have kids changed over the years, i.e. are young learners today more difficult to handle than when you started teaching? Taking into account your rich experience in teaching all over the world, is there still anything that surprises you during your lessons?

Beatrix Price (BP): This is a very complex question. I could start with the famous quotation by Socrates on young generation: “Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”

A couple of hundreds and thousands years have passed, and it is still the same, so you can’t really reflect on this issue in your own lifetime. There always have been problems with bringing children up and it’s still the same.

If you ask me about my own experience, I can tell you a story: When I started teaching, I worked in a ‘giga-school’, in a newly built suburb of Budapest; we called it a ‘Children Factory’.  Most of the teachers dropped out after a few months or they might have endured it for a year. My headmistress used to say, ‘If you teach for a whole academic year at my school, you can go anywhere in the world and succeed.” It was tough. I stayed for two years and then I fled. A few years later I heard that the biggest bank robbery in Hungary was committed by some of the youth whom I had taught at that school. I survived and a learnt a lot there.

Since then I’ve taught in different settings, from kindergarten children to adults, from language schools to company courses, some teacher training sessions, too. But I’ve always taught children, either in alternative (you could say elite schools) or in the state sector. And I can tell you that teaching in state schools, especially in the upper middle grades, is still a challenge, after so much experience.

Why is it like that? We can all agree that in our accelerated world information can be attained within seconds. The network of data covers our whole life. This raises a few questions for us. First of all, who possesses ’information’ and ’knowledge’ today? How long does it take to get access to information? And most importantly, what do we do with it afterwards? How do we use it and what do we use it for?  Children are today very much aware of this phenomenon and yet schools lag behind our real world.

SCET: Do schools change and adapt according to the pace of modern life? What sort of teachers do we need today? What do we have to learn? And what do we have to teach?

BP: Teachers have to rethink their role at schools and give a new direction to their quest.

One last perspective is that there is so much change in the last few decades due to the boom in information technology that we are not even able to diagnose the symptoms of growing and misbehaving children. Parents today don’t have time to give attention to their children. Kids are constantly on some sort of electric babysitter, watching TV, DVDs, playing online games or fiddling with a smart phone or another gadget. These are all very attractive and work well for a while, but not necessarily good for children. During the school years then dyslexia with all the other ‘Dys’-es, ADD, ADHD are diagnosed and cause so much extra work in our profession. No wonder that this year  a DysTEFL project won an ELTons award for ‘Excellence in Course Innovation’! “The judges described the winner as “a much-needed course for teachers and one that addresses a gap in the market.”

(The ELTons is a celebration of excellence in English Language Teaching, recognising significant and innovative advances in the theory of ELT learning, teaching and research worldwide. This new ELTons award category joins the long-established group of British Council Innovation Awards.)

My approach to teaching children is therefore a preventive method. If we consciously focus on the developmental stages of children, we must provide suitable and meaningful activities for their healthy growth.

One of Bea's teacher training sessions

One of Bea’s teacher training sessions

SCET: Apart from having more fun, how do your students benefit from learning English through various games?

BP: My starting point is that teaching a second language to children is not an explicit teaching /learning but rather an acquisition, a similar process to acquiring one’s mother tongue. I assume that it is possible to take LA2 (Second Language Acquisition) as a delayed LA1 (first Language Acquisition,  i.e. the mother tongue), if the conditions for teaching a foreign language strive towards providing similar circumstances to LA1.

In my teaching I use games that have been played by children all over the world for centuries and are not only entertaining but have educational value, too. They have a magic element borrowed from the authentic language environment of the English-speaking world or the traditional playgroup culture of other nations.

There are lots of advantages to using games, songs and rhymes: the variety of the range of learning situations; maintaining pupils’ motivation with the pace of the lesson; ‘hidden’ practice of language patterns; giving confidence by encouraging pupil participation and of course many more.

We all know that children learn best in a motivating, challenging environment. Games represent this positive motivation for them, and while they are fully engaged in the timelessness of games, they can both serve their physical development and support flexible, mobile thinking.

SCET: In what way is it more challenging for teachers to work with young learners than with adults? On the other hand, what are the advantages of it?

