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Humanising Language Teaching
Humanising Language Teaching
Humanising Language Teaching

This major article consists of 58 voices celebrating Mario Rinvolucri. These short messages have been submitted to HLT over the past three months.

Celebrating Mario Rinvoulcri

by 58. authors, from all over the world


Wendy Arnold


To speak of just one aspect of his phenomenal influence, Mario has encouraged and helped more language teachers to share their ideas in print than all the UK and American publishers I know of put together. Seth


Not many people know this...

...but Mario is the kind of friend who makes you look after a sheep which walks round and round its tethering post until it has almost strangled itself and then bleats loudly at 3am so that you have to get up, go out in the back garden, and walk it round in the opposite direction before your neighbours call the police or the RSPCA. He is also the sort of friend who invites you and lots of EFL colleagues to a wonderful Greek-style barbecue of said sheep in his back garden, only snag, none of his family are talking to him because the sheep has a met a fate not unlike Jean-Paul Marat's (the Rinvolucris are such a European family). Mario probably has a surfeit of well-deserved complimenti right now so, for a bit of a change, this is an in memoriam to a sheep called Victoria Lawnmower...and our youth that went with her.

Iechyd da, Mario da Eryl in Toscana


Only Mario…

Only Mario… can unbolt 200 seats in a lecture theatre so that everyone’s facing each other and wonder why the caretaker has just had a fit.

Only Mario… can hand out leeks from his garden to baffled commuters on the train to London exclaiming “Happy St. David’s day!”

“If only Mario would….” We often say

“If only Mario wouldn’t…” We say more often

“If only Mario hadn’t…” We say even more often

“It’s terminal – it’s only fit for the scrap yard” Says the photocopier repair man – only Mario could have used it last.

So many happy returns to my mentor (and occasional tormentor) - a precious and unique character – the one and only Mario...

Jim Wright

5. I first met Mario in the early 70’s. We were both teaching in Cambridge Language Schools. I was an enthusiastic Tefler and back then this was unusual; in fact I felt a bit odd. Until I met Mario! Even more enthusiastic than me: I felt much better!

We started writing our first EFL book together, Well Said. He produced the creativity; I provided the methodology. It worked well but Mario could be very stubborn, until I found a weakness; a large glass of Port would always get what I wanted!

Soon after we met, Mario took a job in Allende’s Chile and I took one in Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia. We continued to write EFL materials together. When Allende was overthrown, Mario was arrested and put in prison. Typical Mario; he had his most brilliantly creative ideas when sitting in prison!

Mario’s creativity and confidence in what he was doing was absolutely fundamental to Pilgrims’ early success. He constantly pushed the boundaries of what we could do; it was Mario who took Pilgrims into Teacher Training; and it was he who decided we needed real Guinea Pigs for our first TT courses; he persuaded some Iranian students to come over and have a free EFL course being taught by Pilgrims first ever TT students. It was Mario who started duplicating the materials he was writing. These developed into Pilgrims Publications which led to the Pilgrims Longman Series of TT books; and so on and so on.

And he didn’t restrict his creativity to the classroom either; ever heard of the ‘edible lawnmower’? Mario used to collect a lamb from his brother’s Welsh farm in the Spring and tether it on his lawn in suburban Cambridge. It ate Mario’s lawn and Mario ate it in the Autumn. It saved him mowing the lawn!

Happy 70th Mario! You have made a huge contribution to lots of people’s lives. Keep going!

James Dixey


Mario: keep inspiring us!

Long before my involvement with Pilgrims, I had heard about Mario’s work on the hill (Pilgrims’ teacher training summer school) from one of our managers in Germany who attended an NLP course and came back full of praise and enthusiasm for Mario. However, it was impossible for my Cartesian brain to believe that the humanistic approach was more than of intellectual value. So, when Pilgrims joined OISE, I was very nervous about how my philosophy of learning, based on the ‘no pain – no gain’ principle, would accept Mario’s approach.

I am now amazed to admit that quite the opposite of what I expected happened: I became extremely impressed with Mario’s work and his highly creative approach. What I learnt from him and the inspired team of teacher trainers was among the most valuable assets OISE acquired when Pilgrims joined the group.

Over the last 7 years, I have grown increasingly enthusiastic about Mario’s work: although OISE is still very European centric, the OISE schools have embraced the reality that the affective side of the learning experience is of paramount importance to the achievements and performance.

I asked Mario what are the elements that make the Pilgrims teacher training programme on the hill so experiential for the participants and I got the reply ‘Sainte Marie de la Mer’!*

This reply would be thought provoking for anyone and indeed it has exercised my mind on a regular basis: It is clear that the community of teacher trainers inspired by Mario brings together strong individual personalities who thrive on this yearly reunion: a community of equals inspired not by the most equal among equals but the most discreet of shepherds!

This is the energy Mario oozes at 70 and I am sure it is no different to the 21 year old Mario!

Happy Birthday, Mario!

Till Gins

* Note: Ste Marie de la Mer: a town in Camargue where Gypsies from all over France congregate every summer.

7. The expression 'went through the place like a dose of salts' springs immediately to mind when I think of the young, pre-Pilgrims Mario -- come to that I imagine it would apply to him today as well. Way back in the 19-whatever-it-wases I was short of a teacher and on the recommendation of the late, unforgettable Helen Turnbull, who had taught alongside him at the New School, just down the road from Davies's/Eurocentres, I took Mario on.

Apart from his natural energy, dynamism, exuberance and endless fund of innovative and exciting teaching techniques, he made an immediate impact on the school with his strongly-held political views. But for all his outspoken and vehement expression of them, he never, as far as I remember, made any attempt to indoctrinate his students in class.

He did, however, hurl his beginners' class right in at the deep end with the bewilderingly imaginative 'Fun Course' that he and James Dixey were developing, with the result that within two or three weeks they were communicating in (sometimes rather idionsyncratic, but none the less fluent and comprehensible) English with a competence far beyond what they would have achieved by orthodox methods. I learnt a lot from Mario over the years; and though he and I have never, as far as I know, seen eye to eye on quite a lot of things, I have never regretted taking him on. Since he left us, I have watched and welcomed the outstanding success he and his colleagues have made of Pilgrims. Many happy returns, Mario -- life gets more and more fun as you get older. Take that from one who knows. And remember the Cerne Giant . . .

James Day


I don’t think it’s only me who thinks of Mario as combining astonishing insight and astonishingly naive unworldliness. Twenty something years ago (certainly before he took up driving), we were working together on a three-week MA in Applied Linguistics practical module in Durham. One evening we were driving to Newcastle – I don’t remember if he was coming for a meal or visiting Lola, who was then a student in Newcastle. When we got to Gateshead, I stopped on a garage forecourt, popped inside and came out with a token. As we drove off, Mario said, “You didn’t buy anything?” I explained that I’d stopped to collect a token and that it wasn’t necessary to buy anything to get one. He seemed extraordinarily interested in this small fragment of everyday life, so I explained that I passed one garage in the morning and one in the evening and collected a token from each every day. Ten tokens got you a mug or a cereal bowl, and roughly every third token won you a kit-kat or a packet of polos. I told Mario that it had become a Saturday-breakfast ritual for the kids to open all the tokens from the previous week to see what we’d won. I explained that it was also possible to win a Mercedes or a £500 Marks and Sparks shopping voucher - the kids were very excited because we were only one key token short of each of these desirable prizes. Looking immensely puzzled, Mario asked, “Why do they give them away free?” I couldn’t resist the flip answer, “Well, they’re stupid I suppose!” Later Mario told Judith Baker that he’d been deeply shocked to discover that Peter Grundy had been suborned by a multi-national company from whom he was accepting free gifts. At first I thought this was a perfect example of Mario unworldiness, but now I wonder if it was really an example of Mario insightfulness.

Peter Grundy


The emblematic greenish-grey vest with umpteen pockets a short-sleeve shirt underneath regardless of weather. The brownish-grey canvas baggage trolley, on little screechy wheels, brimming with teaching supplies, an odd article, zerox copies, and any number of HLT books. Anything else grey? Oh yes, the silver-grey hair and the signature beard of the same hue. That’s the visual Mario for me.

The soft, pretty high-pitched voice, jumping from English to Greek and back again without warning to illustrate a fine point of humanistic methodology. That’s the auditory Mario in my ear.

And yes, there is also the kinesthetic Mario. Jumping on a chair in a lecture hall to make eye contact with as many teachers as possible. Stretching his arms, bowing low and swaying from left to right (or was it kneeling…?) to help learners memorize irregular verb forms.

But above all else, there is the interpersonal Mario, always ready to sit down and talk, always curious of any new projects, articles, sessions, and people.

Not without his critics, no doubt. What matters, though, is that even to those who do not share his vision of education and mode of discourse, his attitude represents the very core of what this profession should be about: honesty, commitment, enthusiasm, and a passion to share.

A teacher. A pilgrim. A mentor. A friend.

Ad multos anos!

Grzegorz Spiewak



We have always been in awe of you - your enthusiasm, your charisma and your skill in turning conventional TEFL practice on its head. (We fondly remember a long-ago Brighton IATEFL plenary when you sent people out to scour the beach for teaching aids!)

But seriously, you have been a source of inspiration for thousands of ELT teachers and learners all over the world. Thank you.

Happy Birthday! Open one for us.

All good wishes
Brian and Ingrid


I remember very clearly the first time I met the British Council in Paris in the heady days of EFL. You did a workshop on business English and in those days I was writing lots of ESL/business English programs. I went into that workshop and there you were! I had never heard of Pilgrims, but there was this kind of passion for teaching and sharing coming out of you. And for Oh I can't remember, three hours...maybe... I experienced activities that I had never seen before! I remember every single one of them and still use them. They are timeless as for as I am concerned.

Next I remember, the school I worked for at the time invited you to come and do a workshop. We had all the teacher come from the schools around France. Saturday arrived and no Mario...My colleague and I didn't know what to do. We had brought all those teachers to Paris so we would have to do something.

Then the phone rang..."I am on my way." You had spent the night in the sleeper from some place in Italy and had slept through the arrival of the train and they had taken the sleeper with you in to a side rail. You arrived when into the W.C. and I suppose slashed some water on your face and came out and did the workshops like everything was normal. It took me sometime to realize that this was normal for you.

Over the years I have shared many experiences with you. Our early interest in NLP. My first time at Pilgrims and sharing an adult methodology course with you. That was terrifying!!! The workshops in Denmark with Gerry Kenny, you and me. I remember your irritation when we finally had an afternoon free and Gerry wanted to quietly sit by the sea and I wanted to do the shops...and you wanted to talk about the groups, of course!

