Эксклюзивное интервью с Хью Делларом, ч. I

Во время предыдущего визита в Санкт-Петербург представителей издательства National Geographic Learning Полина Кордик специально для читателей сайта bookbridge.spb.ru взяла интервью у методиста и автора учебных пособий Хью Деллара. Хью ответил на вопросы петербургских преподавателей английского языка, которые Полина собрала к этой встрече.

Polina Kordik: Hi, Hugh! So glad to see you in St. Petersburg! You know that you are always welcome here, but still, tell me, why are you here this time?

Hugh Dellar: I’m back in St Petersburg for the first time in far too long. And I’m doing a couple of seminars which have been organized in conjunction with Bookbridge. And I’m going to be talking to the wonderful teachers in St. Petersburg about some ideas connected to images in the classroom and colligation (sort of the grammar of individual words), and which words we choose to focus on when we’re teaching and why and what we do when we’re focusing on them.


P.K. How much time did it take you to write the first and the second edition of Outcomes? And why are they so different? What did you have in mind when you wrote the second edition?

H.D. Whether its first edition or second edition, we probably take about five to six months to do each book. Rewriting actually takes the same amount of time because in some ways it’s harder to rework things than to start from scratch. We probably rewrote forty percent of most of the units in most of the books. At least one new double page per unit. I don’t think they are so different. I think the essence of the books is quite similar because we tried to redress the balance in terms of the some of the problems that we knew could come up with the first edition based on feedback and our own experience of teaching the books. There is no point in doing the second edition if you are not going to rework things and improve on things in light of the comments that you’ve had from the teachers who is using it.

In the first edition, we had little Language Pattern boxes and we had certain exercises where we use translation, which we were really keen on doing. Ironically, non-native speaker teachers not wanting exercises which use translation. Completely mad, if you ask me. And then also we added video, we did a lot more stuff digitally online, we changed the way the review units work. That was quite a lot of resculpting of the core content.

P.K. Can you give some ideas, some tips on how to work with the Vocabulary Builder? What can you do with it?

H.D. I think that there are three or four main things you can do. The one is you can just tell students what it is and show them how it works. When they are in class, they can have the Vocabulary Builder open, or they can just have it as a pdf on their tablets.

One of the main things is when the students are doing exercises or a double page in class they have the Vocab Builder open and they check things there first before they ask the teacher. So one of the advantages is that the teacher doesn’t have to answer the same question 12 times. You know: “What does ‘ambitious’ mean?” and the teacher explains, and then two minutes later another student asks, “So, what does ‘ambitious’ mean?”“And it means you were not listening!” That process is really common in class. So it’s better than using a dictionary because it’s based on the specific examples and the definitions are based on the collocations and examples. They are also recycling language around what’s in the other units.

With weaker students or weaker classes you can just tell them, “Next lesson we are doing this couple of pages, go home, read the stuff, check it, in the class we’ll be looking at some of this vocab”. You can use it as a way of supporting the weaker students.

You can also use it a lot for revising and recycling: you can write vocab exercises based on the extra collocations. For example, you take the collocations, you gap some things from them, maybe the key words from the exercises you are looking at, or sometimes you include the key word and you gap some of the collocations. So if students really do their homework, they can have a look at the exercises, and you are going to check them.

Students can also test each other. They can have something like: ‘It was an overly ________ plan, he’s a very ________ person, a ruthlessly _______ politician’. And they elicit “ambitious” from their partner.

So you can use it as a very easy, no-preparation, simple ready-to-roll revision activity.

The other nice thing in the online version is the corpora. You can access all of the sample sentences within the book and across the levels of that particular word in use.

P.K. How to adapt Outcomes to one-to-one lessons? Lots of teachers teach one-to-one in Russia, you know. Any tips and tricks?

H.D. In a sense, it depends on what your student wants. At the moment, I am doing a one-to-one Spanish student. She wants to take the Cambridge Advanced exam. Her speaking is up to scratch already, her listening as well. We’re doing the Writing sections in the following way: I give her the homework in advance, she does the writing, I look at the writing, we then do the writing lesson in the class, she reworks the homework that she already submitted in the light of the impact that we’re doing in the classes, and I look through it. That’s basically all, because she wants to pass the exam and she’s got problems with her writing. I think, possibly, what I would do more if I was doing one-to-one is focus on particular areas or particular topics the student is really interested in. So if they really want to work on their speaking and listening, you can open the double-page spreads, and do all of those first, and then you maybe come back and do the reading spreads.