BP: I’ve taught the whole spectrum of ages, from kindergarten age to adults. I must admit that my favourite age group is the latter one; no discipline problems, no motivational tricks, a much more energy-saving teaching mode. On the other hand although teaching YLs is very demanding; it is still an immense joy to teach them.

When teaching young learners, one has to work from back to front. First to decide what to achieve and then break down into smaller chunks what to teach and how to approach it. Young learners need a lot of movement accompanied activities in the language lessons. They love the rhythm, the repetition. They enter into the mood of the language through movement and express meaning with gestures through the feet, arms, head, facial expressions, voice and tone.

Stamping and clapping, hammering or tiptoeing, carry rhythm into their limbs – they all help to remember words, expressions or the melody. You probably all have verses or songs from your own childhood that stay with you for a lifetime, sometimes even without knowing the meaning of these rhythmic patterns. They might even contain some sensory impressions, e.g. colours, temperature, sounds, taste or smell.

During the teaching process this first step of enjoyment has to be lifted onto a higher, more conscious level, a clearer level of understanding. Step by step the children cut down the text into smaller units, first chunks, expressions, phrases and then finally words, when they arrive at the meaning, the core words, the content.

So from a more dream-like, joyous repetition we guide the learners to a more conscious, wakeful practice, first in chorus, later in smaller groups (e.g. boys and girls), pairs and finally individually.
This is a fairly long but delightful journey for the child, full of excitement and challenge, from movement to understanding, from the whole to the unit, from a global, universal totality to the individual.

SCET: In what way does art actually help English teachers? On the other hand, what is the benefit of art for students of English? How do you implement art into your own lessons?

Bea and NoraBP: The teacher is a professional educator and at the same time an artist, too. There is a deep longing to achieve artistic teaching in our profession but teachers often have low self-esteem. “Oh, yes, I would like to do it but I don’t know how”; “I’m not good at it”, I’m not talented”, etc. are the excuses.

When it comes to serving the child’s needs, then it might change. “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” (Pablo Picasso)

Using arts can help motivate learners to use one’s creative side to stimulate language acquisition and enhance language learning.

Both for teachers and students it’s easy to develop artistic awareness by trying to get rid of mental blockages, starting to see the world with an artist’s eye, increasing creativity and most of all, developing a deep love for art.

What kind of artistic activities have I used in my ELT classroom?

  • visual arts: painting, drawing, graphic art, photography
  • literature: reading graded and original books, creative writing, poetry, short stories, artistic biography
  • performing arts: rhythmic games, improvisational games, classroom plays, play-acting, miming, singing, music, dancing, circus games.

There is only one problem with using arts in ELT: there’s never enough time. 🙂

SCET: Tell us more about mELTing Pot, the magazine of IATEFL Hungary. What does your work entail and what do you like about it? How can in your opinion an ordinary Slovak teacher of English benefit from “melting” as far as their professional career is concerned?

BP: IATEFL-Hungary publishes its professional magazine, called mELTing Pot three times a year: two electronic and one printed issue. The magazine is free for all IATEFL-Hungary members.

We publish different articles dealing with practical classroom issues, methodology, pedagogy, technology, language and linguistics, teaching resources, professional and personal development.

Most articles in our mELTing Pot are between one and three pages in length, between about 1,500 -2,500 words.

The authors share their inspiring thoughts with us in either experimental or instructional articles. We can read about general ideas in teaching, trying to capture insight or inspiration or their love for the language.

I have been the editor-in-chief for the last couple of issues of  mELTing Pot. It’s a great journey to collect all the articles, find the right people, connect to them. By the end of each issue I’ve got a new ‘ELT family’.

I’d like to encourage our Slovak colleagues to write for us either about their passion in ELT or to connect to the 2014 conference with the title: ‘English for a change’.

Before our annual conferences we ask the plenary speakers concerning our profession, their personal and professional development.

With our teacher’s magazine we try to inspire our colleagues.

We all agree that inspiration and creativity are key concepts of our profession, our very deepest being, the inner drive, the motor, the pushing force that make the difference… It all starts with a tiny seed, an image or a thought, a sentence, a meeting, a spark or a smile, which develops both in time and space, like a spiral, both vertically and horizontally. All impressions and contacts enrich it on its way and it spreads energy as it grows. That’s how we professionals ‘function’ with each other. We share ideas, give and take, nurture both ourselves and each other.

