EFL Magazine: The magazine for English language teachers

This week saw the launch of EFL Magazine, founded by Philip Pound, and edited by Sean Newton.  “The aims of EFL Magazine are simple yet ambitious,” says Philip. “To be the world’s number one magazine for English language teachers, to improve teachers’ lives by supplying the best content and access to the best people to the reader, and to be an arena for change and innovation in how English is taught in an era of massive change in education.”


My favourite article in the first issue is “One-to-one: Managing Time”, by Olga Samsonova (who describes herself as a “One-to-one tutor. Teaching Unplugged fan. Personal growth nerd”):

Several months ago I started taking private classes in Spanish. My teacher Alexandra treats her job very seriously. Our first few lessons were packed with grammar exercises and lexical sets which were not quite what I was willing or ready to work with in each particular lesson. Then I asked Alexandra not to prepare any materials for our lessons and just go with the flow of where our communication would take us. She was taken aback but complied despite her reservations. Since then, our work has been based on natural conversation. My teacher helps me with my immediate linguistic needs that emerge in the process, be it work on systems or skills.

Alexandra has expressed her surprise at how well this approach seems to be working. A remark that touched me was “I feel a bit guilty charging you for lessons – I’m not really doing anything!” In fact, by being flexible, not imposing a curriculum on me and following my learning process rather than dragging me along, she is doing much more than many other teachers who look like they are “working harder” but don’t really listen and respond to their learners’ needs.

I have a monthly column in the magazine called “Copernicus”:

In the global village of the 21st century, students are generally not learning English because they want to talk to British people, or Americans, or other native speakers. Instead, they are learning English because they want to talk to Chinese people, and Germans, and Brazilians, and the rest of the world’s non-native speakers – who outnumber native speakers by three to one.


“Developing Language and Cross-Cultural Communication Skills via Movie Read-Throughs and MMORPGs”


“Our principal goals in this project were to (a) inspire students to have fun with English, (b) enable students to communicate and connect with people from other cultures, and (c) improve students’ English abilities and develop a range of other ’21st-century skills’ (skills that are generally regarded as being important in the information age).”

ATEM Journal: Teaching English Through Movies (Volume 20, March 2015) includes a paper by Walter Klinger and Martin Stack (both at the University of Shiga Prefecture) and me. We present the results of a semester-long project that engaged students in “language and cross-cultural communication skill development through a combination of a movie script read-through, and task- and project-based learning activities in both a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) and in real life.”

Our MMORPG was World of Warcraft, “where players create personal online avatars to explore and interact with the game environment and with other players from around the world.” Our movie was The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012). The connection between the two was that “the entire high-fantasy game genre, of which World of Warcraft is a part, traces its roots back to Tolkien’s celebrated work”.

Thank you to Wes Anderson

We would like to say a colossal ‘thank you’ to the director, writer and producer Wes Anderson, who has given us the script for “Fantastic Mr. Fox”.

Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris – © WireImage.com

We’ll be using the script for a forthcoming SkypeRead project based on the theme of ‘the Hero’s Journey’. Developed in the 1940s by the scholar Joseph Campbell, the Hero’s Journey is a model that can be used to explain the structure of stories throughout history, from ancient myths to modern-day movies. We think it is also a model that can be applied to the adventure of learning a foreign language and working across borders…

“Fantastic Mr. Fox”, based on the book by Roald Dahl, is a movie that adds an unusual twist to the Hero’s Journey. It is also incredibly good fun, and the language is wonderfully authentic.

To give you a flavour of the movie, this was Wes Anderson’s acceptance speech when he received a Special Achievement Award from the National Board of Review in 2010.

Cross-border educational initiative launched in Japan. Meanwhile on Saturn…

Giving high-school students the opportunity to experience the fun and the challenge of working in remote, multicultural teams. That’s the objective of an international collaboration between Alma College in Michigan (USA), Omi Brotherhood High School in Shiga (Japan) and SkypeRead.


Alma College has won a $5 million grant from The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation for improving education within STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). As part of this, the College is running a four-week summer camp for high-school students called the Cooperative Research Experience.

