An interview by Martina Bednáriková
Every expert was once a beginner. President of the IATEFL Hungary and ELT 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.
SCET: 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.
SCET: 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.