Professor at the top of his game

A man with a big heart

A man with a big heart

A COLOURFUL LIFE: Here at his summer home Tiromoana (Maori for ‘the house over the water’) in Okitu, Gisborne Professor Jack Richards works at his desk in the Lalique room. He has just been named one of the top 50 applied linguists in the world in the last 50 years. He is the only New Zealander to make the list. Picture by Liam Clayton
AT HIS SYDNEY RESIDENCE: Jack Richards with partner Won Gyu, who is wearing a traditional Korean costume. Pictures supplied
PROUD MOMENT: Prof Richards with two of the students he sponsored, graduating from Nanyang Technological University of Singapore.
CLASSICAL MUSIC AFICIONADO: Prof Richards with musicians Edith Fischer and Jorge Pepe-Alos after a concert in Christchurch.
an interesting career:
Here the professor is surrounded by a group of student teachers at the Regional Language Centre, Singapore.

Gisborne’s Professor Jack Richards has been named one of the 50 most influential language teaching specialists in the world — and the only Kiwi. Reporter Kim Parkinson meets the man known for his generosity in supporting the arts, at his summer home Tiromoana in Okitu.

It is a stormy day when we meet at the 1.8-hectare Winifred Street property — a stark contrast to the stunning afternoon when I was last there for a concert by virtuoso pianist Tony Lee and oboist Long Nguyen.

The sea is grey and angry, the sky overcast and after a late night recording a video for Youtube the night before with video producer Mark Chrisp, he apologises for getting the time wrong.

Professor Jack Richards is nowhere to be found when I first arrive, but later he appears freshly showered and dressed in a crisp, bird-print shirt.

Suggesting we do the photo in the Lalique room, we are guided to a room lined with shelves containing the priceless French glassware and a single desk with a laptop in the corner.

Now in his 70s, he is the picture of good health with clear, bright blue eyes. He was wearing his characteristic tortoishell-framed glasses and was casually dressed.

Prof Richards’ career is one that almost never happened. It was neither planned or anticipated, he says in a soon-to-be published book Content and Process in Language Teacher Education, due out next July.

“I grew up in a small town in New Zealand that has a bicultural population (Gisborne — population 30,000 and around 50 percent Maori), and where I had my school education.

“My years at high school were not times I recall with much pleasure, mainly because for some reason it was decided that the science stream would be best for me.

“So I found myself locked into chemistry, math and physics classes, none of which I had the slightest interest in or aptitude for. I struggled on.

“My parents were not well-educated and had no guidance to offer.

“When it came time to leave high school, my mother thought I should be an accountant like my father, a field I had no interest in. Neither my parents nor I ever considered that I should continue to university since I had performed dismally at high school, nor in fact did we have the slightest understanding of the nature of university studies.

“I don’t recall it ever being a topic of discussion at high school. However, I had enjoyed music and drama at high school and thought perhaps a career in some related field might be a possibility.

“So after leaving school, I was taken on as a trainee in the New Zealand Broadcasting Service (NZBS).

“I excitedly reported to work on my first day in the capital city, Wellington, eagerly anticipating a whole new life and career. Imagine my shock when I found I was assigned to work first in the mail room and later in the accounts division!”

A new book

This month saw the release of his 20th academic textbook, 50 Tips for Teacher Development (Cambridge University Press), 2017.

The tips in the book contain a wide variety of activities teachers can use to plan and manage aspects of their own professional development.

They draw on his many years of experience in working with teachers at different stages in their professional development.

As a young man living in Wellington in the 1960s, he got the idea to go to university from one of his fellow employees at the New Zealand Broadcasting Service who informed him that as a civil servant, he was entitled to take part-time courses during office hours, at Victoria University.

“This was something I had never considered, however I did wander up the hill to the university and enrol in my first university course — a course in English literature.

“Experiencing university for the first time was an eye opener.

Fascinating lectures and teachers and warm comradery from fellow students.

I continued with part-time study the following year, and then realised this was the place I needed to be, so decided to quit government service and study full time.”

“Although there was no such thing as student fees in those days, I still needed to cover my rent and daily expenses.