I think, in a way, I’d do it in a very similar way to how I do it with the whole class. You exploit the vocabulary a lot, you go deeper into the language, you ask them lots of questions, you give them lots of examples. You allow lots of space for the one-to-one student to ask questions, to discuss the language, to personalise the language. But it’s just the building space for them to interact with what you’re doing, give them a chance to take the lesson somewhere else rather than you just delivering it to them, you know. The same with a big class, in a way. Pretty much.

P.K. Is it possible to integrate Outcomes Advanced and the new TED talks book, and how?

H.D. Why do you want to do so? Depends on what you mean by “integrate”. It’s possible to use them concurrently. You do Outcomes one day, Keynote the next day. But there’s no advantage to doing that. They are two different courses with two different sets of language.

There’s lots of disadvantages to doing that, because as a writer, you’re very conscious about recycling language across pages, making sure things you’ve already taught appear again. If you’re flicking between two different books, you lose that linguistic continuity, and so then you have to take on extra responsibility for making sure you’re recycling and revising the language.

My own feeing would personally be: choose one or the other and decide which one you want to do. You know, it’s not just to do with Outcomes or Keynote, it’s to do with any teachers who take this pick-and-mix approach. Basically, you end up with a 100 one-hour lessons rather than a course, and you don’t have that thread of language and thread of approach that’s woven through lesson, after lesson the way that you do it when you’re using a course consistently.

P.K. Personally, I would agree with you, because Outcomes has so many components, you can do so many things, personally, I’m still a bit overwhelmed, you know, with all the activities and all the things you can do.


P.K. What are professional strengths and weaknesses of teachers in Russia? What are we really good at? What should we work more on?

H.D. It’s a very difficult question and I’m very reluctant to make very broad generalisations about that but I think generally there are several really obvious strengths of Russian teachers. The level of English is generally very high. Well, of the ones that I meet. You are the ones who expose themselves to continuing, ongoing professional development. So you need to add that caveat. A whole load of other people who don’t come to those sessions, their English and motivation may not be quite as developed as the people who are coming along. So they tell me.

I think generally Russian teachers are very demanding, in a good way, have very high expectations of students. I guess the downside of that, or the other side of the same coin is that there’s slightly… masochistic perfectionism sometimes among Russian teachers and a feeling of, you know, “I must be a bad person because I couldn’t completely explain the difference between ‘I heard him enter’ and ‘I heard him entering the room’”. And they ask me what I think. And I say, it doesn’t matter because it’s basically the same, and they can be beating themselves up about this for nine years secretly until they found me, a native speaker. There’s that.

I actually like the fact that Russian teachers have high expectations and I like the fact that Russians generally are not afraid of a little bit of hard work. I think there’s an expectation on the part of the teachers that the students will do the learning and they are not going to get a shortcut, to get an easy way out of it. They have to do the work and it’s going to be bloody hard and that’s good for them and I need to do it. I like that. It’s a healthy way of looking at the language learning because that’s the reality of it, it is not something that is going to drop out of the sky into your lap. So, the perfectionism and the weird Russian…What is it? It’s sort of not inferiority complex but self-punishing mentality. There are really amazing Russian teachers, they speak brilliant English and they spend a half of a conversation with you saying how bad their English is and what terrible teachers they are. That’s the biggest Russian weakness. But in a way, that’s also a part of Russian biggest strength. Maybe that’s two sides of the same coin then.

P.K. My next question will be a continuation of this topic. You know the obsession of Russian teachers with British accent and ‘pronunciation problem’. There are quite a lot of teachers who are really concerned about sounding nativelike. I’ve summed up all those questions because I got really a lot of them. What can you tell them about it? What role does a non-native accent and intonation patterns among non-native speaker teachers play globally?

