Wednesday, December 14, 2011

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,


Thursday, May 19, 2011

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".

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


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?

Sunday, May 08, 2011

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’.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Cherry calling Cake. Do you read me?

This blog has always had a very scanty blogroll. It's been something I've been meaning to get round to. All the ELT blogs I read and comment on have this covered pretty thoroughly and they all seem to have remarkably similar blogrolls. I'm certainly not complaining about that but I plan to try something a little different. Rather than list all the usual suspects. i.e. ELT people blogging about ELT in English (the cherry) I will only list people blogging in their native language about English teaching (the cake). The only problem is...and this is where I need everybody's help...who are these people and where are their blogs? If you know of a good blog or website about teaching English that's not in English, please add it below as a comment. While you're at it, please forgive my ignorance.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Nasty Shock leads to New Resolve.

It was with a flutter in the heart that I heard via Twitter about a list posted on Alex Case's excellent TEFL blog, (a terrific labour of love and a great service to the ELT community) of 100 publications that most changed TEFL. I rushed over there as fast as my broadband would carry me and there it was. Rubbing my hands together with delicious anticipation, I scanned from the top. So where had he placed Potato Pals? Had he decided to put one or two serious methodological tomes above them? Had he decided by tossing a coin that Penny Ur's '5 Minute Activities' should occupy the tip-top spot ahead of Buddy and his subterranean chums?

Pulling up the blondes to let in the pale November dawn and sipping on my morning Nespresso, down the list I went. Ho Hum! Not in the top twenty? Thirty? Fifty? All the way down I went. The list even went to 113 but not so much as a Pringle let alone a set of cute stories that teach pre-primary to primary students simple sentences, basic vocabulary, and useful patterns through a unique system of picture cues using 16-page readers that feature appealing potato characters.

Some mistake surely, I thought, so I had a quick scroll back up to the top of the list. But I hadn't just missed them. The popular and innovative materials just weren't there. Absent. My eye was drawn to two more lists below the 'Major League'. The first was Not sure if they changed anything or not. Pleased not to have been on that one. The second was Could have/ should have changed TEFL but didn’t. 'Yes!' I thought. That's where you'll find Chip and his Cheeky Chums, the books that have yet to be recognised by a trip to the Lindsay Clandfield Hall at Buckingham Palace but no doubt soon will when OUP get round to bringing out the third series.

Again though, nothing.

Always the optimist, the rather exciting thought crossed my mind that Alex might be contacting me later in the day with news of some sort of a special section. An all-time winner. A lifetime award of some sort. Maybe I could even put a badge on my blog. Best Young Learners Material of the Century.

But stop. Can you imagine the horror, the absolute horror, the utter and absolute horror when my mouse sniffed out a lower section of the posting and another list. "Were meant to change the world but rightfully had little effect" and there, positioned next to a book described as 'a nice idea but crap content' was 'Potato Pals' (because you can never beat Spot the Dog and Eric Carle)written clearly, in black and white. Alex! Alex! How could you have done this? How could you?

Rightfully...had...little...effect. Rightfully!

I stumbling, dry-retching to the clifftops near my home swearing to end it all amongst the cormorants and spume below. How could Potato Pals have fallen from favour in the eyes of this industry guru who wrote so pleasantly and positively of the books in his review "Potato Pals: A Book I have Used" published in a leading journal only a couple of years ago. Why had he even taken that review DOWN from his blog as if to kick sand over the evidence of his previous flirtation with the tubers?

And then I thought. 'No, Patrick. It's Teachers' Day in Turkey. Remember Ataturk who said "As they have come, so they will go".

More so than the words of the founder of modern Turkey though I recalled the kind words of a Turkish teacher Ms. Esra who said "Teaching everyday language and daily routines are a part of our kindergarten curriculum in my school and I used to teach things we do in a day by using flashcards and TPR. Then, we started to use "Potato Pals" and everything is easier now. There are two sets of the books and each set contains six stories. The characters are very cute potatoes and are all colorful. There is a cue system which helps to repeat the language and my kids feel very comfortable with it because they cannot read but can read the pictures! At the first two or three lessons, we listen to the stories from the CD. The kids pay a lot of attention because there are some sound effects used before you hear the sentences and kids love these effects! The following lessons, we read the story, sing the songs and dance.(I have my own choreography for each song:)Then we play games out of the sentences/patterns we have learnt. My kids really enjoy "Potato Pals" and learn a lot from these cute friends!".

