Teachers 4 Schools Update

At our English at Work Conference in September, HELTA members and guests raised over 500 Euros for the charity Teachers 4 Schools. We have just received these kind words from Modou Fadera, headmaster of Tujereng Lower Basic School in the Gambia:

Thanks to all members of HELTA English at Work who donated money to Tujereng Lower Basic School. We are proud of you because you gave your love which is everything to us.

Today I bought some materials and work will commence tomorrow. I will continue to give feedback as we go. Thanks to Teachers 4 Schools for making this dream come true.

Learn more about Teachers 4 Schools from HELTA chair Andreas Grundtvig here.


English at Work Conference 2018

This beautiful Sunday finds the HELTA committee deeply exhausted but equally pleased with our event yesterday:

The English at Work conference on 1 September in Hamburg at the Berufsschule für Medien und Kommunikation was by far the biggest event our organisation has ever put together. In numbers: 82 participants showed up to see 19 speakers in four blocks and one plenary, six publishers exhibited their books and, along with two more, donated 75 raffle prizes, for which members bought 200 tickets and raised 500 euros for T4S, as well as one sponsor for one 10-year old boy in the Gambia. As the stereotypical mathematically-challenged language teacher, I can’t say with any certainty what all of this adds up to but I think it’s clear that that’s a fantastic result. Thank you very much to everyone who was there!

Several speakers have kindly agreed to make their presentation slides available. They can be found here. More will be added over the next few days, so please check back if you couldn’t yet find the slides you were looking for.

A few impressions from the day:

The HELTA Interview Chain. No. 3

Kay Kilshaw interviews: Vincent Wongaiham-Petersen

VW Pic1

Describe yourself in three words. 

(disarmingly) Engaging, (naturally) Curious, (hopefully) Funny. 

Disarmingly engaging is how I once spontaneously and hopefully, disarmingly described myself when asked to name one of my strengths during a job interview. I do believe that nothing motivates learners more than seeing somebody passionately engaged in them and in their continuing improvement. Top that off with a natural curiosity and a genuine interest in what my students do coupled with a quirky and sometimes dark sense of humor and I think I have an effective formula for disarming defenses – the perfect tactic to set us off on productive learning experiences! 

And for those who were a tad curious, the interviewer did find my answer disarming; we had a good laugh and I got the job! 

What are your HELTA credentials? (length of membership, how active, any position held, any proven skills – best cakes, discerning questions asked in workshops etc.)

I actually don’t even know how HELTA got a hold of me. I would probably credit or blame whoever it was that regularly posted interesting descriptions on social media of the HELTA workshops and seminars for bringing me into the fold. Once I got to know the wonderful HELTA committee (yes, it’s true!) and the equally wonderful usual suspects who visit these shindigs, I guess I got hooked. It’s been about seven years so far as a HELTA member and one could say that I’m now a regular fixture of these workshops/seminars – I’m the curious one (see above) who keeps asking those disarming (see above again) and hopefully discerning questions of the presenters. And did I mention that everyone bakes really good cakes, too? 

Can you describe your teaching situation?  (who, where and on what basis; freelance, employed, full time, part time?)

I grew up in the Philippines speaking three languages with English being the one I’m most comfortable with and adept at. But during my student days in Germany, I found myself teaching Tagalog (Filipino) as there was no one else who could or wanted to do it. Knowing that I would have it harder as a Filipino-Chinese English teacher in the German EFL industry with its prevailing preference for native English-speaking teachers from America, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, or Australia (did I miss one?), I couldn’t just start teaching English even with my level of proficiency and the experience I had had in teaching a foreign language. That’s why I decided to take the CELTA. It not only validated my credentials, it turned out to be validating as well, as I found out that I had already been doing, albeit unknowingly, what was expected of good language instruction. 