But the thing that I think I have admired the most in you is that I believe you have always told me the truth! This is a rare thing these days when it is easier to flatter.

So this is for you MARIO. Thank you for all you have given me and the whole world of EFL. You are memorable, irreplaceable and quite simply the best.

Bonnie Tsai


I first heard the strange-sounding name, Rinvolucri back in socialist Hungary from my methodology teacher, Prof. Budai at the teacher training college of Eger, then named after Ho Shi Minh. I had to repeat this name (I mean Rinvolucri’s, not Ho Shi Minh’s) several times and was still worried if I would remember it at the exam. I did. And ever since I have. Only the meaning of the word has been changing, becoming richer and richer.

As a novice teacher, I was in a country where it was hard to find the newest books or to travel and get them in another country. I have to confess that I still have an illegal copy of Challenge to Think from that era. From the bad-quality copied pages, this book talked to me more than any other teacher’s resource books I had read before. It showed me first how much more language teaching can be about than “just” language. The name Rinvolucri meant broadening my thinking about my profession then and it has ever since.

This meaning got a lot more personal when I first met Mario at the wonderful SEAL-Hungary conference organised by Hava Jónai in Budapest. I was all very excited that the great man was there. I wanted to hear him speak and see how he worked in the classroom. I didn’t even dream of talking to him. I clearly thought I wasn’t in his league. I had a workshop to give, and when time came for me to start, there was only one person in my audience: a friend. We were looking at the programme to decide where to go instead of my workshop, when Mr Rinvolucri appeared at the door and he wanted to have the workshop. He insisted. He wouldn’t hear of going to somebody else’s. He wanted mine. So we had it. I will never forget how supportive and helpful and how genuinely interested in my ideas he was. Clearly there was a man who did not think in leagues. There was a man who believed in genuine human sharing and supporting others and who could do both easily and naturally.

The next thing that comes to mind is when I first had the pleasure of travelling in Mario’s car. It was an old socialist car, a Skoda perhaps? I only realised the seat was soaking wet when it was too late. He had forgotten to close the window the night before and of course it had rained. We had a good laugh about it and I spent the rest of the morning sitting on as many textile covered chairs as I could find. How did this experience deepen the meaning of the word Rinvolucri to me thanks to my wet trousers? I was amazed how he was not touched negatively by fame: absolutely no sign of being corrupted or conceited by it. No show off, no display of mundane things. Simple.

Soon I also found out that he believes in sharing the stage. I travelled with him in Hungary one autumn, and I thought he was to give the workshops; I was there only for giving information and organising the events. It wasn’t to be like that. I was promoted by Mario to be a co-presenter. I learnt a lot from preparing and giving those workshops together. He just can’t help treating people as equals.

And then, one autumn evening, I had the pleasure of introducing Mario to my old professor, Dr Budai, who had first told me to watch out for the work of a man with this stage-sounding name: Rinvolucri. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given, and one which I heeded. Advice that showed me the way to becoming the teacher and trainer I am today. Advice I’d like to follow for many more years to come.

Fehér Judit


it can be sung more or less to the Supremes'
"Where did our love go?" or recited more dramatically along the lines of Romeo, Romeo!

A Birthday Ode

(with apologies to the Supremes and/or William Shakespeare)

Mario, Mario,
Where did the years go?
They ‘ve just got lost
In that creative flow.

Pilgrims, Pilgrims,
Multiple world tours.
On the TEFL circuit,
Far away from these shores.

With that yearning, burning, TEFL-y feeling inside you,
Setting the students on fire,
With the learning desire.

Mario, Mario,
What about the future?
Will retirement suit you?
Probably not.

So, its’ back to training, training,
Even when it’s raining.
Under the umbrella
Of the Humanistic Approach.

Working, working – up on the hilltop.
Even though you’re seventy,
Please, don’t stop!


Sandra Piai


Super Mario 70 – Mario forever

Almost every language teacher is addicted to “Mario R.“

“Super Mario 70” is a remake of the classic “Mario R.”

HLT, a research website in humanizing language teaching, has announced that “Super Mario 70” is already the highest entertaining Internet activity and is topping several popular websites like Facebook or Twitter.

According to HLT, “Super Mario 70” pages are dominating the following categories:

  • they are the most read of the HLT-Mag, the webzine of HLT
  • They are the most viewed on the HLT site
  • They are the most reviewed by experts,..

“Super Mario 70” pages guide you through lots of cleverly imagined teaching activities. The diversity of the proposed exercises is, as always, impressive. You will have to get through activities ranging from the dark caverns of multiple intelligences to others overflowing with minute details on the English corpus, hot editorials or major articles contents. “Super Mario 70” uses very little system resources, so it’s suitable for any computer.

The graphic has largely been inspired to me by one found in the marvellous "Information is beautiful" by David McCandless Herper Collins publishers. I warmly recommend this book to all English (language) teachers as a source of inspiration to start discussions on all sorts of subjects. The information in my graphic is completely faked and has as only goal to entertain Mario R. for his 70th birthday and let all know about this great book. Enjoy.

Cecile Marit


I first met Mario in May 1974 when together with James Dixey they were planning to offer language courses in Canterbury. He had visions for changing the teaching of English as a foreign language for the better and it is because of his ceaseless energy and openness for new ideas that he has achieved that aim.

Over the years from his work in Canterbury and overseas by his own example he has encouraged countless teachers to have success in the classroom, to share and publish their ideas and to believe in their students. Wherever Mario is he is fully there, physically and mentally, and his enthusiasm never fades when talking to students and colleagues. This empathy was one of the first things that I experienced working with him and was for example confirmed in 1978 when I went with Mario and Sophie to Athens to work at various language schools. The way he was involved with the Greek teachers gave me the impression he was a native! This experience has up to now repeated itself in other countries where I have worked with him.

I personally have to thank Mario for his honesty, fairness and generosity, not just as a teacher, a colleague and co-author, but as a dear friend. The memories of the many happy hours I, Karl, Hannah and Nathaniel have spent enjoying the hospitality of Mario and Sophie in Cambridge and Faversham are something we regard as special.

Happy birthday Mario, the heart and soul of Pilgrims.

Christine Frank


I also met Mario in 1974, but as I was never directly involved in Pilgrims I followed his effective work in developing this language school to what it is today as an outside observer. It became clearer from to year to year, when I had contact through Christine, that Mario with his philosophy, beliefs and convictions was the driving force that shaped Pilgrims. His far-reaching views were always reflected in the people he recruited to work for Pilgrims – people who had a lot to offer to make the teaching of English more humanistic.

Apart from numerous talks on the phone – often quite critical, but always conducted in good humour – I would like to refer to two episodes, which show Mario “at work” in very different ways. The first goes way back into the 70s when – so the story goes – Mario was working with a tape recorder in class. He had a tape all right, but there was no empty spool to be found anywhere. So, what did Mario do? He got a full new one from the office and unwound a few hundred metres of unused tape, so he could achieve his teaching aims. Who would have any doubts about Mario’s inventiveness and positive thinking, even though the tape unwound ended up in the rubbish bin! The second point that is deeply ingrained in my memory refers to the time when in 1995 Christine was so ill that she was practically on death’s door for a considerable time. What did Mario do when he heard about it? He hopped on the boat and train and came over to Hanover to visit his friend. In the evening, after we had got back from the hospital, we sat in the garden just talking. Mario, your support, mentally and spiritually, at that dreadful time will never be forgotten.


Where to start. You have always been in the ‘second part’ of my life. That is since I went back to work after looking after my sons. And you have always given me the encouragement and confidence to do more than just go back to work. You made me think, experiment, do things outside my comfort zone, and learn. I have watched you do the same for so many people. And of course that is what you have done and do for Pilgrims. You have never let it go stale, rest on its laurels, stand still. Myself and so many others owe you such a lot. You have been, are, and always will be a true inspiration.

Karl Frank



Where to start. You have always been in the ‘second part’ of my life. That is since I went back to work after looking after my sons. And you have always given me the encouragement and confidence to do more than just go back to work. You made me think, experiment, do things outside my comfort zone, and learn. I have watched you do the same for so many people. And of course that is what you have done and do for Pilgrims. You have never let it go stale, rest on its laurels, stand still. Myself and so many others owe you such a lot. You have been, are, and always will be a true inspiration.

Sheelagh Deller


Dear Mario - you've been a great support over the years. You deserve a fantastic 70th birthday and I look forward to toasting you properly in Portonovo - all the best,

Mark Almond


I was pondering Mario's age only yesterday and can not believe he is 70 as it does not seem 10 years have passed since Sheelagh Deller had a little party for his 60th. I am turning 60 this summer and although it is comforting to know that Mario is one of a few people older than me, I am not entirely over the moon about my new threshold.

I have had many conversations with Mario over the years, some of which have been quite intense and often at lunch time when Mario seems to be right on form and I am not. My last conversation with him occurred just last summer when at lunch time (again), I had just emerged from a marvellous workshop where I had worked on a particularly interesting drama exercise with a fascinating group of people. This time I was right on form and so I approached Marion. Without going into details about the exercise here, I began to explain it to Mario and he listened, not by looking at me but by keeping his head and eyes on the ground. He asked a few questions but kept his head towards the ground. I had never seen anyone listen to me with such total conviction. When I completed my description, I didn't pause but went on the describe another and he then looked up and waved his hand to stop me and said, "stop, enough. The first exercise is enough for me to deal with now"

Perhaps my exercise was not as particularly exciting as I thought it was but somehow I doubt it. I like to think that this man really was totally engrossed with the activity and its ramifications. Who knows? All I know is, as he listened, I think I could see those cogs revolving as he prodded, poked and manipulated that activity in his head. This summer, after celebrating his 70th and my 60th, I hope we shall be well enough to work on this activity again. Then I can show him another equally enthralling activity. That can be my birthday present to him. Cheers Mario and thanks for the memories.

Peter Dyer


The first time I met Mario Rinvolucri was at UKC, in Elliot College, very early in the morning, over breakfast.

I was just about to begin teaching on my first Pilgrims Teacher Training Course. I was very nervous; terrified, actually. I was also very slow to wake up in the mornings. I used to need at least 2 cups of tea and sometimes a cigarette before I could speak in full sentences. In Elliot College, getting a cup of tea meant going to breakfast with up to 300 other people….

I decided to cope with this situation by going into breakfast with my walkman, earphones in, so I could listen to music while coming to terms with my new and strange day.

I hadn’t prepared for a Mario Rinvolucri visitation!

So there I was, sipping my tea, listening to Bach’s Double Violin Concerto, when I noticed opposite me, this strange, bearded, slightly rotund, bright-eyed and very animated person, who seemed to be talking to me. “Oh God! I thought, “a ‘keenie’. Just what I DON’T need right now!”