Working with Martin Stack, an Alma College alumnus who teaches at the University of Shiga Prefecture, SkypeRead will add an international dimension by linking the American students at the camp to Japanese students at Omi Brotherhood High School, 13 time zones away.

In the first phase of the project, as a team-building and communication exercise, each group will do a cross-border read-through of the science-fiction movie “Europa Report”. In the second phase, each group will formulate a question related to the movie, and then devise ways of working together remotely. A possible question could be something like “What, in theory, might life on Europa look like?”


We launched the project yesterday with a presentation to students at Omi Brotherhood High School. Moments before we started, Martin and I changed our presentation to include some exciting ‘breaking news’ from the Cassini programme, an international space mission. Cassini has found evidence of hydrothermal activity on Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons, opening up the possibility of it being an environment suitable for living organisms…

We’d like to say a very big thank you to everyone at Omi Brotherhood High School for the wonderful welcome they gave us yesterday.

Fostering critical and creative thinking

R.E.A.D.I.N.G. is a new book from Seibido. I contributed three chapters:

  • Charles Darwin: Time Traveller
  • The Obsessive Doctor [Sigmund Freud]
  • Karl Marx: Revolutionary

There’s also a brilliant piece by my University of Shiga Prefecture colleague Walter Klinger – “The Roman Empire: The Social Meaning of the Gladiators”.

As the editor Gayle K. Sato explains in her preface, the acronym R.E.A.D.I.N.G. can be composed using keywords “that best explain why this textbook was created the way it is – to foster critical and creative thinking in an ESL classroom.”

  • READ: a lot.
  • EXAMINE: the reading.
  • ANALYZE: your examination.
  • DISCUSS: each others’ analyses.
  • IMAGINE: reading as muscle training.
  • NAVIGATE: your life.
  • GERMINATE: your own words.

A brief history of cross-border scientific teamwork

This is a 3-minute version of a 1-hour presentation I did at the Association for Science Education Annual Conference earlier this month (University of Reading, UK).

The brilliant Galileo was the father of modern science. But he wasn’t exactly the father of cross-border scientific teamwork. He refused to lend a telescope to Johannes Kepler, the Imperial Mathematician in Prague – even though Kepler was, at the time, almost the only person to support Galileo over his claims to have observed four moons orbiting Jupiter.

Continue reading “A brief history of cross-border scientific teamwork”

What can cross-border business teams learn from the movie industry?

From Business Review Europe & Middle East


Graham Jones, SkypeRead – Leadership

How many business sectors can compete with the movie industry in terms of making products that have worldwide appeal?

In part, this is because film companies have become rather good at seeing things from a global perspective. “Big Hollywood films have no national ideology attached to them today,” notes Michael Lynton, the CEO of Sony Pictures (itself a subsidiary of a Tokyo-based multinational corporation).

The industry also has few rivals when it comes to teamwork. Movie-making is a highly collaborative enterprise, and films undergo countless changes during production. Cinema audiences may not sit through all of the closing credits, but they are an essential part of the movie experience. What other organisations give such clear, public recognition to the contribution of each and every member of the team?Continue reading “What can cross-border business teams learn from the movie industry?”

Copernicus 2.0: native-speakers are no longer the centre of the English-speaking universe

This weekend I presented the results of our first “Europa Report” read-through at the Association for Teaching English through Movies (ATEM) Nishi-Nihon Conference, which was held at Hyogo University of Teacher Education here in Japan. Here are some highlights.

Images: Start Motion Pictures; Magnet Releasing; NASA; JPL; Jan Matejko; Stockfresh; morgueFile

The Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle believed that we were the centre of the universe. The sun, the planets, the stars – everything – rotated around one, single point: the Earth.

In the 16th century, however, there began a revolution. The Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus argued that we are not the centre of the universe, and everything does not rotate around one, single point.

There was just one problem: Copernicus didn’t have any evidence.Continue reading “Copernicus 2.0: native-speakers are no longer the centre of the English-speaking universe”