For a while, I tried the best of both worlds doing some freelance work on the side while working a normal 40-hour week for a company dealing with foodstuffs. No matter how tired I was at the end of my 8-hour work day, I got a wonderfully invigorating adrenalin rush whenever I taught at night. So I finally took the plunge in 2012 and went full-time freelance teaching. It was a no-brainer. And I haven’t regretted it since. I do mostly in-company classes but also CLIL classes in universities. In 2017, I co-started a business that offers English training and translations and added co-managing to the list of things I have to juggle around. It’s been a steep learning curve and there’s never enough time to do everything I’d like to. But absolutely nothing feels like work and I honestly feel guilty sometimes that I’m having so much fun “working”. But don’t tell anyone!

What’s the most rewarding part of your work?

I get to know interesting people with equally interesting jobs – lawyers, engineers, bankers, scientists, IT specialists, etc. And where else can one get immediate confirmation and appreciation of one’s work several times during the day? Some of my students have been with me for several years and it does fill me with pride hearing from them how I’ve played a part in their improvement. Andreas said in his interview (see below) that it gives him an “incredible buzz” to hear appreciation from his students. I second that wholeheartedly. It makes everything worth the effort.

And the least rewarding part? 

Freelance teaching has its perks (e.g. being able to say no) but it does have substantial financial drawbacks – no employer to shoulder half your health insurance premiums and state pension contributions and you’re not earning when you’re off sick. And then there’s the holiday double whammy – not earning any money while you’re spending money. But it’s not all about money, right? Otherwise there wouldn’t be any teachers left.

What do your learners say about you?

Apart from being organized (I’m told!) and knowing how to explain things well (they say!), I am told that my classes are funny and entertaining, and the minutes just fly by. But what stuck with me most was a comment once made that I always know how to make everyone in class look good and nobody has to ever worry about looking bad in front of their peers. This wasn’t something I was conscious of doing but has since become part of my teaching philosophy – nobody should look bad in my classes. Hopefully, not even me! Hence, the dashing bow tie.… 


What’s the best teaching advice you’ve ever received?

Take the time to take care of yourself and your own needs. Make a list of things you want to do that has nothing to do with teaching (e.g. a concert, three films, one whole season of Legion, a get-together with friends, some family time, a book, etc. within the next two or three months) and tick them off one by one. Otherwise, you’ll burn yourself out before you know it.

Do you have any wisdom to share with your fellow HELTA members?

First of all, the above piece of advice. Secondly, there are lots of other colleagues out there you can learn from. Freelancers usually work in a bubble and don’t have colleagues one can immediately ask advice from. And sometimes, things can seem daunting, especially if one is new to the business. But there’s always going to be someone who has been through the same things, so ask around. You’ll be surprised at the support and advice you’ll get. Finally, Continuing Professional Development (CPD). There’s always something new to learn and I rue the day when I wouldn’t be able to learn anything new anymore. So take the opportunities offered by teaching associations (e.g. IATEFL), their Special Interest Groups (e.g. IATEFL Business English SIG – BESIG) or local teaching associations (e.g. HELTA). And while you’re at it, have fun and make scores of new friends, too!

Do you have a guilty ELT secret?

Yeah! I probably don’t have a single clue as to what I’ve actually just been talking about.


 Who are you nominating for the next HELTA interview and why?

I nominate Wendy Pirie as our next interviewee because I’m really curious about what brought her to teaching. She has a wealth of ideas, has tons of experience and I’m very thankful for a piece of advice she gave me once that still guides me to this day. I think we could all definitely benefit from an interview with her.

The HELTA Interview Chain. No. 2

photoAndreas Grundtvig interviews: Kay Kilshaw

Describe yourself in three words.

I suppose that someone meeting me for the first time would say that I am a fairly serious type of person – definitely not giggly or an entertainer!  I think that I’m a natural listener; I really enjoy listening to people.  You learn so much by listening and observing.  And I’m generally curious to find out things – I suppose that links in with listening and observing.

What are your HELTA credentials?  (length of membership, how active, any position held, any proven skills – best cakes, discerning questions asked in workshops etc.)