I was scared to be asked a question I couldn’t answer, so I just hoped the guy’d give up and leave me alone. However, he seemed happy to keep on talking and as I couldn’t hear him anyway, I let him. After a minute or so, I noticed he was looking at me very intently; his body language asking me a (I thought) rather indignant question. I took out my earphones and said, in as polite and calm a voice as I could muster, “I’m sorry but I can’t do conversation until I’ve had my tea”

Writing this now, I can see how it must have sounded and I would blush, honestly, but this IS Mario we’re talking about, here! He looked a bit surprised but he didn’t miss a beat. Rather, he saw his chance and recapped the (one-way) conversation we’d been having so I could participate. We then spoke for quite a while. It was an extremely intense conversation, as I recall and, despite being forced to use and listen to more polysyllabic words than is probably seemly at that time of the morning, I enjoyed myself and forgot that I had ever been so nervous.

It was the beginning of a wonderful friendship. I have subsequently learned that Mario is like an elephant. He never forgets the things you want him to! I was labelled as the woman who is TERRIBLE in the mornings, to the point that, when I first stayed at his home, Sophie, Mario’s wife, who’d obviously been primed, whispered to me at breakfast, “Would you like tea or coffee?” I thought she had laryngitis! .. and once, when the gorgeous Bernard Dufeu came to my town and I made breakfast for Mario and Bernard, Mario told me how touched he was by my hospitality …and at such an hour of the morning!!

Mario is a law unto himself; a one-off; a mercurial, crazy man, a loyal friend, an exciting colleague, a truly generous human being, who we all know will not, despite his advancing years, ever grow up!

All my love Gill


When thinking of Mario, many things come to mind but one word that especially stands out is generous. During the many years I have known him, I have been impressed by his generosity and willingness to help others, to share with them and to encourage them in their personal and professional development. This doesn’t mean he gives empty praise – if he feels something you do needs improvement he will tell you. But he also communicates confidence in your ability and shows interest in you as a person.

Mario has well-recognized expertise in writing books and in giving ELT talks all over the planet. (And if spaceships were to take passengers to Mars, I can envision Mario going to train Martians to teach English - wearing his special coat inside of which he can carry lots of books so he could set up a table to sell a few copies of Humanising your Coursebook or Imagine That! ) Yes, his books and talks are very good, but what I perhaps appreciate most of all is his gift for conversation, for connecting with the person he is talking to. He may tell you something about his experiences in Chile, in Japan or in places I couldn’t even place on the map. Or, just as interesting, he may talk about gardening at his home in Faversham. And he will truly listen to you, value your experience and perhaps put you in contact with other people who you would find interesting.

I have been in a privileged position to be able to observe how not only has Mario influenced English language teaching significantly but also how many teachers of Spanish as a foreign language have come to know his work and to flock to his workshops in Spanish.

Thanks, Mario, and Happy Birthday.

Jane Arnold



Where to begin? When did I first meet Mario? I cannot remember. For me, as for many others, I guess, he has always been there – part of our professional landscape, which speaks volumes of the high regard in which he is held.

Keywords? iconoclastic; self-critical; bloody-minded; loyal; questing; restless; creative… and a good many more could be added.

He has become a kind of benchmark for a humanistic and creative approach to learning languages. The creation of hltmag was a stroke of pure genius, and his many books are proof enough of his ability to perceive things differently, anew.

What I have always admired in him is his relentless pursuit of interesting, new ideas whether from within or without the ghetto walls of ELT. And his willingness to spend time with younger teachers in teasing out their problems in long learning-conversations.

It is paradoxical that such an iconoclast should himself have become an iconic figure…but surely, if Mario did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him!

Happy birthday Mario, and welcome to the over-seventies club!

Alan Maley


There are several moments I have and keep in my mind when thinking of all the encounters with Mario. I want to keep it short, though, and provide you with a short text, just in case you'd like to add it to your wealth of texts and ideas, I suppose. It's up to you to use it or not, depending whether it fits into the frame you have in mind.

It must have been at the beginning of the 90s, when doing some teacher training at Pilgrims. It was shortly before leaving the hilltop when Judy asked me to take on a close-group of 40 Spanish teachers, co-teaching with an American colleague. The fact was that the group consisted of a mixture of levels as much as of some university professors and doctors. On top of this the request came at very short notice, 3 days before the course was supposed to start, which made me hesitate to accept. So I went to see Mario thinking I was not good enough and not ready to face such a group. Mario generously made it short and clear to me by saying: 'Look Silvia, you've got experience, you have written books, and don't forget, you've got a heart.' I felt relieved and somehow encouraged, being reminded that I had a heart that could support me in so many ways. It helped me to create a lovely atmosphere and a successful course. Thank you so much, Mario, for the many moments of private talks, for your manifold support and trust you have given and still give me. I'm very much aware that without you I wouldn't have developed to the point where I am now, still enjoying and growing by what I've been doing for the past 33 years, teaching, training and writing.

Silvia Stephan


The first time I saw Mario, he was telling a story to a pot. Oblivious to the mesmerised disciples around him, he focused on keeping the attention of this inanimate object – and the pot was listening.

Mario has a way of using his unmistakeable voice to obliterate his personality and allow a story to take on its own life. I’ve seen him telling multi-lingual stories from the podium, making collaborative stories in the round and whispering stories from the back of the room. Sometimes they were in technicolour as he climbed, key-less, through the windows of Greek houses; sometimes they were delivered in a black and white monotone. But every time, he enabled his listeners to reconstruct their own stories, making something new out of the ordinary, sharpening the focus, breathing life into something that hadn’t been alive before.

So in the years ahead, while on future Pilgrims trips abroad, I see Mario, Orpheus-like, building on his success with the pot. He’ll stop training teachers and set to work on charming fishes back into the seas, trees and birds back to the rainforests, glaciers back onto the mountains and houses back into the streets of Gaza.

Eleanor Watts


Like two sleepwalkers with arms outstretched but with our finger tips touching, we guided each other around the room backwards and forwards according to I no longer remember what criteria. Not the usual way to meet a person, I grant you, but quite effective nevertheless. This is the first memory I have of meeting you Mario. It was at a training session at Orange Street in Canterbury.

Then of course you disappeared, to return only intermittently to Orange Street. I realised that you were always flying off somewhere – And this even appeared to be true when you were speaking directly face to face. It was as if you were always changing tack, moving onto another level of thinking. I couldn’t jump from one level to another. I did not know the background you were speaking from. But after a time I found that I was on the list of those who find photocopied articles in their pigeon holes (Ah the old technology!)-- New Scientist etc. Now, after perhaps 15 years of reading these pieces and sundry recommended books I have achieved a state, perhaps a false sense of security that I can sometimes follow you. But more often than not I am still taken aback by your unexpected responses. In the world of the work slave people are not supposed to have such liberty of thought, such creativity! Things coming at me out of the blue! What can I do to keep up? How can I slump comfortably into my slavery when Mario’s around!

Robert Feather


Like most people, I met Mario in a classroom. In my case it was at the British Council, Paris, some time in 1981. He was there with John Morgan where they were promoting their book Vocabulary for OUP. Actually, they were being profoundly devious about what could/should be happening in the classroom between teacher, students and in all the possible permutations. As Merleau-Ponty describes well, early memory is confused with what comes later, and after that workshop I sort of recall a meal with Mario and John somewhere sitting on a floor (Mario invariably chooses floor over chair, John too, curled meditatively, smoking and upsetting almost anyone's assumptions ((god) bless Morgan). We talked for hours. I think Saxon Menné was also there. Four years later somehow synapsally connected, I joined Pilgrims as a trainer on the Hilltop, where Mario maintained full throttle his psychic space of innovator, iconoclast, encouragist, Marxist, husband, dad, friend, cook, gardener, walker (his breakaway stride seems more akin to Finn McCool's than anything British or Italian), writer-collaborator, and of course, and perhaps the deepest strain of all, conversationalist. Conversations grew in depth and serendipity and led to our doing one book, with Mike Lavery of Cornwall / Neuss, Germany and ship's whistle. That book, Video for OUP, was published in 1991 when video meant tape not digital, youtube or cellphone, hence now out of step and print.

I served as DOS on the Hilltop at least twice. Mario will agree it was a pretty good year when as DOS I kept a bottle of dutyfree Bushmills in a drawer to review the day by. John Beresford, a frequent attendee of those late UK summer afternoons, would agree it was notable. Mario is so much a creator that that is the continuity that holds memory of him together as a single strand. Like a cinema director, he is more interested in the current project than in what he has already done except in the sense of remembering and summoning the collaborations, and connecting people to work on new stuff. Mario networked before the term was commoditized by the internet. He has been scrupulously, disruptively honest about teaching in the sense of Schumpeter. His quest for the genuine and his disarming admissions of imperfection, have mobilized thousands of teachers around the world in his wake, to live with students as people and to teach as if teaching were personal, open-ended, real conversation. Now if that is not a massive contribution to the craft, what is. The good news is the conversation continues, even if since I relocated to India in 2006 I haven't had near enough of it. 70 is an age, a number, a convention, a meme, a telling detail and potentially as much a point of departure as any other point of time. I suspect the latest departure will be well charted in projects and uninhibitedly unplanned, an excellent synergy if ever there is to be decent conversation around here. So please, Rinvo, take the piss out of me for writing this. It’s been too long.

Richard Cooper


Happy Birthday, Mario

First of all, I suspect Mario is not overkeen on praise. I know he is against (over)praising students because it takes away from the students’ performance. He feels that good performance is its own reward, and I sympathise with this position. So this is my experience of Mario, simply stated, with no superlative adjectives.

In 2004 Mario presented at the institution where I work, University of Economics in Izmir, Turkey. In characteristic style, he wrote us all a letter inviting us to email him with our ideas about grammar teaching. This encouraged me to send him an article on grammar and metaphor I had been working on. He published it in Humanising Language Teaching, and also a follow up article.

In 2005, as a result of our correspondence he asked me to guest-edit the November 2006 edition of HLT, which was to focus on Turkey and the region. Although I had had no experience of this kind of work, an editorial team was assembled at Izmir University of Economics, and we went ahead and solicited articles, which were published exactly as we sent them, a Middle-East flavoured HLT.

He agreed to collaborate on a book, a work still in progress. He pointed out to me the importance of Spoken Grammar, which we are now working on. He encouraged me to write more articles, and I have done, for HLT and other journals. He suggested I write an article on Spoken Grammar for ELT Journal, contacting the editor to tell him to expect an article. I wrote it and it was eventually published.

