Fifty Years of IH in Broad Brush Strokes – by Brita Haycraft

John and I arrived in Cordoba so that he could write and both of us could live on giving English classes. Neither of us was thinking of founding a school. But three weeks later sixty Cordobese people had passed through two patios and knocked on our door. Doctors, lawyers, clerks, waiters, olive salesmen, lace merchants, señoritas, students. We had become a school.

At once John laid the foundations: low fees ensuring small earners weren’t excluded; persuading students to join classes according to level not friendship; small classes, since ourrooms were small. The cold rising through the brick floor had everybody cluster round the table, with a brazier underneath, – perhaps the origin of our friendly circular classroom seating. Contradicting the reputation of the Spanish, our Andalucian students arrived punctually, regularly and wrote wonderful homework. On Sundays we’d meet for excursions. We decided to stay.

Expansion had already taken possession of John’s mind. In a year we had started Spanish Easter courses for Foreigners and people from England, France, Holland descendedfor a packed three-week programme, also sampling Montilla wine and flamenco dancing with our delighted Cordobese students.

Once in better premises, we started a library, a little bar was fitted out, classes of German and French began and speakers from England also stopped by to give talks. We organised ‘International Weeks’ and had ambassadors come down and be fêted by the Town Hall. We became not just a school but a ‘Casa Internacional’.

John wrote in the mornings, stimulated by the new enterprise. I was just as gripped by our projects though sometimes wished for longer spaces in between. Six years later, now with two babies, we had to settle and so returned to London.

IH London might easily not have happened.

After publication of his successful book Babel In Spain, John hoped his writing would take off and we both had journalism in mind but that was precarious with minimal savings. Suddenly the chance of a flat in Covent Garden came by, we grabbed it and the school process began again.

How different from Cordoba! By Christmas only six students had found their way to our third floor premises in tatty Endell Street. We tried to cheer up the grim metal stairwayand John also taught ILEA classes in West London to make ends meet. But when they closed for the summer, all John’s students followed him to Endell Street and never went back to the ILEA school.

Things looked up when the BBC commissioned John to write a course for English By Radio. Just then he was asked to go to Finland to polish President Kekkonen’s English before his state visit to Britain. In his palace quarters in the dark snowy North, when not tutoring the President, John wrote his BBC course.

Back in London, I manned the school, dropping our toddlers in a Greenwich day nursery. I spotted the ideal premises in Shaftesbury Avenue but was rejected, until a note in the Daily Express gossip column about John teaching Kekkonen made the agents smile. It was verycheap except that the lease had to be renewed every six months, pending reforms for Piccadilly Circus. We stayed 18 years. The eight-room flat was grotty but perfectly located at a stone’s throw from the famous Eros. Students filled the school. We needed teachers fast.

This is when John thought of a course to train teachers. A tiny ad in the magazine The New Statesman brought our first twelve trainees for two weeks in June 1962. There was a bold new component. Each afternoon, after their theory session, the trainees had to teach real classes watched by fellow trainees and their tutor. It worked, possibly because of the group discussion afterwards. And it was the 60s. At the end, we kept on the best ones as teachers. The course was to multiply.

Against tradition, teacher trainers didn’t stop teaching foreign students and so stayed in touch with classroom complexities, always upgrading the training course. The beauty of short courses was that you could see the result within months, rather than years. Swapping ideas and observing classes became the norm and I remember the excitement at the teachers’ meetings. Being a new school with new teachers made new ideas possible. This was only 1963-4 -5. We never looked back and some of our intrepid trainees have become today’s most popular EFL authors.

The teacher-training programme launched, John set off to newly liberated Algeria; bound to need English language training we thought. Some of our newly hatched teachers soon found themselves out there, including Ben Warren and Doug Case. Beirut followed. When a Libya contract was cancelled due to the Gaddafi coup, the teachers happily flew to Khartoum which also craved English. They were valiant and dedicated and brought valuable teaching ideas back to IH London.

From Rome, Ausonio Zappa would bring summer students regularly to London and in 1966 he asked us to run a teachers’ course there. In Rome’s unforgettably soft September we met a promising pick of trainees, Roger Gower, Sheila Sullivan, Edward Woods, Cathy Wallace, and other EFL experts-to-be. John was keen to start an IH Rome and a year later a building was found. John just said ‘OK Let’s go out and start it’. It was goodbye to Transinterpreter, my little translation agency, and I had to suspend my Longman pronunciation book, but I couldn’t resist Rome. Our children were taken from their primary school and off we drove. Four months later we were back home, as the school expanded into our lodgings.