SCET: Can you tell us more about your studies of Steiner/Waldorf Bea teachingEducation in Sussex, England? In what way were these studies different from all your other studies, and how did they help you in your career?

BP: I spent 3 years as a full time student at Emerson College; I did the Foundation Year, the Teacher’s Training Course and the English Course.

These years were some of the most influential years of my life. This is a centre of education for adults that addresses the need for human approaches to today’s urgent questions. It provides opportunities for learning and transformation through education, practical initiatives, research and community building.

There were students from all the continents, from 33 different countries. I spent my time in an incredibly beautiful surrounding, where birds, squirrels and rabbits were equal friends, and learnt respect for the multicultural diversity of nations and gave me a basis for understanding other cultures, characters, customs, traditions, etc.

I had an ongoing opportunity to develop, practice and share ways of working and living with others that encouraged free thinking, imagination and responsibility in the world. The depth I experienced during my studies there gave me foundation for the rest of my life. Theoretical study was combined with practical and artistic work to integrate learning through head, heart and hands.

The artistic highlights of my time there were singing in Mozart’s Requiem and playing Beatrice in Shakespeare’s Much ado about nothing.

My teaching career has had a lot of inspiration from that time. I’ve always tried to bring real experience to my students, in which they can grow not only in their cognitive but the social, emotional and ethical/moral parts, too. I firmly believe that in such education learners can recognise their own tasks in life, facing challenges with responsibility, courage, enthusiasm and wisdom.

Beatrix Price is a teacher at the British Council Budapest, Young Learner Specialist, Teacher trainer and the Vice-President and the international network coordinator of IATEFL-Hungary. She teaches young learners at the British Council, she is an online English teacher for Katedra Language School Budapest and works at a primary school in Gödöllő. Bea’s interests include holistic education, using art in foreign language teaching, mother-tongue influence in second language acquisition, language teaching methodology and child and teacher development. She has recently given workshops on Jane Austen’s world in the light of the 21st century both in Hungary and abroad.


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Nora Tartsay: Team Work Makes the Dream Work

An interview by Martina Bednáriková 

Every expert was once a beginner. President of the IATEFL Hungary and NoraELT Forum presenter Nora Tartsay proves that anything is possible when a career and a passion come together. The key is to use the talents one possesses, because everything first seems impossible until it is finally done.

Slovak Chamber of English Teachers (SCET): How did you become a university professor? What do you like most about your job, and least?

Nora Tartsay (NT): I started working at the Eötvös Lorand University as a research assistant, with Zoltán Dörnyei, who was my thesis supervisor. It was a part-time job and I was also teaching English in a secondary school in Budapest. I really learnt a lot during this period and when there was a possibility to become a member of the faculty, I was happy to accept it. Learning is what I enjoy most about my job – I learn new things from my students and colleagues all the time. I also like that I can be rather flexible about how I plan my courses, so I can always change something and experiment. I really don’t like administrative duties and the lack of technical equipment at my university.

SCET: What or who inspired you to study English in the first place? When did you know or realise you wanted to be an English teacher?

NT: I had some teachers in my life who made a great impact on me. First of all, my mom is also a teacher, so there must be something in the family, as teaching was something I had planned to do in my teenage years already. I had an excellent teacher of English in my secondary school, Ms Lyanne Szentirmay, and later at the university Medgyes Péter and Dörnyei Zoltán definitely inspired me to become  a teacher.

SCET: You are the President of IATEFL-Hungary. What duties does it include and what do you like about it? Are there any challenges?

NT: Hungary is a small country, so being part of the IATEFL-Hungary community is like spending time with friends I like and who share my concern for quality language teaching. I also enjoy working in an international community, and if you volunteer for long enough, you can hardly escape taking the role of the president for some years. It is basically being the most experienced committee members after a while, which also means challenges. I never had to do financial planning, strategic planning, or marketing before. It’s exciting, but I have a lot to learn, and it’s easier with a group of enthusiastic people around.

