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Ken Wilson – secrets of success, inspiration and plans for the next year

I am pleased to present an interview with Ken Wilson – famous teacher trainer, an author of ELT materials, ex-artistic director of the English Teaching Theatre, writer of numerous course materials and speaker at ELT conferences.  And when I realize that one person can do this much, the first question is: How do you manage to do so much work? What is your secret?

– I don’t work as hard as a teacher! For me, teachers who go to school every day, rain or shine, are the real heroes. I haven’t worked full-time in an institution for thirty years, which means I can devote all my time to writing, training and travelling to other countries.

But as a writer, yes, I have produced a lot of books. I think the secret is fear! I worry that people won’t like what I write, so I try extra hard!

– What or who is the source of your inspiration?

– The project itself is usually the inspiration. For example, ten years ago, I was asked to join a team of writers to produce a course for learners of English in China. The project went from primary level to college level, and I co-wrote the books for Senior High level.

I was able to go to China and watch Senior High English classes. The first thing I noticed was the size of the class – 70 to 80 students! How can someone teach that many people?? But the second thing I noticed was the enthusiasm of the students. Chinese SH students really want to learn, they are very enthusiastic and they like their teachers. Enthusiasm can have a wonderful effect on a teacher, and most of the teachers I saw were very happy.

I also want my family – my wife, my two daughters and their children – to be proud of what I do, so they are my inspiration, too.

– What are your favourite books? And what are you reading?

– I’ve just finished a Masters in Creative Writing at Birkbeck College, University of London, and we received a LONG list of novels and short stories to read, most of them by writers I had never heard of. Even though I’ve finished the course, I’m still reading the books! I would also like to recommend two books that I discovered because of the course, the best two novels I’ve read this year, by writers who are probably unknown outside the UK. The first was The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood, who was one of my tutors at Birkbeck. A very dark and atmospheric book. The other is Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty. I read the novel, was transfixed by the story, and then met the author when she came to give us a talk as part of our MA programme.

Otherwise, I have so many favourite authors, but my all-time favourites are two English authors who were prolific in the early part of the 20th century – PG Wodehouse and Evelyn Waugh, and an American author called Kurt Vonnegut.

If you want to read amusing stories with an academic setting, I recommend David Lodge and Malcolm Bradbury.

– I have seen some of your sessions on-line. I noticed that you spoke some foreign languages. Do you speak any foreign languages?

– It depends what you mean by ‘speak’ 🙂 I lived in Spain for a year and I also have a Spanish branch to my family, so my Spanish is pretty good. My school French means I can write French well but not speak it so well. I also studied German at school and can read and write it OK, and I can order food in a restaurant. 🙂

You will find that a lot of native English speaker teachers (NESTs, like me) speak a language very well, but it’s usually because they have lived and worked in a country where the language is spoken.  This is great, but I think that NESTs need to learn a language the way their students do, and more than 90% of English students study in a monolingual group in their own country, two hours a week, with no English around them outside the classroom. That’s the real world of learning English!

– What motivates you in your work?

– A lot of people ask me this and I have no idea what the answer is but I think I may have answered it a bit in previous answers. As a writer, I really want to do a good job because I don’t want people to be disappointed with the books that I write. And when I’m giving talks or doing training, I want people to enjoy themselves. This is why I try to add some humour to the talks/training. And the variety of my work and travelling life is very motivating. In 2016, I was able to visit Slovenia, Portugal, Mexico, Brazil, Vietnam, France, Slovakia, Italy and Japan for work reasons. Anyone who is not motivated by that is in the wrong job! 🙂

– As I come from Ukraine, and in one of your talks, you mentioned that you were in Ukraine, it is interesting to know about your visits to my country.

I think I’ve been to Ukraine four times, visiting Kyiv, Lviv, Odessa and Kharkiv. The first time I came, I was invited by the British Council in Lviv, after two Ukrainian people who worked there attended a summer school that I used to run in Hungary. I think I made three visits to Lviv, and it’s the city I remember the best. I also enjoyed visiting Odessa, where there used to be a very nice British Council resource centre, which is sadly now closed.

You’re right that I mentioned one of my visits to Ukraine in a talk. I was lucky enough to take a class of really interesting 14-year-olds while I was in Lviv. And I was really astonished by the kind of specific world knowledge that some of them had. In particular, one boy knew all the kings and queens of England – back for hundreds of years! I don’t!

Because of meeting this boy, I added a note about finding out about what your students know to my talk on Motivation. 🙂

– Speaking about your visits to another countries – do you know dates and countries or cities, where you will go next year with your teaching sessions?

– In 2017, I already have visits planned to Qatar, Iran, Turkey, Dubai and Serbia, and IATEFL UK in Glasgow. And I’m also considering invitations to visit Algeria, Portugal, Poland and Argentina. When I have a definite schedule, I will post it on my website. Which reminds me that I have to up-grade my blog to a website! 🙂

P.S. Here is the blog – kenwilsonelt.wordpress.com

The photo is taken from Ken Wilson’s Facebook page.



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