Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Good to be back!

After a month away from the blogosphere, it's good to be back.

I've spent the past month (well, longer, to tell the truth) deep in deadline hell. For clarity, let me define deadline hell as 'being badly behind schedule with at least two major projects, such that any time spent on one project inevitably leads to the other one slipping ever further into long-overdueland. And all the time you have to keep ressuring both parties that their deadline is your absolute number one priority. Nasty.

The worst thing is that I can't even hint on this blog as to the projects I'm working on. I suppose it wouldn't be giving too much away to say that there are exciting new titles for my series, Cambridge English for ..., on the way. But all I can say about the others is that they're big, exciting (for me at least) and top secret.

So, taking my inspiration from Karenne 'n' Maslow's Pyramid of Needs, here's my own set of needs (inverted, so my top priorities are first).

1. Mortgage stuff - teaching and other work that pays the mortgage while I'm waiting for the exciting stuff to bear fruit.
2. Deadline stuff - big exciting projects that might make me rich one day, but which probably won't, knowing my luck.
3. Spending a bit of time with my wife and kids, at least so that they remember who I am, but it'd also be nice to spend enough time with them so my kids could at least speak English.
4. Blogging obligations (blogligations?) like writing a post from time to time, responding to the people who've heroically commented on my recent posts and waited ages for a sign of acknowledgement from me, venturing out into the blogosphere to see what other people are up to ...
5. Relax. Watch TV. Go jogging!

I've been meeting needs 1, 2 and 3 recently, and I'm almost ready to move to need 4. Need 5 will  have to wait for the summer.

So ... last week I met two of my biggest, most overduest deadlines ever (if you can 'meet' such deadlines). Huge relief. And I allowed myself three days with the kids. Very nice. There's still a scary amount of work to do, but it's a lot more under control than it was a week ago.

A few highlights from the past month:

1. The wonderful IATEFL conference in Harrogate. I was only there for about 48 hours, so not much time to do things. I had two big meetings related to my exciting projects. I gave my joint presentation with Virginia Allum on Results Focused ESP (covering some of the same points as my recent post on English for Nursing). I met up (albeit briefly) with some of my favourite people from the blogosphere/discussion groups. I made some new useful contacts. And I even made it to a couple of sessions (5 in total).

My joint session went well. It was my first experience as a joint presenter, but Virginia (nurse, writer and all-round expert on English for Nursing) was very professional and knowledgeable.

The nice thing about our session was that it was tweeted live by Karenne, so our audience of around 30 was boosted by about 2000 of Karenne's followers, hanging on her every tweet, no doubt, and all rushing out to buy the books. Possibly. But anyway, much much much appreciated, Karenne.

This was my favourite tweet:


It's true - I felt uneasy last year at the idea of having a unit in English for Nursing Pre-intermediate on dealing with terminally ill patients. You can't include stuff like that in coursebooks ... but then I realised that we absolutely had to include it.

The issue of roleplays on difficult subjects also came up in Natasha Jovanovich's great presentation on ESP course design. It was a really thought-provoking session, centred around Natasha's experiences creating a course on English for Human Rights. She'd included some incredibly powerful materials in her course, including a very emotional video about infant mortality and a case study / role-play on abortion rights.

As with my nursing course, my first reaction was 'wow - this is a bit too heavy for an ESP course', but the more I thought about it, the more I realised that Natasha was right to include them in this particular course. Human rights advocates and lawyers and specialists need the language to discuss and work with highly emotive issues like these.

I might come back to this idea of different people's reactions to roleplays in a later post.

The lowlight of the conference for me was losing my bag on the way there, so that I arrived in Harrogate with only my suit on a hanger and the scruffy clothes I'd travelled in. No laptop, no presentation, no shirt, no toothbrush, no memory stick, no phone recharger, no clicker, no printouts of urgent work I was planning to be getting on with, no socks, no shoes ...

Fortunately my wife pointed out that I could buy most of those things in shops. Sometimes it takes someone else to point out the obvious - I suppose that's why guys like me need wives. My colleagues from Cambridge provided a copy of my presentation and a laptop, so the only thing that was missing was my shoes (which I couldn't bring myself to buy just for one presentation), so I wore trainers with my suit. Hope no-one noticed. At least Karenne didn't tweet about it:
Of course when I got back to the hotel after the presentation, my bag had arrived, rushed there by courier and now completely unnecessary (apart from my laptop and memory stick, of course).
#specificenglish #iatefl OMG jeremy's trying to be cool in a suit and trainers. LOL!

