I actually remember the first time I saw a copy of Raymond Murphy’s English Grammar in Use. I hadn’t been teaching long and I was sitting on a bus in Brasília, going from one class to another, when I spotted it. “Sounds like the kind of book I need to read” I joked half seriously to myself.
“It was the summer of 1982. The year before we had been glued to our tiny red TV set to watch what I consider the most beautiful TV drama series I have ever seen. Brideshead Revisited, based on the novel by Evelyn Waugh (1945), was serialized for ITV and became immensely popular in Britain and also in Flanders. The story, the themes, the actors, the settings, the costumes, the language and the music mesmerized and enchanted us. The young and then unknown actor Jeremy Irons played the main character, who – in a long flashback- tells the story in an off screen voice
That rich English prose of Waugh, read by Irons, is sheer beauty turned into sound and it can still move me after 31 years as it moved the 24 year old me in 1981. The beginning of the series is set in Oxford and the city attracted me enormously.
I had just finished my first full school year as a teacher but I knew there was still so much English to learn so although I was getting married in August I was determined to do a summer course first. Of course it had to be in Oxford and so in July 1982 I travelled to England to spend three weeks at the Swan School of English.
I entered a world that is so familiar to many of you but that was exotic and exciting to me: an English language school. I had never seen a school building that was in fact “a house”. An intricate layout of floors, rooms and staircases, wall to wall carpets and a garden!
Whiteboards, desks put in a U shape, tea breaks and a social programme of pub crawls (new word for me!) and coach trips during the weekends. Stratford-upon-Avon: Yay!
I had booked a room in a university college building so that meant a lot of time on my own in the evenings and during weekends. Studying, reading, listening to the radio. A dream holiday in the city of dreaming spires.
On the first day of the course we had to do a placement test and I ended up in Mr Murphy’s class. Mr Murphy, Ray, was a gentle, soft-spoken and very friendly man, who welcomed us every morning while music was playing in his classroom (I loved that!). The days were full of surprises as I had no idea what to expect. We learnt new words, did some intonation exercises, he taught us idioms and phrasal verbs, we did role plays and had discussions, listened to news broadcasts and wrote about the topics we had discussed in class. He corrected our work and gave feedback.
I will be forever grateful for his lessons, for his grammar book(s) and for introducing me to Michael Swan’s Practical English Usage, which was exactly what I needed and which I still recommend to my students today.
I would like to conclude by some thoughts on textbooks and on grammar.
A highly successful, bestselling author who recognises a student after 22 years, is still a teacher at heart I guess.”
|Mieke and Raymond are in there somewhere if you can spot them|
After reading this article, Raymond Murphy was kind enough to get in touch with Mieke and thank her for the article. Thanks to Ian Cook (@idc74) at Cambridge University Press for passing it on to him.