- You first visited Germany in 1979/80 and moved to Berlin in 1984. I asked our previous interviewee, Anthony Gaughan, what changes he had seen in the country since moving here twenty years ago. Can you tell us what has remained the same?
(Dear Readers, I know you follow this blog religiously, but just in case you somehow missed Anthony Gaughan’s interview, you can find it here. – Ed.)Anthony quoted Ringelnatz (one of my favourite German poets) saying Berlin wird immer mehr Berlin and it is still the place I decided I wanted to live in during my first trip here in 1979. Then, as now, I love certain areas for their cafés, bars and restaurants that are more relaxed than other towns in Germany. I have been told that I liked West Berlin because it was grubby and run-down (thinking of walking along the Wall at Mariannenplatz in 1980) but to me Berlin is comfortable and unpretentious. Hamburg is a great city, but Berlin has better street cafés and the weather to enjoy them! Berlin has loads of museums, galleries, venues, theatres; it is the place to be for culture – whatever your age group. It is still affordable compared to many other places in Europe. Ich bin ein Berliner – seit 36 Jahren!
- In 1987 you worked in the European Parliament in Luxembourg as a political researcher. Does this experience give you any insights or thoughts about Brexit (or the European Parliament in general) you may be willing to share?When I was in Luxembourg, our everyday working language in the EU (or EEC as it was then) was French. When the single market was launched, English became the European lingua franca as Europe became more business-oriented. More companies around Europe became more interested in the English language and it made the UK an extremely popular destination for many people, accompanied by an interest in the culture and history behind the language. I think the way the British government has responded to the results of the Brexit referendum has curbed this interest and shown Europeans that many British people are not as European as they had thought.
- How does it feel to be an ongoing member of a professional association [ELTABB] for around 25 years?
(The person who submitted this question also gave a glowing review of cavaísimo, Dave’s cava and wine import company – Ed)
I am amazed and pleased that ELTABB is still going as strongly as it is. At the beginning there were few of us and we were struggling to get the teaching of English recognised as something professional and more than simply an easy way to travel around the world for a couple of years. Apart from taking part in workshops for my own personal development, I have always been more interested in employing teachers who are continually trying to improve and develop their teaching. I find the combination of more- and less-experienced teachers, native and non-native teachers, business, academic, general, ESP, private teachers etc. exhilarating as I believe there are so many ways for learners to acquire, learn, or attain competence in the language. As a teacher you can always hear something new or unexpected at any event or workshop. It really isn’t the same old same old…
- You set up David Berry Languages in 1996 in what had been East Berlin – how much excitement and how much suspicion (or how much simple pragmatism) was there towards the English language there at the time?I think there was a combination: on the one hand, the people who lived in Mitte at the time were really pleased to have a language school with native speakers teaching languages. Teaching absolute beginners was something new again for me after years of teaching in West Berlin. On the other hand, there were a large number of low-level and older students with relatively important jobs who were under pressure to learn quickly and some failed. People were generally happier to learn English in a communicative way rather than the Russian they had learned at school or University.
- How much ‘normal’ English-teaching skill/experience is still required in your managerial and directorial work?It depends on how you define ‘required’. In the same way as I don’t believe it is necessary to be able to speak the L1 to teach monolingual groups, or have business experience to teach businesspeople for example, I personally find it useful to understand where errors are coming from or what students are talking about when they are discussing ‘agile practices in their projects’. I still teach myself and discuss the content of our courses with our clients, so I have to be aware of what is happening in the classroom/on the screens.
- Do you think managing a language school has given you new insights into teaching?
Good question. I got involved in managing my very first school as a relatively inexperienced teacher by accident. Therefore I was interested in developing the business “outside the classroom” from the “inside the classroom” right from the start. A truthful answer to the question is that I probably used the access to experts that I was teaching to give me insights into managing the language schools.
- Apps and automatic translators are having a huge impact on how we learn languages. Have these posed any challenges (or opportunities) for English-language schools?I believe they have posed challenges and offered opportunities. On the one hand, students can use translation programmes to avoid the need for dictionaries and these apps can speed up and improve the English they produce, when for example, formulating emails, leaving the teacher to work on their understanding of some of the finer uses of vocabulary rather than how to construct the sentences. On the other hand, this also means that a lot of potential students can “survive” with the English they learned at school and don’t necessarily need a language course.
- What has been the scariest/most nerve wracking moment in your history of teaching English?Just after the Wall came down, I was negotiating courses with Interflug, the East German airline. Every week my negotiating partner was replaced as contacts to the Stasi or the regime were becoming public. The Treuhandgesellschaft was somehow involved and my head office was telling me to stop the courses as I had 8 teachers working full-time teaching in Schönefeld and we didn’t know who was liable to pay the bill and whether they would be able to. I hung on believing things would turn out for the best – and luckily they did – but if they hadn’t it would have bankrupted the Berlin school!
- How and why did you get into the wine and cava import business?This is also slightly related to English teaching. One of my best friends was the Director of Studies at the Linguarama school in Barcelona while I was the Director in Berlin. About twenty years ago she moved out of Barcelona to Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, which is the “capital of cava” and my wife and I enjoyed drinking cava there every time we visited. From then on we decided that this would be our new business as soon as we had enough time.
- What would you like to say about cavaísimo, your import business, to this captive audience?Apart from this year of course, we regularly visit Spain and taste Spanish wines and cavas (including other bottle-fermented sparklings). These are often from family wineries which are otherwise not available in Germany. We import our favourites to Berlin and supply restaurants, clubs, and shops. We also sell directly from our old workshop and deliver or send wines to private customers throughout Germany. Our new tasting-tours business, which offers trips to visit the bodegas and wineries in Spain, has slowed down due to corona, but the contacts are all there and it should take off again next year. For details or a request for our email newsletter with opening times and delivery dates, send me a mail at any time to firstname.lastname@example.org