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Humanising Language Teaching
Humanising Language Teaching
Humanising Language Teaching

In Memoriam Bonnie Tsai

joint article

Ensanguining the skies
How heavily it dies
Into the west away;
Past touch and sight and sound
Not further to be found,
How hopeless under ground
Falls the remorseful day.

God saw I was getting tired
as he put his arms around me
as he whispered come with me

There is a place for you in heaven
where there is no suffering and no pain
all you have to do is look up to the sky
and know that you will see me

As I am an angel in the stars
what a great place to be
I am an angel of God and a
sparkle I shall be

Know that I'm watching over you
just look up and see
I'm looking watching over you
please don't be sad for me

I'm your angel in the stars
where I am happy now
you will see and one day
you will be with me


From Jim Wright
From Till Gins
From Małgosia Szwaj
From Tessa Woodward
From Henk van Oort
From Lonny Gold
From Sheelagh Deller
From Noreen Caplen-Spence
From Chaz Pugliese
From Adrian Tennant
From David Heathfield
From Sezgi Yalin
From Tony Cañadas
From Libyan Labiosa Cassone and Philip Cassone
From Ola Zaparucha
From Hania Kryszewska

From Jim Wright

It’s impossible to think of Bonnie without smiling.

Whether it’s the kaleidoscope of colours and objects she transformed her classrooms with, the endless creativity of the MI museums she inspired her teachers to create, the poignant afternoon we spent together in the hospital waiting room last summer, or the day I got called out of invigilating an exam because she was upset that someone from the university had called her a ‘fire hazard’ because she’d emptied all the chairs out of her classroom and blocked the fire exit – each and everyone brings a smile.

When you mourn someone you have known for so many years, dig deep enough and you realise you are really missing the happiness they brought you – that in itself is something to be joyful about.

I know Bonnie loved the metaphor of butterflies and transformation - this quote from Manali Oak seems to sum it up perfectly -

‘What would the butterfly quote on looking in the mirror? It would surely say ‘the adventure was worth it”

From Till Gins

I have sat on more of Bonnie’s lessons than anyone else’s: they were simply magic. Every time I thought I had watched the ultimate pedagogical technique, I was later surprised again by a new exciting creative approach. Bonnie’s repertoire was not a bag of tricks, it wasn’t even a repertoire - it was an insatiable source of creative ideas which flowed out of her innovative intellect.

We shall miss her; the world of training is a poorer place without her. I feel extremely privileged to have been associated with her hugely inspiring personality.

Bonnie RIP.

From Małgosia Szwaj

Life Is A Candle… - Lessons from Bonnie Tsai

There is an activity on page 61 in the book by Bonnie Tsai and Judit Feher Creative Resources (International Alliance for Learning, 2004) called: Life Is A Candle. It is about the power of metaphor and how we can express something that is difficult to explain or understand by comparing it to something familiar. The activity can also be useful as an introduction to further work on spiritual intelligence.

Metaphors are powerful images. Bonnie used them a lot in private and professional context which made each encounter with her - memorable and exciting. Meeting her on a personal and/or professional level was a journey, at the end of which, I always felt I learned something new and important. And Bonnie, as a travel companion, was so generous…!

What I learned from her cannot be summarized in a short article; the list spans over twenty five years of our contacts, during which time she shared, with me and other Pilgrims trainers, ideas she felt strongly about on teaching, training, the multiple intelligences, multi-sensory approach to teaching, NLP, creativity, art and music in the classroom, affective learning, self-esteem, discovering the child within, and many others. And Bonnie was not teaching - she was sharing her enthusiasm in a way that inspired personal reflection.

Many people can tell stories of small gift objects which they received from Bonnie. These gifts had always her personal “signature”. I remember very well the present she gave me around the time of my birthday while we were working together at Pilgrims in Canterbury, UK, many years ago. It was a lovely, hand-made necklace, slightly magical with beads in the shape of small animals - something I saw her wearing very often. When I said that the necklace was very precious to her and that she ought to keep it, she said with a smile: “Oh no! It’s time for it to go to someone else. And when you feel the time has come, make somebody a gift of it “. I remember that later, whenever I looked at the necklace I thought of the wisdom of Bonnie’s words and her generosity on so many levels.

