Random ideas for ELT people, plus guest blogs & travel notes


I’m very proud and excited to be kicking off the Global Issues SIG day (Friday 4th April, NOT the pre-conference SIG event) with this talk, and would like to include some thoughts from teachers who may have an interest in the topic. In addition to the question in the title, I will be asking a series of other questions about the relevance and importance of Global Issues (famine, climate change, war etc) in the ELT classroom. The first one is one that I’ve taken from an article by Mandala Arfa Kaboodvaan which appeared in English Teaching Professional magazine – ‘Is it part of the duties of a language teacher to include socially responsible topics in their classes?’

Earlier this month, I posted the opening slide on Facebook and asked people to give me their thoughts. I suppose it’s no surprise that most people who responded were seriously in favour of the general idea, and some interesting comments were made – which I have reproduced here. 

You will also note that – as often happens in Facebook comment streams – one or two individual arguments broke out. With Facebook, you really CAN start a fight in an empty room! 

Here are the comments I received.

Nina EnglishBrno I absolutely agree!! why not talk about the world around us instead of sports and celebrity stuff! my global issue I tend to focus on these days are the advantages and disadvantages of emancipation of women and the pill as it affects all our relationships these days, at least the people I have around me. we also talk about health choices, vaccinations, etc.
 These are, of course, based on my personal preferences as I go through these myself. that’s authentic, right? The students are thrilled and feel they gain much more than just knowledge of grammar/vocab
13 March at 09:45 ·

Anita Adnan Hi Ken, I think it IS important that teachers include global issues in esl classes because learners can relate to everyday news. In my own lessons, we normally have one hour weekly to talk about current global issues. It gives the power to the learners by having something to say – and most of them have a lot to say! We then relate it language work – such as vocabulary and casual phrases, agreeing and disagreeing. 
13 March at 09:47 ·

Nina EnglishBrno however when going global I feel it needs to be connected to the lives we are living in our communities… so I’d always start with personal experience of the students
13 March at 09:47 ·

Anita Adnan Totally agree with ‪Nina– students can relate better if the issues are connected to them. And yes – women issues are among the favourite topics in my class too 
13 March at 09:50 ·

Leo Marin Absolutely”!!
13 March at 09:52 · 

Jasmina Arsenijevic Yes and yes! In my opinion, variety of contexts, depending on the topic, age of your Ss, your personal preferences; as it comes to authenticity, are we talking about the teacher being himself/ authentic, or something else?
13 March at 09:57 ·           

Ken Wilson What I have in mind in whether dealing with global issues in whatever form – downloading information, watching news broadcasts, discussion – represents an aspect of ‘authentic material’ that everyone agrees is so important in ELT activities. The best a coursebook can do re global issues authentic texts are news items which may be five years old when the class read it, so clearly coursebooks are not a reliable source of GIAM.
13 March at 10:03 ·           

Barbara Bujtás And there is something beyond using news broadcasts as authentic materials. A great deal of global issues is a result of global ignorance, global false stereotypes and so on. If we can conclude that I have an additional approach to this question. And this is something that traditional coursebooks can’t cater for.
13 March at 10:19 ·

Andrew Wickham I don’t think you can impose any rules here. I guess our main obligation is to make sure students are learning and after that, each to his own. Who is to decide which issues are acceptable or not, socially responsible or not? That said, using global issues and current events to stimulate discussion and interaction in class is obviously a good idea. The more the content is relevant to people’s lives the more it will engage them and the better they will learn.
13 March at 10:22 ·

Branka Dečković sure it represents an aspect of “authentic material”, and it is important to incorporate global issues in ELT classroom. Students like to talk about these issues and express their opinions. This is what my students said “I like when we discuss something where we’re supposed to tell our opinion.” “…so we can make a real conversation, use English in everyday situations as well as in our job.” “Maybe the best motivation for me is when we do something that isn’t particularly for school. When we use our knowledge for higher goals.” 
13 March at 10:29 ·

Michael Harrison Language doesn’t exist in a bubble, so avoiding topics like this seems to make little sense. I agree with other people that it does depend a lot on who you are teaching and in which context as to how you broach these topics in the classroom. I think that we actually have a duty sometimes to bring them up as students can have very sheltered experiences. I’m also interested in the fact that you have only given examples depending on resources (famine, war, climate change, etc.). What about addressing equality issues, such as those which affect those who identify as LGBT? It’s one of the nine protected characteristics in the UK now, by law, against discrimination.
13 March at 10:38 ·

Ken Wilson My actual list is a lot longer than that, Mike – here’s the starter list (participants will be offered the chance to add others)

.             climate change/global warming,

.             air and water pollution

.             military spending

.             ethnic conflict

.             financial crises

.             loss of biodiversity

.             poverty

.             racism/ultra-nationalism

.             attitudes to minorities/sexual orientation

.             famine and water shortage

Andrew Wickham I think we have to be careful. Everyone has a responsibility to contribute to society, and there should be no taboo subjects but trying to preach a certain view of the world to students – the one that we happen to think is right – listing which subjects are acceptable for discussion – is maybe opening a can of worms. Very soon the pro-lifers, the pro-families, the pro-natives, etc.. are likely to step into the breach and do the same – and what can we say to counter them? So I guess all subjects are fair game, there are no taboos, but let’s steer clear of the temptation to proselytise (or a least, do it subtly) 
13 March at 10:58 ·

Natalia Belousova I agree the list of topics that can be categorised as global issues is endless, and I do believe there should be at least some space for them in the ELT classroom. First of all, students like discussing ‘real life’ as it allows them to express their own opinions and feel the freedom of talking about what matters to them in L2. Another reason, which is absolutely crucial in a monolingual environment where I teach, is that using authentic materials or being authentic in the classroom helps students understand that the classroom is not an isolated small world having nothing to do with what’s going on around. My biggest fear related to textbooks, or rather using only textbooks, is that students may lose touch with the real world and, as a result, be unable to actually use the English language outside the classroom.
13 March at 10:59 ·

Barbara Bujtás Exploiting authentic news with older teens or adults is okay, the engagement level soars, they love taking up arguments for and against a certain issue or standpoint, but they do it staying quite far from that particular war or famine, sort of preaching from the distance. It can obviously trigger engagement, but this is only for the sake of the joy of the clash in the classroom, presenting their own opinion and enjoying the feeling of glory of having one. This is very far from the given issue. News broadcasts are still pretty ‘cold’ in a way.