SCET: How did you get started in curriculum and materials development projects? Where do you find inspiration and ideas for the materials you develop?

NT: My main professional interest is Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in education and e-learning. In recent years I have been mainly involved in designing online courses, or professional development courses with a heavy ICT component. This has been part of my job at the university, but I’ve been also involved in numerous curriculum and materials development projects at other institutions in Hungary as well. I find a lot of inspiration at conferences and in professional development courses, both face-to-face and online. My students and colleagues are great inspirations as well.

Nora and KatiSCET: From your perspective, what are the differences between developing materials for in-service teachers, teacher trainers and language learners? Which is more demanding and why?

NT: These courses should be very different indeed. Language learners tend to enjoy working with learning materials using ICT, but of course they are very different – their age, level and place of instruction have an effect on what materials should be designed for them, so it’s a little difficult to answer. In-service teachers need a lot of practical materials, things they can use in their teaching soon. They have a very good understanding of what their students’ needs are, so usually they appreciate practical ICT-related methodology. Many of them feel the need of some instruction on how to use technology in the classroom, including tips on which tools to use with different levels and age groups. Teacher trainers tend to have an interest in more theoretical topics as well, I’ve been involved in research about how ICT can support school development and professional development in general for example, so that we had a better understanding of what skills will our trainers need. Another research project focused on the role of the teacher or facilitator in online teacher training courses, a topic I’m really interested in.

SCET: What attracted you to the idea of online games in ELT? What are the main differences in students’ and teachers’ attitudes towards online games?

NT: I like games. That was one of the main reasons to use them in my teaching. The idea of using online games comes from Graham Stanley, the co-author of the book and the blog ‘Digital Play’. I enjoyed discovering these opportunities with the students, and they also add a number of new ideas every year. I see them learning and acquiring new skills using games, and I also try to ‘test’ the games on my children – just to have an idea of how they work with different age groups. Another inspiration was the series of TED talks on gaming, they are really excellent and worth watching. Not surprisingly, adults like playing games as well, and it doesn’t take long to persuade teachers that online games can be used for language development as well. My experience shows that teachers use a lot of games in the classroom anyway, and they also know that students play online games, so they are actually very happy when they are shown some online games that they can use in the classroom, and not only for having fun but for some really serious learning.

Bea, Nora and MarkSCET: Did online games help you improve your own English language skills? How have they influenced you as a learner? Have they changed your view on language learning and teaching in any way?

NT: Yes, definitely. I learn a lot of new skills from online games, although I have fairly little time to play. I prefer games that make me think, like puzzles or adventure games, the ones that require creative thinking. These remind me of some important learning-related issues, like the importance of collaboration and cooperation, the usefulness of making mistakes, of testing hypotheses, of immediate feedback, of positive feedback, of motivation, rules, and so many other things that teachers have to consider in their teaching anyway – with or without games.


Nora Tartsay is a teacher and teacher trainer at the School of English and American Studies of ELTE University, Budapest. Her main interest is using ICT and e-learning in education. As a volunteer, she also works for IATEFL-Hungary, to which she has been elected president for the second time.


Frank Prescott: Don’t Be Afraid of Experiments

The 2nd part of an Interview with Frank Prescott  by Martina Bednáriková

One of the secrets to become a great teacher is to never be Frankafraid to move.  If you do not lose sight of your purpose and embrace that it is not about you, you will definitely gain the best results. Our ELT Forum speaker Frank Prescott has definitely learnt to weather the storms in his classes. Will you follow his lead?

Slovak Chamber of English Teachers (SCET): Your workshop “The Write Stuff” aims at providing various writing activities to engage and motivate students more. What is your own attitude to writing? What do you like about teaching academic writing?

Frank Prescott (FP): I have a feeling that writing is sometimes neglected in the language classroom and I think that’s a shame because it’s such an important skill. I think that writing tends to lose out to speaking when it comes to production. When writing is done, the activities may not actually involve much writing for writing’s sake but rather just as a means of completing the task, and often the feedback on writing focuses much more on accuracy rather than on the content or organisation of the writing. I want to show that a well-designed writing task can be a highly engaging activity in the classroom, which can involve the use of the other skills as well as plenty of interaction, and so it can be fitted very well into a balanced communicative syllabus.

