Interview of the TEFLologists

I recently had the opportunity to meet two of the people behind the TEFLology podcast in person at the JALT EFL Teacher Journeys Conference. I so much enjoyed talking to them I asked them if they’d be interested in doing an interview here on the blog. They accepted and I am very happy to share the results of the interview below. I thought it was fun, interesting, insightful and thought-provoking and I hope you will too. Please enjoy my interview of the  TEFLologists. They are Matthew Turner (MT), Robert Lowe (RL), and Matthew Schaefer (MS). The interview starts after their logo. 

teflology pod

Hey guys. This is my first time interviewing more than one person at a time. I am sure it will be fun. To start, can I get you a drink? What are you having?
MT: If you’re buying, I’ll have a pint of craft beer. Preferably an Indian Pale Ale from the US.

MS: A glass of red wine for me. Something French would be nice, but I’m not too picky.

RL: As the summer is coming up, I’ll have a dirty izakaya (Japanese pub) beer.

Here you are. Nice selection we’ve got here, Can you each tell me a little about yourself?
MT: Thanks, bottoms up! I’m Matt, an English teacher (and podcaster I guess) from the south of England. I’ve been living and teaching in Japan for around 7 years now, and currently teach English discussion skills to university undergraduates in Tokyo. I like attending live music shows, jogging the streets at night, and sampling craft beer from all over Japan.

MS: Cheers! I’m Matthew – an American/British EFL teacher who arrived in Japan about 6 years ago after starting my career in western Europe. I work now at a university in Tokyo as a Program Manager, which means I do a bit of everything – teaching, teacher training, textbook writing, syllabus design, research, and so on. I like watching films and reading books about films.

RL: I’m Rob, an English teacher from Derby in the UK. I came to Japan after graduating from university, and I’m still here! I’ve worked in language schools around Tokyo as well as part-time in universities. I’m currently a lecturer at a university in Tokyo teaching courses in English and linguistics. I like watching films (particularly silent comedy and 80’s exploitation), and music.

So, a podcast about TEFL stuff. Really?
We’re well aware that it’s an incredibly nerdy thing to do – especially when we have to explain it to non-TEFL friends and family – but it’s an interest we all share and a subject that’s surprisingly under-served in the growing podcast world.

Cool. We like nerdy around here. How did you get the idea?
We noticed that even when we went out for a non-work-related drink in the pub, we would often end up talking TEFL. We’re also all big podcast fans and a lot of our favorite ones are just people talking about things that they’re into.

I see. I know the feeling of talking TEFL all the time. Who do you think is your target audience?
Our target audience is any TEFL practitioner with more than a passing interest in TEFL methodology and/or history. Of course we understand that English language teachers around the world do the job for many different reasons, but we’re aiming more at the career language teachers who have a passion for the profession and the issues around it. There are no ideas for classroom activities or grammar breakdowns. At the same time, we try to keep it as entertaining as possible and will occasionally veer slightly off-topic. A few non-TEFL friends of ours have told us that it is fun to listen to, even if they have no interest in how learner dictionaries have developed over the years, or who Harold Palmer is!

Great. And for folks that are interested, are you on Itunes? What is the best way to find you?
Yes, we’re on iTunes. You can easily find us by typing TEFLology into a search engine. However, don’t be put off if the almighty Google asks: “did you mean Teleology?” You most definitely didn’t mean that. Or, you can find us by using this link:

Excellent. Thanks. Can you recommend an episode to start with for a new listener?
MT: I think we’ve developed our technique over time, so I would go for a slightly  later episode. My personal favourite is episode 11 where we discussed the work of Stephen Krashen, and authenticity in English language teaching with an honorary TEFLologist, Richard Pinner.

RL: I think there are a few good entry points with accessible subjects for new listeners. My personal favourites are episode 12, episode 16, and episode 23. Each episode has three topics, so new listeners might want to look through the titles for something that interests them!

And, what do you wish you knew when you started the pod?
Although it didn’t take us long to figure out, we didn’t realise at first how easy it was to set up interviews with some of the big names in TEFL. Usually a friendly email and a flexible schedule is enough, and almost everyone we’ve contacted has been incredibly accommodating and generous with their time. But there’s probably a few we missed out on at the beginning!

I see. That is an interesting insight. I won’t share it too widely. I noticed you have some really interesting interviews already. Who would you like to interview in the future?
MT: It would be great to get hold of David Nunan, Paul Nation, or Michael Long one day. We’ve talked about a lot of ELT pioneers from history too, for example Henry Sweet and Harold Palmer, and although we can’t interview them, it would be great to interview a relative of theirs.

MT: David Crystal is one of the few subjects of our ‘TEFL Pioneers’ section that is still alive, so it’d be great to speak to him.

RL: I’d love to have Suresh Canagarajah as a guest. His writing and presentations are very engaging and he is passionate about what he does. I think he’d be a great guest.

What was the most awkward moment you’ve had thus far?
MS: I’d have to say the Claire Kramsch interview. She’s a clearly formidable intellect and a somewhat intimidating interviewee. At one point, I made a comment and left it hanging, hoping she would pick up the thread and continue talking. She just looked at me and said, “That’s not a question.” Luckily, we were able to edit it to make me look like less of an amateur!