An example: I was working in a school, we were to have an exchange teacher/partner from Indonesia. For a conversation starter about it I put on my scarf like a hijab and entered the classroom, watching the reactions. Funny answers, good, … then I told them about the Indonesian teacher and that she’d most probably be wearing one of these, when the ‘bad guy on duty’ started the I-hate-them-all-suicide-bombers-riding-camels stuff. Pfff… (Even one of the teachers expressed her “aversion to people from certain distant cultures”)

It took them a couple of weeks and a real flesh and blood Indonesian to see the fellow-human. Now they know where Indonesia is, know what the word ‘muslim’ means, grin in FB photos with someone wearing a hijab. Without this they’d always stay in a cold distance of the news from and about Indonesia.

Or I could mention the 6-year-old girl who started out as ‘I hate Brazilians, they are all stupid’ (having watched a handball match) and many other stories… Mmmmm … nowadays one doesn’t need to fly across the world to get closer, there should be coursebooks with customizable tasks designed to exploit Skype calls or Google hangouts with people in far away countries or something, English is a lingua franca or what. I know this might be off-topic, but .. sorry. 
13 March at 11:02 ·

Michael Harrison I think a big thing to consider when tackling a lot of these topics is how to make students aware of the difference between opinions and facts.
13 March at 11:02 ·               

Grzegorz Śpiewak I am a touch hesitant about the word “duties” – there is so much on the teachers’ plate already that trying to impose yet another “duty” on them, however commendable the intention may be, is perhaps a controversial strategy. I’d consider “raising awareness”, “adding to repertoire” of topics/angles/techniques etc. Good luck with this talk, Ken!
13 March at 11:04          

Natalia Belousova Michael, I think the problem is that we sometimes can’t differentiate between opinions and facts ourselves! It’s getting more and more complicated nowadays. In my opinion, though, it’s really useful to encourage students read/listen and analyse both opinions and facts.
13 March at 11:10                   

Michael Harrison Natalia, what I meant by opinions and facts was more regarding students’ reactions to such topics, e.g. the religious student who says ‘being gay is a sin’. That’s not a fact. It doesn’t say exactly that in any religious text as far as I’m aware. Religions teach tolerance.
13 March at 11:12                               


Andrew Wickham Michael, many religious texts preach tolerance, but they also say truly abominal things. For example, from the Old Testament:

“Thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly, and all that is therein, and the cattle thereof, with the edge of the sword”. Deuteronomy 13:15

“But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth”. Deuteronomy 20:16-17

Or from the Quran : 5:33  ” The only reward of those who make war upon Allah and His messenger and strive after corruption in the land will be that they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, or will be expelled out of the land. Such will be their degradation in the world, and in the Hereafter theirs will be an awful doom”
13 March at 11:57 ·

As for homosexuality : ““ If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.” Leviticus 18:22 ”
13 March at 12:00 

Michael Harrison BTW, the religious aspect regarding LGBT discrimination came up during the panel discussion at our NATECLA London event in 2012 ‪http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk?viddlertime=2.425 
TeachingEnglish | British Council | BBCwww.teachingenglish.org.ukE-merging Forum is the largest annual international event that brings together t…See more

13 March at 12:36               

Jean Sciberras It’s not an easy question. There’s no one right answer. It depends very much on the students. Younger students (late teens) strangely enough like to discuss serious topics, but then you come across older students who come to Malta for a 2/3 week course/holiday who want their lessons to be a distraction from their every day problems.
13 March at 14:56 ·

Lynda Steyne I see it as a part of a teacher’s calling, not duty, to provide a safe place in which to discuss the hard questions and facilitate understanding and respect for others. dealing with the ugly bits of life like war, poverty, famine, sex trafficking, slavery… again, that’s not my duty, but my calling as an educator. of what use are my students’ English skills if they are ignorant of the world?
13 March at 15:54 ·

Andrew Wickham If you’re in education, yes of course, if you’re in adult training, it’s a different matter, I guess.
13 March at 16:45          

Sharon Nosely- Kallandzhs I now teach adults who are slowly moving into academic English….I ‘ve noticed that course books are always covering environment/globalisation/art and culture etc as these topics come up in exams and to be honest they are bored and not that interested in such issues as they believe they are important but have been ‘flogged to death’ in the course books and exams…now, if we turn to religion and culture , war or conflicts and allow then to personalise the issue , I can’t stop them discussing and debating and eventually’ seeing the world from another person’ s eyes’ – that for me is what teaching multi-lingual classes is all about and hopefully this leads to some understanding of each other and reduces tension and creates mutual understanding. If you saw Question time last week…..if such issues had been discussed in classes a long time ago..maybe…maybe..ther would be more racial and social harmony in our cities now.
13 March at 22:04 

Christina Rebuffet-Broadus I must say that after reading the comments in this thread, I agree whole-heartedly with ‪Andrew Wickham, and especially about the fact that teaching students is different from training adults (notice that I differentiate between ‘teaching’ and ‘training’ here. Working with a group of adults who need English for professional reasons also is nit the same as working with adults who are learning English just because they want to widen their linguistic horizons). I’ve had adults in training specifically say they didn’t want to talk about the news, didn’t want to debate controversial topics, etc. but just wanted to learn how to do specific tasks in English. As for Ss, I agree that part of our teaching repertoire should include lessons that take the language out of the classroom (or rather bring the real world in), as these can be some of the most engaging lessons IF the Ss get into the subject and feel concerned. If not, they can just get bored and frustrated because we’re asking tem to think about and give opinions on issues they just don’t care about (whether they should care about them is another question).