Perhaps part of the problem with writing is that it tends to be seen as something that’s difficult for both the learner and the teacher to do well. Actually writing can be great fun if it’s handled in the right way. It can allow students to experiment with the language and express their own thoughts and feelings about topics that they are interested in. It can be used to encourage creativity and can also involve a lot of cooperation. As I already mentioned, writing can be combined very well with the other skills so that it can be part of a whole skills approach. Of course, writing and reading have always gone together, but nowadays, with multi-media tools it’s easy to bring in listening as a stimulus for writing, and writing can be used as a way into oral activities of different kinds.

I spend a lot of time working with students doing presentations about different topics and here writing is also very important. In fact, one of the key uses of writing is in preparing for a speech or presentation. There’s no reason why this kind of activity can’t be done in the classroom at many levels. Group presentations can work very well and can be combined with fieldwork or individual work online and in the library followed by group preparation. Here writing is not the main focus but it is a necessary skill in organising the material of a presentation. Obviously, poster presentations also require some writing skills and again students of all levels find them enjoyable.

Nowadays, writing is arguably a more important skill than it’s ever been thanks to the advent of digital media. Our students are now writing all the time on social media and they will also need to be able to write effectively in many different online situations in their future. As language teachers, we have an obligation to help our students use their English for these purposes, as well, and to help them understand the differences between styles and functions. Being able to write well in English is particularly important in this regard because it is the most widespread online language.

When it comes to academic writing, many of my students find it difficult to get used to writing essays because they have not had much writing practice in school, either in English or in their first language. Even if they have had some experience writing short “compositions”, they often don’t know how to organise a piece of writing effectively. It’s a challenging job to help them adapt to a completely new set of requirements and in many cases they have to begin by learning how to write a simple paragraph and then build from there. Progress can sometimes be slow but it can also be very rewarding to see students making progress and becoming more confident in expressing their own ideas about the things they are learning. Particularly in my media classes, I very much enjoy reading the short essays that more experienced students write in which they are able to explore issues and present their own arguments about different topics.

For me, the ability to successfully communicate an idea based on well-informed supporting information and using clear, well-organised written language is a very important skill. It’s my job to help students acquire this skill, or to help them develop and improve it, and I think if they can do this in writing, they will also be able to speak more effectively.

Frank with ELT colleaguesSCET: Can you tell us more about your PhD experience? What was your thesis about? How did you like being a student again?

FP: It will not come as a great surprise that my thesis was about writing. To be more precise, it was a qualitative study of 20 first-year students learning how to write at university, and it grew out of my own questions about the difficulties my first-year academic skills students were obviously experiencing with their writing. The chance to work with students closely by observing them and interviewing them over the entire course of their first year was fascinating, and I learnt a great deal that I was able to feed back into my own teaching. However, the work involved in collecting, processing and analysing the data was immense – it took several years to complete.
Ironically, perhaps the most difficult part of the whole process was actually writing the thesis. Again, this experience of struggling to organise my thinking about the research results and communicate it clearly in writing while working to an ever more rapidly approaching deadline, also helped me to get a deeper understanding of some of my own students’ difficulties.

As for the experience of being a student again myself, I only really felt this strongly during the obligatory and elective courses at the beginning of the PhD. For these we had to do a lot of reading and then we would discuss it in class. We would also write a paper or do a presentation for each course. It was while I was doing some of these courses that I felt how good it was to be in a classroom as a student again, sharing ideas and engaging in discussion with other students about some fascinating topics. It also gave us the chance to share our worries and wonder about our sanity in trying to do a PhD at all – the kind of shared despair that comes so naturally to students in the education system at many levels. The actual writing of the thesis, though, was quite a lonely experience and much more difficult than anything I remember from my earlier days as an undergraduate. It was a far remove from the sociality of the classroom.

SCET: How does an average day of Frank Prescott look like? Where do you get energy and motivation for all that you are doing?

