Why do people learn English? What do learners really want? How can learning a language help you to understand the mindset of those who speak it as their native language? How can barriers and cultural stereotypes be broken down by language learning?

All these are questions addressed by contributors to this issue of ETp.

In an impressive cross-cultural project, David Dry and Anastasia Reva brought Russian and American history students together and encouraged them to air and discuss their preconceptions of each other’s countries. Keeping their nerve when things got sticky and some deep-seated stereotypes were unearthed, the two teachers succeeded in getting their classes to work together via a wiki, to build up some positive personal relationships and to gain a greater understanding of each other’s history, culture and values.

David and Anastasia also insist on the need for meticulous planning in an international project such as theirs, while Duncan Foord (in our main feature) takes a detailed look at a more specific kind of planning and advocates mapping out a flexible approach, rather than drawing up a lesson plan in a purely linear fashion. I’m sure many teachers will want to try out his heart-shaped mind map which opens up many more opportunities for ways in which a lesson might take develop and progress.

The issue of getting to know not only what it means to be a speaker of a language, but what it means to be a citizen of a country where that language is spoken is discussed by John Davis. He recommends using the American citizenship test as a basis for exploring what certain important words and concepts actually mean to an American. As he points out, this strategy could be used for any language and any country to promote greater understanding between peoples, and it would be especially useful for those seeking to live and work in another country.

Simon Andrewes looks at written communication in English between non-native speakers and concludes that the actual communication, the achievement of mutual understanding, is the crucial thing – not the sophistication or elegance of the style in which the message is couched. He also makes the point that a degree of accommodation is required to oil the wheels of communication: people need to monitor what they say and write, keeping in mind the needs and abilities of the person they are speaking or writing to.

Learners’ needs are at the forefront of Richard Ostick’s thinking, as he investigates, by means of a questionnaire, what it is that his learners want from a language course and what they consider to be the important elements and procedures.

Ana Lía Passarotto also has the learners in mind when she looks at the range of criteria involved in choosing a coursebook that will match the needs and interests of the class.

I have just returned home from ETp Live! our conference in Brighton, and I would like to extend another big thank you to our fantastic team of presenters – Jeremy Harmer, Dennis Davy, Mike Hogan, Philip Kerr, Mark Almond, Anna Musielak, Catriona Johnson, Chia Suan Chong, Antonia Clare and Ken Wilson (cast in order of appearance) – and to all the enthusiastic delegates who made it such a wonderful event. It is hard to choose the highlights of the day as there were so many, but I don’t think I will forget in a hurry the two brilliant teachers who took part in Anna’s ‘translate into teenspeak’ activity in which one had to read out lines from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and the other did a simultaneous phrase-by-phrase translation into teenage language; or the paper snowball fights initiated by both Anna and Antonia – a sure-fire way of getting students awake, motivated and participating in the lesson. 

And I have Ken Wilson to thank for enabling me to tackle the mountain of emails and other jobs that greeted my return. His recipe for success is to approach the task like a player at championship point in the Wimbledon singles final and start by standing up and delivering an ace serve (complete with the now-obligatory grunt) with such utter conviction that the battle seems already won. For those of you who were not able to attend the conference, we will be putting short teasers of the presentations onto the website over the coming weeks. Enjoy them and start making plans to come to ETp Live! next year.

Issue 93 is the July issue of ETp, so many of our readers will be taking a holiday, though others, of course, will still be working or taking part in summer schools. Whatever you are doing, I hope that you will have a good summer. Our September issue is already in preparation, so we will have plenty to inspire you when you get back.