MT: For me, it was when Rod Ellis swore during our interview with him. I think he was referring to the city of Huddersfield in the UK (apologies to any listeners we had there). When we interviewed Nina Spada at JALT2014, we unfortunately had to use a public area to conduct the interview. This meant there was a lot of background noise. This made me feel slightly embarrassed.

RL: I think it was when we got into an uncontrollable giggling fit while discussing the philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin falling ill with a bone disease and having his leg amputated. What you hear on the episode is heavily edited – it actually went on for more than five minutes. For the record, we do not believe there is anything funny about bone diseases or amputations.

Duly noted and thanks for the sad and funny responses. Shifting gears here a bit…Do you listen to podcasts? Which ones? 
RL: I listen to a mix of comedy and serious podcasts. The History of Japan and History of English podcasts are great, and I also listen to The League of Nerds (about science), Radiodrome and Mark Kermode’s FilmReviews (about films), anything Richard Herring puts out (about comedy) and We Hate Movies (about movies and comedy).

MS: I have a lot of “informative” podcasts saved on my computer – Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History is a good one – but I almost always fall back on comedy ones, especially from the L.A. improv scene. Comedy Bang Bang is great, plus anything with Paul F. Tompkins or Andy Daly.

Do you read blogs?
MS: The TEFL blogging world is growing in many exciting ways. Geoff Jordan’s is a great place to start, especially as he’s good at promoting other interesting blogs. (Geoff is also an upcoming TEFLology interviewee – look out for his episode soon!)

MT: I’m a big fan of Russ Mayne’s Evidence Based EFL blog, but don’t get much chance to read a lot of blogs at the moment!

RL: I read more blogs in the past, particularly when I was doing my DipTESOL. I enjoyed reading Lindsay Clandfield’s Six Things blog when it was going, unfortunately I think it’s now defunct. I also like Scott Thornbury’s infamous A-Z of ELT. I used to also enjoy reading Oli Beddall’s blog about his experiments with Dogme. I hope that gets going again!

I am also a big fan of both Russ and Geoff  (and the others you mentioned as well!) and had the pleasure of interviewing them on my blog. Here is the interview of Russ and here is the one of Geoff.

Quick question for Rob. I know you are working on your PhD related to Native Speakerism in Japan. Any recommended readings on this?
RL: I think the best place to start is Adrian Holliday’s book “The Struggle to Teach English as an International Language“, where he most fully explored the idea. The book “Native speakerism in Japan” by Stephanie Ann Houghton (who we interviewed on the podcast) and Damien Rivers has been very influential recently. I don’t agree with everything they say, but those are some good starting points. There are three books coming out this year and next which look good too.

I think I will have to check that out. Thanks! And now we enter the random round, aka the “Lightning round.” What is your favorite Japanese food? 
MT: This is tough, as it changes with the season. But pushed, I think it would have to be ramen. Ramen is so diverse in Japan, with so many different varieties and tastes. I’ve only just scratched the surface with this. I’m also partial to a bit of eel too, but try telling that to someone in the UK.

MS: I have to second Matt’s eel choice. My particular favorite is hitsumabushi, which is a famous grilled eel dish from the city of Nagoya. (Ramen is also pretty great!)

RL: Sushi, but as a vegetarian just the veggie options.

Natto. Yes or no?
MT: No! A hundred times NO!

MS: I’m afraid not. I can handle it in small doses, but it’s not my first choice in the morning!

RL: To dissent from my esteemed colleagues, yes. You are both just weak.

If you weren’t in this field what would you like to do?
RL: I’ve always enjoyed writing, so I would be happy doing that at least part time. I used to write for music magazines as a student, and I think I’d have ended up writing things about music and films if I hadn’t gone into the lucrative TEFL industry.

MT: I’ve always had an interest in art and design and come from an artistic background. So if I wasn’t doing this job, I’d like to be a graphic designer of some sort. However, there are ample chances for this in English teaching too.

MS: I’m a huge film fan, but have very little artistic talent, so I’d love to one day open a small art-house cinema. Selecting a handful of new and old films to show each month would be a blast.

It seems like music is important to you. What type of music do you like?
MS: American indie rock. Pavement is still my favorite band. (MS)

MT: I’ll second Matt. I’m also into a lot of electronic music too, with my current favourites being Animal Collective. I also like a lot of new British indie music including Young Knives and The Wombats.

RL: Punk mainly, but a bit of everything. I’m also a massive Tom Waits and Bob Dylan fan.

Who is your “Dream Interview,” non-ELT division?
MT: I think it would have to be a comedian of some kind, perhaps Stewart Lee. An artist would be interesting too, I watched a documentary about Jeff Koons the other day, so I’d like to talk to him more.

MS: It’s hard to imagine what interview questions I’d ask Steven Spielberg or the Coen brothers – I’d rather not have them try to explain the magic – but I’d happily hang out with Richard Linklater for an hour or two.

RL: I’d love to interview Buster Keaton, if he were still alive. It would be fascinating to hear about the early days of filmmaking and the way people performed such dangerous stunts without the kind of safeguards and technology we have nowadays.

Thanks so much for taking the time, guys. I really enjoyed it and I hope you did too.I am looking forward to checking out more of your work.  Devoted readers of this blog might be interested in checking out the latest TEFLology Podcast here. 

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