Gulliver’s ELTravelsIATEFL LT&TD SIG Joint ConferenceIstanbul, Turkey, May 2012 THOUGHTS ON TECH VIDEO ABOUT ...
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"The Potato Diaries" - 5 new articles

  1. Gulliver’s ELTravelsIATEFL LT&TD ...
  2. Cutting the Love out of Christmas.
  3. History in the May Queen
  4. The Real IATEFL
  5. A few Remaining Questions we can still answer ‘Yes’ to and a Modest Proposal to save Ireland from penury.
  6. More Recent Articles

Gulliver’s ELTravelsIATEFL LT&TD ...

Gulliver’s ELTravels
IATEFL LT&TD SIG Joint Conference
Istanbul, Turkey, May 2012



Cutting the Love out of Christmas.

I know we live in a time of harsh and sweeping cuts but how about this? Isabella, aged 8 gave my son a Christmas card at school this morning, then, realising she had made a mistake (?) took the card back, cut out the ‘Love, Isabella’ (in front of him) and replaced it with ‘From, Isabella’. I asked him how he had felt. He thought it was funny. He said that he didn’t care at all. He laughed. I'm not so sure though. Won't it take him a step closer to being a Frommer rather than a Lover?

At home I sent a Facebook message to a friend in Brazil, crossed out ‘From’ and replaced it with ‘Love’. It felt good. I’m going to try harder next year to replace ‘From’, ‘Warmest Regards’ and ‘Best Wishes’ with ‘Love’. Not always, but just now and again. In those borderline cases. You know the ones. It’s not going to be easy. I’m a man who winces at emoticons. Oh what the hell! I love you all. I really do. With all my heart.

Happy Christmas, Everybody. Nollaig Shona Duit.

Lots and lots of love from,


History in the May Queen

The British monarchy are a pretty rare sight in Ireland. To mark Queen Elizabeth’s visit, The Potato Diaries looks back to another royal arrival 190 years ago.

On the 21st of August 1821 the current Queen Elizabeth’s 3rd great grand-uncle arrived in Ireland. It was 130 years since the previous royal visit and the first peaceful visit of a British monarch to these shores.

The obese, flamboyant character arrived in a state of advanced intoxication at Howth, a harbour north of Dublin. At this stage in George’s ‘career’, despite being known by his favourites as the Gentleman of Europe, he was a figure of ridicule who had brought the monarchy into disrepute in a way that would have made Charlie Sheen look like a Buddhist monk. He suffering delusions including one that he had fought at the Battle of Waterloo. He didn’t. Not a difficult one to disprove I would have thought. Like much in Irish history, complicated, confusing and with drink taken.

George has particular significance for children around the world. These lines penned in his honour ‘Georgie Porgie pudding and pie kissed the girls and made them cry. When the boys came out to play, Georgie Porgie ran away’ neatly celebrate his gluttony, lechery and cowardice. That’s what we call a good slagging.

A local artist traced the shape of George’s feet on a granite block at the place where he landed. These are largely ignored by both locals and tourists. In honour of his 3rd great grand-niece’s visit, Potato Pals author and fellow gout sufferer, Patrick Jackson has visited the place and placed images of Potato Pals Buddy and Daisy in the surprisingly small footprints.

This gesture should not be interpreted as a reference to either the famine that was to follow or a suggestion that Ireland has been in any way down-trodden. While believing in the importance of healthy diet, the prudent use of people’s tax and the equality of all tubers, we also recognise that it’s time for Ireland to move on. In the words of our President, "It is an acknowledgment that while we cannot change the past, we have chosen to change the future".



Last year I attended IATEFL Harrogate virtually, from the comfort of my cubby-hole in Dublin. It was great. I saw loads of talks and listened to lots of interviews. This year I had the chance to go in the flesh. I promised I would write about my real visit and how it compared to the pajama version. I arrived in Brighton late on Friday and spent Saturday going to talks. All good. All interesting but to be honest I could have got the content just as well at home. It's nice to get out of the house though sometimes.