On my summer visits to England, he invited me to his home where I enjoyed his hospitality and cooking. I met his family and friends. He invited me to his training sessions at Canterbury, and to those of other trainers. He introduced me to Pilgrims people like Simon Marshall, Hania Kryszewska and Chaz Pugliese. He shared his insights into the world of ELT, and he encouraged me to present at the IATEFL conference in 2009. Recently, he has proposed republishing in HLT a number of my articles from other ELT magazines.

Thank you Mario, and Happy 70th birthday.

Simon Mumford


One of my main career goals when I was at school was NOT to become an English teacher, which everyone thought would be the ideal profession for me. So, after studying Economics and German at university, and working for a year at the British Council in London, I started looking for a job in Germany. I found one – as a Business English teacher! To prepare for this job, I attended a TEFL course (the RSA Preliminary Certificate) at a school which was run as a teachers’ cooperative near Marble Arch in London. During the course of this course I bought a book (of course!). This book is still on the shelf of my office.

But what has this to do with Mario? Well, the book is called "Towards the creative teaching of English" and was written by Maggie Melville, Lydia Langenheim and... Mario Rinvolucri in 1980. Section 4 called 'Teacherless Tasks" was written by Mario and I just loved it.

I first saw Mario ‘in the flesh’ by chance at Keele University in 1996 (I was attending a different course at the same time the IATEFL was taking place there). I remember feeling totally awed, as if he were someone really famous. After joining ELTAF and IATEFL in 2000 I often had the pleasure to attend workshops or seminars run by him. In the early 1990s I organised a training course for a group of German primary school teachers to attend a course at Pilgrims in Canterbury, where Mario worked, and attended one of his 'creative writing' classes for a couple of hours. He did not know that I was coming, so this was a perfectly normal class for him – and I experienced one of the best lessons ever. For one of the activities, he asked the students were to write a dialogue between their right and left hands - using the respective hand to actually do the physical writing!. The results went from the trivial, to the banal, from funny, to heart-breaking and deeply psychological. Try it with your classes!

Over the years, I have experienced some excellent and less excellent presentations from him - but the good has always really, really outweighed the bad. He is inspiring because he has fantastic ideas, a huge personality, and masses and masses of empathy for his students. I feel that he, more than any other single teacher or English language professional inspired me to believe that teaching English in a creative and humanist way really was a goal worth trying to attain - even for a young lady who never wanted to be an English teacher!

Helen Bicknell


Dear Mario:

You weave
That enthral students
Imagination that
Commonplace and takes one
To distant islands

Teacher, gardener,
King bee, painter,
Conjuring voices
Images and colors
Fellow travelers
Please look on.

Ok, I’m exercising my poetic side. Whatever, but this is fitting, because the trait I most admire is the creativity you bring to your teaching. And I appreciate your generosity, stamina, passion, hospitality, mentoring, dogged determination, and honesty.

So, Happy Birthday, Comandante. May it be a Spectacular, Sensational, Significant, and above all, a peaceful one.

With much love and respect always.

Chaz Pugliese


I first met Mario Rinvolucri back in 1995, while I was teaching at Pilgrims on the General English course for Adults (as it was called then), on the University campus in Canterbury. At that time, the General English courses and Teacher training courses were held in the same location. I had just finished my afternoon lesson, gulped down a cup of cloudy and tasteless coffee and stuffed myself with chocolate biscuits, when I saw the notice board and what looked like an interesting workshop advertised. It was entitled, listening without tape recorders. I went along and what I saw and heard literally transformed my life. It wasn’t just what was said, but how it was said. When the workshop had finished, my mouth was wide open (and not for the want of more biscuits)! I had been mesmerised, but most of all, I had been inspired! This was how I wanted to be, an inspiration to my students! This was what teaching was all about, not that rubbish they’d tried to teach me on various courses using archaic and outdated books.

Since that first workshop, I’ve had the good fortune to attend over a hundred workshops conducted by Mario over the years and I cannot remember a single one that has left me feeling disappointed, or lacking in enthusiasm. In addition to these workshops, I was lucky enough to attend a two-week course on Creative Writing given by Mario in 2007. During this course, I uncovered one of Mario’s secrets. He gave me a copy of the book he’d co-written with Christine Frank and asked me to read it that evening and give a summary of it the next day. As we were at the halfway point of the course, I assumed that about half of the activities in the book would be familiar to me. Nothing could be further from the truth! As I sat in the bar, sipping a pint of real ale and turning the pages, I was staggered to discover that we had only done about 10% of the activities in the book. That meant that this course wasn’t simply a carbon copy of the book and that he had a plethora of ideas up his sleeve and no doubt, in other places. Therein lies one of Mario’s greatest qualities as a trainer. You can go to the same workshop with the same title, even a day later, but it will never be exactly the same.

I was pleasantly surprised to have Mario attending one of my Laughter Yoga workshops that I did at Pilgrims in the summer of 2007. Not only was his presence with his raucous bear-like laugh an invaluable aid in stimulating others to laugh, but he was significantly enthused to go around promoting the activity and gave me some much-needed feedback.

Mario’s other qualities are his basic humanity. Some great trainers remain totally detached from their students. He doesn’t! He is deeply involved with them and will regularly meet them to discuss any problems that may arise. Another aspect of his character that I deeply appreciate is his willingness to encourage others to reach their goals and his enthusiasm to spur you on. Few trainers that I have met have all these humane qualities, despite excelling at their subject. He doesn’t suffer from jealousy or envy teachers who are doing well for themselves. During the time that I have known him, he has always made himself available for any help or advice that I might require and has never failed to answer an e-mail.

I was privileged to be invited for dinner at Mario’s home in the lovely town of Faversham. There I discovered some of Mario’s other talents. Apart from being a great cook and host, I have never seen anyone wash the dishes like he can. What followed was a cacophony of pots, pans, plates and other forms of cutlery that lasted for four long minutes. An average human would have taken at least ten minutes, but then again, Mario is no average human being.

What I wish Mario for the future is first and foremost good health. Without that, everything else is superfluous. Ideally a laughter yoga club should be set up in Faversham, giving him an excuse to practice this activity that he so enjoys, on a regular basis. He will hopefully continue to write, to entertain and to inspire teachers and non-teachers for many years to come. Happy birthday Mario…

Danny Singh


The X-Factor in ELT

I met Mario many years ago, when I was invited to attend a Pilgrims Trainers Day in Canterbury. Of course, I had read some of his books before, but I didn’t know what kind of person he was. What strikes you when you first meet him is his magnetic charm and huge charisma. Oddly enough, there are no frills, no small talk in his conversation. He just cuts to the chase in his unique WYSIWYG-ish way. If his seems inquisitive or provocative at times, don’t get him wrong: he does it on purpose. He’s the most down-to-earth and, at the same time, the most eccentric person I’ve ever met. The most empathetic and receptive, but the least likely to sing someone’s praises. Dichotomy is his middle name. One thing is certain: Mario has a je ne sais quoi that gives him the X-Factor, a quality sine-qua-non to a teacher, teacher trainer, keynote speaker, writer and ELT guru.

Can you imagine Mario sitting in the lotus position, with his eyes closed and humming ‘Ooooooooooom’? Neither can I. And, still, many refer to him as a guru, a revered master ready to impart his wisdom and vast knowledge to the ELT mere mortals. On the other hand, those with iconoclastic inclinations keep chastising his penchant for unorthodox approaches and theories, like Multiple Intelligences, NLP, humanising language teaching. Idolised or derided, on or off the pedestal, Mario is as controversial as any other iconic figure. And he’s loving it!

My advice to him is, “Live each day as if it were your 70th birthday!”

Monica Hoogstad


Thirty five years ago, looking for authentic material to use with my Greek students, I bought a self-published book called Hitchhiking, which I think I had seen advertised in Private Eye. It was brilliantly simple. The author had used a camper van to pick up hitchhikers on the A1 and then recorded interviews with them. My first encounter with him in the flesh was about five years later when I went along to a seminar series on humanistic approaches in Cambridge and found myself in a small room with six others and Mario, the seminar leader and, I realised, the author of Hitchhiking. The topic was Community Language Learning and in a few minutes I found myself (under Mario's guidance) doing a CLL session in Swedish. The time for feedback came and Mario kicked off: 'I really hated it,' he said,’ when you started to explain the grammar.' A good lesson to learn! So in the future when you're hitchhiking up the A1 watch out for a man in a camper van!

Philip Prowse



Although he is just a few years my senior Mario has always been there at the back of my mind as a restless, always inspired and inspiring enfant terrible of my pedagogical life.

He had his first seminar in Zagreb at the beginning of the eighties. It was a great seminar and Mario’s magic tricks - a discovery. I was preparing my book entitled A GAME IS A GAME IS A GAME at the time. In those days teachers were still complaining that they had no time for games because they had enough problems in covering the curriculum. So during lunch-breaks Mario and I were discussing ways of breaking this vicious circle in the teachers’ minds.

We have stayed in touch all our lives. It has been one of those turbulent relationships, me on the creative but sensitive and careful side and Mario, turbulent and controversial, open to always new challenges be they linguistic, psychological, psychiatric, you name it....

Mario has been to Zagreb several times. I used to work at a giant school of foreign languages with 150 highly qualified teachers and we were organising seminars for the whole region. Mario was the main source of inspiration for us.

I’ll share with you a dramatic personal story which marked my life in the early nineties. I attended Mario’s two week seminar in Bratislava. In those days he was very much into psychodrama and neurolinguistic experiments. I must admit I didn’t like those workshops too much.
What I did love there were the breaks which we would spend in the ‘Beerstube’ talking about the means and ends in teaching foreign languages (this always present issue triggered off my recently published book TEACHING IS LIFE IS A GAME).

In the end, typical for Mario, he made us write a review of the Bratislava seminar in the form of a letter to a third person. Unlike myself I was direct and rather cruel. I said that with all that insisting on psycho and neuro stuff Mario had gone too far and had entered a cul-de-sac... I said I missed the old Mario who could creatively juggle with the basic classroom activities giving them always new perspectives.

I guess I had gone too far because he never answered. I was angry with myself because I never hurt people - any - let alone those I care for. I tried writing and apologising but he never wrote back.

Then I became the Head of the English Teachers’ Association HUPE in Croatia. They told me Mario was coming to Zagreb and I had to introduce him to the audience. I was afraid he would refuse it on the spot, so I left a note at his hotel saying that if he was uncomfortable with me talking about him I could ask another colleague to do it.

Two hours later somebody rang my door-bell. It was Mario with a bunch of flowers and a broad smile. We had a long hug, a sljivovitz and a talk about the crisis we had been going through in the days of the Bratislava seminar; me because there was the war in my country, and Mario because his mother (as far as I remember) had been ill and died in that period.

We’ve been friends ever since.

