Teaching and writing materials for migrant learners in Australia

About Me

I’m an ESL* teacher and writer, living in Australia. While this site features some of my materials, I hope it can also be a resource for other teachers, volunteer tutors, writers and would-be writers…

(*English as a Settlement Language – that’s fellow writer Karen Barber’s new take on the old terminology…)

Here’s a bit about me:

Questions and answers

What was your first teaching experience?

I started off as a volunteer tutor, as a university student in Liverpool, in the UK. My learner had one afternoon a week off, from her work in a family restaurant – and how did she spend it? Studying with me. That was my introduction to just how much someone can want to learn.

What kind of English language teaching do you like most?

I always enjoyed distance learning, because it seemed so impressive that someone could learn a language even in an isolated context. But teaching face to face, hmm – I think beginner classes are my favourite. There’s something special about those moments when something first sinks in and the learners race ahead.

How long have you been in the ESOL field?

A long time. The first writing project I worked on was a set of literacy workbooks with dozens of photo illustrations – and each photo had to be scanned and cut to size and stuck neatly in exactly the right place on the master copy. (I was not the neat person who did the sticking.)

I’ve also worked on national materials projects (It’s Over to You, Let’s Participate, It’s Over to You Preliminary, Get Wise) and written reading books for ESOL learners.

Can you speak lots of languages?

Non-teachers always say ‘Oh, I suppose you speak dozens of languages,’ but alas that’s not true. I’m not a great language learner. The bits of German, Vietnamese, Italian and Indonesian I’ve learnt over the years have pretty much all vanished (likewise Latin, Old English and Old Norse). The only non-English words left in my brain are French and Thai, and they get muddled. Now added to the muddle are the beginnings of Spanish (a beautiful language, but also vital to help me understand Tango lyrics and chat between dances in Buenos Aires).

At least it makes me sympathetic towards other language learners…

What experience had most impact on your writing?

I spent an amazing three years in Thailand, working in refugee camps, but never managed to learn to read or write Thai. It all seemed too hard. I felt like a child again, when I had to ask for help with street signs, or get the bank clerk to fill in forms for me. So I’m always interested in English for beginners, or ways to help people learn to read.

What’s your secret wish?

I wish I could draw properly and illustrate my own books (actually I’d love to be able to draw like the children’s illustrators Quentin Blake or Bob Graham). Another lifetime, perhaps? Currently my attempts to illustrate a concept on the whiteboard are greeted with cries of ‘Picasso! Picasso!’ (Can they be serious?) My sister Emma Laybourn is a children’s author. (And she can draw way better than I can.)

There are a few writers called Clare Harris out there…

There are! There’s a wonderful Professor Clare Harris at Oxford University who writes about Tibet. Then there was Clare Winger Harris who was an early sci-fi writer… and there’s a Claire Harris poet (and probably many others). I think I’m the only ESL writer, so no one is likely to confuse us.

What confession would you like to make?

I use commas (and dashes, exclamation marks and parentheses) rather more than I probably should. I always notice typos and will be mortified if you find any on this site.

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