On the morning of my own talk, Sunday, I was in a heightened state of excitement. I'd spent a lot of time preparing my presentation on Linked Language Learning. This was my European debut. A lot of the people I had been following on Twitter and whose blogs I'd been reading and commenting on would no doubt be there. The new books I've been working on since I was a lad would be out, freshly displayed to all. There were even publishers gift's, iTools, an interview, a tweet-up. Everything a self-promoting spud could ever dream of.

I got up at the absolute crack of dawn, went for a jog all the way to the Royal Pavilion, took a shower and had a light breakfast with a fellow author, (the now legendary Lewis Lansford of English for Oil and Gas fame). Then I headed upstairs to reflect a little before setting off to join the fray down the road.

On returning to the still of my palatial room, as I sometimes do at these important moments, to add a little additional significance to the occasion, a little frisson, I reached for a random book. As I was in a hotel room this happened to be Gideon's Bible. I closed my eyes and opened the book, gently tapped the page with my forefinger, opened my eyes and started to read. Can you imagine my extreme disappointment to see the following verse from the book of Job (27:12)

You have all seen this yourselves. Why then this meaningless talk?

I mean, really! Clearly some sort of administrative error. A glitch in the matrix.

I pressed on with the day but of course I had no chance really. To be honest my talk was indeed, as predicted by God, very poorly attended numbers-wise. But! But! It's quality that counts, innit? There were some very special people there and you know who you are. Thank you so much both of you.

Why didn't the crowds cram the place to the rafters? Well apart from the Divine veto of the event, I was on straight after lunch. The sun came out for the first time that weekend. The room was too big and rather removed from the main shindig. Most people made the wise decision to stay on the beach or have a leisurely lunch, or go to one of the 25 or so concurrent and clearly less meaningless talks. Excuses excuses! What the hell. We were singing. We were dancing. It was a glorious, special time that anyone who was there will never forget and an important day in the movement that was to become Late Language Lunching.

Don't get me wrong. Despite the unfortunate cosmic misunderstanding regarding my carefully prepared lecture I am very happy to have gone to Brighton. I genuinely consider it to have been an honour and one of the funnest things I've done professionally or even unprofessionally. I breathed the same air as all those people. You know. Those people. They'd been whizzing around the spare Firefox window beside my manuscript for the last two years. These are the people who've been keeping me sane. Well partly sane anyhow.

Trainspotting Highlights of my weekend? As is the mode at the moment allow me a dozen or so name drops:
1. I was in the same room as Shelly Terrell. She actually exists! In real life!
2. I was on the other side of a revolving door to Gavin Dudeney. I thought of jamming it with my foot so I could just hold him there like a kind of high tech goldfish as the entire running of the event ground to a standstill. But I was merciful. I let him swim away.
3. I sat in a talk next to Ken Wilson, whispering conspiratorially and Tweeting fiendishly throughout. Him not me. He must have been a handful at school I reckon.
4. I watched Scott Thornbury being real life! God that man has a fine voice and how he uses his hands. When he's not scaling fish or crushing olives or whatever it is he does for a living.
5. I met Four Horsewomen of the Bosphorous. I want to go to Turkey so.
6. I embraced Karenne like a long-lost friend (was I overfriendly, I wonder?) and thrilled as she choked up describing how important blogging was to her.
7. I met Sue Lyons-Lyons-Lyons for the first time, sitting together by the sea in the early morning dew with...
8. Heike! Who I met again later in the day looking really fed up. I went back and got her handbag which she'd forgotten (and I thought Germans were meant to be organised), tiptoeing into a talk to retrieve it from where she had left it . Amazingly nobody stopped me.
9. I joshed with Jamie Keddie briefly as he rushed off, clearly clean out of his mind with enthusiasm and images.
10. I had a sincere and deep conversation with a very nice gardener called David Warr who seemed to have mistaken the venue. I realised afterwards it hadn't been a conversation as I'd done all the talking. Sorry, David.
11. I even shook hands with my old school chum (well we weren't quite contemporaries) Jeremy Harmer. He rushed off too but who needs the Book of Job when you've done that.
12. I met the surprisingly tall Nik Peachey. Surprisingly tall? Why had I an image of that man as being about the size of a 300ml can of lager? Daft really. We talked about oaks.
13. I offered a seat to Carol Read. I repeat. I offered a seat to Carol Read. If you've spent 15 years in the world of young learners ELT you'll appreciate what that means.
14. There was a publisher's dinner, with real food. I met important people who will hold great sway over my future. They were really nice and clever and fun and good-looking and I will do anything they like for them as long as I live.