I dedicated the last resource book to him and am looking forward to seeing him at the HUPE Conference in Opatija this April.

Thanx for being there Mario! :-)

Visnja Anic


Twenty years ago I was in Vienna for a TEA conference. Mario was giving a session on writing. I went, of course. I never miss any of Mario's sessions...not that they are all brilliant but there is always a good chance I will get something really good out of it. In the case of the session in Vienna I got my wife! We had to sit in circles and write through our neighbour to someone else in the group. I spotted a lovely woman on the other side of the circle and my neighbour, eyes popping out of her head, wrote on my behalf. You never know what will happen when you go to one of Mario’s sessions.

Andrew Wright


Mario will have "70th Birthday this summer ! Le temps file !(Time flies) Looking back to my life, what he gave me was great , I can't explain to you about it in a word, but I really appreciate his great influence on me. If I hadn't met him at Communist University in Bratislava, I couldn't have met lovely people and couldn't have given my HAIGA Seminar in Canterbury. About 18 years ago when I first met him at the TESOL conference in Bratislava, I was impressed with his big eyes and dynamic smile. Since then I have come to Canterbury in summer and have taught HAIGA to European English teachers. He gave me a chance to make strong bonds (in Japanese "Kizuna") with Europeans. I think he is one of the greatest mentors in my life. Therefore I'm sure he'll keep having influence on people all over the world from now on too. So I believe he'll be young and dynamic forever.

Noriko Yoshida


I’ve met Mario Rinvolucri twice in person: the first time was at Bell College and the 2nd during Pilgrim courses in York. But I have also met him tens of times through his books for teachers of English.

He does not leave you indifferent as a person as he changes attitudes and values. At times it is painful because teachers often think in the box (I’ve done it for 15 years like that. Why should I change it now?)- he shakes you, makes you think and reassess your beliefs. It is easy to dislike someone like that. Why teachers love him then? My guess is- because of his passion. He believes in what he does and he does it with vigour. His sessions are thought-provoking and intriguing. You leave the room with questions to be answered yourself instead of ready-made recipes. This is how reflective professionals should be educated.

His books do not leave you indifferent, either. The word that characterises his books is ‘humanistic’, they are teacher-friendly, student-friendly and language- friendly. What is more- all the activities are doable. And there is a small thing about his books that make me respect him even more- he acknowledges other people and materials that have inspired him. This is what true gurus do. Many happy returns, my dear teacher.

Piret Kärtner


I don’t remember meeting Mario for the first time – professionally, he seems to have always been there, a summer’s day cloud of methodological conscience perched over my shoulder, towards which I would occasionally toss a question about my latest textbook, ‘What would Mario think?’

My writing work has often placed me in direct opposition to Mario’s own position about textbooks, but to his great credit, I’ve never felt threatened when he launched a new broadside about textbooks, I simply thought, ‘He can’t possibly be talking about me!’ And in private conversations, he’s generous and pragmatic about all our work together. It’s this gift of inclusiveness, respect and generosity which Mario represents for me On one occasion, during a board meeting at a certain leading ELT journal, Mario’s recent correspondence with the editor led to a vigorous discussion. I heard myself saying, ‘If Mario didn’t exist, we’d have to invent him.’ I didn’t realize it until then, and I still think it now.

Happy Birthday, Mario, may you never oblige us to invent you!

Simon Greenall


Meeting Mario

Mario kept a group of about 12 of us imprisoned on the famous Pilgrims Canterbury hilltop for a seven-day week in July 1980. We were the so-called Pilgrims “Second Generation” teachers. The organisation – then only 3 or 4 years old and still largely a language-teaching outfit – had just grown substantially, and also shed many of the founder teachers. We were trapped in UKC Keynes College classrooms by Mario, aided by his fellow warders Jane Lockwood (a suitably dickensian surname for the situation!!) and “Captain” (John) Morgan, to be induced into Pilgrims. It was, to say the least, intensive…and by Wednesday we needed a break, but weren’t going to get it….. until at lunch-time I dared to be the spokesperson and say we needed to get into town, get some air, get money from a bank (no campus ATMs in those days!!), stop having all of our precepts about teaching tickled for a while. And grumpily and reluctantly, Mario let us have the afternoon off…but, as always, thought it through and realised that what we had wanted was reasonable and actually positive, and later thanked me for asking, saying that he had learnt something about training from it. It is a way he has. It was something I saw happen on a number of occasions over the 12 summers I taught and trained for Pilgrims, and something that has endeared to me a man with whom I have been a colleague and friend for 30 years now, and to whom I owe a great deal of my own feelings about education.

David A. Hill


‘So you are a Bakerite!’ These were the first words Mario said to me, back in 1992. And indeed, I was asked by Judy Baker to teach on the PILGRIMS Primary Methodology Courses in that year. After these first words Mario has never left my mind until this very day. A sort of long-distance-friendship arose. ‘I consider you my friend’, he once said to me. I felt lucky.

Every summer from then on I returned to Canterbury and taught on the summer courses. Mario and I had many valuable discussions about subjects as diverse as Waldorf education, stress patterns in French, health problems, cultural differences, the position of the Frisian language in Holland, etc. And while having lunch sitting on a bench near the pond at Keynes College we exchanged details of our morning lessons. We carefully listened to one another. I learnt a lot from these mirroring exercises.

At the annual study day in April I stayed with the ever hospitable Mario and Sophie in their house in Faversham. I felt really welcome every time. Mario cooked wonderful meals for me and for other guests, if any, while I walked the dog. One afternoon, after teaching, Mario took me on a mini-tour through Kent to a Dutch fishmonger. Halfway, Mario stopped the car to give me a chance to take in the wonderful scenery of Kent. After having bought some fresh fish we had a discussion about the senses, twelve in my view. The discussion went on in Mario’s kitchen when he was frying the fish, newspapers on the floor, and laying the table with all sorts of delicious food. And these nice little pancakes with sugar and some fresh lemon juice on Sunday mornings are a very good meal to start the day with I can tell you.

Many a time Mario was present at my seminars. He was really interested in what I had to say about the Four Temperaments, the Four-Fold Image of Man, the Twelve Senses, Dynamic Drawing. After class we used to meet to talk it all through again in the empty classroom. And that is what I admire most in Mario. He has a remarkably open mind. He is able to find and take the best from all sorts of worldviews. And that attitude leaves an enormous open space in which, I at least, can feel accepted, inspired and relaxed. My own creativity got an enormous boost through his way of dealing with people, through his approach to teaching, through his humour. PILGRIMS, practically interchangeable with MARIO, has given me the chance to publish my own views in some books. Many thanks for that Mario. I feel privileged having met you. Even in my work in Holland, which is slightly different from the work at PILGRIMS, I feel and use the humanistic wavelength I got to know at PILGRIMS. I seem to be a Bakerite, but a Mariorite as well.

Many Happy Returns of the Day, Mario!

Henk van Oort


We first met in September 1981 when I was in Canterbury on the Pilgrims 5-day course for native speakers on how to teach English. I can forgive you for not remembering all the details but some have stayed with me. I put my name down on the list to go and see a real teacher in the classroom with real students and was sent with 2 fellow trainees to wait in front of your classroom door. Second door on the right after turning left on once you’ve gone past the Porter’s Lodge at Keynes College. It’s probably still there. We knocked. You opened the door, introduced yourself, somewhat predictably, as Mario. The rest would be less expected. You told us that we couldn’t come into the room yet because the students were finishing something, but this would give us time to prepare. Prepare what exactly? As native speakers, we would serve as models for your students, so it would be good for them to hear us talk. You wanted us to remember a story that we would feel able to tell to the class. The whole class? No, just a group of students. We’d each get a third of the class. The choice of story was completely open but it was important for us to feel comfortable telling it. If we didn’t find a story, we could come back another day. That would be complicated as our course was a short one. Or we could go off and observe another class with another teacher. You gave us 10 minutes to get ready and vanished back into the classroom, closing the door behind you. We all looked at one another. A strange sense of foreboding had crept into the group. We walked further along the corridor to find somewhere to sit. Fairy stories? Funny stories? It was soon clear that each of us would have to choose for ourselves. I opted for the medieval tale of Gawain and the Green Knight. It was a bit long, but full of action. Anyway, it was story I knew and liked. You came back to get us soon enough and took us to the classroom. This time the door was open and we were allowed to cross the threshold where we came face to face with those real students, all youngish adults of various nationalities. We were each given a small group to work with. It was strange, unlike anything I’d experienced before. I have no idea how I told the story, no recollection of choosing my words in any particular way. I just remember my listeners listening and watching so intensely that I ended up joining them for an instant, hearing my own voice speak. At the end, there was silence. I knew that this was not the time to inform them of the exciting academic debate about how the end of Gawain could be interpreted. Did they enjoy it? Yes. But did they understand? Oh yes. Students can be so reassuring sometimes. Then you were there back again, Mario, looking different, sitting on the floor looking up at us as we spoke down to you. You suggested that, in return for my story, the students may want to tell me a story. They apparently knew several. I have no memory of what they told but a strong impression of the effect their English had upon me: their odd, individual versions of English mixed in with (m)other tongues. Was this the world I was about to enter? The last part of the class was taken up with a writing exercise. You sat us all round in a circle, students and observers as equals. We were going to write together. We were to imagine ourselves as parents. It was 3 o’clock in the morning. If the teenage son or daughter we had been waiting up for suddenly came through the door, what would we say? We wrote that down and passed our sheet to the person on our left. We each looked at the page we’d received from our neighbor. Now, you said, we were to put ourselves in the role of the teenager and write our response to what our parent had said. We passed this back to the person on our right. And the dialogues shuttled back and forth right and left. We were ‘parent’ to one and ‘child’ to the other. This struck me as ingenious. But you wanted more. As we worked you came round and looked over our shoulders. You told me I wasn’t reading carefully what the other person had written. What did you mean? I was responding to dialogue which was not English. You pointed to a sentence and asked me if I would say something like that. No, but I could understand it. But would I say it? Well then, I could change it so that it looked like something I could say. You meant that I was to change what the other person had written? Yes, you said, teachers do that, it’s called correction. At the end of the exercise we pinned up our dialogues on the wall and went round reading them. They were awkward, funny, sad, and violent sometimes, but they seemed real. I have often thought about this class in terms of the Robert Frost poem on the road not taken. What sort of teaching roads would I have travelled had my first EFL observation experience been different? I have no idea. And I have you to thank for that, Mario. What can one wish a tireless traveler on his birthday? Many happy returns.

Gerry Kenny


Of course, I have known Mario’s name and works for as long as I have been in ELT (let’s not go there!). His books have adorned every staff library I have ever used, and been responsible for more staff spats over who took what home and didn’t return it than I care to remember.

