The official website of educator Jack C Richards

El Gazette interview with professor jack c richards

gisborne, new zealand, 4th February 2005

I am sitting on the deck of Jack Richard’s Gisborne summer residence, admiring the picture-postcard view over Wainui Beach down below, with its surfers, horse riders and white, dreamy waves – it is going to be another wonderful day, and the acres of garden folding out in front of me with literally thousands of native trees and shrubs is glistening in the early morning dew. Gisborne was Cook’s first landing place in New Zealand and is also the hometown of opera singer Kiri Te Kawana. I am waiting for Jack to sit down for our chat for EL Gazette, promised in between going over details of his extensive author tour to launch Interchange 3 rd edition, checking reservations for the forthcoming summer concert which he and his partner are hosting at the house, and adding finishing touches to a listening book for Oxford . I feel guilty at being just a lazy guest, enjoying the truly wonderful Kiwi hospitality!

EL Gazette: How did you first get involved in language teaching?

Jack C Richards : I didn’t go straight to university from high school but worked in broadcasting in New Zealand for a couple of years, studying part-time at Victoria University in Wellington . When I switched to full-time studies I needed part-time work and found work in the language laboratory at a language centre on the campus for international students. That opened my eyes to the field of English teaching and I chose that as my focus from then on. After my BA and MA in Wellington I did a Diploma in TESL, taught there for a while, then went to Quebec in Canada to do my Ph.D.

ELG: Why Quebec ?

JCR : I chose Quebec City as I wanted to immerse myself in a non-English language culture and to master a foreign language myself.

ELG: You have published a great deal – how did you first get involved in writing?

JCR : In Quebec (1968 to 1972) I taught in an elementary school part time and wrote my first ESL text in 1969, based on my experience there. After my Ph.D I taught for a year in Indonesia . While there an editor from Oxford University Press, East Asia , discussed their publishing needs and invited me to write a conversation text for them. This was published in 1974. By then I was lecturing in Singapore at the Regional Language Centre (RELC) and following the success of my Oxford book, OUP invited me to write full time for two years, based in Singapore , where I wrote several regional courses and skills books. One was picked up by OUP New York ( Person to Person ), and I then started writing for the American branch of OUP, mainly writing listening and speaking texts for the Asian market.

ELG : Your course book series Interchange is known all over the world. How did that come about?

JCR: By the mid 1980s I wanted to write a basic series. OUP had already committed themselves to another author so I approached Cambridge University Press . They were looking for a course book in American English and had already started extensive market research for the needs. They were very keen so I developed the Interchange series for them, inviting two of my former students to collaborate with me on some components of the series. I continue to write skills books for Oxford for the Asian market, as well as course books and academic books for CUP. My latest academic book Professional Development for Language Teachers (with Tom Farrell) will be launched at the TESOL convention.

ELG: How did you get involved in TESOL?

JCR: In 1969 while working on my Ph.D on syllabus design in Quebec City , my supervisor suggested I submit a paper to the TESOL conference in San Francisco in 1970. I threw together a little paper on error analysis, and that to my surprise created quite a stir at my first TESOL conference and put me in touch with many of the key people in the field. I have been active in TESOL and similar organizations since then, having served on the executive board of TESOL, initiated the New Ways and Case Study series for TESOL. I found the whole field of ESL to be full of exciting issues and from that time have explored many of these in my academic articles and books. I find the theory and the practice inform each other in many useful ways.

ELG : In your career what is the biggest change you have seen in teaching?

JCR : The field has expanded enormously both in breadth and depth. We now have a richer and much more complex view of language teaching and a better understanding of a whole array of issues in many areas: language acquisition, pedagogy, learning styles, curriculum design, and so on.

ELG : How do you keep up to date in the field?

JCR : I retired from full-time academic posts in 1998, after 30 years of lecturing in universities in Hong Kong, the USA , and New Zealand . Since then I teach for part of the year at the Regional Language Centre, in Singapore , teaching both applied linguistics courses as well as language classes. RELC has an excellent library and is my main source of information about trends in the field. I continue to serve as a series editor for two Cambridge Applied Linguistics series however, and get to review works in progress by many researchers around the world, another important source of ideas.

ELG: Your first TESOL conference was 35 years ago – what are the biggest changes you have seen in TESOL?

JCR : The membership of TESOL has become very diverse, with a huge range of different interests and concerns, some US based and some more relevant outside of the US . It is a challenge for a single organization to respond effectively to such a broad client base.

ELG : If you had to give advice on how to succeed in this field to a young teacher attending their first TESOL conference this year, what would that be?

JCR : I would say that you have to be passionate about what you do, ambitious, keen to learn, and active in the profession.

ELG : While Jack Richards the TESOL specialist is familiar to many members of TESOL, what other interests do you have?

JCR : TESOL is only one small side of my life. I have a whole other life in music and the arts. On my mother’s side I come from a family of musicians (my grandfather was a famous organ builder in New Zealand ) and from that side I have inherited a keen interest in music. I am a sponsor of a composer-in-residence fellowship at Victoria University of Wellington, I commission pieces from New Zealand composers, I sponsor prizes in music competitions for young musicians, and I arrange a series of charity summer concerts in my hometown of Gisborne New Zealand every year. I am also a regular participant in music festivals in Europe .( I already have my tickets for the opening of the new Toronto Opera House in 2006 and the performance of Wagner’s Ring cycle.)

ELG : I can see that your New Zealand house and garden are full of the most fabulous pieces of art – can you tell us about your interest in that?

JCR :In the arts I have significant collections of textiles, paintings, sculptures and art glass, in my residences in New Zealand and Australia . (My collection of Rene Lalique art vases is the largest of its kind outside of the US ). Here in Gisborne (where I spend the summers every year) I am patron of an art program for Maori students in contemporary Maori art, and provide major funding support for student scholarships. The garden you see here (which is open to the public for charity fundraisers) also contains a number of large sculptures by contemporary New Zealand artists. You can see some of these on my website –

ELG : If you had three wishes for the future, one for the profession, one for TESOL, and one for you personally, what would they be?

JCR: For the profession I would hope to see continuation of the movement towards quality assurance, through standards, certification of teachers, and study of good practice. For TESOL, I would like to see growth of its international outreach, so that it doesn’t appear to be primary serving the US members. For myself, I would hope to have continued good health and further opportunities to spend quality time with friends and family.