H.D. The bottom line is just stop worrying about it. I mean, you never going to sound like a native speaker, ok? Because who is a native speaker? We’ve got Tim here [Tim Pearse, NGL representative. — P.K.], who’s from Bradford, and we’ve got me, I’m from London, and we’ve both got different accents, we pronounce words in different ways. When I say they want to be a native speaker, do they mean they want to sound like me, or like Tim, or like some imaginary Received Pronunciation 1950-ies BBC person who actually doesn’t exist anyway?

I notice a lot of Polish teachers. You can tell that they are Polish teachers of English because when you meet them, they speak in this very peculiar, very, very practised Received Pronunciation way that they think make them sound like a native speaker. The only Pole I know who sounds like a native speakers is Piotr Steinbrich because he lived in England for 2 years. When he meets me, he says, “Alright, mate, my name is Pjotr, I’m from Lublin, but I lived up in Manchester, for a couple of years, right” [mimicking Manchester accent. — P.K.] That’s how he talks. He sounds like he’s from somewhere, and he’s really, really unusual in that. Or look at someone like yourself, Polina. You’ve got a very, very neutral accent, you wouldn’t immediately be placed being Russian, but you wouldn’t be mistaken for being a native speaker, either. Yeah, you are a sort of that weird, very high level of English, neutral source of accent that you can’t work place, you could be Dutch, could be Swedish, could be something else.

But for most Russians when they’re speaking English, it’s very difficult to have a Russian accent so strongly you are not intelligible in English.

Basically, if Russian’s your first language, you are going to be intelligible in English. The degree to which you want to work on that is up to you, and compared spending a hundred hours on your pronunciation to spending a hundred hours on your vocabulary, you will develop your communicative competence much more if you spend a hundred of hours on vocabulary. Because in the end the pronunciation is about training your motor skills. It’s like learning chords when you are playing the guitar or something, you’ve just got to do that kind of physical repetitive motor skills work. But it’s not worth worrying about because I’ve never met a Russian who I couldn’t understand when he’s speaking English, even the one who khez e veri stronk Rushun eksent like this [mimicking strong Russian accent. —– P. K.], you understand them.

P.K. But I mean, for a teacher. Do you think it’s ok for a teacher to have such kind of accent?

H.D. Why not? Do you really think that a student will have the same accent as you? Dream on! Most students don’t sound like me, they sound like them. If you have a Russian accent, it’s because you’re from Russia and the same way I have a London accent because I’m from London. Why would you want to not have that because it’s what you are?

P.K. There’s a certain obsession among teachers, and, you know, the higher the level is the more obsessed they are with this … sounding native-like.

H.D. Such a waste of time! Which native would you like to be then? Any. Some native Brits, the Queen? Even if British, then what? Geordie? Cockney? Cornish? What does it mean? Ok, they mean Received Pronunciation.

P.K. I even got a question from a colleague, the question was that there is such a huge gap in coursebooks for pronunciation at C2 level, and I was a bit puzzled, to be honest. 

H.D Because by the time you get to C2, your English and the way you pronounce things is basically fixed. When you really want to deal with pronunciation is the Elementary level, A1-A2. If you don’t get it then, you won’t get it later. For example, every time I teach Thai or Chinese students, their English is really good, they often can write good English, they can read a lot, but when they speak they’re screwed because their pronunciation is so terrible, and I’d never pay any attention to it, so like [mimicking strong Asian accent unintelligibly. — P. K.] What did you say? What are you doing this weekend?’ But the phrase is totally unintelligible.

When you’ve got that, you try to break that down and remodel that, but it is really hard, because they’ve learned how to chunk sounds in the wrong way. For Russian students, by the time they get to Proficiency, there is very little that’s going to change in their pronunciation. I told you the story about the Russian Professor once… No?

P.K. No.

H.D. So this is why you shouldn’t worry about pronunciation.

A long time ago I was in Siberia, and an elderly woman came up to me at the end of a talk I did. It wasn’t about the pronunciation. She had a very strong accent and she was, like, Професа Делар, ай вери мач лавт ё ток. Ай вонт презент ю виз э спешал гифт оф май бук, айм олсоу эн оса, плиз аксэпт э спешал комплиментари гифт копи оф май бук! And she gave me her book, and it was called “How to Get Rid of Your Russian Accent” [laughing]. Bit my lip not to say anything… “Thank you very much, it must be a remarkable book!” And I mean, if she can’t do it, just give up!

To be continued