I’m proud to be one of the 36 founding members of HELTA.  Way back in 1980 our colleague Patrick Woulfe spotted a need for a “grass roots” association of local EFL practitioners to support each other professionally – as well as to meet up socially.  I’ve been active in HELTA most of that time and was treasurer for many years until Wilton volunteered to take over the post last spring – I don’t mind admitting that the banking software was trying my considerable patience!  Wilton wisely viewed the software as a challenge and has come up with good ideas and streamlined procedures.  I’m still on the committee and will continue to offer whatever help is needed, but right now I‘m glad to see others coming forward and taking over the running of the association.  Actually I haven’t baked a cake for a HELTA event yet, but can well imagine that’s something I might add to my HELTA credentials.

Can you describe your teaching situation?  (who, where and on what basis; freelance, employed, full time, part time?)

I feel lucky to have found my way into the profession of EFL for adult learners.  I trained in the U.S. as a high school teacher for foreign languages, but soon realised after landing a job at a private language school here in Hamburg that teaching adults suited me much best.  I immediately loved giving lessons to interested and motivated adult learners.  I’ve always found it an enjoyable challenge to figure out how to put my own language across effectively to learners at many different levels of English.  After 13 years at a language school and doing the whole range of teaching and administrative work the school offered, I moved on to being a freelance in-company trainer — with the help of some training courses and adapting to the increasing demand for business English.  Fortunately plenty of work has come my way and I have taught in technical companies, banks and the shipping branch, as well as in two universities.  Due to the varying age groups, needs and levels of the learners who I deal with, my work has always been satisfying.

What’s the most rewarding part of your work?

That must be the fact that I’ve taught quite a few people who keep coming back for more!  I’ve taught some very long-running courses and some of the participants have stuck with me for a very long time.  I like the fact that these people recognize the important of regular practice to maintain their language skills and I really admire their perseverance.

And the least rewarding part?

When I taught at university level I had to write and correct exams.  I quite liked creating a good exam that really tested what the students needed to learn, but correcting it fifty times was not my idea of a fun Sunday afternoon.

What do your learners say about you?

The feedback that I receive from learners is generally along the lines that I’m well-prepared, organized and able to explain things well (which I should be able to do after so many years of practice).  Obviously it’s nice to receive positive and encouraging feedback from learners, but what I appreciate most is that they frequently say “thank you”!

What’s the best teaching advice you’ve ever received?

It was the everyday, practical bits of advice that I’ve remembered most.  When I was starting out as a young teacher, and older one advised me to get enough sleep!  I was a bit surprised by this, but it wasn’t long before I realized that the long hours I had to work were indeed physically and mentally taxing, and you can’t be at your best in front of a class when you’re tired.  So I sacrificed being “perfectly” prepared for lessons in favour of getting the sleep I needed.  A couple of teacher trainers also mentioned knowing how to “pace” yourself in class.  Learning how to do that was something I had to figure out for myself in my lessons, but I appreciated the tip and it gave me something to think about and work on.

Do you have any wisdom to share with your fellow HELTA members?

Perhaps I can say something to newcomers to the EFL profession.  I do think that some people are “natural” teachers, but there are many aspects of being a good EFL professional that can be learned, so I am all for getting involved with as many teacher training courses, seminars, workshops, and informal conversations with colleagues as possible – HELTA is a great place to do this.  Beyond that, I’d say that one has to think carefully about the skills needed for dealing with all kinds of people in a variety of situations.  If you have those skills or the will and patience to develop them, and you really want a job that is “people oriented”, it’s a fulfilling profession.

Do you have a guilty ELT secret?

Nothing springs to mind – and anyway, secrets have to be kept!

 Who are you nominating for the next HELTA interview and why?

I’d like to nominate Vincent Wongaiham-Petersen to be next in the chain.  Vincent comes from the Philippines and I’m curious to hear the thoughts and experiences of a member from that part of the world about working in the field of EFL.

The HELTA Interview Chain. No. 1  

Helen Waldron interviews:  Andreas Grundtvig.

Describe yourself in three words.
Spontaneous – Trying to plan life carefully is so tedious! 😉 Besides, you never know when the sky is going to fall on your head.
Adventurous – I’m usually up for anything new, especially if it involves a journey!
Silly – It’s so important to have an element of silliness in your life! I often ask myself if the things that I do (travels, adventures etc) are due to an innate Nordic absence of fear or just plain silliness. It’s usually the latter!

