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December 2018

Learning from experience

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The University of Central Lancashire is an ELT star known for its research and great language centre: three of the team tell Melanie Butler what makes UCLan different


Photo: International students in the Worldwise Centre


You all did a dizzying array of jobs in different countries: ESP in East Germany before the wall came down, teacher training in Bangladesh and Business English in Belgium and Italy. Which of these experiences most influenced your thinking about teaching and why?

Gordon: I learnt very early on to use my students as a resource. I was thrown in at the deep end, teaching EAP to post-doctoral researchers in East Germany, so I really had to get to know about my students’ wants and needs and tailor my teaching to them, rather than slavishly following a course book.

Tania: I agree totally. Another lesson I learnt early on when teaching in Czechoslovakia was how important it was to take the students’ cultural context and previous learning experiences into account.

Josie: Absolutely, attention to context is really important, and not making assumptions that what works in one place will automatically work in the same way somewhere else.

And another point, my work in some overseas universities, where most of my colleagues were not so called ‘native speakers’, really helped me to understand different perspectives on teaching and value different teacher strengths. I think these are beliefs which we share as a team and which we try to pass on to our students.

How does working with the UCLan team help you?

G: As Course Leaders and Tutors on MA courses, we can draw on a wide range of teaching experience in different countries and in different contexts. In the TESOL team we have an interesting range of research interests and specialisms, so these inform our teaching and – we believe – enhance student learning.

J: Plus, we also have the benefit of the Worldwise Centre and the Language Academy. The WWC organises some brilliant cultural events and has lots of language learning resources. The Language Academy, on the other hand, provides opportunities for our students to observe teaching and to participate in EFL volunteer projects. Again, that links the theoretical input we provide to real practical teaching situations.

T: As a team we organise various exciting events such as TESOL Works for Employability, and Supersize Your Cert for our own and other trainers’ CPD as Cert-TESOL trainers. We ran this for the first time last year and it was a great day for networking with other organisations nationwide.

Describe the ideal UCLan student.

T: We don’t have an ideal student in mind as such. Each cohort is made up of very different individuals: different ages and from lots of different countries all around the world. They bring a wide variety of backgrounds and experience…

G: But on all the MAs, what we value most is a sense of curiosity about the hows and whys of language learning and teaching. And a willingness to share experiences and learn from each other. We really do consider each application on its merits.

All of you have made the switch from EFL to international education. What do you think a background in EFL gives you?

T: The way we teach. So, our MA programmes aim to provide our students with the theoretical underpinnings of TESOL. But, because of our classroom experience, we do our best to make our sessions as interactive as possible and to demonstrate various teaching techniques which we have all used in our own EFL classrooms.

G: This is equally true of our teaching on the distance programme. We break down the input into manageable chunks and we create opportunities for reflection and discussion by making use of learning communities, discussion boards, Skype and so on. Again, this helps us to link theory and practice and raise students’ awareness of the theoretical principles underlying what they do – or will do – in their own classrooms.

J: On a related note, as we have all worked and studied abroad and had to adapt to very different cultures. We are well able to empathise with our international students who are going through similar things here at UCLan.

For us, international means working not only with students from other countries but also with people who are based abroad. We all benefit from working in an international environment!

Tania Horák

is course leader in the MA TESOL with Applied Linguistics.


Dr Grdon Dobson

Course Leader MA TESOL with Applied Linguistics by Distance. Teaches on undergraduate and postgraduate TESOL courses

Josie Leonard

Course Leader MA TESOL Teaches on undergraduate and postgraduate TESOL courses

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