Playing devil’s advocate here for the sake of debate: is it maybe because sometimes we feel it’s our ‘duty’ to address global issues in language class that some Ss feel disappointed/bored/disengaged in their English courses? Would Ss sometimes rather learn how to function in English (for traveling, understanding popular websites/series, etc in English) than how to argue about gay marriage rights?
14 March at 07:31 ·

Michael Harrison Depends what kind of life they think they’re going to live, I guess. I’d say it’s adults who are being trained in English (hate that phrasing – sorry) for business or do specific tasks in English who need exposing to as much different stuff as possible. They’re NEVER going to come across a person who has a different opinion to them or a situation where they might need to talk about such things?? Unlikely, and if they never actually do, what a boring life. I’m changing my stance slightly. I don’t think teachers (educators, trainers, whatever) should go in blindly and introduce texts that talk about gay rights (for example), but how can you ignore these issues?? It’s part of life.
14 March at 07:40 ·

Andrew Wickham Michael, shouldn’t we always remember we don’t necessarily hold the truth, nor have a moral duty to foist our beliefs on our students, especially when they are adult learners? There’s always the danger for teachers (talking from experience here, because we are engaged in “imparting knowledge” and because most students tend to behave like a captive audience, to go beyond our area of expertise and unconsciously think we know more than our students about life, the universe and everything. I always remember what one very skilled group of professionals said to me after I took over the class from a teacher they no longer wanted. They asked her to stop treating them as if they were children who didn’t know anything – the teacher replied “Oh but in English, I consider you ARE children”. It’s the same sort of hubris that leads teachers who have never had any experience of business or public speaking to tell professionals who are specialist negotiators and presenters in their own language how to negotiate or how to make a presentation (having read about it it in some textbook). It’s where that saying “Those who can, do, those who can’t, teach” comes from probably.

That obviously doesn’t preclude our role as citizens of this topsy-turvy planet to share our views with other consenting adults, to stand up for what we believe, but we should I think avoid confusing it with our teaching role and be aware of the age-old temptation of the teaching profession to evolve into a priesthood.
14 March at 09:38 ·

Michael Harrison Nope, I didn’t mean that we should impose our beliefs on the people we teach. I wouldn’t dream of it. I detest people who try to force their beliefs on me. I’ll respect and defend your right to your opinion or belief, but not if you try and force that opinion or belief on me. Simply, I think that we should give the people we teach the tools to understand, appreciate and articulate different opinions. Otherwise they are likely to end up getting punched!!
14 March at 09:42 ·

Arthur Schopenhauer I’ve always done it. However, in terms of choosing the topics, I tend to let the students choose.

Or if you use the news, you can get a range of opinion as the actual factual content is unpredictable
14 March at 11:12 ·

Ken Wilson‪Andrew – I think you’re making rather too much of the teacher being the one who expresses her beliefs. It’s perfectly possible for a teacher to get a conversation going and keep absolutely silent.
14 March at 11:14 ·


Andrew Wickham Agreed Ken – I was responding to some earlier comments about a teacher’s duty or calling being to open their student’s eyes to important global issues – appropriate in an educational context of course, less so however when training adults.
14 March at 11:44 ·

Teresa Doğuelli A lot of importance is being given nowadays to critical thinking skills and directing learners to researching and evaluating any issue from multiple points of view rather than just discussing in vitro. Getting students researching issues from multiple viewpoints will not only get them engaged, but will also sharpen their (and our) understanding and tolerance of the existence of different realities.So yes, ‪Ken, my answer to your question is yes, as long as we focus on the skills to approach these issues from a critical, research or project-based ‘let’s look at all sides’ standpoint.
14 March at 13:26

I’d just like to draw attention to two things for teachers and educators based in Indonesia.

1   You And Me

The six-level course which I co-wrote with my two colleagues Mary Tomalin and Jane Revell is now complete and is available from the publisher Penerbit Fajar Baru in Jakarta.  The course was commissioned by publisher Dass Sebastian and written especially for Indonesian schools.

You and Me was written with great attention to local curriculum requirements and the real situation of young learners in Indonesia. We believe the result to be an excellent combination of Indonesian publishing expertise and modern classroom-oriented methodology.

2  Smart Choice

My American English course Smart Choice, published by Oxford University Press is also now available in Indonesia. I will be conducting a webinar about the series on Wednesday 27th November.


First of all, thanks to Ece, who sent me this image. The reason for it should become clear in a moment.

I think everyone who reads this blog will know about the ongoing events in Turkey, which started with a protest about the demolition of a park in Central Istanbul, European side, and escalated into a general and nationwide protest at the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, mainly because of the heavy-handed police response to the initial protest.

Like most people who have contacts in Turkey, I was anxious about the well-being of my friends and colleagues, but I was also interested to know how they felt about the government’s response to the protest. My instinct was that the people I know, who are mainly teachers, would be shocked by the police action, with its almost immediate use of tear gas and water cannon.