What are your HELTA credentials? (length of membership, how active, any position held, any proven skills – best cakes, discerning questions asked in workshops etc.)  Just like many things in my life, getting where I am ‘just happened’! I was first encouraged to join by my former colleague, Andi White, who also happened to be HELTA Chair. Back then the events committee were: Felicitas Van Vloten, Jim Maloney, Kevin Curran and Mike Hogan. When Andi left Hamburg, that team broke up, and Felicitas twisted my arm to become Chair.
I had just started presenting regularly so was busy networking, getting to know not just other associations but also many great speakers and encouraged them to come to Hamburg. For a while it was just Kay Kilshaw and I running HELTA but now we have a solid team that works so well together. Thanks to technology, we are always there for each other, wherever we may be – recently one of us texted from the Australian outback to another who was up a tree with a chainsaw, to deal with a HELTA matter! Oh, and then there’s Alma (in my case my wife is definitely one of my credentials), besides making excellent cakes she regularly puts up with strangers that come to sleep on, what I have come to call, our ‘TEFL couch’!

Can you describe your teaching situation? (who, where and on what basis; freelance, employed, full time, part time?) First and foremost, I’m a full time state employee, working as a teacher at the Berufliche Schule fur Medien & Kommunikation, a vocational college essentially for media studies. As part of that job I’m also responsible for the evening language courses at the school and I run the Cambridge Exams Centre Hamburg. In my freetime, I present teacher training sessions regularly at conferences around the world and as a consequence travel extensively, meeting teachers and learning about the latest developments in ELT. I have also written and published teaching guides but am a bit of a procrastinator there!

What’s the most rewarding part of your work?
Knowing that teachers have helped someone understand and progress, seeing evidence of that and being appreciated for whatever part I may have played in helping that happen. Sometimes I am contacted on social media by former students who write to tell me that they remember my lessons with fondness, and say how they enjoyed being in my classes. When that happens I can’t deny it gives me an incredible buzz. I hate to hear about people who have missed opportunities or suffered because of insufficient support during their education. Occasionally I take it personally. One of the saddest things that I have seen recently, was when I met a teenage girl sat on a dirty street selling fruit in an ordinary African town. To wrap up the fruit that she sold, she tore up her old school books. Even though I had never met her before it was so painful to see that.

And the least rewarding part?
The endless, often unnecessary, admin questions that I have to plough through when organising and promoting exams. It really tries my patience, after I have taken careful measures to make things as clear as can be, and provided as much information as possible to then have to repeat myself. It takes a big chunk out of my day.

What do your learners say about you?
My friend Wilty recently said that when I present he often has no idea what I’m talking until, suddenly, it all becomes so clear and relevant! I really hope that is also true of my learners, that even though the things we do might not be obvious immediately they lead to those ‘aha moments’! But you’d have to ask them!
What’s the best teaching advice you’ve ever received?
Invest in the time to really find out who your learners are, and what it is that they want. It sounds simple but it’s so often forgotten. Be interested in what they’re into and try to connect that to what interests you. Right now I’m delivering a series of workshops about how what we want to believe affects our ability to make sensible decisions and creates ‘cognitive biases’. One of those is the Ikea effect, ‘the tendency for people to place a disproportionately high value on objects that they partially assembled themselves’. This does not just apply to flat-pack furniture, but to so many things, including how we teach and learn. Our learners need to think that what they do is ‘theirs’ and not just something ‘prescribed’ to the masses.

Do you have any wisdom to share with your fellow HELTA members?
Haven’t I just answered that?

Do you have a guilty ELT secret?
Don’t be absurd, there are no flies on me! 😛

Who are you nominating for the next HELTA interview and why? Kay Kilshaw. She has been there since the beginning: the time that I began as a fledgling HELTA member, and maybe even the beginning of HELTA itself! For many years she was treasurer, but since I’ve known her I’ve thought of her as an absolute HELTA treasure!