FP: My average day very much depends on what time of the year it is, but one thing is constant, I always get up early, and I like to start my day by walking my son to school during term time. There are only two semesters at the university, and during these my day is generally divided between preparing classes, teaching classes, and catching up with marking. At the end of each semester there are usually so many essays to mark, theses to read and reports to write that life becomes quite hectic, but most of the time it’s just busy. And of course there’s alway IATEFl-Hungary stuff to do and sometimes I have other little jobs, like proofreading or the odd private student. During the semester I work in my office at university because it’s convenient and not far from where I live, but in the summer I work more from home. I am almost always the last one up at night because I’m a night owl and I find it impossible to go to bed early unless I’m absolutely exhausted. Generally, this only happens towards the end of each semester for reasons already mentioned.

Getting energy and motivation is not usually a problem for me, although I have my “downs” occasionally, just like everyone else. What keeps me motivated is my enjoyment of teaching, of trying to do things a little better each time and experimenting with new ideas and new techniques. I think that the age we’re living in now, despite the great challenges that we face for our society and our future, is a very exciting one for teaching. The technology that we now have access to in the classroom, technology that the students themselves often bring with them, enables us to do things that previous generations of teachers could not even dream of. And precisely because of the problems that face us and our children, our job as teachers is much more than just to help our students acquire another language. We can give our learners the opportunity to see themselves in new ways and start to think about how to shape their own future. We are lucky because we can bring so many different ideas and topics into our classrooms whereas other teachers are more limited, and it’s much easier to do that than it used to be. And this way, at least for me, teaching remains an exciting and rewarding activity.

Having a wide variety of interests outside teaching is also a way of helping me maintain motivation and energy. As well as spending time with my family, I enjoy watching and sometimes even doing various sports. I am passionate about anything to do with films and film-making, and I also love the theatre, especially Shakespeare. I’m an amateur ornithologist and photographer, and in odd moments I like to work on improving my Hungarian, which I have been learning now off and on for many years (I’m not quite sure if this is exactly what the phrase “lifelong learning” is supposed to mean). All this helps me to relax and recharge my batteries, but a lot of it also feeds back into what I do in the classroom, which I guess is the same for all teachers.

Frank Prescott has lived in Hungary for the last 19 years, teaching first in private language schools and then as a lecturer in a large university in the capital. He spends most of his time teaching academic writing, applied linguistics and English in the media to undergraduates. He’s just finished a PhD in language pedagogy and for the past three years has been on the organising committee of IATEFL-Hungary.


Frank Prescott: Making Students Think

An Interview with Frank Prescott  by Martina Bednarikova – Part 1

Frank Prescott (who is presenting on the ELT Forum conference June 7th) knows that the functionfrank_mountains of education is to teach two essential things: to think intensively and to think critically. So, the best thing you can do as a teacher is develop your students’ passion for learning. If you do, they will never cease to grow.

Slovak Chamber of English Teachers (SCET): Tell us the story behind your life in Hungary. How did you come to move there? And have you always wanted to teach?

Frank Prescott (FP): The story of my life in Hungary is too long to tell here, but I’ll give you the basic facts. I moved to Budapest in November 1995 and I’ve been here ever since. Now I live in Transylvania as well in the summer and at Christmas – that’s where my wife comes from. I moved here because I wanted to try living abroad and Hungary seemed like an interesting place, quite different from the UK but with a very attractive culture and a fantastic capital city. Now I feel very at home here.

Teaching English made it possible for me to survive when I first arrived in Budapest – a typical native speaker story – but I hadn’t always wanted to be a teacher. Like a lot of young people who go to university, for a long time I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I tried several things before I decided to do a post-graduate  teacher-training course in Edinburgh, and it was while I was doing that that I did a supplementary TESOL course, but actually I learned how to teach EFL on the job, so to speak. At first I was very raw: I remember learning about the Present Perfect the night before I had to teach it in an early morning class. I was a classic “one chapter ahead of the students” type of teacher. You could say that I “fell” into teaching and I never managed to get out again, but I can’t imagine myself doing anything else now, and there’s nothing else I really want to do, apart from maybe writing, but that’s mostly about teaching, too.

SCET: You have been working as a university lecturer. What do you like about your job and why? Is there anything you dislike? When it comes to preparation, how long does it take you to get ready for a lesson?