Three years later it was off to Paris, which we knew well. The Parisians loved the lively and beautiful International House; but John’s wish to create a whole ‘village anglais’, pub and all, hit local resistance.

By then International House had some thirty affiliates and 40 Shaftesbury Avenue was a powerhouse of teaching and training, supplying teachers, materials and services to many UK schools too. We offered classroom videos, the English Teaching Theatre, a bookshop, ateachers’ monthly magazine, Salvatore’s restaurant, a students’ welfare bureau, an au pair agency, and the Teachers’ Centre. We never advertised until 1980. What we lacked was some large rooms.

In 1976 John happened to notice that 106 Piccadilly was to let (very cheaply) and after nine months’ wooing, he got us this splendid, totally unschool-like Georgian piece of elegance with some magnificent rooms where we still are. Doubting teachers all succumbed.

The teaching engine purred. Charles (Tim) Lowe created the DTEFLA distance course in theex-quarters of one footman. In the garret of the other footman, the business school was shaped by Joe Wiersma. And the EFL world, I think, was pleased to have a brilliant centre where teaching ideas could shine. Abroad, the affiliated schools were no longer fledglings: you could now train in Colin McMillan’s IH Lisbon or IH Rome or in Ben Warren’s IH Barcelona or in IH Cairo, also founded by IH London offspring.

In 1975 John persuaded the Bell School to run their first teachers’ course, as one of our teacher trainers was moving to Cambridge. In 1978 John told me the RSA wanted to model their new teachers’ course on ours and he’d agreed. I wonder if it ever crossed their minds what a gift that was. John felt education was there to be shared. We seconded teacher trainers to the Institute of Education from 1985 to 1990, at our expense. Slowly the CertTEFLA spread, even to the lofty universities.

In the late 80s John told everyone he was re-launching the Modern Language Department. No sooner said than done. Teacher trainer Elaine Walker produced the business plan overnight and Marisol Gower and Ana Palley gave the first TT course for Italian, Spanish, French and German teachers a month later. Japanese followed. It prospered.

IH know-how was to bring in schools in Hungary, Poland, the Ukraine and beyond. The dedication continues in more than 120 affiliated schools worldwide.

Together, the EFL opportunity and the IH inspiration have crafted an exhilarating and valued international profession. Let me express my awe and gratitude for a fantastic first fifty years.

Fifty Years of IH in Broad Brush Strokes

By Brita Haycraft

This article was written by Brita for the IH Journal and appeared in issue 14 which was to mark the 50th Anniversary of International House in 2003.

History – compiled by Brita Haycraft

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A Sporting Chance – Neil McMahon’s presentation – ABS Conference March 2012

Do you find yourself behind the eight ball when idioms come out of left field?  Are you out of your depth when idiom-loving friends call the shots? Give yourself a sporting chance to cover all the bases as we dive headfirst into the world of sport-inspired idioms, exploring their meaning and background to give ourselves the inside track in the idiom race, allowing us to paddle our own idiom canoes and put a new vocabulary arrow in our language quivers.


Slides: A Sporting Chance

Handout: Neil_McMahon

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Activating the passive – Anya Shaw’s presentation – ABS Conference March 2012

Activating the passive
We teach the passive voice… The the passive voice is taught…
Have a look in most coursebooks and this is how the passive is presented and practised. However, the challenge faced by students and teachers alike is not how it is formed or what it means but when and why it is used.  In Activating the Passive, these key questions, impliactions for the classroom and practical ideas will be explored.  Click here for ppt presentation: Activating the passive

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Clem Duran’s story

I have been asked to write something about my relationship with English; something to do with my first steps perhaps, or my difficulties or problems at Teacher Training College (the Profesorado), or even after that.

After changing my mind several times I’ve chosen to start with some of my failures. This may sound rather off-putting but seen from a distance, some dire situations seem quite funny.

So, here goes:

To start with time and place: I was born in Rosario, in 1925 (!!) and as soon as I graduated (1945) I started working at ARCI (Asociación  Rosarina de Cultura Inglesa)  Two years later I was chosen to join a group that would travel to the UK to  spend 2 months in London and another month visiting universities where Spanish was taught: Oxford ,Cambridge,  York , Manchester, and several others. The tour was sponsored by the British Council. The idea was that as soon as we got back to Argentina a group of English university students would come to Argentina on a similar kind of tour.

But every day I spent away the feeling that I didn’t want to go back to Argentina grew stronger. There was so much that was completely new to me; I was fascinated.  The fact that two of my best friends in the group had decided to stay on made me feel that this adventure would be easier than it proved to be. Both friends held British passports, which made all the difference. One of them had decided to stay for good and immediately got a job as a school teacher. She had already been teaching English in Córdoba. The other one didn’t have to work because her parents had bank accounts in England, which enabled her to enjoy a few months more just traveling around.