Review of HELTA Members’ Day event: “Voices Within,” by ELTA member Dennis Newson

Yesterday, I travelled three hours  by train from Osnabrück to Hamburg to attend a one-day event organised by HELTA, an affiliate of IATEFL, the Hamburg English Language Teachers’ Association, at the Berufliche Schule City Nord, Telemannstrasse 10, Hamburg. The invitation read: “HELTA MEMBERS DAY – VOICES FROM WITHIN (with Catherine Walter). A day of professional development workshops delivered by HELTA Members with the kind support of Oxford University Press.” I found it well worth the long journey and an excellent example of what a small, locally based group of enthusiastic, interested practitioners can achieve. All that is needed is some local talent and a group of people who like their profession enough to, in this case, spend a Saturday enjoyably sharing with  and learning from like-minded people. About 35 people attended. There was no charge for members of HELTA and other German ELTAs i.e. subscribers to the online group Inter-Elta, and a self-prepared  buffet lunch and coffee and cake was provided at no charge  by the members. Non-members were charged the amazingly reasonable price of 10 Euro for the event, food included.

The workshops, presentations with a short time at the end for questions and discussions, varying from 15 minutes to one hour were as follows:

  1. Pronunciation is a two-way street, Catherine Walter (supported by Oxford University Press). 1 hour
  2. The character of the English language, Kimberly Crow.(25) minutes.
  3. BEC? CIOL? PET? CAE? CPE? PCE? EFB? SEFIC? IELTS? TOEFL? TOEIC? GASK? Sandra Stapela (25 minutes)
  4. Bicycles or boiling water – changing how learners see grammar, (Oxford University Press), Catherine Walter. (50 minutes)
  5. Writing for technical purposes, Nick Jones. (25 minutes).
  6. Lessons in Contract English. Coming into Force Clause, Jim Faulkner (25 minutes)
  7. Elf Termination . Wherever next? (Pecha Kucha), Andreas Grundtvig. (15 minutes)
  8. Some Considerations when beginning an EFL career, and a refresher for the “Alte Hasen” (Pecha Cucha) – Lawrence Harris. (15 minutes)
  9. The language of Business – Helen Waldron. (25 minutes)
  10. Staying on Top: How to Keep Track of Lessons, Ideas and Resources, Sarah Ploch (25 minutes)
  11. Bring A game – Bring Your A Game, Vincent Wongaiham. (15 minutes).
  12. An ELT Quiz with Jim Maloney.

You will find the complete invitation with presentation descriptions hereHELTA Event – 2 September 2017 H1[3]  H2[2] H3[3]

There follows just a few sentences about each presentation. They are not full summmaries, simply brief indications of what the talks were about.

Pronunciation is a two-way street, Dr. Catherine Walter

Catherine made the point that  “Pronunciation” i.e. to many teachers “speaking”, involves listening, too. She explored aspects of pronunciation that are worth teaching for listening. She concentrated on segmentation, catenation and phoneme differentiation.

The character of the English language, Dr. Kimberly Crow

Dr. Crow maintained that beyond vocabulary and grammar a learner has to come to understand the socio-cultural aspects of a language. She suggested that different languages had different characters and read examples from her German book on the subject. Her presentation was followed by a lively discussion about differences in these respects between English and German. (No handout).


Sandra gave a detailed, helpful review of most of the bewilderingly large number of examinations in English available. The handouts for the presentation are available here: H4[2]H5[1]H6[1]H7[1]

Bicycles or boiling water – changing how learners see grammar, Catherine Walter.

Catherine stated that using language communicatively  works best when it is followed up by the explicit learning of grammar  rules. She highly recommended and provided examples of exercises in inductive procedures. [ For more details and an extensive bibliography, see hand-out in Appendix.] I cannot resist commenting that I do not agree with much of what was said and would argue that what was being recommended was studying the language and not practising it for communicative purposes. But I concede that my anarchist views on the role of “grammar” in the learning of a foreign or second language are hardly likely to be in harmony with those expressed in : “How English Works. A Grammar Practice Book”, Michael Swan and Catherine Walter. Oxford (1997). The handout for the presentation is available here: CWalter_Grammar_OUP-Hamburg-2017-08

Writing for Technical Purposes, Nick Jones

Nick referred to and talked about some of the contents of an in-firm book on the writing of technical English that he was just completing. He focussed primarily on the writing of descriptions and instructions. (No handout).