FP: I was lucky enough to get a job at one of Hungary’s most prestigious universities through my flatmate at the time, who was already working there and told me there was an opening. I’m very happy I did because it’s at the university that I’ve really found my forte as a teacher. I love working with groups of young people who are setting out on an exciting new stage of their life, one that often sees them taking big steps intellectually and discovering what they are really interested in. I also enjoy helping them learn the discipline of organising their ideas in high level writing, and beyond that, I like helping them in the process of adjusting to life in the new academic factory, a very different kind of academic factory from the one they have come from at school.

One thing I really don’t like at university is giving lectures because in a lecture there’s generally only one person talking and there’s not much interaction with the students, but mercifully I have to give very few lectures. Nowadays, I really don’t see the need to give lectures in person at all – they could be given much more effectively and comfortably as online talks (that’s what the so-called MOOCs usually are). The classroom is the place that I like to be: that’s where all the exciting stuff happens. The interaction, unpredictability and sheer fun of the classroom life of a good group is what makes teaching so rewarding and it should be at the centre of education, not just language learning. When it works well, the dynamics of classroom life cannot be reproduced satisfactorily online.

When it comes to preparing for classes, it’s very hard to say exactly how long it takes because it’s an ongoing process. Of course, in courses that I’ve taught before it’s much easier, but I’m always looking to improve my materials and to keep everything as up-to-date as I can. I keep a notebook with me all the time when I’m teaching – I call it my Memory Book – and I jot down important notes about each class, but very often good ideas come to me for the next class in a course when I’m actually in the current class, and I like to write them down straight away (I use a little image of a shining lightbulb to indicate a new idea). I find that my best thinking for the next class is often done right after the previous class. Generally, I can say that thinking about how to make my classes productive is one of the most enjoyable parts of being a teacher for me. I like to “borrow” things from colleagues as well, and of course, the students themselves are important resources in lots of ways. It’s always good to ask them for their ideas, too.

SCET: You have been a member of IATEFL Hungary organizing committee for the past 3 years. What duties and responsibilities do you have? What do you like about organizing such a huge event?

FP: My main responsibility when it DR.FRANK1comes to organising the conference is to take care of the individual speakers, but we are all involved in lots of other smaller and larger tasks both before and during the conference. For instance, two years ago I was the MC for all the announcements over the three days because the guy who was supposed to be doing it dropped out at the last moment, and last year I found myself in charge of the student helpers, which was great fun.

Apart from the conference, I have many different hats which I wear at different times, some of which fit me better than others. I am the coordinator of the Culture and Literature Special Interest Group, which I enjoy very much, but I am also responsible for being the “All SIGs coordinator”, a job which I think I’m not so proficient in, but which I ended up being responsible for because there was nobody else to do it. In small voluntary organisations like teaching associations that sort of thing is likely to happen – everybody has to step up to do things they never reckoned on doing sometimes. Of course, being a native speaker I’m often called on to do proofreading and I also wrote the editorial for the last issue of our magazine. Another key area
that I’m involved in is working with our
Regional Branches. For the past two years we’ve being trying to promote more activity outside the capital. It’s difficult and the progress is slow but I think it’s very important for a teaching organisation to try and reach teachers all over the country. I hope to be able to devote more time to this aspect of my work over the summer.

Basically time is our biggest problem – there’s never enough of it. The work of a committee is perpetual and there’s always more to do, but it can be very rewarding to work with other motivated people and to meet teachers at home and abroad as well as famous professionals. Of course, the annual conference is very exciting and it’s a great feeling when you see another conference come together, but it’s only a small part of what we do, and organising other events and speaking to teachers who don’t know us and persuading them to become part of the organisation is perhaps what I find most enjoyable about working for IATEFL-Hungary.

More from Frank soon…watch this space!

Frank Prescott has lived in Hungary for the last 19 years, teaching first in private language schools and then as a lecturer in a large university in the capital. He spends most of his time teaching academic writing, applied linguistics and English in the media to undergraduates. He’s just finished a PhD in language pedagogy and for the past three years has been on the organising committee of IATEFL-Hungary.

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