I turned from the precipice and walked slowly homeward. Resolute. Calm even. I knew what I must do and do it I shall. While there is breath in my lungs, blood in my veins and marrow in my bones I will continue to spread the word. I will live with the burden of having created a series of characters that OUP marketing legend, Oli Bayley referred to as 'Nobody really knows what they are". I will never rest until I have clearly explained to teachers the world over that these books can be used as supplementary materials or even the very heart of a young learners curriculum. I will walk the dusty roads singing the 'Good Friends' song until the shoes decay and fall from my feet.

I am Potato! Look me not in the eyes!

As a footnote, it would never have been possible to have pulled myself away from the cliff's edge had it not been for Sarah "Potato Pals changed my World" of The Daily English Show and Jason Renshaw of English Raven who immediately wrote in the comments section of his regard for the spuds. Further thanks to Devon Thagard of Super Simple Songs for bolstering Dean, Nina and Joy's confidence over an ale when he turned to me and said, "Patrick. We really enjoy the Potato Pals Series...I think it's very well thought out; distinctive characters, great illustrations, situations kids can identify with, and it's easy to use with kids of varying levels of English ability...readers and emerging-readers alike. The CD also makes it easy for children and parents to use at home, which I think distinguishes it from a lot of young children's English learning materials."

The Potato Pals can be contacted directly on their Facebook page and would love to meet new friends at this difficult time.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Why Nagoya?

It’s time for the JALT 2010 conference, Japan’s biggest ELT jamboree. This year it’s being held in Nagoya, famed for flat kishimen noodles, miso pork cutlets and a giant junior high school girl called Nana-chan. It is also the birthplace of the Potato Pals and was my happy home for 12 years. Its wealth depends on it’s proximity to Toyota but more importantly, the incredible number of ELT giants who have chosen it as their abode. It could really be argued that Nagoya is the world center of ELT excellence. It must be something in the water. Anyway, If you’re at JALT 2010, look out for some of these faces. Their time has come and rightly so, we say.

The Kelly Bros.

Few people know this but the internet was actually made with beard hair, wool and banjo strings by two Nagoyan brothers, Charles and his brother Kelly Kelly. They were out in their field when the brother Kelly said ‘Down tools, Kelly! We’re onto something here’. Having built this powerful tool ‘The Kelly’s’ as they soon became known, populated it with Many Things for students of English. ‘Many Things’ being an understatement of biblical proportions. These are very, very clever people. Be warned.

Paul Lewis

You might think Paul spends his entire life on matters JALT related. In fact JALT 2010 coming to Nagoya could be somehow thanks to his efforts. I have no direct evidence for this just suspicions. Not only does Paul run JALT but he also runs Nagoya’s largest speciality tea importing enterprise, M&P Teas. Paul and I got off to a bad start when he suggested that I ‘get out of the potato game as soon as possible’ but we went on to become friends. He is co-founder of the rapidly growing Perceptia Press about which more later. Paul is also an extremely proficient Hammond organ player.

Brian Cullen

Brian came to Japan as an engineer but soon realized that was a waste of time and moved into a series of lucrative ELT gigs. He became the face of Ireland in Japan thus resulting in the collapse of Japan-Ireland trade and Ireland’s becoming the basket case of Europe. Having said that, the popularity of the Nagoya St. Patrick’s Day parade has steadily grown as have the sales of Guinness in the Aichi region. Brian has authored a number of ELT books some of which were finished pre-launch. The Potato Diaries sends warm congratulations to Brian on his recent nuptials and qualification as an NLP master practitioner. This means he can damage your brain as well as your liver. Avoid eye contact.

Darren Elliott

A relatively new arrival in Nagoya, and clearly far too nice to survive long in Babylon, Elliott has impressed everyone with his blog, livesofteachers which contains detailed instructions on how teachers can get a life. He is liable to try and interview you with a flip camera. Remain at arm's length.

Sarah Mulvey

Sarah is the co-author of the world’s finest textbook not published by OUP. It’s called SCRAPS and made a major breakthrough in the field because it, like, wants students to talk about themselves, like, while getting rid of all the garbage lying around their house. They do this by sticking it into the book, like, and bringing it into class. At the end of the year they have a treasure to last, like, a lifetime (or an easily recycled and compact bunch of waste paper). SCRAPS has been described as, like, a Dogme course. Dog-eared we say.

Lesley Burda Ito

Lesley is the heart and soul of the Nagoya ELT scene. She runs a fabulous school in the posh part of the city where the children of top Nagoyans, (Grampus players, Toyota execs and so on) send their children to develop a Florida accent. Lesley is mad into JALT and ETJ and has developed some sort of a relationship with Longman whereby she presents their books in exchange for free train travel around the country.

