Different people left their mark on the EFL profession through TESOL

Ian Bell
TESOL France Past Officer
Amiens Regional Group, 1984-85
Paris Forum Organizer, 1987-89

When TESOL started I was a very green teacher living in Amiens. I saw a flyer about the first TESOL France conference at the British Council Teachers’ library (before Maggie’s cuts). I sent off my application and was amazed that I was allowed to join and go to the conference without having to show my qualifications (as is normal in professional associations outside of teaching). I was very impressed by the quality of the papers and discussions, there must have been at least a couple of hundred people. I believe that it was already at the Telecom ParisTech.

A couple of years later I started and ran a local TESOL group in Amiens where I lived at the time. I looked for and got contributions from local teachers from secondary, higher and further education. We also had a few outside guests including most memorably Rod Bolitho, one of Britain’s leading teacher trainers and a fellow westcountryman.

Many of the early conferences held in Paris run into each other in my memories. Peter Maley joined us on one occasion fresh from setting up the Council’s EFL teaching in China. I remember talking about the occasion some years later when I was at the same hotel as him at an IATEFL conference in Latvia. And of course Mario Rinvolucri who has been over from Pilgrims (where I did my initial training) so many times. Another one of the sessions I remember with particular affection was a commercial presentation by Brian Abbs of Strategies fame. We were all seated in an amphitheatre when the lights dimmed, loud disco music throbbed out of the loudspeakers and Brian, dressed in white painter’s dungarees, skipped down the steps from the back of the amphi lit only by a stroboscope!

There was an attempt to get TESOL France to be truly national so successive executive committees held events in different parts of the country. I remember with particular enthusiasm Caen where we all stayed in students’ dorms. These were attributed according to order of arrival and so were mixed. I seem to remember Diane Larsen Freeman being there (not in the dorm - at the conference). She was really impressive and led a very well constructed attack on some of the aspects of acquisition theory. There was a slot set aside for teachers of business English, and from the list of teachers present sprang the Wheel which has gone on with different levels of success until now some twenty years on (sometimes within TESOL sometimes less so). The Caen conference was blessed with a social event second to none, we had a rock band with one of the female TESOL members singing Joplin songs – Ball and Chain - it still makes the hairs on my arms stand up to think of it.

The Gala evenings were an important part of our conferences. One year we had our conference in a school of horticulture in Hyères. My own contribution, apart from a paper on test theory, was knocking on doors to get the different sessions to end, quite a challenge when there must have been up to half a dozen workshops at any one time spread across the campus. The Gala dinner took place amongst the plants in one of the greenhouses.

TESOL’s biggest event must have been in 1989 when we celebrated the bicentennial of the French Revolution. This was at the period when I was most active in the association. People like our treasurer Jean Cureau got support from the Ministry of Education and organised “Les Etats Generaux des Langues” at the Musée des Sciences. They got France’s other EFL associations to participate in this joint event (one of the rare occasions I remember Piaget being a star reference at TESOL). My own contribution (having studied catering management) was the organisation of a cocktail. A couple of days before we only had about 800 people signed up. I had to improvise like crazy as we ended up with between 2 and 3 thousand teachers all milling around trying to get at the Californian wine (generously provided by the embassy).

In the eighties I was teaching at a language school in Paris which did a lot of teacher training (ILTC) and I joined the ExCom and took over the Forum evenings from my boss David Miller. We wanted to do things differently from the Council so I made sure that everyone had a drink on arrival, and not just at the end of the evening! We talked about all kinds of things of interest to teachers and other EFL professionals, not only pedagogical subjects but also how to get into print (with people like Gillian Porter Ladouse) and how to make money, and of course we organised various parties such as an annual Burns supper. It was a really good experience for me, learning how to choose people with different views and then managing the debates.

A little later we had a conference in Lyons. The highlight of the conference for me was a plenary speaker from the other side of the Atlantic who seemed to me to be just like Woody Allen. Guess who he was? Acquisition theory… You have it, Krashen. The gala dinner was magnificent, held in what the Lyons people call “the pencil” i.e. the round and pointed Credit Lyonnais building with fabulous views across Lyons. We had pretty good views too (and wine) the time we had a dinner up the Eiffel Tower…

Of course there were moments which weren’t quite so much fun, like the time when we discovered that the wine at one Gala dinner at the PLM St-Jacques was pretty close to undrinkable or when two American teachers were programmed at the same time as one of the EFL big-timers. As an ExCom person with no responsibility at that particular moment, I was inveigled into trying to console them when no-one turned up for their session. As they said, it would have been worse if there’d been two or three people. As it was the US taxman wouldn’t know and would still allow them to write off their trip to Paris as a tax-deductible expense, thanks to TESOL.

Different people left their mark on the EFL profession through TESOL and then moved on. Hal Surguine, one of our Past Presidents worked really hard on trying to get standards applied in EFL, more recently he has been one of the people involved in the ESSEC dispute where there was a ruling that the higher education “vacataire” system is essentially illegal. I believe it may have been Kathleen Dameron and Chris Durban who helped in the negotiations for TESOL for the establishment of the “convention collective” for language schools. Kathleen has gone on to be an extremely successful trainer in intercultural studies and Chris has taken up quality translation. Both of them are active in their respective professional associations. And of course from time to time I think of colleagues from early days who left us, those who succumbed to the twin scourges of AIDS and cancer or more banally those who travelled on to another profession or moved on to another country (former TESOL France editor Steve Flinders is in York and I wonder if his successor Richard Cooper is still in London?).

I’ve been pretty lucky in my professional career and have spoken at EFL conferences in places as far afield as Canada, the US, Brazil, Turkey and the Baltic states. Pretty much every time I run into people I met for the first time at TESOL France. People like the British Council & American Embassy EFL officers – John Turek who gave the association so much intellectual and financial support not to mention beans. EFL gurus from the States or the UK and of course TESOL France members like Bonny Thai who I ran into in Poland or Hal who I partied with on the Queen Elizabeth in Long Beach. Let’s hope we see more of the old faces at the next conference. And lots of new ones too, then you can be sure that wherever you go in the world there’ll always be an old friend to share a while with.

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