My parents had nothing to offer, and even charged me for accommodation when I went home in the university holiday to take a summer job, but then someone else came to my rescue.

A student friend told me she had a part time job in a language support centre on campus known as the English Language Institute, and they needed someone else to work part-time in the language laboratory, listening to foreign students completing their drills and exercises and giving them feedback on their English.

This was a transforming experience for me.

I suddenly discovered there was a field called English language teaching – and overnight I found my vocation. This was what I wanted to do.

Had I not had that part time job in the language institute who knows what sort of career I might have had.”

“Of course I spoke English but I knew nothing about the English language nor anything about language teaching.

In order to better prepare myself for a possible teaching career I took all the linguistics courses that were offered at the undergraduate level and also acquired a diploma in English language teaching.”

A passion for the arts

“I was also active in drama activities during my student days and took leading roles in a number of productions. I think the ability to act before an audience has helped me speak to large audiences at public lectures in later years. After graduating with my BA, I decided to continue to the MA degree and also began to acquire some practical classroom experience as a tutor in the English Language Institute.”

“After teaching for a couple of years I realised I needed to go further with my education. One serious gap in my experience was that I had never had the opportunity to learn a second language. Then I realised I could kill two birds with one stone – to learn a second language and acquire a Ph.D at the same time. I had been fortunate to obtain a first class pass for my MA which gave me the chance to apply for a scholarship to study abroad.

"And a scholar whose work I admired was a professor at Laval University in Quebec, Canada, a French-language University in a French speaking city.

"So I applied and received a Canadian Commonwealth Scholarship to study in French Canada.

Quebec, Canada

“On arrival in Quebec City I enrolled in a summer course in French, taught under the strict dictates of a method that was popular at the time, a kind of French Audiollingual method (known as the audiovisual method), which consisted of memorising dialogs and repeating drills.

"This gave me a distaste for pre-packed methods which I felt assumed both the learners and the teacher were idiots and all one had to do was to submit to the method. Some years later I followed this line of thought when I wrote Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching (with Ted Rodgers), which remains perhaps my best known academic text book, has been translated into many languages and is now in a third edition.

"I spent four years in Quebec City, a delightful place to live, and during that time experienced snow for the first time, learned a passable French through interacting with French Canadians in the community, and obtained further teaching experience in a local primary school.

"I didn’t find the courses I took at Laval particularly challenging or interesting. However two events triggered the next stage in my career.

"One was my foray into academic writing and publishing.

“The other was publishing classroom materials. My academic writing career started with a well-received conference paper on error analysis that was subsequently published in English Language Teaching- an important professional journal for language teachers, which led to a number of speaking invitations and two edited books that gave me good credentials.

"A set of my primary materials were also picked up by a newly established publishing company called Newbury House. The owner of Newbury House was a friend of my Ph. D supervisor (W.F.Mackey), who made the connection for me.

"Newbury later went on to publish other books of mine. I also recommended a number of authors to Newbury House and helped them establish their reputation as a leading publisher of applied linguistics titles.

"However I was soon confronted with the decision as to what to do after completing my Ph.D. This was now 1972. Again, friends came to the rescue.”

The chance to learn another language

“I had befriended an Indonesian-Chinese student during my student days at Victoria, and she arranged for me to teach for a year as a volunteer teacher at her university – Satya Wacana University - in Central Java, Indonesia. The salary was $100 US a month. The organisation that sponsored my year at Satya Wacana arranged me to visit other universities they were affiliated with on my way to Indonesia, which involved stopping off in such for exotic locations as South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Thailand.

"I also decided to visit the newly established Regional Language Centre in Singapore, on my way to Indonesia.

"There I met Madame Tai Yu Lin, the first director of RELC, who invited me to consider joining the staff of RELC on completion of my year in Indonesia, an appointment that was made possible through the auspices of the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"I then continued on to central Java, spending one of the most memorable years of my life in one of the most beautiful parts of country.

"It also gave me the chance to tackle another language – this time, Indonesian, although the town and region where I lived in central Java (Salatiga), was Javanese-speaking.

