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April 2022 - Year 24 - Issue 2

ISSN 1755-9715

Where Are We? Who Are We? Why…? Changing Realities

Susan Holden originally trained as a drama teacher for UK schools. Then she has been involved in language teaching in various roles: teacher, teacher trainer, writer, editor and publisher. Having worked for large companies, she now runs her own small one, Swan Communication, based in Scotland, but with an international involvement. Her recent  publications include ‘The Non-Native Teacher’ Peter Medgyes (as publisher), and ‘Teaching English Today: contexts and perspectives’ with Vinicius Nobre, (as co-author).


Finding a focus

Some of you may know that I am, among other things, an author and publisher. In both these roles, deadlines are important and I have (mostly) respected them over the years. The deadline for submitting this article to the HLT editors was the end of February.  So I had told myself that I would work on the article during the preceding week, and made sure there were sufficient time-gaps to do so. There was, of course, the usual problem before writing an article or doing a talk - what topic?


January to February 2022

At the beginning of the year, my mind was on the effects of Covid, both on our lives and on language, over the last two years. I was aware of how pandemic development had affected our daily lives and, by extension, the language we were using to communicate with each other.

How, I wondered, would and should this affect teaching and learning realities, activities and content? And what about the future? What language would we aim to retain, reject or adapt? Would teaching and learning be done mostly online or face-to-face? Using class-centred print materials or on-screen input and exploration? Breakout rooms or classroom groups? Just as our teaching and learning contexts had changed over the two years, so had ‘real life’ language. What, I wondered, would the knock-on effect be on training as well as teaching?


February 2022

In early February, I was planning an article for an ongoing series in the Polish journal, ‘The Teacher’. I decided to focus on these changes in language, affected as it was by changes in all our lives. Coincidentally, at the same time, I received a message from the Lexical Lab authors, Hugh Dellar and Andrew Walkley, about a compilation of current language they had just done on the same topic, with examples drawn from real life.  They wrote:

Over the last two years, Covid-19 has come to dominate many of our conversations. In our Lexical Lab classes, it crops up week in, week out, no matter what other topics we’re looking at. As we enter the third year of the pandemic, we’ve put together a collection of some of the things we’ve taught around the topic. The Lexical Lab collection includes current, real-life examples such as these:

  • Lockdowns and restrictions
  • They’re trying to impose lots of localised lockdowns here.
  • It’s lockdown in name only here at the moment, to be honest.
  • The lockdown here is supposed to end this weekend, but I’m worried they might extend it.
  • They’ve been dithering / umming and ahing about imposing a second lockdown for ages and have finally decided to have one starting this Thursday.
  • The lockdown rules are pretty flexible here, to be honest.
  • There’s a lot of leeway and people interpret them in their own way.
  • There’s been a real spike / uptick / surge in cases of domestic violence during lockdown.

Very useful! Sometimes such things can help with deadlines. So I duly wrote the article, focussing on five possible effects of the shifting language on teachers, asking five questions about their own views on the ‘Language and Life’ relationship, encouraging them to focus on their own context and reality. Each area was followed by some questions about the relationship between language and life for them:


Language and life

1  Language post-Covid

Questions for you

What language is new or unexpected?

Are similar words and phrases being used in your L1?

Do they carry negative or positive implications?

Are they largely factual, or emotional?

In what kind of contexts would you expect to hear or use them?

Is language today being changed suddenly in any other way?


2 Life: Climate Change

Questions for you

How do communication factors  - place, personal relationships, emotion – affect both the words we use and the way we say them?

(These referred to Greta Thunberg’;s use of ‘Blah, blah, blah,,,’ when commenting on politicians’ utterances at last year’s Climate Change conference in Glasgow).


3 Life and Language: Using Projects

Questions for you

What should guide any work with projects?



Anything  else?


4 Life and Language: Training courses

Questions for you

What factors shape successful training courses and teachers’ meetings now?

And what about in the future?

These referred to the growth in ‘teacher support’ websites and events, such as the Pilgrims Cafe and the SOL ‘November to Remember’ network.


5 People

Questions for you

How can you bring course material to life to reflect this L+L relationship?

Is it worth trying?

On 15th February, I checked the final proofs of this ‘Language/Life’ article ... and began thinking of ways to build on it for the current HLT one..


March 2022

Now to the present article. My initial thought was to explore this ‘Language and Life’ area more fully, focussing on a range of contexts, age groups and learning priorities. However…as I started planning it, the world suddenly changed.

I saw this post on Facebook from a teacher in Ukraine, dated 04.03.22:

9 days ago, I thought that my job as a teacher was to teach English, simply teach the subject.

9 days ago, I encouraged my students to use their critical thinking skills to make thoughtful decisions and draw conclusions.

Today, my job as a teacher is to make sure that all children get to the shelter when the siren goes off.

Today, my job is to do my job so that tomorrow my students wake up under a peaceful sky.

Now, two weeks later, the questions keep coming. I have to submit the article today, but am still wondering what will really be relevant and useful as we face a totally unexpected and developing reality. Are there any answers, or is it too soon?


Questions for all of us: teachers, writers, publishers, students... people:

How will this reality affect us, as people and professionals?

How will it affect our learners?

How is language being used to convince, contradict, persuade, accuse?


April/May 2022

Can you predict where language and life will be when it is time for the next HLT issue? What will be important for you, as a person and as a professional?

Perhaps these predictions can be checked against the actual reality at that time.

Make your own ‘Language and Life’ predictions here, based on your own or other “life’ developments, and send then to HLT for the next issue.


Today: looking backwards and forwards.

So… these are some thoughts in the first week of March 2022. My only hope is that they will still be relevant, or will at least have provided a framework for individual thinking, by the time this number of Humanising Language Teaching is published. The title of the magazine  is even more appropriate than normal.



Hugh Dellar and Andrew Walkley Lexical Lab

The Teacher magazine February/March 2022 issue

An anonymous Ukrainian teacher, quoted by Lynda Steyne, Bratislava.


Please check the Pilgrims f2f courses at Pilgrims website.

Please check the Pilgrims online courses at Pilgrims website.

Tagged  Voices 
  • Strategic Competence and Why We Don’t Love It As Much As We Should
    Steve Hirschhorn, UK

  • Where Are We? Who Are We? Why…? Changing Realities
    Susan Holden, Scotland, UK

  • Staying Positive in Difficult Circumstances
    Marjorie Rosenberg, Austria

  • Teaching in the New Normal – Challenges and New Opportunities
    Mojca Ketiš, Slovenia

  • So What Do You Do Then?
    Steve Hirschhorn, UK