In her lifetime, Bonnie inspired many people, like myself, with her natural desire to learn and understand the magic of it. When I heard of her premature death, I lit a candle to thank her for inspiring me and opening to change. If life is a candle, then her candle is burning bright in our hearts and creative minds.

From Tessa Woodward

Bonnie was one of the most naturally creative people I have ever met. From her earrings, through her outfits, right down to her toenail polish, she was unusual. The ideas she had for teaching were highly unusual too and very appealing and the way she was with people was spontaneous, colorful and generous. She found things in the town, where I had worked for years, things that I had never discovered. I had been, for example, to our local Broadstairs post office a million times. But it took Bonnie just once and one minute to find that they had rainbow coloured envelopes for sale there. She bought me some.

When she found out I loved Emily Dickinson poems, she gave me one I hadn’t know before, hand written on pretty paper (It was ‘To make a prairie….’) and accompanied it with the gift of a little finger puppet of a bee. She found a nail bar in my town and supervised the application of my choice of golden toe nail varnish the day before I went travelling training to Vermont, USA. She gave me a confidence-inspiring card to take with me too so that I could display it in my dorm room and would feel okay on the first morning of the course.

And years ago and very occasionally, I would bring her over to our place and make her tea and cake in the garden. She liked the flowers there.

Bonnie was amazing….utterly unusual, independent, imaginative and very generous. I cannot think of another person like her in the entire world. Miss you now Bonnie.

From Henk van Oort

The last time I met Bonnie Tsai was two years ago when she trained teachers from Shanghai at the Pilgrims Training Centre at Canterbury. She invited me to do some guest training after which we had lunch together in the Becket Pub just round the corner. We had a lovely and interesting chat as we always had.

Many a time Bonnie and I stayed in the same house in Parkwood on the campus of the University of Kent. During our work at the Pilgrims summer courses we, at the end of the working day, exchanged teacher talk in the kitchen of our house where she frequently cooked dinners for everyone. ‘I’m looking for some big pans’, she used to shout while collecting the necessary cooking gear from various Parkwood houses. We greatly enjoyed those meals, yes we did, sometimes served outside in front of the house when the weather was fine.

Bonnie once stayed at my house in Holland. She loved our little village and the small scale of all houses and shops.

After I had been teaching for many summers at Pilgrims, my wife once unexpectedly appeared on the campus upon which Bonnie exclaimed: ‘Look, that is Mrs. Henk, she exists!’ displaying her never ending humourous interpretation of reality underscored by her loud contagious laugh.

Once, at the end of a fortnight’s summer course, when leaving Rutherford College the students invited us to a final drink. Bonnie politely declined the offer after which she said to me: ‘I must take a rest. I have given everything’. You certainly have, Bonnie, and not just for one summer course but your whole career was a gift to all your students. Her birth, she once told me was not an easy one, her demise an unexpected one, for us at least.

Many thanks Bonnie for having been colleagues during some incredible summers on the hill at Canterbury.

From Lonny Gold

In my 44 years in the field of EFL, Bonnie Tsai was the most versatile, colourful and productive EFL teacher I have known. And she was unique!

She was tireless and she was everywhere. She was a compulsive innovator, never completely satisfied and always seeking to make her seminars “even better”. She was an adventurer, always on fire about the new places she’d been to and the doors she had been able to open for others. No sooner would she end a training session than she would begin to tinker with the parts of it that hadn’t been utterly sublime in order to achieve perfection the next time round.

She was also a keen observer. A meal with Bonnie was like sitting around the fireside, hearing the most magical tales of far away and exotic lands and she could convey the very essence of the place that would have taken others years to figure out for themselves. She was a true chronicler, with astute perceptions that broadened our horizons and obliged us to reframe our received ideas.

Bonnie had a fabulous grasp of Multiple Intelligences, NLP, Accelerative Learning, and Coaching. She was also highly familiar with the Silent Way, Psychosynthesis and every other area of endeavour known to psychology and teaching, plus the History of Art. If it was humanistic, new and exciting, Bonnie was into it and very soon on top of it.

