ELTABBER of the Month: David Bowskill

This month, we interviewed a member with a broad range of teaching experience and qualifications – David Bowskill. Read on to find out more!

David is originally from Portsmouth, England. He taught German at secondary level in the UK for some years before settling in Germany, where he began teaching at universities in 1987. He now teaches at the Humboldt University Berlin, where he has worked since 1994. He specialises in teaching English for Academic and Legal Purposes and has a wealth of qualifications – a degree in German, a Diploma in TESOL and a Postgraduate Diploma in Educational Technology and ELT.

Interestingly, David has developed courses in debating in English and trains postgraduates and staff to teach their subject in English (English as a Medium of Instruction). In addition, he has been an active member of the German educational trade union since he started teaching in Germany, and has campaigned for improvements in the working conditions of both freelance and salaried teachers over the years. In his free time he likes going to the cinema, learning new languages, going to jazz concerts and travelling.


  • When did you join ELTABB and how have you benefited from being a member?

I joined ELTABB in 1994. At some stage I didn’t renew my membership. After a couple of years, I rejoined because of the excellent workshops offered (I love the combination of big names in ELT and local ELTABB experts) as well as the opportunities for networking and socialising with other teachers.

  • I’ve heard it’s a struggle to teach foreign languages to kids in Britain because it can seem too “theoretical” (with a channel dividing contact with the rest of Europe). How did you keep those younger learners engaged?

I taught German to pupils aged 11 – 18 for two years in comprehensive schools. I enjoyed teaching the younger pupils and 6th formers, but found teaching the 13 – 16-year-olds a bit of a struggle. We used laminated cutouts from magazines and other realia to practise reading skills. The younger pupils responded well to role plays such as “Café/Konditorei” and Mc Donalds. One class was even willing to learn “Wanderlieder” for school assembly.

  • You are active in so many different areas, both professionally and personally. How do you manage your time?

In recent years I have come to realise that my enthusiasm to get involved in many different areas requires a level of energy I no longer have. I am currently re-assessing my commitments and deciding which ones to continue, reduce or drop. Attending ELTABB events is definitely still on my agenda.

  • How did you get involved with the union and what are your top tips for freelance teachers?

I joined the GEW when I started my first full-time job at inlingua in 1983. Since then, I have been active in trying to improve the situation of employed and freelance teachers in adult and higher education. My top tip is for freelance teachers is to join my union. You can get legal advice and network with other teachers. If you are teaching in higher education and join the union, please get in touch with me.

  • How have the corona situation and unionisation interplayed? I heard one school refused to organise vaccinations for their freelance staff until the union got involved. JOIN YOUR UNIONS! Proletariat aller Länder, etc.

If you are in a union, you can get support in electing a “Betriebsrat” (Works Council). The union will provide support and training for you to represent your colleagues’ interests. Even if you don’t have a “Betriebsrat” you can ask your union for support in fighting for your rights at your language school.

  • How have you seen working conditions for teachers change during your time in Berlin? Do you see any future changes on the horizon (if any)?

Thanks to the intervention of my union, the pay for freelancers in higher education will now increase annually. We still haven’t managed to persuade the Berlin Senate to make the universities pay a contribution to freelancers’ social security payments. Nowadays language teachers in higher education usually have permanent contracts. There is a high demand for English teaching in Berlin, but there are also many teachers offering their services. This makes it difficult to negotiate good conditions.

  • How did you get involved in teaching legal English/English for Legal Purposes at a university?

Teachers who take up a post at a higher education language centre in Germany are expected to learn to teach one or more varieties of English for Specific Academic Purposes. Nowadays they are often expected to already be able to teach the new variety as soon as they arrive. In my case it was legal English. As in any variety, you need to become familiar with the type and structure of texts and vocabulary specific to the discipline. You also need to learn about the subject culture. As I was preparing students to study law in the UK, for example, I developed a course in Mooting (simulation of an appeal hearing on one or more points of law). This gave the students practice in researching and reading cases and using them to support their submissions (legal argument) before a court where the judges are their fellow students.

  • Do you think that CLIL is a better way of teaching/learning English than more traditional approaches, and if so, why?

In my opinion and experience CLIL, in combination with task-based learning, helps promote learning and enliven classes in higher education.      As a teacher you need to understand your students’ subject cultures (business, history, law, etc.) to be able to develop simulations such as negotiations. I am a member of the Association for Integrating Content and Language in Higher Education (https://iclhe.org/) that brings applied linguists, language teaching professionals and subject specialists together in the promotion of the learning and teaching of subjects in another language (often, but not always, English). I can highly recommend attending their conferences and symposia to develop scenarios to help students communicate effectively in subject-specific contexts.

  • How would you describe the practical benefits of your wealth of qualifications and professional experience? Do different professional areas support each other? If so, how?

I have been very lucky to have had the opportunity to obtain qualifications and teach courses in a variety of fields. My continued interest in learning technology is an important thread in all my other areas of practice. Variety is definitely the spice of life. My qualifications and my experience have helped keep teaching interesting for me.

  • With the wealth of experience that you have, I wonder how you view the trajectory of your own teaching practice. In other words, knowing what you know now, how is your teaching different from when you first began?

My teaching style has remained eclectic – I have always been willing to try new things out. However, when choosing approaches, materials and methods for new courses I can use my previous experience to assess the efficacy of my choices.

Edited by Eleanor Johnston