My instinct about my friends was right, of course. Social media like Facebook and Twitter have been awash with their angry response since the very beginning.

We must not forget that Mr Erdoğan was elected in a free and fair election and has been prime minister for more than ten years. He clearly has a lot of support. He just doesn’t have any support from the people that I know.

But someone who supports the actions of the government seems to have made an appearance here on my blog.

This is what happened.

The last thing I posted (see below) were the impressions of a Russian student who I met in Rostov-on-Don a couple of months go. She is currently in Istanbul and wrote her quite graphic impressions of what she has seen around her.

The following comment arrived from someone with a Turkish name, Ilknur, but a German email address:

Dear Mr. Wilson,

Turkey belongs to Turks. And only Turkish people have a say. We have always been a great nation. And we’re becoming even greater for the last decade. No country or no member of any nationality has a right to interfere.

Please mind your own business which I believe is ELT, not an international strategic analyst.

I decided to post her comment on Facebook. Ilknur, if you’re reading this, here’s the stream of response that your comment generated (note the names come before the comments):

Cindy Hauert

hopla. Guess that will teach you to be sympathetic. I assume this person misread your message…what a pity.
23 hours ago via mobile · Like

Tülay Günel Alper What a pity İlknur….
23 hours ago · Like · 1

Vicky Loras

I agree – it’s not your fault of course, Ken and she is not representative of the teachers we know from Turkey who love you and appreciate what you do.
23 hours ago · Like · 2

Esen Metin

It’s not interfering by the way, it is caring!
23 hours ago · Like · 2

Çapulcu Burak Akyüz

Supporting and defending human rights does not have nationality Ken. Feel free my friend..
23 hours ago via mobile · Like · 15

Sara Hannam

The idea that only members of a nation can make any comments about its position and development goes against any idea of internationalism and collaboration amongst the world’s citizens. That is one of the key ways of thinking that has landed Turkey with such a blinded and uncaring leader. You are right Mr Wilson – she is most definitely a supporter of the regime as is. Oh well – it is a lone voice on your blog I imagine. In this argument we should all be citizens of the world.
23 hours ago · Unlike · 10

Ken Wilson

Maybe I should ask Ilknur to write me a guest blog – what do you think? (I’m being serious here).
23 hours ago · Like · 10

Sara Hannam

I am all for debate and dialogue as that is how everyone learns. Just be careful that you can ‘manage’ it in such a way that stays collegiate. That will be the challenge.
23 hours ago · Like

Peter Whiley

Erdogan said similar things the other day….forgetting that Turkey wants to join the EU. You only become great by embracing alternative ideas to your own. Ask Ilknur to write a blog defending Erdogan, Ken, show her that you are open to reading her views. A great idea of yours, Ken. Ask her why she thought Burku went to the park to protest.
23 hours ago · Unlike · 4

Kristina Smith

1. Turkey sets itself up as an example for other states in this region so it is natural for both Turkish and non-Turkish people to pay attention and to comment. 2. In this globalized world we have responsibility to find out about other places. 3. No one is interfering, just sharing opinions and eye-witness accounts (which are always coloured by the writer’s previous experience and knowledge of the culture.) 4. Your readers are intelligent enough to read widely in order to form their own opinions. It would be great to hear more of Ilknur’s ideas. I suggest she start a blog. You can share the link on yours.
23 hours ago via mobile · Unlike · 7

Ece Elt

Ilknur sounds like a supporter of someone who believes that he has the authority to decide when and how much people should talk and express their ideas.
23 hours ago via mobile · 


Hakan Şentürk

I also believe that everybody in the world has a right to comment and/or support what’s going on in the rest of the world. Especially when there is an open and obvious attack on human rights. I remember Mrs. Erdoğan crying over the victims in Myanmar, would anyone say anything about interfering with their internal affairs?? No, please Ken, we need everybody’s support. And thanks again for the little rally on your street.
23 hours ago via mobile · Unlike · 13

Burcu Akyol

This is a general AKP attitude. A typical AKP style reaction. ‘Mind your own business’ approach. They’re copying their leader’s words and hostile behaviours. In democracies everybody has a say about any subject. I would definitely disregard her.
23 hours ago via mobile · Like · 9

Özge Berna

As humans we should all be against dictatorship, racism, police brutality, violence and murdering people no matter where they are from.. I am proud of you and your family Ken because the way you act and your picture in here make me feel happy to see that there are good people on earth with great humanity and this is exactly the way great teachers behave! Cheers!
23 hours ago via mobile · Unlike · 6

Jeremy Harmer

I’m not sure I would ask her to do a guest blog. She has asked you to keep out of ‘her’ affairs; why then bring her into yours? And the tone does not suggest any sense of dialogue. Indeed far from it. On the other hand….
22 hours ago via mobile · Like · 5

Zoi Abrazi

Teachers…what we do wrong and so many people think like Ilnkunr?
22 hours ago · Like

Gabriella Leville Hirthe

As an American everyone has always been interfering with their opinions on our politics – that’s human nature isn’t it? Aren’t we all fighting for some kind of thing – called democracy?
22 hours ago · Like · 1

Sara Hannam

Jeremy Harmer dialogue is fragile in such times and so is building bridges though you are right about the big ‘keep out’ sign attached to the response. Making the offer to listen is like saying ‘I won’t return your lack of reason with unreasonableness’. But I am happy to agree with Burcu Akyol and others more familiar with the environment. Perhaps at such a crucial time energy is better spent giving a voice to those supporting change rather than those supporting things stay the way they are – how about a series of ‘why I went down to Taksim square’. If I still did ELT under the microscope that is what I would do 
22 hours ago · Like · 2

