English File third edition is here! We went behind the scenes to find out what makes the authors Christina Latham-Koenig and Clive Oxenden tick. They tell us about their inspirations, their own struggle with learning Polish and Spanish, and they muse about the future of English language teaching.
What made you decide to become a teacher?
To be quite honest I hadn’t actually thought of becoming a teacher. I studied Latin and Greek at university, and I knew I didn’t want to teach that. When I left university I got a job at the British Council in London, and that’s where I learned about TEFL, as we had to organise courses for people. I then decided I’d like to go and live abroad for a year, and thought that the easiest way would be to teach English. In fact I loved it right from the start, and realised that I had accidentally found the right career path.
After university I worked as a volunteer for a while in the Middle East with a lot of young people from different countries. It showed the importance of English as Lingua Franca and I found that I enjoyed helping people with their English. When I came home I went to the local library to look up English teaching (this was a few years before the internet was invented!)
Where did the idea of writing English File come from?
Basically it responded to a need – we didn’t find that the material we were using as teachers was appropriate for our context, teaching monolingual classes abroad. In particular there was very little material that helped to get students talking, which is why we have always really focused on this aspect of teaching in English File.
We wanted to write a book that reflected our view of teaching which was that while learning should, of course, be approached seriously and in a very professional and organised way it is vital that the experience should also be fun and motivating. If not, students quickly get bored and disheartened.
When you were learning a foreign language, what did you find most challenging?
Pronunciation! I came to live in Spain and at first I had a lot of problems with certain sounds in Spanish, especially ‘r’ and ‘rr’. When I went shopping in the market I sometimes could not make myself understood and I spent several months ordering pork (which I could pronounce) when I really wanted steak (which I couldn’t ). It certainly showed me the importance of pronunciation and how it affects a learner’s confidence and willingness to speak. I think the fact that Christina and I wrote English File while living in a foreign country explains the emphasis we always give to pronunciation.
As I’d studied Latin at university, I have found learning Latin languages relatively easy, in fact I was convinced that I was a very good language learner. Then a few years ago I decided to learn Polish. It was a real shock to learn a language where you couldn’t rely on Latin-based words being the same. It has taken me forever to learn certain basic things, like the months, or telling the time. And the grammar, the different ending for nouns and adjectives, is a nightmare.
What gives you an inspiration boost when you write?
Finding the exact piece of material that both illustrates whatever language we want to teach in a natural way, and is genuinely interesting and exploitable. It gives you that ‘Eureka’ moment and is immensely satisfying.
What prompted you to write a new, third edition of English File?
Partly because the world is changing so fast that things go out of date more quickly than they used to. But above all because I think that writing, just like teaching, is a learning curve and every book we write we learn something new about how to improve certain aspects. We then look back at previous levels and think ‘ I wish we’d done that earlier’. The third editions give us the opportunity to do just that.
The world changes quickly and reading and listening texts soon date. Also teachers, even if they enjoy a particular lesson, begin to get bored with the same material after a few years. We welcomed the chance to try and make every aspect of the book better than last time and we hope that teachers will think that we succeeded.
What was the most challenging thing you ever had to do as an author?
Writing the very first English File. It nearly killed me. When you are inexperienced you make every kind of mistake there is to make and everything takes three times as long as it should. It also took me a while to find my ideal writing partner (Christina).
Finding the right material, interesting texts and contexts, is at the same time one of the most challenging and one of the most enjoyable parts of the job. However sometimes when the book is about to go to print, we suddenly hear that we have not been given permission to use an article around which a whole lesson was based, and we have to come up with something completely new. That’s always a challenge, particularly because it has to be done incredibly quickly, and I have to say that when I see an email from our editors with the subject ‘Permissions’ my heart always sinks. The positive side though is that often we like the new lesson better than the original one.
How do you think English teaching will change in 10 years’ time?
Clearly digital technology will change the tools teachers use but the principals of good teaching will stay the same: teachers who are passionate about teaching will give good classes and students who are passionate about learning English will learn.
I think above all we will need to learn how to adapt our classroom management techniques to the new environment of interactive whiteboards, students with tablets, laptops, or phones etc. For example should we let students check the meaning of words on their phones, which some students now do automatically or still insist that they try to guess from context? All these sorts of questions will be things that will have to be thought through so that teachers can get the most out of all the new technology we are surrounded by.
What advice would you give teachers who are new to English File?
To read the Teacher’s book carefully, including the introduction (which most teachers tend to skip!), I often used to read the Teacher’s book for the first time while I was teaching a lesson, at which point I would suddenly realise that there were better ways of exploiting that material but that involved some preparation which it was too late to do. I think our Teacher’s books give a good overview of how the lessons should go, and suggest extra ideas or supplementary material to make it work better.
My advice to teachers is always the same. Enjoy your teaching!
Because if you enjoy your classes then your students will too.
Where are you planning to travel this year (2012) to promote English File third edition?
Between us we will be doing events in Italy, Poland, Spain, UK, Switzerland, Brazil, Hungary, Czech Republic, Belgium and maybe a few more.