I started my search for a job. It was painful. Wherever I tried to apply, the first question I was asked was: Have you got a Work Permit? Which I didn’t have and the interview was over. So I decided to get a Work Permit, but that was easier said than done. This time the question was: Have you got a job?

Jobs were scarce and foreigners could only apply if there were not enough Britons with the necessary qualifications. So again the interview was over before it started.

After many attempts, or so I thought, somebody connected me with a firm that sent articles on fashion to most countries in South America and they needed somebody who could translate the articles into Spanish.

I was delighted with the idea. Success at last. Translating into one’s own language is much easier than the other way round. Furthermore, fashion doesn’t need technical knowledge of any particular science. It’s just every day language or jargon – or so I thought.

I was given an article to translate, and I was allowed to take it home. I took it back to the office feeling confident and very pleased with myself. I had not realized that my boss was a Spaniard. He was horrified with my wonderful piece of work. He had underlined in red every other word.

Some examples:

a) He asked me what I meant by pollera (skirt). He said that for him that word meant a woman who sells chickens (pollos)!!! It could also have the meaning of a skirt but only in the context of clothes worn at the beginning of the 19th century, huge and held by hoops or crinoline to make them look wider. Most readers might never have heard the word in that context. It was news for me too, The correct translation for skirt was falda,

b) I used the word angosta (narrow.) This was considered very old fashioned, poetical, suitable to describe a medieval street, for example. The corresponding word should have been estrecha. To make matters worse I had used this adjective with pollera. So the translation for a narrow skirt became, for the Spanish reader, a slim crinoline – what a contradiction in terms!

c) Jacket was translated as saco. This word for a Spaniard meant

bag or sack or something along those lines. He couldn’t see any connection with the rest of the text unless I meant that it was fashionable to wear clothes made of sackcloth or hessian!!!

d) Overcoat should have been sobretodo, but I chose tapado which just made him laugh.

And there were many more “mistakes”. Looking back, I don’t think they were that terrible, at least not for many Latin American Spanish speakers.

Well anyway, my would-be-boss called me to her office to say I was getting the sack. She was a sweet elderly lady and tried to do her job without hurting me too much, but she was puzzled. She said“ I don’t understand. You are talking English to me and you say your mother tongue is Spanish…

So back to square one.

I crossed the street and found myself at the door of a Lyon’s Corner House. This was one of a huge chain of restaurants famous for their reasonable prices. (Note to back packers: they no longer exist so don’t get your hopes up) Even then they were far beyond what I could afford as a general rule, but for that once, a proper meal might just help stave off my incoming depression. Sitting at a real table with a table-cloth, a waiter to wait on me and a proper, printed menu etc. made me feel as if I belonged to the aristocracy.

I read the menu and was surprised at the sight of an extremely cheap dish I had never heard of.
The menu said :

Chutney: (apples and tomatoes)  The price was ridiculously low – something like 10 % of the cost of anything else that I might choose. I imagined this was a sort of salad, a mixture of apples and tomatoes.

So when the waiter asked what I would like I simply said: Chutney, please.

Waiter: And what would you like the chutney with?

Me: I just want chutney

Waiter: But you can’t have just chutney.

Me: Why not?

This went on until the waiter produced a very tiny dish with very little sauce, just enough to add seasoning to something. That was when I learnt that chutney was a kind of sauce and that there were two kinds: one made of apples and the other made of tomatoes, but obviously you couldn’t order just the relish for a dish you hadn’t ordered.

I felt very embarrassed, thanked the waiter and ordered fish and chips I can’t remember if I added chutney to my order.

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Old Chestnuts …some tough nuts to crack by Lisa Phillips


An “old chestnut” is a subject or joke that has been repeated so many times that it is no longer funny or interesting.  This is what I learnt from my Director (being from Australia, I’m lucky to even know what a chestnut is!), who wanted to discuss recurring issues that seem to plague even some of the most experienced teachers.  Looking back through past observation reports, we came to realize that we were seeing the same old problems again and again.  Essentially classroom management issues, we believe these “chestnuts” are fundamental to a good learning environment and are the foundations for good teaching practice.  How to change the “old chestnuts” into fresh, tasty treats was the challenge.  The slogans that follow are the result of a brainstorming session with the teachers of International House Buenos Aires (Recoleta), with the aim of making these points memorable for everyone involved.