Chris Rowe

If you offered her the chance to guest blog you’d have to ask her how she would deal with the fact that people would read her thoughts and then give her theirs in accord or not. As is the way in the uber-democratic system that is the Internet. If she’s happy to allow others their opinions, get her on!
22 hours ago via mobile · Like · 1


Jeremy Harmer

I think my unease, Sara – as it has been all along – is that I (like Ken or you or any of us who are watching from afar) am demonstrably not Turkish. I believe, as most of us do, that what is happening there is profoundly wrong and that the suppression of protest (and the way it is done) offends every democratic bone in my imperfectly democratic body. But whether ‘my’ voice as a foreigner helps to build bridges or, instead, close doors, I am not sure. I want to support dear friends in Turkey, support the people’s right to protest, but if my ‘presence’ helps to close down dialogue (who do they think they are, is the cry), then……..
22 hours ago · Like · 2


Sara Hannam

Yes I feel the same. So the way to go is to provide a platform to make sure that the local voices are heard as much as possible. But also to ensure that people understand supporting local resistance is a legitimate activity for anyone outside Turkey. Presumably it would be OK for the blog contributor if the international voices supported his/her position and was against resistance? So its not about being a foreigner per se. There are millions of dissenting voices in Turkey and that is the thing he/she will have to confront ultimately. Burcu Akyol‘s response on Ken’s blog makes this point. ‘we may all be Turkish but we do not all agree’.
22 hours ago · Edited · Like · 1

Thom Jones

I think it’s a question worth asking. I’m not a Turk, but my wife and this, half my family are. Also, and in a mildly comic vein, Turks always think I look like a Turk and recently even an AKP supporter. Regardless of any of the above, anyone should be allowed to express their opinions-no matter how noxious others might find them. Having said that….I always prefer hearing opinions I agree with! 
22 hours ago via mobile · Like · 2

Birgül Kasap

I do believe that each and every person in the world has a right to comment and/or support what is going on in the rest of the world. Thanks for your concern, Ken Wilson .
22 hours ago · Like · 1

Billy Sevki Hasirci

Oh I’m so excited! You struck gold Ken. Do you realise how difficult it is to get an AKP supporter to venture out into the open and actually say something? I say, give her the stage. I’m dying to hear what she has to say. Oh and perhaps she could explain Mr Erdogan’s comments yesterday about foreigners having no right to be out protesting. As a foreigner living in Turkey, I was a little annoyed by that. I’m all ears (or eyes).
22 hours ago · Like · 1

Anita Kwiatkowska

A long time ago, someone wrote a blog post expressing his opinion about Turkey – I remember very clearly how he described what happens to those who rock the boat. That someone was not Turkish and he was told he had no say because he hadn’t lived there long enough. Wonder who remembers that…
22 hours ago · Like

Yasemin Yelbay Yılmaz

Dear Ken. I am a Turk too so I suppose I am eligible to comment I can only thank you for supporting us. For posting the pictures for showing us that you understand. Humanity speaks one universal language – that of tolerance and understanding and you are a fluent speaker here Nobody should ever mind their own business. This is our world and if someone can remain silent or ignorant while others violate basic human rights I would question their sanity.
21 hours ago via mobile · Unlike · 8

Bren Brennan

And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make
21 hours ago · Like · 1

Sharon Nosely- Kallandzhs

They’ll always be one bad bean, carry on with the support and ignore this bean!
21 hours ago · Like

Veríssimo Toste

When Turkish media fail in their role to inform and Turkish friends ask you to spread the news, I shared the posts and the images. How different this discussion might be had we not done that, (if it would exist at all).

Varinder Lekh

Wow! Amazing how brave someone can be sitting comfortably in a country with human rights, the freedom of speech, no threat of being teargassed or beaten. I would be really interested in meeting Ilknur in, say, 50 years time when her daughters, her daughters’ daughters are living in a society where they will not be able to say or do anything without a man’s permission.
20 hours ago · Like

Selcan Kurt

“You will be always welcome no matter who you are” this is Mevlana’s saying and Turkish people always welcome every nation in this country. We talked about whats going on here today but i think this reply comes from a person called “İlknur” may be help everyone to understand what they are trying to do in my country. They try to ignore people who has different thoughts and ideas and so we will always fight with separatism. We have a multicultural country so those people think that they are Turkish but they act like aliens in this country or they dont know their own history!
20 hours ago via mobile · Like · 1

Marcos Benevides

It must be terribly frustrating for supporters of the regime to see that literally the entire world supports the resistance.
20 hours ago · Like · 1


Chia Suan Chong

Hmm…do you think Ilknur would be okay living in Germany and no being allowed to have an opinion on anything that happens around her?
19 hours ago via mobile · Like

Saziye Alkayalar

Unfortunately we have been in such a difficult situation as Turkish people and any person in the world who sees this situation has a right to say his/her idea about it. Hasn’t İlknur talked about any different country’s situation in her lifetime? if not, itz a pitty that she lives in a different world I guess…Don’t worry Ken, if u r a teacher, this doesnt mean that u do not see,think and share your political,social opinions…itz quite normal. If a person paints his house, it doesn’t mean s/he is a painter. Like İlknur is not an authority…
19 hours ago · Like · 1

Regina Bustamante

Ken, there will always be people who think like this person. But I can assure you that your Brazilian friends will be grateful for any support to the manifestations there and reports of equally brutal police intervention….
17 hours ago via mobile · Like

Sergio Lins

Reading Illknur’s comments, I felt she is someone who wants freedom w/o being set free. She is still to limited too what respect, support and care means. Freedom and democracy do not belong to one in particular and anything that is intended to stain such clear goals should be confronted against.