But of all the many qualities Bonnie had, it was her “craftsmanship” that made her stand out from the rest of us. Her seminars were all a progressive transformation of an ordinary classroom into an art gallery, where every activity left behind it an exciting trail of artistic creations. Many EFL teachers are idealists with wonderful ideas, but Bonnie was The Technician who could give physical body to abstract concepts and let her course participants go home with meaningful creations of their own in their suitcases.

Bonnie transformed peoples’ lives. She was a mentor to many and an inspiration to almost all. Her enthusiasm was electrifying and her career was stellar. People took her home with them and carried her around inside them forever after. And this is why her disappearance is totally unfathomable.

Those of us who were touched by her, were very lucky, indeed. Thank you, Bonnie.

From Sheelagh Deller


How hard it is to believe I won’t see you again. And I certainly don’t want to believe it.

You were such an inspiration to so many people for different reasons. For me there were many.

Your work ethic, commitment and originality. Your loyal unwavering friendship. Your personality - rock solid and at the same time completely outside the box. This is hard to express but you know what I mean. And your courage during many times of tough situations. Not least of all your cancer. How you coped I do not know but I will never forget it.

Thank you for ringing at the end of August to meet up for a meal. SO glad that happened.

Pilgrims will never be the same without you. Not just from a quality point of view, - you were an expert in so many areas - but as a crucial part of our lives. You were a lynchpin for so many of us trainers and of course your trainees. You know how sorely missed you are. You leave a gaping hole.

Rest in peace my friend. You deserve it.

From Noreen Caplen-Spence

In 1994 Bonnie gave a session about self-esteem. She told a story about Ralf. It was moving and powerful. I have chosen that memory to treasure because for me it was Bonnie at her finest. Sharing, creative, compassionate, dramatic and totally engaging.

No other words. May we all carry a bit of her in us each day.

From Chaz Pugliese

Dear Bonnie,

I never thought I’d write this one day, but there you have it. News that you’d passed away reached me via text, and I don’t know why I thought you wouldn’t have liked that…

You were one of a kind. A unique, great woman, an idea machine, a forceful idea machine. You were a great listener, you were a very generous listener, be it in conversation, or as was often in my case, music. You were also a living contradiction: I know it’s not customary to mention the failings of someone who’s no longer with us, but please forgive me. You were a compassionate soul yet at times fiercely uncompromising, you were both ice and fire, when you were having one of those days I felt I had to tiptoe around you, and talk about those legendary, spectacular tantrums!

You were a fabulous teacher, one of the finest I have ever seen: you were a very creative, imaginative teacher, who believed in the power of creative and imaginative teaching. And just a regular woman, who loved being at the center of gatherings. If there was an interesting conversation going on, it was almost certain that you were involved in it. You were also an unsurpassed storyteller : my all-time favorite was always the one about a young student from Kentucky who skipped school one day because president Kennedy was going to come to town and wanted to see him, didn’t tell her parents and was shown shaking hands with JFK on the news, much to her parents’ surprise. That young girl who should’ve been in school was you, of course.

You were very funny: just this last summer you asked me if I thought you had a British accent. I cracked up and told you this was a no-brainer! To these ears, you’d never really lost your Southern twang, even though many years living abroad had rendered it less distinct and edulcorated it somewhat.

I will miss you, dear Bonnie, it’s hard to say what I will miss most about you, but here’s just a few things : I’ll miss your loud, hearty belly laugh, the gap in your teeth, your very colorful clothes, the little butterfly tattooed on your wrist, the way the word ‘Toulouse’ rolled off your tongue.

How ironic that on the morning I left the house we were sharing this last summer, you were the only one I wasn’t able to say goodbye to, so I scribbled a hasty note on a napkin and left it there on the kitchen table. I’m sorry Bonnie, you deserved a better goodbye. I just wish I could sit in the kitchen and play ‘Angel from Montgomery’, your favorite song, for you one last time. It brings tears. So sad. So long.

From Adrian Tennant

This is sad news indeed.

I remember my first time sharing a house with Bonnie on the hilltop. One evening we were trying to cook a large piece of salmon on a tray in the oven, but the design was so poor that the tray kept on wanting to tip over and dump the fish at the bottom of the oven. I remember the two of us, and the other's in the kitchen, laughing our head's off at the ridiculousness of the whole situation.

