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Interview with David Paul

david_paul.jpg David Paul is a veteran teacher, teacher trainer and author. Among his best-selling titles are the Finding Out phonics series for children. He recently wrote 'Teaching Children in Asia,' which is quickly becoming a standard reference for teachers in the region and elsewhere.

Paul is founder of David English House, an 'English Education Center' based in the city of Hiroshima in western Japan. He is also founder of English Teachers in Japan (ETJ), a grass-roots, volunteer organization that aims to bring together English teachers from all fields and all parts of Japan. He spoke with ELT News editor Mark McBennett in September, 2003.

David English House Web site | ETJ Web site

ELTNEWS
When did you first think of yourself as a teacher?
David
I was head of the mathematics department at a public school in England for a short time, so I suppose that was when I first saw myself as a teacher. I then left teaching for music for a while, and then returned to being a teacher at a language school in Cambridge, focusing on intermediate and advanced adults.
ELTNEWS
You are perhaps best known for the popular children's series Finding Out. Do you see yourself as primarily a teacher of children?
David
My MA was in Social and Political Science, focusing on social psychology, and my particular interest was child development, so I've been interested in how children learn things for many years.

It was only after I came to Japan that I started teaching English to elementary school children. I was teaching many other age groups at the same time, but had the most questions about standard ways of teaching children, and spent the next ten years in isolation in Hiroshima trying to find some answers to these questions. Finding Out was the result of those ten years.
ELTNEWS
Your recently published book, 'Teaching English to Children in Asia' has been a great success. Do you think it was a very timely publication?
David
It's something I've wanted to write for a long time, but it was painfully difficult to write! I wanted to write a comprehensive resource book for teachers of English in Asia. A pretty ambitious project which involved long hours at the computer.

Whether it's timely or not is debatable. I see it as a book for the future rather than the present. I especially hope it will be used as a teacher training manual. Sooner rather than later, local boards of education will have more focused courses in English language for elementary school children, rather than just giving the children a rather superficial taste of English. That's when the book will come into its own.
ELTNEWS
How do you think you and your teaching ideas and approach are viewed in the Japanese education mainstream? What does the education ministry make of your phonics-based approach in Finding Out, for example?
David
I've actually had more debate about this with education ministries in other countries in Asia, where English has been in elementary schools for some years. I think it needs more time for the government to accept the importance of reading and writing, let alone phonics. However, the real breakthrough will be when the government sees that it is phonics that make it possible for Japanese children to learn to speak, read and write in a balanced way while having fun and thinking actively, thus avoiding many of the problems that have plagued junior high schools in Japan for many years.
ELTNEWS
Have you ever envisaged having schools all over Japan, with teachers trained in your methods, applying your ideas and using your texts?
David
I have never wanted to have 'David English House' schools all over Japan. I would prefer a smaller 'business' rather than a bigger one. But, I spend much of my time travelling around training teachers. So, yes, I do like to try and influence teachers to use the student-centered style that I emphasise in my boooks.
ELTNEWS
How is it different writing various types of books, for example textbooks for children, reference books for teachers, and a title like Communication Strategies aimed at older students?
David
While teaching so many different age groups for many years, I developed opinions about where established methodology was failing, and it was those areas that I became most interested in writing about.

I felt there was a need for a child-centered course which worked with Japanese children, and I wrote Finding Out to fill this gap. Another was the need for a course that enabled Japanese intermediate teenagers and adults to break through to an advanced level, so I wrote Communication Strategies to fill this gap.

Of course, writing such diverse books were quite different experiences. However, they all come naturally out of teaching experience, and all the books are shaped by my views on how human beings learn things successfully. So the experiences also shared many similarities.
ELTNEWS
If you had a "magic wand" and could make three changes to the Japanese public education system, what would they be?
David
A. Introduce a multi-skill English course into Japanese elementary schools from the first grade.

B. Have many teacher trainers who deeply understand student-initiated teaching methods, why they are so important, and how they can be applied in a wide variety of situations with students of all ages.

C. Replace the widespread dependence on the memorization of facts with the more fundamental development of active learning skills, so that students are trained to think for themselves, experiment, anticipate, and go out into the world with adventurous minds.
ELTNEWS
What advice would you offer to inexperienced teachers currently teaching children in Japan?
David
Make sure that all lessons are both fun and have a sense of direction. Fun without learning and learning without fun can both have very serious negative consequences on the attitude of the children in your lessons.

And, of course, for more ideas, please look at my book 'Teaching English to Children in Asia' (Longman)
ELTNEWS
You've accomplished an awful lot in your time here in Japan. What drives you to keep expanding into new areas? Why, for example, did you decide to start English Teachers in Japan?
David
When I first came to Japan, I had some experiences as an English teacher which were very frustrating, and often made me quite angry. I have little time for those who sit around complaining, but not doing anything to change things. I felt I should either go back to the UK or do as much as I could to try and address some of the things I found so frustrating.

I chose the latter course, and it has driven me ever since. These basic feelings have been reinforced by the support and encouragement of many teachers around Asia, the reaction of many teachers who attend my training sessions, and the loyalty and friendship of people around me.
ELTNEWS
There is a growing buzz about ETJ and especially the upcoming series of ELT Expos. Those events must be taking a lot of planning and negotiation.
David
Yes, an immense amount of time, but it's definitely worth it. ETJ has had many hiccups, but it's moving forward year by year, and the Expos will bring a lot of people together who have felt part of ETJ but haven't had a real chance to express this, will benefit many teachers who are not a part of ETJ, and also provide a chance for ETJ to reach out positively to work with other associations like JALT.
ELTNEWS
What are your hopes and goals for ETJ in the future?
David
To continue to provide as many opportunities as possible for the professional development of English teachers in Japan. To have a comprehensive network of regional groups all around Japan which combine to form a supportive community for teachers. To empower the busy classroom teacher to express his or her opinion, and, in time, for this dialogue to have more and more of an effect on how English is taught in Japan.
ELTNEWS
How do you find enough time to run both a business and a non-profit organization, give teaching seminars, speak at ELT events across Asia, and write best-selling books?
David
I'm surrounded by a team of great managers and office staff at David English House. They use their own initiative, and take responsibility for the projects that they supervise.
ELTNEWS
How do you find being based in Hiroshima rather than one of the bigger cities?
David
Hiroshima is a pretty cosmopolitan city, it's ten times bigger than Cambridge where I lived for many years, and over 20 times bigger than Weymouth, where I grew up. I wouldn't want to live anywhere bigger.



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