In this particular case in Turkey, the more outside supporters they get, I believe they will feel more motivated and stronger to fight for their needs.

Really sorry for Illknur. I surely shall not interfere in her own business, as long as it does not interfere in mine: and I am committed to seeing no-one suffer – as in Turkey.

As to Brazil, yes, I hope things get better. We will SURELY cherish any kind of support to help us have a better country to me (and you).
17 hours ago via mobile · Like

Venusz Vidak

this person is way too patriotic and rude. we all have opinions and luckily we live in a country where we can express them too.dont let it get to u.
11 hours ago · Like

Lynda Steyne

As I watch Istanbul and see our colleagues stand for freedom of speech, the right to assembly, and the abolition of corruption, I can’t help but think about the former Czechoslovakia and the rest of former Eastern Bloc in ’89. There was no FB, no twitt…See More
9 hours ago · Unlike · 1

Jill Hadfield

And the Velvet Revolution overthrew a dictatorship by the gentle ring of key rings..
9 hours ago · Like · 1

İpek Kestekoğlu

We cannot forget your support, Ken. Please ignore this lady’s comment. You and your lovely wife DEDE are our brother and sister. Love you.


A Russian colleague sent me this message that one of her students sent to her from Istanbul. They have given me permission to post it here. It gives an interesting view of the troubles from a foreigner’s perspective:

My friend works at a travel agency and she gets extremely cheap tickets or tours very often. And so, on Friday she offered to go to Istanbul for peanuts really and to stay with her friend, which was even more tempting as it would save money.

When her friend picked us up from the airport, we went for a walk in Bağdat Caddesi (the most famous avenue in the Asian side where we actually stopped as it’s safer here). The he went to Taksim to protest and promised to come back in two hours and get us home. But he didn’t come and we were waiting for a long time. His phone wasn’t available, all our things were at his house and it was really terrible!!! Luckily, we had our passports and money on us so we were able to find a hotel. 

For four days we couldn’t get home and find him!!! Finally, he contacted us, he was hurt by the police during those protests and sent to hospital. You cannot even imagine what is happening here!!! What is shown on TV cannot reflect the real image of the events happening. I am typing this message and hearing voices from everywhere, cars beeping, police sirens, slogans, people with flags, masks, whistling, they’re clanking with plates and forks!! 

Every single day at 21.00, they start clanking with plates and forks, clapping their hands, shouting everywhere!!! In every area, people are doing that either on streets or staying at home but anyway somehow they are involved!! It’s really amazing and unbelievable!!! I went to Taksim once and it was awful…gas bombs, everyone was in a special mask, the streets are closed but people do not care! They sleep in Taksim Square, eat there, dance, play guitars. So many places are ruined to ashes!!! Police are everywhere, but people are not afraid because they support each other, they are so patriotic! I cannot imagine the same thing happening in Russia. 

It seems like the most important event is happening here, everyone cares – women, children, elder people. I don’t wanna leave Istanbul! It’s so great here, I feel being involved also! I feel like I’m in the center of something important and vital for this country and for the world’s history as well. And it’s really not dangerous for a tourist if not going to Taksim.

Part Two

I have moved to another area now, we live in Bostancı (also Asian side), close to Kadıköy and I can hear even now at these hours voices, and see columns, crowds of people walking along the road, whistling and shouting, and I also found out such an interesting thing- people are playing with the light in their houses like-turning it on- off on off on off in rhythm to those slogans!! It’s so unusual! Those crowds seem to never give in!! It’s amazing!! Everyone joins the crowds (except the ones who support the prime minister of course. My neighbours are supporters and I hear them grumbling and swearing.

Several days ago when I was walking along Bağdat Caddesi, there was a sort of protest but pretty small, I bought a flag and joined them. An elderly woman was staring at me and then asked where I was from. When she found out I was Russian, she was amazed and began praising me saying “Oh, you are not Turkish but even you care about what’s happening here!! Russia is with us also!! With the help of those who care we will cope with all these terrible things!” I was kind of motivated to support them after such words.

My friend cannot come to Asian side from the European now because they closed the Bosforus Bridge and people can only walk, those who go by cars have to leave them on the European side or I don’t know, maybe sleep there!

This is the first guest post I’ve posted in quite a while. It’s been written by Sirja Bessero, an Estonian teacher of English living and working in Switzerland.

I followed a link to her excellent blog http://swisssirja.wordpress.com where I found lots of thoughtful posts about teaching, amusingly presented. Sirja is clearly a talented speaker of the language she teaches, and yet in one of her blogs, I found a very interesting description of the nagging doubts that Non-NESTs can experience in their working life. I asked her to write something about it for my blog, and here it is.


I guess it was the tactlessness, or maybe the sheer arrogance, but that moment got imprinted into my brain, into my memory hard-disk like a nasty stain…

A couple of years ago, as I was attending yet another great conference for English teachers, I witnessed an intense moment of unease, one of those being-stark-naked-in-public moments.

One of the workshops was given by a non-native speaker English teacher. At one point during the presentation, she said something native speakers would probably not say, a word or an expression which apparently didn’t sound right to native ears. Instead of letting it be, a woman in the first row corrected the speaker in a rather reprimanding way. I couldn’t believe my ears! I was shocked. Yet at the same time I felt that woman had pushed my panic button, her haughty remark had brought my own fears into the piercing daylight, made the doubts I harbour at the back of my mind materialize.