Bonnie was always there for everyone, had a great sense of humour and will be missed by all of us who had the pleasure to spend any time in her company.

RIP, Bonnie :-(

From David Heathfield

I once spent an hour in an airport terminal with Bonnie - it passed like a moment . She told me about Coyote the Trickster from Native American folklore and the key role he plays in upsetting the order of things - Coyote, the bringer of chaos, without Coyote there's no fun.

Bonnie's workshops that I had the chance to play in at conferences didn't stick to convention - time and again she exposed the dynamic freedom and fun at the heart of learning.

From Sezgi Yalin

Creative details she always brought into my life. She did not have to, but she wanted to - not into MY life only but also into the lives of lots of others. From the first moment I met her, she opened her arms to me. Whenever I arrived to train at Pilgrims Teacher Training Center, she was there to invite me for my first dinner at the Hilltop, on the campus of University of Kent in Canterbury. Whenever there was a dinner party, she came to search for me. She went out of her way to invite me out to lunch so to make sure I felt a part of the Pilgrims family. She always adorned my life with something little, something she felt giving me as a gift. She even remembered to send a lovely present to my newborn all the way to Cyprus from France. As my friend Paola Giuliani beautifully states, ‘Sharing is a gift, not an obligation’. Bonnie had indeed that gift…

We’ll all miss you, Bonnie, but death is, after all, only the side of life that we can’t see from earth’s shores…“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly” (Richard Bach).

From Tony Cañadas

I have been attending Pilgrim courses for nearly twenty years. My first contact with Bonnie-Tsai was in 2000 when I did a Creative-methodology course. Though she wasn’t my trainer at that time, I could never forget the first workshop I attended with her. It was about “storytelling” using NLP tools. The story-line was “The ugly duckling” and she narrated it in such a fantastic way that some years later I applied for an NLP course with her as a trainer. The outcome of the course changed my life completely. I learned to see the teaching process through the student’s perspective and also saw that students have different ways of learning and we have to adapt our methods to the students, not the other way round. She showed me that teaching was not only a profession but an art, and the teacher is an artist that interacts with his/her students in a creative way.

Then in the following years I did several courses with her: Multiple Intelligences, Coaching for teachers and Teaching through Music and Art. All of them were extremely enriching. I could clearly see that intelligence is not a single block but a diversified thing to be tackled carefully. She made me more confident and taught me that the main resources I needed were within me, not somewhere else. I could discover as well the usefulness of Art and Music in the language classroom and how through it students could discover their creativity and talents.

Bonnie and I had a very special bond. She would write to me at Christmas and my birthday and so did I. I gained so much confidence in my teaching that thanks to her I have realized it is the best profession in the world and even though we sometimes can walk through “dark forests” we can always take risks, pace and lead.

I want to thank the whole world, universe and creation for Bonnie Tsai, for her kindness, her humanity, her rapport with all her students, her professional view of teaching and for a human being who has touched so many lives that now her influence is seen in schools all over the world.

Dear Bonnie, you belong to the stars. Continue guiding us and keep being our inspiration and as the song says “I know we’ll meet again some sunny day”.

From Libyan Labiosa Cassone and Philip Cassone

Bonnie Tsai was amazing trainer and woman!

I met her for the first time in the late fall of 1986 in Geneva. Dr Charles Schmid had recommended some trainers in Europe that we might meet and learn from. He gave Bonnie the highest praise of all.

She was full of grace and wise advice for the growth of Accelerative Learning. We had just opened our Accelerative Learning center in Minneapolis and she shared her vast experience with us on how to create the perfect learning environment.

After that initial visit, we grew closer through the workshops with Dr. Lozanov and Dr. Gateva - she went to Florence and I went to Bulgaria. She was a shining star among the Suggestopedic trainers in Europe. She was a master trainer that both Trainers and Learners would benefit from as she shared her expertise and her approach with them.

In the 1990’s, we became a tight community of trainers and we would meet to exchange ideas and expand together in Sweden, Finland, England, USA, France, Switzerland and Austria. SEAL and SALT conferences weren't complete without her in the program. She was always there, always everywhere, never to be missed.