  1. Voice, your choice!

Much is said about the need to simplify your language for lower level learners and this is no doubt true.  But what about those who are more advanced?  The primary source of input for students is often the language in the classroom, so this needs to be of high quality. It may require us to simplify or increase the complexity of the language we would ordinarily use. 

The way the voice is used is also important.  The voice is just another tool and needs to be trained to be effective.  For example, a slightly longer pause allows the learner value processing time.  Use a confident, clear voice – if you don’t sound sure, how can your students be?

While the idea that “students need to get used to natural speech” has its place, the place for authentic listening in the classroom is within the framework of a controlled listening lesson with proper support.  Not being conscious of the effect of your voice is just laziness.

  1. The lesson is not over until the homework is done.

Homework is not additional part of the lesson but an integral part of it.  How much is set is up to the individual institute, but is should be varied, relevant, meaningful, doable and as enjoyable as possible.  It should also be written clearly on the whiteboard so that students know exactly what they are supposed to do and can copy it down, and checked using a variety of methods. The homework may even provide the subject matter or material for the following class.

  1. All a-board!

The teacher’s number one visual tool is the whiteboard.  It is from here that students copy down a record of the class to take away for self-study, so it is vital that this be legible, logical and carefully planned.  A vocabulary column down one side and use of different colours consistently are healthy routines which allow work to stay on the board and be revisited during the class.  This can then also cross over into your learners’ notes, so scrappy, odd vocabulary scattered around willy-nilly is not allowed.

  1. What day is it?  It’s ti-day!

This one is self explanatory.  Cleaning your whiteboard, putting chairs back into place and returning any other resources to the appropriate places in the teachers’ room or library just makes everyone’s lives easier.

  1. Mind the gap!

Class dynamics are affected by the way in which the space is used.  There is a tendency for students to put their chairs in a line against the wall in a “judging panel” formation.  Instead, get them into a tight semi-circle with no gaps between them (bags and jumpers can go elsewhere) and if space allows, move away from the wall.  This lets all members of the group make eye contact, and also gives the teacher a good monitoring position behind the students.  Encourage students to fill out the seats from the middle, leaving a seat or two near the door free for latecomers.  This helps to avoid disruption. 

  1. Oi, you!

Ever been into a class halfway through the year and heard, “You know…… her”?  Obviously, the teacher needs to know and start using the students’ names as soon as possible, but it is also important to spend some time getting the students to learn them too.  This is extremely important for class dynamics, bonding and rapport.  And don’t forget those who join a little later on.  Repeat these ‘getting to know you’ activities after one week, one month, whatever is necessary to build a community of learners, and give your classes that personal touch by using their names or nicknames as much as possible.

  1. Instructions or ructions?

Give clear instructions in stages and concept check the learners’ understanding.  This is given a lot of attention on CELTA courses, and it often those teachers who are fresh out of one who do it best.  Old lazy habits can set in quickly, so we can make sure even the slowest students understand by doing an example across class, writing instructions on the board, showing the page and asking for repetition by a class member.  Pause, and think before you speak.  Keep instructions clear, short and to the point.  Check understanding by asking closed concept questions, followed by open ended ones.  And remember – ‘Is that clear?’ and ‘Does everyone understand?’ do not count!

  1. A little a day keeps the ADoS away.

Unfortunately, administrative paperwork can’t be avoided but keeping it up-to-date should stop it getting out of hand.  Whether this is absences, homework records, exam scores or your students’ frequently occurring errors, this data not only is a requisite of the job but makes you appear more professional.  Regular liaisons with the office also help to provide clear channels of communication and in turn, smoother operation of an institute from the front desk to the classroom.

  1. Cas-te-lla-no – don’t let it go.

Of course we want our students to speak as much English as possible in classes, however, there is sometimes a place for the learner’s L1 (in this case, Castellano).  If someone is upset or doesn’t know how to say something, it makes sense to use this resource if you have it at your disposal.  Make sure you give your students the classroom language they need to communicate in English during the lesson, and establish your expectations of when it is acceptable to use the L1.

  1. On your bike, again?

Finally, this cryptic crossword style clue refers to recycling.  Nation (2001) says that it’s necessary to encounter a lexical item in different contexts between 8 – 12 times to know it, and that spaced repetition with insertion into previously learnt language over time is more effective than massed into 1 or 2 exposures.  Varying your techniques to appeal to different learning styles and keeping and using vocabulary bags are a couple of principles that the teachers here have taken on board. Games, too, have a valid place and collocation work becomes increasingly important at higher levels.  Learner training also falls into this category, and it is essential to give students at all levels the tools they need to become successful language learners e.g. ways of recording vocabulary.