And I clearly remember the time when Mario became more than just a name. It was at an IATEFL conference (where else?). I don’t remember which conference, or where or when it was. In fact, I don’t remember the topic or any details of what he actually said.

I just remember Mario, the energy, the humour, the bushy beard, the booming voice, the sense of fun which filled the audience, and the sense that he was saying things that I had long thought but never had the courage to say.

In the years since that first encounter, Mario has had a knack of popping out of the woodwork at all sorts of unexpected moments. Often what he has to say is not what people would like to hear – frequently uncomfortable, challenging established assumptions, pricking bubbles, but always thought provoking, basic common sense.

When I was in China, there he was on a TEFL website with this down-to-earth comment on complaints regarding the dreaded p-word:

When I was a student I was encouraged by my teachers to reproduce their ideas and information in my own words. This was part of my UK education. I was encouraged to plagiarise intellectually but not linguistically. Paraphrasing was fine. Are we a little unself-critical about our own system, us odd westerners?

Having just got to Istanbul, I open one of my new sets of course materials, and there he is challenging the sacred cow of lesson planning, on the grounds that all classes and students are different, so too much planning is likely to result in ignoring the "flesh-and-blood here-and-now learners" (1996).

He was, of course, instrumental in setting up HLTmag, a unique on-line journal which looks at language teaching from a human point of view, to which he continues to contribute. A recent article, for instance (April 2009), looks at a subject few of us want to consider - when we fail as teachers:

I would suggest that there are a percentage of teachers of any subject in schools who are desperately unhappy in their job and who would give the eyes from their heads to escape from the situation they are in.

And he describes Mrs C who “admits she is in the grip of anxiety and that the very idea of leaving home and walking into her classroom fills her with moral and physical dread”.

Is there a teacher alive who honestly does not know how this feels?

It is hard to believe that Mario is 70. He moves a little more slowly, perhaps, but the energy is undiminished, the mind as sharp, the wit as keen as ever.

Mario remains a uniquely human presence in the field of language teaching.

Oh yes, and he cooks a mean pasta!!

Carol Griffiths


Mario the Sage

The sage appears opportunely in many a tale. Just when the main protagonist has lost his way and seems destined to fail in his quest, the wise one with intuitive and often supernatural powers appears from nowhere. Perhaps their presence has been there all along watching through the crystal waiting for their moment to intervene and give the central character the chance to fulfil his promise.

In December 2003 I found myself confused at a crossroads in my career. I was newly redundant from a long term post as joint Director of Studies at an Exeter language school, immersed in a local TEFL industry in seemingly terminal decline and therefore with little prospect of finding an equivalent post, frustrated from repeated failed attempts to get my portfolio of drama activities published and not knowing if my idea of making a living from role acting and running drama workshops in local state schools alongside teaching English was just a pipedream.

Along came the sage, Mario Rinvolucri. I’d never met him but knew and respected him from his publications which influenced materials I wrote. He was coming to Exeter to run a workshop so I went out on a limb and set out to contact him via Pilgrims. In desperation I sent him ALL the activities I had written attached to one email and asked to meet him. He arrived at Exeter and we went for a drink before his workshop.

I felt like I was in a wonder tale. This mischievous, bearded guru with sparkling lights in his eyes and an easy laugh was saying yes to me. My bewilderment changed to self-belief. Not only did he immediately take it upon himself to recommend me to DELTA Publishing as an author, he listened closely to me and myriad possibilities revealed themselves.

The next day I got the email from DELTA offering to publish my book, the next month I embarked upon my freelance career combining teaching, training, storytelling and acting. Indeed it was Mario, joint author with John Morgan of the seminal book on storytelling and drama Once Upon a Time, who shortly afterwards told me that I was a storyteller. It’s a title that’s difficult to give yourself – it takes a storyteller you hold in high esteem to do that.

In Mario I met a fellow seeker, a teacher in the truest sense of the word, a man fascinated by people.

Our paths now cross a couple of times a year, usually by design rather than by chance, and when we part I’m always bursting with fresh perspectives. Over these few years I’ve realised that I’m just one among many who have found new beginnings after meeting Mario.

Last year Mario told me that he perceives himself as being mid-career. May the sage turn up opportunely in many others’ stories!
The tales I’d like to dedicate to Mario are about Nasrudin the Teacher and are retold by me on

David Heathfield


Back in the early noughties, Mario and I were together at a CYTEA Conference in Nicosia. Over an evening drink at the Cleopatra Hotel, Mario suddenly asked me how I felt about retiring. I told him I would cross that bridge when I came to it, or some such platitude. “What about you?” I asked. He fixed me with that challenging stare that I have come to know so well over the years and said, calmly, “I will go on till I drop. I can’t imagine stopping.”
A year or so later, after hearing that Mario had suffered a minor heart attack, I found myself musing on those words and wondering how he would cope from then on. I was soon to be reassured, however, when I again coincided with him, this time at the RATE Conference in Iaşi, Romania, where he gave a splendid interactive session. I told him afterwards that it was good to see him back to his old form, and he again fixed me with that stare and said, “Tell me if that is ever not the case!” With his 70th in the offing, “not the case” is still clearly not an option.

But these are two comparatively recent encounters. I first met Mario in 1978 when he was a guest contributor on the RSA Dip TEFLA Course which I was then directing on behalf of the now defunct Cambridge Association of Recognised Schools of English in the old Davies School, now the Eurocentre Cambridge School on Bateman Street. He gave a session on The Silent Way and his presence filled the room (though he scared the wits out of some of the trainees on the course). I remember even then sensing that he was someone special, with scant regard for the orthodoxies that still dominated TEFL practices and thinking in those early communicative days. His publishing ventures were only just beginning to take off, and I still have copies of those early, buff-coloured Pilgrims Publications which set the tone for so many subsequent gems from the mainstream publishers, including two of my all-time favourites, Once Upon a Time (with the late John Morgan) and Grammar in Action (with Christine Frank). Mario, perhaps more than any other single professional in our field, has pushed at the boundaries of our thinking and practice in so many ways. To have done this so successfully from a base outside the Higher Education hegemony that has ruled the roost in UK TEFL is a measure of his lasting energy and commitment, and of his immense value to all of us in the profession.

Rod Bolitho


It was back in the 90s at IATEFL Keele that I first attended one of Mario’s excellent workshops and got the ‘bug’ but it was at IATEFL York that we really got talking.

I remember the occasion well, as one of my colleagues on the ETS stand had just given me a large piece of chocolate Easter egg which understandably put me in a receptive mood and open to any ridiculous suggestions. And what could have more ridiculous at that moment than bumping into Mario doing his rounds of the booths looking for unsuspecting contributors to HLT mag?

So still buzzing from my chocolate high, I was easy prey for Mario who skilfully manoeuvred me into talking about exam stress and its consequence on performance (after all I was supposed to have an opinion on the matter as I was working with ETS at the time). How Mario does it I don’t know but a few minutes later I had agreed to write an article! He had wormed out of me the admission that to control my own exam nerves during my finals, I had donned my ballet shoes and attended an early morning dance class (a sort of dawn stress raid) and that my then boss had felt most relaxed and stress free while wearing his slippers to his exams.

Before I knew it I had agreed to write my first article for HTL mag namely (yes – you’ve guessed it) Ballet Shoes and Slippers. He’s managed the same trick many times since.

Mario has a way that is only Mario’s of hooking you in and the funny thing is, you’re happy to be hooked. He gets the very best out of people and each you sit back and laugh and say he did it again. He’s that invisible ‘feather’ of Damocles tickling the back of your neck and coaxing you to put pen to paper or finger to key board. May he carry on hooking and harnessing talent for years to come…..

So here’s my personal tribute to someone I consider a true mentor:


Happy Birthday Mario!

Judy Churchill


As a teacher of Spanish as a foreign language, I would not hesitate to affirm that Mario Rinvolucri's work is an important reference for all language teachers. His teaching proposals speak to us in a common language. Behind Mario’s publications there is a constant reflection on learners as complete persons, and this makes his writing universal and easily applicable to very diverse learning contexts. The humanistic approach of his books provides a constant source of inspiration for our teaching.

I first met Mario last December at a conference for teachers of Spanish in Barcelona. Being able to work with him there was a real pleasure, as he was able to motivate us and to transmit to us how rewarding foreign language teaching can be for students and teachers.

Luis Ángel Macías Amigo


My first meeting with Mario: Hastings 1977

A cold February in 1977 in the drafty Queens Hotel on Hastings sea front. In a large 3rd floor room were around 60 movers and shakers from those early days (when we were still inventing ELT) many of whom in years to come rose to prominence, infamy or both. Over two long weekends Cecilia Perrault Bartoli, then Director of Studies at Dr Caleb Gattegno’s Educational Solutions Inc in New York, had come to offer one of the first extended workshops on the Silent Way in the UK. She demonstrated teaching English using volunteer students from International House (one, a Japanese of Samurai ancestry reported a peak learning experience and later made me a solid maple kitchen table, still in use today). Cecilia also taught us Italian, and took us through sinewy and challenging discussions eased by her enormous charm. Even so a couple of people walked out during the first weekend, though one returned the following weekend (‘I noticed something different about my teaching on Monday … I just had to come back…). Between the two weekends and so as not to waste precious time, Cecliia went to Paris (via Lydd airport!) and worked at Education pour Demain over there.

So this was the setting, and one of the evenings at the bar in the Queens I found myself talking to an earnest newcomer who turned up during the day, rather than at the beginning, and unannounced too, if I remember right, What’s more when I enquired where he would sleep he indicated his camper van outside on the sea front. You’ve guessed it, this was my first encounter with Mario. We explored similar interests in a variety of non-mainstream approaches to learning and teaching as well as his recent experiences in Chile. We also talked about Pilgrims, which like IH Hastings had been carving out its own unique direction for the previous few years. For a year or two we had had a manuscript of an early Mario publication circulating in the school, which we very much liked. I don’t know how we got them. Those weekends in the Queens were the first significant workshops I organised, and it meant a lot to me that Mario turned up and got stuck in with the rest of us.

Spain 24 years later

One of the pleasures of the ELT profession is the people, in particular finding oneself in endless new scenarios with professional friends. And so it is with Mario. From time to time we are on the same gig and have airport and flight time to share experiences, always pleasant and inspiring. However at times such as this I noticed a difference between us. A significant difference which sums up something that Mario has brought to ELT: By the end of the flight, Mario will have written 17 postcards to 17 people in 17 countries saying different pithy things to each (and probably needing all 17 to fully reconstruct the original meaning… jigsaw postcards? … there’s a book there). One such time was September 2001 when we were in Seville together, guests of Jane Arnold. After lunch we agreed to visit different schools and meet later. I went to IH Seville and to my surprise found teachers and students all watching a disaster movie on TV, about planes flying into towers. Someone whispered to me it was for real. And so it was. Like everyone else I could not take it in. Mario had the same experience in another school. That evening in trying to make sense of this Mario was able to relate what we did in ELT to the global picture, and we saw that we too are a part of the bigger picture, and need to keep this constantly in mind, especially given the international nature of our work and our networks.