Her workshops were filled with eager participants and they would leave touched by her grace, her aesthetic and her wide knowledge of Accelerative Learning, Suggestopdia, Multiple Intelligences, and many more key learning technologies.

On my last SALT conference as President in Boston we had a wonderful time having tea at the museum and getting prints of beautiful art work for her training room. Those subtle touches that made her room feel warm and inviting were crowned by her smile and twinkle in her eyes as she would greet her participants.

In the past 27 years of having known Bonnie, we would cross paths at Pilgrims Summer workshops in UK and at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. We were excited to spend a few weeks with her teaching and learning in these wonderful places. We would meet at break time in the lush common areas.

The last time we met we were sitting on a bench in a beautiful green garden having a picnic lunch on the Spelman campus. Bonnie said:" I love it here! This is the kind of place for me to teach! "She loved sharing with colleagues, cross pollinating ideas and telling tales of the most recent workshop she had completed in international and exotic locations around the world.

She gave everything and had such high integrity as a teacher. She was the place where everything was possible for those lucky enough to be her students. She will be missed by all the colleagues that were honored to know her.

All the new Foreign Language teachers and English teachers drawn to Accelerative Learning & Suggestopedia will be missing an essential piece that only Bonnie’s brilliant mind and magnificent soul could provide.

I’ll think of her every time I set up a room and place the perfect art poster by a window with sun shining through. Every time a metaphorical story is told to an eager group of teachers she will be there.

In gratefulness to have been her colleague and friend.

From Ola Zaparucha

I met Bonnie first time in 2011 in Canterbury. Her group of trainees was small and so was mine. She suggested putting them together for one class on giving instructions. I was really excited to see how she would conduct the class. She divided the class into groups of 3-4 trainees, gave them a different hand-made puppet each and just one task – to write instructions explaining how to produce a puppet. After about 30 minutes the most important element happened – Bonnie gave each group the written instructions from a different group with the task of reconstructing the puppet. When we compared the original puppets with those produced on the basis of the written instructions we could see all the mistakes – wrong colour paper, wrong shape or other details. I liked the session so much that I started using this idea myself, each time helping the trainees understand the importance of clear instructions but also having fun. Thank you, Bonne, for this lesson.

From Hania Kryszewska

I remember Bonnie through the senses… The NLP way…

1. The images I remember…

the unicorns she loved

the angels she believed in

the ghost she liked

the paintings she used in her training sessions

the giraffe, called Marius, she mourned for in the summer of 2014

… and her characteristic handwriting…

2. The sounds…

the suggestopaedic music Bonnie used in her training sessions, and also played in her room in Parkwood, Canterbury, like

the song we used as our theme during our first joint creative methodology course at Pilgrims in 1993

the jingle made by the American Indians mobile she gave me years ago, always sitting on my kitchen window… it has just jingled… as I am writing these words

and the sound of Bonnie’s voice with the American droll which some Europeans are not used to…

3. Bonnie’s movement, touch and emotions…

I love looking at how kinaesthetic Bonnie was which showed in her training sessions (watch her hands and body language)…

I love holding some of the magical gifts Bonnie gave me, like a dream catcher or Guatemalan worry dolls. I remember all the magic, the stories she told and how she told them, and the emotions that came with the presents…

… and the last gift Bonnie gave me (late July 2014) – a Waterstone’s book token which came in a small black bag. It was so unlike Bonnie… black. However, in the last four years she started wearing black, too. Did not feel or look like the usual colourful Bonnie, but it may have been a sign of her emotions, and a signal that sad news was to come.

4. I remember the smell of the perfume Bonnie used to wear when we first worked together: Sun Moon Stars

Now she is with the sun, the moon and the stars.

5. I remember the taste …

of the paella Bonnie so generously cooked for one of my namedays, St Anna 26th July in Parkwood. It could have fed a whole army… and was so delicious…

… or the special cakes she used to buy from Patisserie Valerie in Canterbury to celebrate various occasions during the Pilgrims summers we shared…

Dearest Bonnie, I will miss you so much. We all will – your daughter Daphne, your friends, your colleagues, the teachers you worked with, Pilgrims staff and so many people you met during your trips all over the world. You were such a wonderful person. I say goodbye to you with a piece of music which I think is the only one that seems right, by Mozart whose music you loved so much. H


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