There’s no fiercer critic than the one residing within ourselves. Being a non-native speaker teacher of English offers ample opportunity to strongly feel doubt or the daunting idea of inadequacy. I can still recall the first year in my current school, when I spent a couple of sleepless nights over a small and what now seems ridiculous error. One student asked how to say a word in English, quite out of the blue actually, and I gave a hasty answer. After the lesson, it suddenly struck me that I had made a mistake.

You can only imagine the mental turmoil it sent me into! Not only did I frantically search for possible remedies, I actually started re-considering my entire career choice. Now as I read these lines, it makes me smile. I would like to pat this younger me on the shoulder, give an encouraging hug and utter some comforting words, a la Stop being ridiculous. But this tiny error which got blown out of all proportion, does tell a much more profound story.

Would a native speaker have reacted in the same way? Very likely not. I guess s(he) would simply have blamed the tricks the memory plays, or the twists the tongue makes and brush it all off. After all, what’s the big deal?! However, being a non-native teacher, even tiny errors can tap into the vulnerable area of legitimacy.

I started teaching English when still in Estonia. There, I never interrogated myself whether I was up to it or whether I had enough knowledge to teach the basics of this language to my fellow countrymen and women. But then life (and someone in particular) lured me to Switzerland and I was to start anew.

I love teaching (it runs in the family, really!) and I am passionate about English, so it seemed obvious that I should carry on teaching. However, being an Estonian who teaches English to French-speaking Swiss, I began to have feelings I had never experienced before. I started to have the constant need to prove myself, to validate not only my English skills but my status as a teacher as well.  It is as if I am a teacher and a student at the same time. On one hand, I pass on the knowledge I myself have acquired over the years and then test my students’ progress. Yet on the other hand, I keep testing myself remorselessly too. It is as if I need to constantly prove to myself I have the right to do this job, that I am not a cheat.

These feelings of doubt and this need to get validated are not necessarily a bad thing (as long as it comes in digestible doses!). For one thing, I keep pushing myself hard all the time. As I don’t have the privilege of speaking English with no effort whatsoever, I am always on the lookout for improvement. I guess I get elf-pointed ears when listening to English. Not one unknown word should slip by, not one before unheard expression should go unnoticed. 

Also, travelling the path of learning myself means I can ease myself with no effort into my students’ shoes. I can steer them away from possible pitfalls and share the learning techniques I myself am using.

And what’s more, I guess I make quite a down-to-earth role model. My English level is a realistic milestone for my students, something they could reach if they truly wanted to.

For me, English is like an enormous mountain that I have conquered to some extent, yet there are still peaks I can see and dream of reaching. So it is an endless climb. There are moments of despair where I doubt I’ll ever make it. And then these moments of pure bliss, when another milestone has been reached, the sun is out and the sky clear. This mountain will never be mine. But I guess I have wandered on its slopes for long enough to feel comfortable guiding others along similar paths. 


International House London, Stukeley Street, Covent Garden

On Wednesday, I will be doing the first of three training workshops for the current teaching staff at International House London.

International House is where I trained and where I taught when I came back to London after working in Spain. The place means so much to me. It’s where I met my wife, and it’s where I started writing songs, as a result of which I was first published. It’s also where the English Teaching Theatre was born, a company that I devoted part of my working life to for 29 years.

So in a very real sense, I’m going back home. And yet at the same time, I will be stepping out of my comfort zone big-time.

International House back in the 1970s was an exciting, stimulating place to work. Names which are now legendary in the world of ELT worked in the London school at one time or another – Adrian Underhill, Jeremy Harmer, John and Liz Soars, Ruth Gairns and Stuart Redman – and the likes of Scott Thornbury and Jim Scrivener worked for the organisation elsewhere.

Working conditions at IH were the norm for a private language school in the UK – small classes (14 student maximum in a class), well-equipped classrooms, multinational, multilingual students who had paid big bucks to be there and seemed to be highly motivated. And of course, the moment they walked out of the school, they were immersed in an English-speaking environment. Well, mainly English-speaking – we WERE in Soho, a place which speakers of half the world’s languages seem to pass through at some point.

When I started training teachers, this was the only learning scenario I knew. As you readers know, it probably represents the circumstances of 5% of English learners worldwide.

When I started touring the world with the English Teaching Theatre, I started to become aware of the how the other 95% lived. We would do shows in state schools in small towns in Germany, Belgium or Holland, where the students of course had no choice, they had to be there. They often seemed listless and unmotivated and languished in classes of up to 40 students. Then we went further afield, and discovered classes of 75 in China, or classes with no technology – no electricity in fact in some cases – in less well-off parts of the world.

I got invited to do training workshops on these tours and very quickly realised that activities that private language school students seemed to find interesting were way beyond the abilities of students who on the surface seemed to be a similar level. I very quickly realised I had to produce some different material to help the very hard-working but often hard-pressed teachers I met in these places.

To help me develop material that would work with students from this less privileged but equally fascinating background, I started doing as many demonstration classes as I could, in state schools from Miranda de Ebro in Spain to Novosibirsk in Siberia. I soon found that a drama activity that was successful with fourteen students in Soho bombed with forty students in Siberia.

So I developed a whole new series of activities that played to the strengths of larger classes with less exposure to the language. And they worked. And I’ve been using them for a long time now.

And now I’m coming back home, about to talk to the new generation of talented and enthusiastic teachers who work at the London IH school, in its beautiful new (to me) premises in Stukeley Street, Covent Garden. Most of them probably weren’t born when I worked at IH’s eccentric premises in Shaftesbury Avenue.