Adrian Underhill


Child Mario

What I most love about Mario is the child under the grey hair who refuses to grow up, lives in a magical feeling world, and fills him with an unending passion for life. When listening to a talk, while most people are busy sorting concepts in their heads, the inner child is ‘away with the fairies’, rolling down hills and tumbling in streams. That’s the form his listening takes. So when the talk is over, he’s full of joy and excitement, thanking surprised speakers for the fun he’s had and lavishing his unbounded generosity to further their gifts and talents.

In the same way, he loves cooking, taking delight in the subtleties of taste and inviting all his friends to share his explorations. Like William Blake, he has managed to stay with the ‘innocence’ and protect his mind from the bludgeon of ‘experience’. Thank you, Mario, for the delicious journeys through your many labyrinths.

Grethe Hooper Hansen

48. An Open Letter to Mario

Mario was striding through the reception area of an international ELT conference. A group of rather dusty academics noticed the gleam in his eye and the energy in his stride. He seemed to resonate at a different frequency from everyone else.
“Who are you?” one asked.
“Wrong question,” he glared back.
“What’s the right question, then?” asked another, somewhat intimidated.
What are you? That’s the question you’re looking for. What are you?”
“Oh” said a third. “Then what are you?” “Alive!”

All stories are true in their own unique way and so it is with this one. It happened only in my imagination yet it completely captures my sense of you: an Etna of irrepressible dynamism, enthusiasm and energy, constantly searching for new possibilities to make things happen and ways to shake up tired convention.

You are one of the most provocative, paradoxical, exhausting, and challenging people I’ve ever had the privilege to know. You’re a natural risk-taker, unafraid to enter territories others wouldn’t dream of going. This makes you rather special. Sometimes you’re brilliant; sometimes you fall flat; sometimes you’re on another planet. It’s the uncompromising quest to push beyond boundaries, to disturb, to challenge, to confront, to explore that makes time in your company so absolutely fascinating and worthwhile – whether one shares your particular perspective at the time or not!

You can be demanding and uncompromising yet your innate compassion, humour, and vulnerability root your genius in humanity. It’s a humanity that is incredibly supportive and generous with the time and attention you give to others. Your writings have shared your gifts with anyone wishing to be more creative and challenging in the classroom. You helped us realize that the content of the classroom should be life itself not just language. Your personal interventions at a particular time in my own life challenged me to become much more that I thought I could be. I owe you a huge debt of gratitude for my own unfolding development, and I thank you warmly for your wise contributions both as a Teacher and as a man.

One last story [one that actually happened!]: I remember bumping into you some years ago at a check-in queue at Stansted Airport. You were off to a conference and were perspiring profusely even though the ambient temperature was rather cool. I asked you if you were OK. You looked around somewhat furtively and then opened the front of your long coat with the panache of a practiced flasher. The lining was an Aladdin’s Cave of secret pockets. These were stuffed with books, order forms, and Pilgrims’ brochures. They must have weighed at least as much as you, maybe more. “Damned if I’m going to pay excess baggage charges to Ryan-sodding-Air!” you growled triumphantly.

Nick Owen


And Mario...

teaching tips,
mega views,
zest for life,
friend’s framed photo of autumn leaves in the kitchen,
patient ear for my partner Mustafa’s own version of musical English,
hearty laugh………

Yes, I will remember many, some, a few of these and more - how can I not? - when breathing in the last precious and hopefully deep and invigorating breaths of my life before saying ‘bye’ to it.

BUT what my spirit or energy leaving my body will, guaranteed, take with it

- is the light he’s shed on my potential as a teacher/teacher trainer/writer/human being of how I might be of use to others. And after all, isn’t this really what life is all about – coming out of one’s tiny, tight and ego-obsessed shell to extend his/her gifts to others?

His presence - what he means to people especially in EFL and ESL - may have intentionally, and very easily, cast itself like a shadow on one’s emerging potential. This, however, is not allowed in any way by his excitement (as he expressed during one of our conversations on the campus of University of Kent) about not what was contributed into EFL/ESL before but will be contributed in the future by those newly emerging or unborn ‘potentials’.

Putting one’s own self aside, even after becoming a ‘star’, to push others into the spotlight is probably a gift that a few humans possess, carved in their nature, I would naively, and a little pessimistically, claim here.

Does bumping into these gifted few then become a blessing?

If so, then I am blessed…

Blessed to have realized, with his ‘bullying’ (again one of his words) me, to do and to share more of me and my skills and to stay faithful to my potential to allow others lifted by/with/in it…

Çok teşekkür ederim, Mario…very many thanks…

Sezgi Yalin


Happy birthday, Mario!

In the summer of 1976, fresh from a year in Prishtina, Yugoslavia, my wife, daughter and I began our association with Mario and with Pilgrims, which Mario often referred to as “Pigs.” On my first meeting with Mario, I encountered this intense individual in brown sweater with a firm forward list to his stance as if he were about to leap into my existence and plant himself there until he was satisfied he knew what I knew. Mario became our guide to Pilgrims, our colleague, and our friend. Mario, Saxon Menne, and I did the teacher training that summer. I brought some new ideas and methods from the States and the School for International Training: the Silent Way, Lipson’s Method, Community Language Learning. Mario was keen to learn them all and learn them he did. I, in turn, profited from the theater game and “Just Do It” ethos of Pilgrims that summer. Many of us instructors lived in the campus dorms and created a dinner commune. We shared our lives in a way that is only possible when a group of enthusiasts know they are at the beginning of a grand endeavor. We were the core of Pilgrims. And it was great fun.

Later that summer or was it the next, Mario’s family and mine shared a rented home in Canterbury. The strongest memories I have of that time are Mario opening a tin of beans and eating them straight from the can, something an American like me would never think of doing. The other memory is sitting down to a fish dinner when Martin, Mario’s son, got a fish bone stuck in his throat. We panicked until he dislodged it himself. My family and I visited Pilgrims for three consecutive summers and the third summer I stayed on to work full time for Pilgrims as “co-director of research and development” with Mario. Our son, John, was born in the East Kent Hospital, and Mario and I did teacher training, sometimes together, sometimes not. I worked on editing one of the first Pilgrims books picked up by a publisher, Towards the Creative Teaching of English.

All the good things that I did while in the UK and with Pilgrims were due to my friendship with Mario. I left the U.S. in 1979 mostly to be able to work side by side with Mario. I left the U.K. in 1980 and have never been a part of Pilgrims in the working sense since then. However, the friendships I made with Pilgrims instructors from that time in my life have remained. Among all of those, my greatest friend has been Mario. Mario, you are a special person for me. My life has been so much richer because I know you.

Lou Spaventa


The Pedagogy You Can’t Resist! – Heineken Teaching

When Mario invited me to write a tribute to the late John Morgan ‘it got me thinking’ about all those who had in some way influenced the course of my professional life since my initial ‘total immersion’ into EFL teaching with no training at the Inlingua Idiomas school, Bilbao, in 1972, aged 21.

Incidentally, all of us who know Mario well are aware that any kind of encounter (formal/informal, personal/professional, face to face/electronic) with The Great Rinvolucri usually leads to some kind of shift in our thinking about, or approach, to teaching - if not to our entire weltanschauung.

The first such ‘darshan’ took place about 30 years ago when I was being trained (sic) to become a teacher of EFL/ESL at the Institute of Education, U. of London, by Widdowson, Brumfit et al., and we had a guest ‘lecturer’ for an evening session of the EFL Society.

I have used the Sanskrit/Hindi word darshan (cf above not for any esoteric reasons – or because of my Indian background – but simply because it IS ‘le seul mot juste’ to describe our first meeting. Perhaps, the word ‘audience’ would suffice but it has too many religious connotations. There is no equivalent word or phrase in the English language that captures not only the scene but more importantly what followed and, to some extent, continues to influence my classroom practice till today.

As I entered the room I saw a guru-like figure seated cross-legged on the floor with c. twelve others sitting facing him. The latter seemed to be responding to a variety of gestures made by the silent leader who, in addition doing a dance the with the digits on his hands, was also using some coloured sticks to elicit sounds and words from the gathered ‘flock’. Now, I had come across some strange sects in my travels but this charade was something else! I looked at Chris Moran (who had invited Mario to run the session on The Silent Way) and made a gesture (a sort of a Gallic shrug) as if to say ‘what’s going on here’! He gestured back and implored me to be patient. The irony that I had silently (and successfully) committed a communicative act with Chris was lost on me at the time.

In the discussion/deconstruction that followed the demonstration, it became clear to me that Mario was not the nutter I had assumed he was – I still think he is a nutter but of an entirely different order and magnitude. I must admit I did not immediately rush out to buy a set of Cuisenaire Rods after the workshop but the initial Rinvolucri experience did open up a ‘brave new world’ in terms of moving away from traditional approaches to language teaching which, to some extent, were being foisted upon us by the PGCE course-wallahs.

Would I be exaggerating if I said that I have ‘got more out’ of the encounters with Mario (John Morgan and a few other fellow Pilgrims) than with many a distinguished and internationally renowned professor of Applied Linguistics? Well, as far as what I do with, and to, the students in the classroom is concerned, YES! For writing essays on Theoretical & Applied Linguistics, thanks goes to Henry W, (the late) Chris B. et al.

There have been other influences on my teaching English such as Andrew Wright (but that’s another story!) but Mario’s whacky way of working with colleagues and students (refreshing the parts that conventional methods fail to reach) and has often got me out many a hole. On occasions when I have been ‘stuck’ with a group (e.g. the members do not respond or co-operate; they seem uninterested; they do not want to be participate; they are there under duress; they are openly hostile; I have taken the wrong handouts with me; the photocopier is kaputt and I cannot run off the copies I need in a few minutes), I have had to resort to (what I shall refer to as) my ‘andragogic angel’. What would Rinvolucri do if he were here faced with this tricky teaching situation? Having worked with Mario in several countries and in various contexts, I can usually come up with some strategy. (At the time of writing this, 2004) I am responsible for managing a postgraduate course for new and experienced teachers (aka lecturers) in a UK university. Since 2006, all new university teachers are required to undertake such a course if they are teaching in UK higher education institutions. One of the activities I thrust upon a new cohort of colleagues/students at the beginning of the course comprises the following task.

