The team’s involvement in Balkans goes back to the mid-1990s when Alistair was Senior Lecturer in English Language Teaching at the University of Sofia in Bulgaria. He was a member of a team developing new courses to teach undergraduates in a more communicative way than the traditional grammar-translation approach used in the past. He also worked as part of a team to develop a new English language testing system for Sofia University with a focus on skills-based testing. The Sofia University Entrance Exam, in the absence of any secondary national leaving exam, was by default the most important language exam for school leavers who wanted to study many subjects in which English was required. One of the most important outcomes of this work was a series of textbooks published by Lettera in Plovdiv (the Sofia University Admission Test of English as a Foreign Language Books 3-5). These provided sample items in the four skills areas and included practice tests with keys and sample answers with accompanying explanations.
At the end of the 1990s, Alistair moved to the University of Novi Sad as an advisor on teaching methodology for pre-service teachers. This involved developing a new methodology course with local colleagues and providing mentoring to secondary school teachers of English involved in the training programme.
At the same time, Hamish arrived in Sofia to work with the Bulgarian Ministry of Defence and was based at the GS Rakovski Military Academy (now the Rakovski Defence and Staff College [RDSC]). He developed language and testing systems for the language interoperability of Bulgarian Armed Forces with multinational forces within the context of Armed Forces reform and NATO/EU accession. Later he helped form an international testing group across NATO accession countries with Alistair and other British Council colleagues, which involved training at Lancaster University. One of the most significant outcomes of this was the securing, as an MOD policy objective, a link between Council of Europe Common Reference levels (CEFR), NATO STANAG 6001 and MOD/General Staff English language courses. He also provided a framework for training in all units active in Peacekeeping Operations and developed focus for CPD Teacher Training.
Hamish was also Regional Co-ordinator for South-East Europe (Bulgaria, Macedonia and Romania). This involved conducting an Assessment of the Language Training Needs of the Romanian Ministry of the Interior (MOI) for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in order to determine the likely impact of a Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s ‘Assistance to Support Stability with In-Service Training’ (ASSIST) Project ELT Adviser on key potential partners and stakeholders in Romania. He also conducted two feasibility studies during a tour of Romania and Moldova on behalf of the FCO to investigate the potential in providing an ELT Adviser for the Romanian MOI and a judgement as to whether the ASSIST PEP Project with the Moldovan Ministry of Defence should be revived. At the same time Hamish managed the international Peacekeeping English Project Summer Schools programme (covering 24 countries in Central Asia and Central Europe). This involved delivering training to MOD and MOI teachers and trainers in all aspects of English language teaching, testing and course and materials development at two-week long workshops at tertiary institutions across the region.
Claire has also had long-time involvement in the Balkans. In 2003 she moved to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) to join the British Council managed Military English Support Project (MESP) as the Training and Systems Manager. She provided in-service training for the English instructors, who were military personnel (officer and NCOs), many of whom remain in post today. One of the most significant developments in BiH was a blended learning course, which was ground breaking bearing in mind that it wasn’t until 2007 that the first book on blended learning in ELT was published. This prompted Claire to research it further and question what a ‘principled approach’ to blended learning was in her doctoral thesis. This, in turn, led her to propose and co-edit a British Council publication: Blended Learning in English Language Teaching: Course Design and Implementation. Her interest in the role of English in the AFBiH endures and later this year she anticipates the publication of a chapter entitled ‘Military English Matters in L. Buckingham (ed.) (2015). The Growth of English in Post-War Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Claire and Alistair worked on MESP together from 2005-2007 when Alistair was Project Manager. (Alistair continued in this post until 2009.) This involved managing nine UK-funded personnel and approximately 40 local military personnel delivering English language training in two main teaching centres in Sarajevo and Banja Luka and 11 ‘mini-centres’ based in military facilities. Alistair and Claire developed and successfully carried out a strategy to integrate the different language teaching capabilities of the two Entities of BiH (Republika Srpska and the Federation) under a unified BiH MoD. The main aim was focussing MESP’s efforts on main training centres to provide higher level training for officers bound for training abroad or for training at the multinational-funded Peacekeeping Support Operations Training Centre (PSOTC). They also developed new courses at higher levels and focused on the skills and needs required by the PSOTC.
It was at this time that Alistair also helped launch an initiative to establish a NATO STANAG English language testing system in BiH, which went ‘live’ in summer 2009. The team now works regionally, providing a ‘mobile testing service’ for military personnel in Macedonia & Montenegro. An important part of Alistair’s time in BiH was to look towards future sustainability through developing a successful project exit strategy involving the training of Officer Instructors to take over from project personnel; the training of a small cadre of Officer Instructors to become Instructor Trainers; the recruitment of a new cohort of instructors to be trained by these Trainers; induction of Officer Instructors to take over Project’s Main Centres.
From 2012, all of the team have been heavily involved in the Serbian Armed Forces (SAF) and Ministry of Defence (MOD) Programme for English Language Training’ (PELT) project. Hamish conducted an evaluation of PELT in 2012 and reported to the international Programme Board (comprising NATO Defence Attachés and the British Council). He submitted a three year sustainability and exit plan for consideration, which we all later became involved in implementing. This has included Rob developing a number of five-week online courses in Email Writing and Report Writing aimed at students who language levels are at NATO STANAG 6001 Level 2 (approximately B1/B1+ level of the CEFR). He has also led seminars in paper-based materials development resulting in 30 units of materials on speaking created to support teaching in the Serbian General Staff and Military Academy. He has also led teams from Serbia and Montenegro in developing paper-based an online courses (offered on a Moodle platform) to supplement materials (at STANAG Level 2) in Campaign and Headway as well as other commercially-available textbooks.
Rob has also conducted a seminar for PELT on developing the skills required by Military teachers in Serbia, Bosnia and Montenegro to develop high quality teaching materials based on listening texts. The twenty-three teachers who took part learned how to source, download, edit and convert video and audio files, and script and record audio. One team produced a set of general English and Military English paper-based lessons using a collaborative model of materials development, while the second team of Serbian teachers from J7 and the Military Academy worked on drafting listening materials for their Moodle courses. The materials were all peer-reviewed and trialled. The course was held in Ruma, a small town just outside Belgrade.
Claire, Alistair and Hamish have also led seminars and workshops (often at the MOD training base in the Tara Mountains) as well as in Skopje in Macedonia and Podgorica in Montenegro on a variety of subjects including language testing, blended learning and materials development. In June 2015, Claire and Rob led the first PELT Regional Conference was held in Belgrade. Participants from Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia gathered to discuss regional co-operation and how to widen the project throughout the region. We are now carrying on with PELT and widening it to include Macedonia, Montenegro and BiH.