Oh, and something else. Almost all the teachers who come to the training sessions will have absolutely no idea who I am. Thankfully, I have something up my sleeve.


Ozge wowing the troops at ISTEK

At the ISTEK conference in Istanbul a week or so ago, I did a workshop with Özge Karaoğlu Ergen, the dynamic Turkish teacher who uses web 2.0 technology tools to help her young learners, producing amongst other things some amazing animations. Özge and I are fans of each other’s presentations, so we decided to do a workshop together. We called it The Joy of Tech and of No Tech. We wanted to show that teachers could have a lot of success – and fun – alternating between activities that involved using techno tools, and other activities that didn’t.

We took it in turns to do activities with the very willing and enthusiastic workshop participants and it worked a dream.

Özge and I had had several conversations about what we would do, so I thought I knew exactly what she was planning, but she did spring a surprise on me. One of her activities involved a Wordle based on a google search of yours truly.

It looks like this. 

ImageAnd it gave me an idea. I had been wondering how to introduce myself to the group at IH London and I’ve decided I won’t say anything at all when I start. I will push straight on with the activities I’m planning to use, then, when the teachers need a bit of  a break, I’ll use the Wordle.

I’m still not sure what I’ll do with it. I could ask them to ask questions about parts of it, or ask them to imagine they have to introduce me before a conference talk and make a short speech, which may or may not be accurate.

Any other ideas of ways to use it?

Tool 1

This is a slide from one of the talks I’m currently giving. It’s called ‘Ten Quotations To Make You Think’. Vesna Novicic, a teacher who came to see the talk in Belgrade, posted the slide on Facebook. It’s actually the second part of a quotation from Bill Gates. This is the whole quote:

Tool 2

Vesna’s re-posting of the slide led to the following Facebook remarks from Graham Stanley and Daniel Martin. 

Tool remark 1

Daniel’s is quite amusing, so I’m posting it to give all you teachers a bit of a chuckle. Graham’s prompted me to post this rejoinder.

Tool remark 2

Now, I know that over the past twenty years, the emphasis in education has shifted from teaching to learning, and the needs of the learner should be at the forefront of all our thinking as teachers.

But teachers, don’t you ever get a little fed up with all this emphasis on the learner? Some learners are absolutely delightful, of course, but some can be (dare one say it?) a bit of a drag. And the less than delightful ones are the ones who mean you have to really work to earn your dollar a day.

I’m aware that teachers reading this will be rehearsing the usual arguments about finding strategies to engage all students, which is one of the points I make in my ‘Ten Quotations’ talk. I don’t mean this post to be a criticism of lazy students. I just want to fly a flag for teachers, their rights and the reality of their situations.

Some observations about the relative importance of teachers and learners:

>       Not all teachers are saints, but most of them I’ve met are hard-working and dedicated. Plus, they take the job on long-term, which in some cases can mean a career of 40+ years. How long do students last?

>       Teachers almost always prepare a lesson plan, even if they have to stay up half the night. Students often don’t do their homework and give some poor excuse for not having done it, which the well-meaning teacher smiles and accepts.

>       Students may wake up in the morning, look at the inclement weather, turn over and go back to sleep. Teachers lose their jobs if they do that more than once.

>       If the students actually manage to turn up to class, some of them take their seat and sit back and enjoy the teacher’s presentation. If the flow of information stops and the teacher asks one of those awkward questions – ‘What do you think?’ ‘Do you agree?’ or worst of all, a direct question: ‘François, can you give me an example?’ – there can be an embarrassing hiatus, what we educational gurus call ‘silence’.

Teachers, can you honestly say you have NEVER experienced that icy cold moment when you throw an activity open to the class and absolutely nothing happens?

It happened a lot during my German classes last spring, which I blogged extensively about at the time. Our teacher had a lovely soothing voice and was a joy to listen to, even when she was taking us through grammar paradigms. If you read my blog regularly, you will know that the grammar paradigm is an aspect of teaching that is guaranteed to make me froth at the mouth and throw machinery around.

When my German teacher stopped and asked for a response, there was often an embarrassed silence, usually broken by me piping up to fill the void. Eventually, the rest of the class just looked at me, knowing I was bound to say something, even if it was wrong.

The point I’m making here is that students often enjoy the sound of the teacher’s voice, preferring to listen to a monologue and reluctant to turn the classroom event into a dialogue. And this reinforces my belief that it’s not wrong for educational thinkers – at least OCCASIONALLY – to think about putting the needs of teachers above the needs of learners.

I realise some of the points above relate more to students in private language schools, but I also have extensive experience of observing state-school English teachers at work in places as diverse as Beijing and Bucharest, Tokyo and Teresina, Brazil. Even when it’s clear that students in these classes really love their teachers, many of them are still happy to play the role of recipients of information, rather than taking a more active role in proceedings.  

So – let’s hear it for teachers. And I’ll add another quote from my Ten Quotations talk. This one is from Maja Angelou.

Tool 3

I’ll leave you to reflect on the importance of this statement in your teaching life. Think about how many people you have affected, and how positive that effect is. How many warm memories of you there are every time your students get together.

Teachers, you deserve medals. Learners, keep on working to make your teacher’s life a little easier.

I’m writing this on Monday January 14th, and tomorrow night, Tuesday 15th, I will be giving my ‘Ten Quotes To Make You Think’ talk at the British Council in London. The talk won’t be live-streamed, but it will be filmed, and will appear on the BC website in the fullness of time.

‘In the fullness of time’ – what a lovely phrase to end on. And if you’re using this blogpost as a reading text, now you can stop talking and say – ‘François, can you give me an example?’ and enjoy the silence. 

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