Barbara Sakamoto

Co-author of Let’s Go, (the best-selling primary course in the universe), Barbara lived in Nagoya for seven years but was far too productive to remain there and was exiled to some far-flung part of Japan. She is a fabulous blogger and a fanatical tweeter. Barbara apparently has a Second Life as well. As if her first one wasn’t hectic enough, we say!

Chuck Sandy

Chuck is an ELT author who is literally changing the world. I think this is taking place Saturday night in Shooters. The big question is will this change Shooters? Let’s hope not. Any pub that offers English teachers the chance to drink as much as they can for about 10 Euros should be a World Heritage Site. Chuck has a wonderful Facebook page with Curtis (you guessed it) Kelly. This has become the gathering place for ELT people all over the world. Anyone who hasn’t been there is missing out on the chance to finish sentences like ‘Teaching is…’ Clearly a few question marks about Chuck and Curtis if they’re asking at this stage but hey.

Peter Warner

Peter is the lynchpin of linguini phonics in Japan. In fact it is well known that without his efforts, pasta would have died out in this part of the world years ago. Peter also believes there is some sort of connection between sound and language, a view that The Potato Diaries endorses but doesn’t really understand. Certainly not in the way Peter does anyway. Less well known is that Peter is an amazing billiards player. He is also the world’s undisputed master of flashcard manufacture. Check this out for more.

John Ahern

Not what you’d call a shrinking violet, John is the man you want coming to your presentation. Whereas many people shave and cut their hair in order to look better, John did it to sink wells in East Asia. This charitable deed was one of many John has performed in his life. In fact it would be true to say that he lives for others. One negative thing about John’s is his car. Quite frankly it’s a disgrace to this automobile producing region. If you find yourself in John’s car late at night you are definitely going to feel very ill the next morning, either from the hangover (your fault) or the anthrax you picked up off the pile of stuff in the trunk (his). He may have cleaned it up for JALT 2010 but don’t let that deceive you.

Nagoya Players

They put the ‘dram’ in amateur dramatics.

Tom Kenny

Another chap with Irish roots and author of ‘Nice Trying to Talk to You’ recently published by CUP. The Potato Diaries once tried to talk to Tom but it was a bad time so we can’t really tell you much more about this ELT legend. We have heard that the book’s good though. Could it give SCRAPS a run for it’s money? We’ll see.

Mark McBennett

Another Irishman and head honcho at Japanzone, Mark was one of the earliest people to run ELT News. He made the wise decision to move his large family from Tokyo to Nagoya a number of years ago and they have flourished here. It’s a testament to the city that a man who makes all his money off the internet and could have chosen anywhere in the world to live, chose this jewel of the midlands. Mark is a very good person to talk to if you need toed socks, a good Christmas present for the folks back home. He is also one of the good people who repeatedly cycle across Japan proving it’s possible and raising large sums for Hope International. I think they’re the people John Ahern shaved his hair and beard off for.

English Teachers

If you haven’t seen this hit internet show about the trials and tribulations of English Conversation School, BeYes, you’re missing something. It stars a number of Nagoyans including Michael Kruse, the world's funnest man. Michael’s mother was from the Dingle peninsula in County Kerry and presumably consumed considerable quantities of potatoes. Despite this we raise a glass to Michael and his friends and wish English Teachers great success.

Kim Horne

It is a great sources of regret that we never got to see Kim Horne present. She has been described as a teacher trainer extraordinaire and an all-star. The Potato Diaries is not entirely familiar with her work and therefore can’t really be rude about her but she comes with the highest recommendations.

Tim Murphey

One of the plenaries,Tim ‘Spud’ Murphey used to live in Nagoya and could often be seen outside a cafe in Yagoto looking intelligent. He was clearly thinking up new words like 'agencing'. In fact, as soon as he left Nagoya the café closed down as there was nobody to fill the huge gap left by a man who can, apparently, teach a class of several hundred students while skiing and juggling simultaneously. Pick up a copy of his latest book that is hopefully going to change the University Entrance exam system which cripples English teaching in Japan. Good riddance, we say!

The Potato Diaries wishes everyone at JALT 2010 the warmest greetings. We would also like to know of any other connections we may have missed (such as Steven Herder and David Kluge) or any other cities that could come close in claiming to be the world's most ELTy place.

Be safe…Be ‘Yes’ but don’t get in John’s car. It just ain’t worth it. Wishing we could be there. Love to all.