If you were to write an essay/assignment on “My Values, Beliefs, Principles as a Teacher in HE”, what 10 key words or phrases would you include that would sum up your ‘pedagogy’? You have 2 minutes to do the task. The course participants write their key words/phrases on a blank sheet of paper and place them in an envelope, seal it and then write their name on the outside. I collect the envelopes, lock them in a drawer and forget about them for about 9 months. During the final session of the course, we repeat the above exercise but allow a bit longer. I then produce the sealed envelopes so that the participants can compare their new (sic.) values, beliefs, principles as a teacher in HE with what they wrote at the start of the course. (HLT readers involved in teacher education may wish to adapt this activity for their own use.)

One year I joined in with the exercise and discovered that along with the usual suspects such as ‘student-centered’, ‘collaborative learning’, ‘activity-based’, ‘use of silences in learning’ etc., I found myself writing down ‘Mario Rinvolucri’ as one of my 10 key features. In trying to explain the ‘what, who, how and why’ of Mario to a colleague it dawned on me that much of what I do in the EFL/ESL classroom and in other teaching and learning contexts has been heavily influenced by his way of ‘humanising’ language teaching.

I often refer to my modus aprendi in class as teaching below (and above) the neck; a phrase, I feel, I ‘nicked’ from Mario (and have been peddling for a long while) following a conversation with him in which we agreed that much of what happens in most classrooms is addressed to the head rather than involving the whole person. (He denies ‘inventing’ the phrase so I’ll stake out a claim unless someone can show its use prior to the early 1980s.) Incidentally, I sometimes jokingly talk about ‘teaching below the belt’ but this gag back-fired on me recently when a course participant happened to be a professor of gynecology. Basta!

The second time Mario and I met was at Pilgrims when he and John Morgan had organised a workshop for the Summer School teachers – a sort of a ‘maximum intensity programme’ for teacher development where we all used one another as students in order to share and practise ideas/techniques/activities - many of which I still find useful after nearly 30 years.

PS. 2010 I wrote this rambling, ‘refelctive’ piece about one Mario Francesco Guiseppe Rinvolucri and how he has influenced my teaching and learning in 2004. Since Mario was then the editor, I did not ask him to publish it HLT. The idea was to start a chain reaction. I would offer this as a starter re Mario; he would then write a piece about his main influence(s) and then the baton would be passed to whoever Mario nominated as his (obviously still alive) main influence and so on. Over to you Mario and feliz cumpleanos.

Rakesh Bhanot


Happy Birthday, Mario!

I’ve known Mario for almost 40 years, almost as long as I’ve been involved in the world that used to be EFL and ESL and is now ESOL or ELT or, for some, ELF. We met in Cambridge, where I had just started working for Bell after Frank Bell had plucked me from an intended career as a teacher of French and German in a comprehensive school and then insisted that I got further qualifications specifically in EFL. Mario was then running the RSA Cert. TEFL for the Cambridge Association of Recognised Schools of English (what we all called the CARSE Course – and you can imagine what Mario could do with the acronym) and I very soon learned from him how different the world of EFL could be from how I had learnt languages and how I had been taught to teach them on my PGCE. To say that Mario was innovative would hardly do justice to the range of ideas I met that year, some coming from his already extensive reading, but many from his own fearless experimentation and risk-taking in the classroom. He was inspirational and I and my fellow RSA Cert. students were inspired.

As long as I have known him Mario has always thought about and cared about his students, but he also showed in those days how much he cared about his fellow teachers. He and I were involved with a guy called Mike Cunningham and others in London in the formation of a new union for EFL teachers, ILTB, the International Language Teachers’ branch of MATSDA. This didn’t exactly endear him to some school owners of the time and the early work of the union produced furious letters and apoplectic articles in The Times, but it was also an important part of the early stages of professionalisation of at least some parts of what others were calling the EFL industry. Mario’s attitudes and efforts at the time were characteristic of what has often been his response to established positions – question the ‘status quo’ and if something isn’t right then do something about it.

By the 1980s Mario had already established an international reputation as a speaker and writer in the field of teacher training and was synonymous with Pilgrims and the ground-breaking work of those who worked there and inspired so many teachers from all round the world. We were in regular contact on a range of issues and on one occasion we team-taught a teachers’ course in Germany. There I learnt (to my relief, I realised) that he wasn’t perfect, as he managed to disturb, upset and antagonise most of the participants by the strength with which he questioned their practice. I had to pour a lot of oil on troubled waters, but I bet they never forgot the course, and nor did I.

What I love about Mario is that he’s never stopped questioning and reflecting and taking chances. He comes to NILE as a regular Guest Speaker no matter how busy he may be (no nonsense from him about never working for the opposition) and still delights hundreds of our course participants. He also still inspires. I had an e-mail only last week from a trainer who will be sharing the running of a course with me this summer, who said that she’d like to try out a brilliant idea she’d learnt from Mario at the last IATEFL Conference. What a testimony! 40 years on, still on the move both around the world and in his thinking, and still having real impact. And still an inspiration for trainers as well as teachers in a world that has moved from reel-to-reel tape recorders to I-pods and Twitter, but which still needs people to remind us of the ‘universals’ that really matter. Keep on shaking the tree, Mario, and Happy Birthday!

Dave Allan
May 2010


I think it was in 1977 or thereabouts when Mario gave me my first lift. In the sense that I was hitchhiking through ELT, taking as many lifts as I could get in a profession that was seeing so many exciting developments. That first lift was a demonstration of the personality clashes involved in roleplay activities, the clash between the personality of the role on the card and the real personality of the student expected to play that role.

That was at the British Council in Naples. Since then, during my own development in TEFL, it has always been at the turning-points, the moments of doubt, even crisis, that Mario has somehow seen my upturned thumb and appeared in Athens to underline my belief in whole-person teaching; in Milan to increase my confidence in creative language teaching; in Sorrento to buoy up my enthusiasm for organising national conferences for teachers of English; on internet to confirm my dedication to creative language learning.

The hitchhiking image, of course, is not casual. Mario once wrote of hitchhiking as ‘an oft repeated act of practical friendly co-operation between human beings.’ That expresses the remarkable coherence that he has shown throughout his career in TEFL so far, for the impressive influence he has had on teaching and learning is due to his belief in that practical friendly co-operation. Here’s to the next lift, in his seventieth year.

Roy Boardman


Dear Mario,

I’m sitting on my balcony , looking at the green trees and colourful plants around me and thinking of you. I often think of you when spring comes and gardeners hear the call of nature. For I met you, those twenty seven years ago as a gardener and the metaphor struck a chord so many times in those years.

I came to see you in Cambridge with Judy and within seconds of entering the door I was taken to your garden and given bunches of onions to be tied up. And what a fascinating NLP experience it was !. My lack of confidence quickly evaporated under the barrage of smells and in the rhythms of tying up bunches of fresh onions. If it is true that our senses are the doorways to our perception , then my combined senses of seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling and tasting told me, there and then, that foreigner and stranger as I felt initially to your country and in your garden - you accepted me as I was.

Gardeners have to accept nature as it is or they may suffer from delusions of self-importance. This fundamental truth , which I often relate to teaching, was illustrated to me when some years later I was a trainer at Pilgrims and you helped me by providing a simple metaphor . We were talking about teachers’ capacity for change, accepting new ideas, reflecting and developing when you answered my dilemmas by saying that one plant will not turn into something else but it may grow to be a beautiful specimen of its kind and the role of a committed gardener is to help it grow with full acceptance of its nature.

Years later, I became a manager and found the simple beauty of this metaphor true again. And when I recently read your article “ How do you rate your boss ?” I was reminded of the core and fundamental principle on which every work relationship depends - that of mutual acceptance and support.

So I’m writing to thank you for teaching me the principles of gardening which I apply to many areas of my life. Accepting someone’s world as it is - is a good way of tending one’s own garden…

Happy gardening Mario !

Małgosia Szwaj


Seven thanks … on Mario’s 70th Birthday

1. Mario, you been my ‘guardian angel’… ever since I was about to become a teacher trainer in 1989. (Then I did not know that it was going to happen). You (talent?) spotted me in outback Communist Poland and made me believe I had much to offer and could become a Pilgrims trainer, also an international trainer. Thank you Mario.

2. About 14 years ago you sent me out to the middle of nowhere in Bulgaria with Paul Davis… Paul has been my life partner ever since. Thank you Mario.

3. About four years ago you started telling me you see me as the person who should take over HLT. It is for you, HLT Readers, to judge if it has been a good move. Personally, I love this role and learn a lot all the time. Thank you Mario.

4. You have been pushing me to write, develop, and not be tempted to get stuck in the rut of the academia or to move into the business side of ELT. Thank you Mario.

5. You have been providing feedback on my HLT work. Much appreciated though sometimes I may not sound like I appreciate it. Thank you Mario.

6. You and Sophie have housed, wined and dined me generously. (Including a hot water bottle or blanket when needed !!!) Thank you Mario.

7. Last not least, when I had to pay for my daughter’s expensive medical treatment, you offered financial help. One of the few… Thank you, THANK YOU Mario.

God Bless you and once again Thank you Mario.

Hania Kryszewska


Happy Birthday, Mario!

We love having you in the Helbling authors’ team and especially love having you as a friend.

Many years of work together have made both our professional and human contact deeper and I look forward to having even more of this with you in the many many years to come.

Lucia Astuti and the Helbling team

57. Happy Birthday, Mario and many, many happy returns!

Love, Tessa


Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle. You are one of those single candles. Happy Birthday Mario, with all my love, Judy.

Late arrival

I think it was in 1977 or thereabouts when Mario gave me my first lift. In the sense that I was hitchhiking through ELT, taking as many lifts as I could get in a profession that was seeing so many exciting developments. That first lift was a demonstration of the personality clashes involved in roleplay activities, the clash between the personality of the role on the card and the real personality of the student expected to play that role.

That was at the British Council in Naples. Since then, during my own development in TEFL, it has always been at the turning-points, the moments of doubt, even crisis, that Mario has somehow seen my upturned thumb and appeared in Athens to underline my belief in whole-person teaching; in Milan to increase my confidence in creative language teaching; in Sorrento to buoy up my enthusiasm for organising national conferences for teachers of English; on internet to confirm my dedication to creative language learning.

The hitchhiking image, of course, is not casual. Mario once wrote of hitchhiking as ‘an oft repeated act of practical friendly co-operation between human beings.’ That shows the remarkable coherence that he has shown throughout his career in TEFL so far, for the impressive influence he has had on teaching and learning is due to his belief in that practical friendly co-operation. Here’s to the next lift, in his seventieth year.

Roy Boardman


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