Lessons in Contract English. Coming into Force Clause, Jim Faulkner

Jim worked with a text based on a clause taken from a typical business-to-business agreement. The handouts for the presentation are available here: H18[1]H19[1]H20[1]

Elf Termination . Wherever next? (Pecha Kucha), Andreas Grundtvig

It was typical of Andreas that he chose a form of presentation which only took up 15 minutes. He brilliantly presented 20 slides (20 seconds each) in the allotted time on the history of the English language ending up with Denglish. The slides were visually fascinating. (No handout).

Some Considerations when beginning an EFL career, and a refresher for the “Alte Hasen” (Pecha Cucha) – Lawrence Harris.  Lawrence also did a Pecha Kucha containing some useful advice to new teachers (for example, dress smartly) and, refreshingly, advised new teachers who knew they were good not to hesitate in asking for an increase in salary. (No handout).

The language of Business – Helen Waldron. Helen’s presentation bore witness to the fact that she studied linguistics. Her presentation amounted to a fascinating stylistic analysis of how the language used over the years by various companies has changed and been influenced, for example, amongst others by the language of the military, sport, politics and engineering. (No handout).

Bring A game – Bring Your A Game,    Vincent Wongaiham. In the last presentation of the day, Vincent, in a brisk 15 minutes showed himself to be HELTA’s resident expert on a range of games that can be used in class. The handouts give full details, including prices and are available here: H21[1]H22[1]

Apart from cleaning up, the day ended with participants dividing into groups or four, plus one trio to answer three rounds of eight questions  – 24 questions in all. The quiz master was Jim Maloney. The winning team were each awarded a small bottle of something restorative.

From parting comments from the attendees as they left it seems there was general agreement that the day had been most worthwhile and everyone, along with a small collection of handouts, had something to take home, including , thanks to the correct answer to one of the quiz questions, the knowledge of the year when the ‘F’-word was first published.

There were six publisher and information stands: Hueber, Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Exams, Academic Study Kit and Pilgrims, with representatives for five of them present the whole day.

HELTA Members’ Day 2017: Voices from Within

What a fantastic day!

Our Members’ Day 2017 at Berufsschule City Nord was a whopping success. About 40 people showed up to see our keynote speaker Dr. Catherine Walter and nine of our members speak.

Materials from our speakers can be found in this GoogleDrive folder. It’s open access, so anyone can upload documents. Just make sure you upload PDFs and not PowerPoints; this way nobody can nick your intellectual property without some serious tinkerin’.

As the jam-packed programme left only very limited time to discuss some of the hot-button issues that came up during the course of the day, we want to invite everyone to use the comment section to share their thoughts. Here are just a few of the questions that we had:

In teaching phonology, should we focus more on receptive than productive skills?

What is the character of the English language? Do teachers focus too much on hard and fast linguistic definitions and neglect the ‘story’ of English? 

Is explicit grammar teaching (always) better than implicit grammar teaching?

What are the benefits of external assessment? Are tests good for students?

Is writing manuals good practice just for students of technical English, or all of them?

Contract English: an indispensible part of every teacher’s toolkit?

What do we do with notions of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in the age of World Englishes? 

What are the most important life-lessons of EFL-teachers?

Where does ‘Business English’ come from? We’ve seen it borrow freely from military language, sports jargon, and even humanistic lingo. What’s next?

What are some of the best (and worst!) practices teachers have found to keep track of lessons and resources?

Is there anything you can’t teach in game-form?

and finally

Should the group Golden Girls have been given a full point for writing “Webster’s dictionary” in part three of the quiz?

Discuss! 🙂

Thanks again to everyone involved. Can’t wait for the next one!