2. (Yes ... this started out as a list of highlights of the past month, remember) The second highlight of the past month was a visit to my business English upper int class from Vernon Ellis, the brand new chair of the British Council, i.e. the new global big big big boss. Vernon Ellis used to be Chairman of Accenture and is also Chairman of the English National Opera. In other words, a very experienced and knowledgeable businessman. And on his first visit to a foreign country on taking over from our previous chair, Neil Kinnock, he came to Poland to see me teaching. Well, that wasn't the main reason for his visit, I suppose. But it was great for my BE students to interview him about his business experience. I might blog about that one of these days too - it was a nice way of spending a class.

Anyway, I'm sure there were more than 2 highlights of the past month, but that'll do for now. If I don't finish this post tonight, it'll be the end of April before I get round to it.

Right ... I promise to be a good blogger from now on. I'll start working back through the comments and replying. And I'll post a lot more regularly next month. Honest ...

Related posts:


  1. I'm interested to hear more about your upcoming projects. Going to be working with some ESP for construction, engineering, and energy/oil industry in the coming months.

  2. Glad you raised the point about presenting difficult topics in ESP coursebooks. In fact, this was one of the reasons Patricia and I started thinking about writing 'English for Nursing'. I was bemoaning the fact that there were no authentic materials which would help students during their hospital and Care Home placements. Most students are terrified of those first encounters with real patients, more so if they have to navigate conversations about sensitive issues in a language which is not their first. As with anything, the next time is always easier but it helps to have practised a similar situation before.
    Regarding Jeremy's trainers: at least he had both trainers matching. I turned up at college one morning to address the whole of the new Diploma of Nursing and introduce the Learning Support service. I was supposed to reassure students that they were in safe hands with me,however, I had mistakenly left the house in one black and one white shoe (same type of shoe). I chose to pretend I had done it deliberately to lighten the moment..I did suggest that Jeremy could try this technique but he decided to hope no-one noticed!

  3. Great to have you back, and also pleased to be reminded that emotively charged conversations and role plays have been included in English for Nursing.

    It’s tempting to imagine that ESP would be an objective, logical sort of English where effective communication would be largely about the clear statement of facts. But human beings have affective filters and the messages we send are not always the same as the messages that are received.

    Recognizing this fuzziness of meaning exists is seen as an essential part of training in many technical fields now. So for example, pilots, surgeons and many firefighters undergo soft skills communication training in crew resource management (CRM).

    It's generally critical 'life and death' professions where CRM is getting most attention, but actually, being able to communicate about emotionally charged topics in emotionally charged scenarios has to be useful for a lot of people if you think about it.

    Look forward to reading more when you get to the bottom of the job list.

  4. Hi Neil
    Well, as I said, I can't reveal anything about my current projects at the moment, but I promise I'll go on about them til everyone's sick of them once they're out on the market! Your new ESP fields sound very diverse and interesting. Are you writing your own materials or using/adapting published materials?

  5. Hi Virginia
    Yes, I think Nursing is one of those areas that was crying out for 'delicate role-plays'. I really hope trainee nurses find it useful. Have you had any feedback from nurses who've done the course and then used the skills in real life?

  6. Hi Vicki
    Lots of important points in your comment - I don't really have much to add.
    Yes, the affective filter is a good way of thinking of things (which I hadn't thought of, but now will try to!)
    The more I get into ESP, the more I realise the importance of psychology - things like, as you say, differences between what we think we're communicating and what message the other person receives ... hmmm ... I need to think more about that too.
    Actually, I guess this ties in with one of my big issues last year on this blog, the need (or not) for ESP teachers to be more than language teachers and also, perhaps, subject specialists. Your point makes me think that ELT teachers might not be the best people to be working out how to teach CRM skills or whatever ...

    You don't fancy doing a guest post for me on this, do you? No pressure!

    (And it's not just an attempt to have another month neglecting my blogligations, by outsourcing the writing!)

  7. Yeah! Would love to do a guest post on this. Give me a little while to get through my job list and I'll be all yours.

  8. Hi!

    We have just started a small English school in San José, Costa Rica, Central America. We intend on focusing a big chunk of our energy on ESP. However, we are unable to find practically any materials on "English for Art and Design", which would be useful for a growing art and design industry in our country's metropolitan area.

    Where do you think we could look to for help?

    Thanks beforehand for any advice!

    Joaquín Muñoz

  9. 'Bout time you did another "Good to be back" post, isn't it? (this is where I would put in one of those smiley face things, if I could bear to use them)