interview with Andrew Wright
- February 2003
When , where & why did you begin teaching English ?
And briefly from there until now?
I have always been a worker for teachers rather than a language
teacher. It's a bit like being a maker of violins for others
to play. Of course, I can and have knocked out some tunes
on the violin myself but basically I am a maker.
What is your involvement now in ELT?
I run a language school with my wife. My school organizes
London Chamber of Commerce Cert TEB courses for teachers of
Business English with Mark Powell. I do some work with teachers
in various countries each year. I write articles for teachers'
Which books have you published & why? Which are you most
I have been writing non-stop for forty years, almost exactly.
So I can't list all my books. Like a bit of flotsam I have
been lucky to have been thrown forward by the wave of developments
in language teaching for much of that time. I am very proud
of being the writer
(co-author with David Betteridge and Nicolas Hawkes) of the
very first topic based text book ever written: Kaleidoscope,
published by Macmillan in the 1960s. Now out of print.
I am also proud of the fact that my Games for Language
Learning, (co-author David Betteridge and Michael Buckby),
is still going strong after 25 years. It was the first book
in ELT to be based on the cook book recipe layout of the activities.
Five Minute Activities, also with Cambridge University
Press, has sold over 100000 copies in its ten years of life.
Penny Ur, my wonderful co-author and I, conceived and wrote
the book very quickly, not exactly in five minutes but very
Perhaps I can mention just one more? I wrote a book for Longman
with Saphia Haleem, Visuals for the Language Classroom,
which hardly sold at all and is now out of print but it was
special for me. I think it is the only book in language teaching
which is based on the idea of the
character of the medium suggesting all kinds of special ideas
for language teaching. The smears on the old fashioned chalk
board can be interpreted, as Leonardo said, as 'landscapes
and armies marching' or any other kind of image from the imagination.
You can fold paper and
hide all kinds of things underneath
guess what it says
what the picture is, etc. The medium is just like a person;
it has character and can suggest all kinds of ideas, if you
listen to it.
Which people in language teaching have most influenced you?
In the 1960s I was very influenced by the work of SCOPE, a
course book for teaching English as a second language. It
showed me that language learning can also be about learning
other things of interest and value and not be necessarily
based on trivial stories and drills. I was also
influenced by books and materials published for teaching other
subjects in the curriculum, for example, history, science
and social studies.
In the 1970s Donn Byrne was an influence on me because he
was such a professional and was the first person to invite
me to work with teachers in other countries and invited me
to co-author books with him for Longman.
In the 1980s I was influenced in my ELT work by all the other
work I did in the production of educational materials for
use in other parts of the curriculum, during that decade.
In the 1990s I was most influenced by Mario Rinvolucri. I
love all his books but revel in his book (co-author Paul Davies)
called, Dictation, published by Cambridge University
Press. They have managed to find more
than 100 humanistic and communicative activities based on
that old 'stick in the mud' technique of, dictation.
Mario and his colleagues at Pilgrims constantly drive their
ideas and the teachers' ideas they work with, to new thinking.
Which 3 non-ELT books would you take to a desert island?
You should have said 'apart from Shakespeare!', because Shakespeare
would be my first book to take. Perhaps one of Henry Mayhew's
books on life in London in the mid- nineteenth century, for
example, Mayhew's Characters. It is fascinating (it was a
source of inspiration and
information for Dickens) and it would make me feel that there
are compensations in not having to struggle to exist in a
it may not be so bad to live on a desert island.
And perhaps I would take a book on survival for example, Collins
Gem, SAS Survival. It has all kinds of intriguing ideas for
remaining alive and well in nature.
Which level do you prefer teaching? Why?
I love working with beginners because it is amazing that beginners
can spend an hour with a native speaker and go out of the
classroom feeling that they have understood what was being
said. They can feel so good.
And I love working with advanced students and wonder why I
am being paid because it is such a privilege to be paid for
spending time with people.
What was one of your finer/more rewarding moments in the classroom?
I was once using the technique of asking questions in order
for a class to create a character. They were 17 and 18 years
old and advanced students. There were about 90 of them in
the room for one hour and they created a woman who will be
vividly in my mind for the rest of my life.
There was one moment when I said, 'You say she is elegant.
But you also say she is nervous. Elegance suggests a sophisticated
ability to hide emotions. You say she is smoking. Tell me
how she is smoking.' A student called out, 'She is smoking
slowly. She is elegant.' And
another student called out, 'She is smoking slowly but her
fingers are trembling! She's nervous!'
What a wonderfully vivid image. There was absolute silence
in that room of 90 students. I cannot know but I can imagine
that they all had the same sudden vision of this woman that
I had and which is still with me.
And one of your worst moments
One of my worst moments was in the 1960s and it still haunts
me. That fateful morning, sitting on the toilet, I found myself
imagining all kinds of different images in the pattern in
the linoleum. Seized with excitement, I tore the lino from
the floor and took it to a group of teachers of German in
Newcastle which I had been hired to work with. I hung the
lino over the board and began enthusiastically to ask what
they could see. There was silence. I looked again at the lino
and suddenly realized that the oval shape of the toilet was
clearly there and two discolorations of foot steps were also
visible. What a disgusting
thing! Horrors! It has scarred me for life
teachers as well!
What do you think of the current training options within
I am sorry that funding for extended teacher development courses
are less than they were in many places.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic about ELT in the
I don't really understand the question. There is a massive
demand by people all over the world to learn the world's language
which happens to be English, for the time being. That drive
to learn is the main thing and is much more important than
all the fancy materials and methods we
might dream up.
How do you see it developing in the future?
The internet will play a much bigger role. No doubt. I like
Can we talk of ELT as a profession, as one does with doctors
Any other thoughts to pass on about language teaching?
teaching changes as societies change I don't believe that
research findings seriously influence how aims and methodologies
The reasons for students wanting to learn English (or not
wanting to learn it) is largely a reflection of the society,
or sub- cultural group, they are living in. This background
and its values and perceptions also help to determine
methodologies which are accepted by the learners.
In the 1960s when I began, Western societies believed
that logic could provide answers to everything from
military efforts, exploration in space, housing and
language teaching. So we had the audio lingual and then
the audio visual methodologies which were going to make
learning possible for everybody.
In the 1970s there was a rejection of these global and
logical answers and there was more concern for the
individual; more humanistic approaches. That was in the
West. In other parts of the world societies did not
in the same way and the aims and methodologies relevant
to the West were and are not necessarily relevant in
An addendum: Any individual teacher or student can have a
natural disposition which is in conflict with these swings
in society. Some teachers use the eclectic communicative approach
of recent years but teach it with the spirit of a grammar
translation teacher. I heard and saw a teacher completely
ignore a student who said he had swum across> Lake Balaton
during the previous weekend. That is one hell of a swim for
anybody but for the teacher it was merely on opportunity to
practice using a past tense form.
has been an author and illustrator for many years and
has written books for Oxford University Press (some of
the reviewed here), for Cambridge University Press (Five
Minute Activities, Games for Language Learning, Pictures
for Language Learning), Longman (1000+ Pictures for Teachers
to Copy). He has been a professional storyteller for fifteen
years and estimates that he has worked with 50,000 student
either telling them stories or helping them to make stories
and books. Now Andrew is based in Hungary where he runs
a language school (ILI International Languages Institute)
with his wife Julia and the intensive LCCI Arels Cert
TEB course with Mark Powell (for teachers of business
English). Andrew can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would like information about the LCCI Arels course
then please see the ILI International Languages Institute
web site http://www.teachertraining.hu
Andrew's article about storytelling
the review of Andrew's storytelling books