Since coining these slogans, the frequency of these problems in observations has reduced.  I have heard some teachers in conversation about their feedback commenting on the number of “chestnuts” they had broken, and being determined to improve upon this next time.  There is a poster on the back wall of every classroom in the institute to remind us of these good teaching practices.  Some of them are specific to our teaching context here at IH Buenos Aires (Recoleta), but the essence can be transferred to almost any situation.

When we have these basic principles in place, we have more opportunities to experiment and develop our teaching practices and methodologies.  As some wise bloke once said, “You have to know the rules before you can break them”.


Hedge, T.  (2000)  Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom.

Oxford University Press.

Nation, P.  (2001)  Learning Vocabulary in Another Language.

Cambridge University Press.

Scrivener, J.    (1998)  Learning Teaching.


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Online Teacher-Training courses with IHWO

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Bruce Thompson – Buenos Aires Herald interview – 7th August 2011

newspaper_note-bruce-thompson mod


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CELTA & DELTA at International House Buenos Aires

CELTA & DELTA at International House

On Friday 8th July 2011, Bruce Thompson and Neil McMahon presented the CELTA and DELTA options available at International House Buenos Aires.  Here are the slides from that presentation, which explain what a CELTA would give to teachers already teaching locally and who have a profesorado, and then how the DELTA Modules will build on those qualifications and the range of experience a teacher has in order to take them to the top of their profession.

Please email if you have further questions or comments about either of these courses.

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2.0 Web or not 2.0 Web – the teaching kids with technology question

Neil McMahon –

Part Two – Lots more practical examples and links to the websites…

Friday May 13th 2011 I presented a workshop with this title at the ABS Young Learners Conference in Buenos Aires. Below are the slides and links I used in the presentation for those of you that were there and for those of you that weren’t too.

During the session we thought about further ways of exploiting these links – if you have any please share them with us here by commenting at the end of the blog post. We’d love to hear what you thought of the talk too!

2.0 Web or not 2.0 Web

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2.0 Web or not 2.0 Web – the teaching kids with technology question

Neil McMahon –

Part One – A little bit of theory and a practical example…

Friday May 13th 2011 I presented a workshop with this title at the ABS Young Learners Conference in Buenos Aires. Below are the slides and links I used in the presentation for those of you that were there and for those of you that weren’t too.

During the session we thought about further ways of exploiting these links – if you have any please share them with us here by commenting at the end of the blog post. We’d love to hear what you thought of the talk too!

2.0 web or not 2.0 web addresses the question of whether it’s worth all the hassle, extra work and learning that jumping on the technology bandwagon inevitably entails. Will our kids learners really be motivated and challenged by using the gadgets they’re obsessed with outside class inside the classroom as well (not to mention for homework)? During the session we’ll be looking at an array of applications and activities that provide this motivation and challenge for the students, while keeping the extra work for the teacher to a minimum. Come and join us for a practical, fun session full of ideas to get your kids weaving their English learning webs.

First of all we discussed the differences between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 – what can we do now that we couldn’t do before?
Well now it’s a two-way process – so let’s get our kids involved in that process – let’s get them communicating!

We can use Wordle for:

Lesson reviews,  Vocab lists,  Personal profiles,  Story summaries,   Unit revision posters,  Find the English words,  Word soups,  Graphic organisers,  Make your own
We used Wordle as an intro to the session to show the power of simple ideas that can be used time and time again. It’s also a good example of how to combat the issues that teachers face when dealing with technology that sometimes discourage us from using it with our young learners.

Issues? What issues…

To overcome these issues we need a change of attitude – let’s go on a PICNIC – Problem In Chair, Not In Computer!

  • Don’t be afraid, you’ve been to this session or read this blog now so you have the confidence to begin
  • You want your students to be risk takers, so you should be too!
  • Train yourself and ask for help. Coming to this session is a good start. Use Twitter to find out more. Read some blogs to get you going. Try, try and try again.
  • Ideas will come once you start using. Trial and error. Share and share alike (check out the comments section below and add your own)
  • Short term pain, long term gain. Share and share alike. Repeat to fade.
  • Be safe, keep in control. Ask parents to help. Communicate. Use safe sites…
  • Grade the task not the text. Control the surf. Use the suggestions below…

So in Part Two of this blog post (coming soon) we’ll look at more ideas like Wordle that will help you to start using technology with your kids to learn and enjoy English.

Looking forward to your comments and suggestions for favourite websites to use with young learners!

Neil McMahon, Buenos Aires, 16/5/11

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