What’s been your favourite ELTABB moment?
There have been so many great moments. I think one of the first was seeing ELTABB really take off. And then I think other special moments have happened every time a new chair and new committee came along. For me this turnover of committee members and the willingness of people to come forward and volunteer has been the sign of a healthy organisation. Too many teacher associations are run by the same people year after year.
What has surprised you the most, in the way the field of ELT has developed during your career?
I remember being surprised when I started in this profession at just how many freelancers work as teachers without any real training or qualifications, or perhaps with an initial certificate, and then never move on with their professional development. I don’t think this has changed much over the years, which surprises me even more. I thought things would have changed. Of course, people can learn a language from anyone who already knows the language, but I also think this lack of qualifications directly affects the way the way we are perceived by our clients and by learners.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your ELT professional life?
Getting established as a freelance trainer was hard. In my case this meant a daily grind of working for different language schools, always hoping for offers of work to come in. Sometimes it was easy, but often it was not.
Thankfully times have changed, and I now have plenty of job offers. Ironically this has brought other challenges. Now the difficulty comes in deciding how to say “no” to potential clients.
What is your next challenge?
I think the next challenge is dealing with increasingly unrealistic customer expectations. Everything has to be done faster, and for less money. Clients are under pressure to cut corners, and then they are surprised when the results aren’t as good as they were hoping for.
You seem very happy to embrace new technology and ways of using technology in ELT teaching. Do you have any thoughts or predictions re. the next innovations which we’ll all soon be using?
AI (artificial intelligence) is going to change everything. Just look at Google Pixel Buds. My prediction? If we want to survive in this industry we will need to offer something that AI does not.
If you were just getting started as an English teacher today, would you do anything differently?
I would try to learn as much as possible about the whole ELT industry, and not stay focussed on one particular context. There is plenty of time to specialize later.
What, in your opinion, is the most useful qualification to have as an English teacher?
If you work as a freelance teacher in Germany, qualifications have never been that important (unless you work in a university context where things can be very different). But I would say a relevant master’s degree is something everyone should aim for. It is a qualification which is widely recognised across different industries and in different countries, and it shows you care about being professional.
Do you think there are going to be any changes in the industry in the next five years? If so, what will they be?
Yes. As I mentioned above I think AI is going to change everything. Teachers will have to start doing things differently. From an applied linguistics perspective I think that ongoing research into how English is used as a lingua franca will have a lot of influence on what we do in the classroom.
I know you work in many different countries. How does the ELT/Business English scene in China, for example, differ from that in Germany?
It’s very different. There is a huge tension between communicative language teaching, which has proved so popular in the West, and which is making inroads in China, and other traditions of learning. Classes tend to be large and teachers are respected because of the position they hold. Most business English is taught in universities rather than in-company. Another observation I would make is that Chinese teachers are often more willing to learn from the West than we are from them. Our loss, I think.
What’s your biggest professional accomplishment?
In 2003 Pearson asked me to write “How to teach Business English”. This book has been very successful and has opened many doors for me.
Who would like to nominate as Eltabber of the month?
Annette Stemmerich. An old friend and someone I respect as a serious professional. We met through ELTABB and we have enjoyed many ELT arguments / discussions over the years ☺
Thanks a lot!
Edited by Mandy Welfare