These are dizzy heights for a wee lad. Will I go back? Probably one day. But I've learnt my lessons. Don't go rooting around in hotel bedside cabinets. Don't go looking for signs. Don't name drop. Don't think that your talk is the most important reason you're there. It's not. Neither is the Esplanade. It's all about sharing. Reality is quite fun enough. Especially when you're in the IATEFL zone, man. Bring me my dressing gown! Roll on 2012. It's not in Dublin by any chance is it?

A few Remaining Questions we can still answer ‘Yes’ to and a Modest Proposal to save Ireland from penury.

The Questions.

Are the Irish sometimes described as wordsmiths of the English language (the world’s lingua franca currently being learned by between 1 and 2 billion people worldwide)?
Have we also been described as ‘a nation of teachers’?
Do we have a worldwide reputation for warmth and hospitality?
Is Ireland considered an attractive and desirable place to visit?
Do we have a large number of graduates and older people with an increasing amount of spare time on their hands?
Does Ireland have a further flung and better networked diaspora than any other English speaking country?
Do we have well respected language schools all over the country as well as people teaching in language schools all around the world?
Do we have ample space, plenty of spare housing, empty hotels and buildings all over the country that could be turned to a variety of uses?
Do we need a clear message to bring to the table both internally and externally? A Mission Possible that everyone can bend their shoulders to that’ll play to all of our strengths and give us some pride back.
Are we perhaps a wee bit stuck? Do we need change?

The Proposal

Ireland makes it its clear and known intention to become the world leader in English language teaching, putting ELT at the forefront of our economy. Yes, really. The forefront. Ireland becomes the English language teaching classroom of the world. There are currently between 1 and 2 billion people learning English worldwide. That’s a class of say 300 people for every man, woman and child of us.

This will require that Ireland becomes world leader in the training of English language teachers. We will step up our welcome to teachers and trainee teachers from around the world. We will also properly train and make it possible for tens of thousands of our own young people to teach English abroad for as long as they want, simultaneously acting as ambassadors for Ireland. These teachers will become identified with the best language teaching practice. When governments are looking for well-trained teachers for their schemes they will come directly to Ireland. Every child in the world will have had an Irish teacher or a teacher trained in Ireland at some stage in their education. Like the old days but different.

We use all these skills and links to make the experience of coming to learn English in Ireland the best in the world. We welcome the people of the world to Ireland. Properly and everybody. We do what it takes to get them here and give them the time of their lives. We make Ireland a place where people come to enjoy learning both from us and from each other. It becomes the world's meeting place. We take a close look at what it really means to welcome people and a closer look at the service, quality and value of what we offer. We make people want to come back.

This leads to us educating ourselves further in cross-cultural communication and taking a good look at our attitudes to people, to service and to immigration. We build equitable bridges, welcoming people from all over not just because of how much we think we can fleece them for on one visit. We make it affordable for people to come here and we make it clear that we want to build life-long friendships with them. We become the stepping stone to the world. Wherever you’re from.

We use our spare rooms and spare time, perfecting the Irish homestay. We offer visitors affordable, free or subsidised if necessary accommodation in our hotels and hostels. We could even offer free housing in our empty estates. Why not?

We lead the world in the increasingly technological aspects of language learning. Short sentence but a big deal.

We embrace the opportunity to learn from past mistakes, harness our wit, our resourcefulness, our intelligence and our desire to find an honourable way out of this mess. We have a huge resource, largely untapped. Talk about free software. Natural gas, even. Language! It's in the mouths of babes and sucklings. And we're very good at it. Where else can you actually pay good money to hang off a battlement backwards to kiss a rock that'll give you the gift of the gab?

Joking apart, this would be a mission in which every single Irish person can play a part in some way or other and know what part they’re playing. It’s also a message we can broadcast far and wide. Let’s make our intention clear and give it everything we’ve got. ‘We’d like to teach the world to speak’.

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