"Despite folk wisdom that Bahasa Indonesia,or Bahasa Malaysia as it is known in Malaysia, is an easy language to learn, a comment frequently made by people who have never mastered the language, like many who have studied Indonesian I found that although acquiring a core vocabulary and simple daily Indonesian took less time than it took me to learn French, to acquire standard educated Indonesian with its complex lexical grammar would take at least a year of full time study.

“Consequently although I have mastered simple Indonesian my ability in the language is very limited. I have not had the chance to stretch my language skills through using it for the more complex interactions and purposes that language development depends upon.

"I also dipped further into publishing classroom materials during my year there.

"A representative of Oxford University Press, Kuala Lumpur, visited the campus one day and asked him for suggestions for the kind of books they should publish.

“I gave a few ideas and was then invited to submit a manuscript for them to consider – my first attempt at writing materials for teaching spoken English.

"The book that was resulted was pretty dreadful viewed from today’s perspective, however since it soon sold over 100,000 copies, Oxford asked me to consider writing full time once I had completed my first two year stint at Regional Education Learning Centre (RELC).”

RELC Singapore

“After Indonesia I took a two year position at RELC, a regional teacher education centre which is part of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation.

"Each member country hosts a centre, and the one in Singapore funded by the Singapore Ministry of Education was established to develop courses for English language teachers from the region.

"The course offering has been drawn up before I joined the staff and consisted of the usual range of courses assumed to constitute the professional knowledge and skill base of English teachers: teaching the four skills and theory courses drawn from linguistics and the emerging discipline of applied linguistics.

"The field of teacher development for language teachers at that time (the 1960s) was in its infancy.

“Like many recent PhD graduates I assumed that courses in psycholinguistics, English linguistics and so on, would somehow enable teachers to rethink their knowledge and practice.

"A gradual realisation that this approach was generally neither relevant nor long lasting prompted me to embark on a quest that continues to this day – namely an exploration of both the cognitive and social lives of language teachers in the classroom, how teachers develop their identities and practices, and how teacher education can move from transmission-oriented to a more transformative perspectives and practices.

"After my first two-year assignment at RELC I wrote full-time for Oxford in Asia for a further two years, and then completed a second RELC contract through the New Zealand government.

"During those years I was active in both academic publication as well as textbook writing, but felt it was time to take a lecturing position at a university.”

Professorship at University of Hawaii

“This led first to a year at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, followed by a full professorship at the university of Hawaii, whose ESL department was being recognised as one of the best in the US.

"It was an exciting time to be a university teacher. The ESL department had some of the best brains in the field and we often had heated discussions as to what the department’s mission should be, what kind of graduate courses we felt were appropriate for our students, and what the most important issues in the field were.

"It was a good preparation for my return to Hong Kong in 1989 to set up a new department of English at City University (known as City Polytechnic at the time).

"This involved designing both graduate and undergraduate degree programs. Supported by a strong group of colleagues, this as a chance to put my ideas about the nature of teacher learning in language teaching, into practice. I was also active in academic publishing during this period and published a number of books on methods, teacher development and applied linguistics.

"During this period my textbook writing projects also expanded both in scope and impact. While based in Southeast Asia I had written some skill-based courses for Oxford University Press, mainly aimed at the Asian market and these were quite well-known and received.

"Meantime Cambridge University Press wanted to develop a basic series in American English to enable them to have access to the huge demand for textbooks in American English in countries such as Brazil, Mexico, Japan, Korea and China.

"They needed someone with academic credentials as well as a track record in writing ESL materials to lead the project , so began discussion with me on writing a new four level series for Cambridge."

This became the Interchange series, now in its 5th edition, that has sold more than 50 million copies world wide.

"Developing a course of this kind did not happen by chance. There was no clear model to follow and with the help of two assistants (two of my former students).

"I tried to develop a framework for a course that reflected the assumptions of communicative language teaching – namely that one learns a language through using it as the basis for communication. One idea that informed the course is the process now known as backward design. This means that in planning each unit, we first identified the communicative outcomes of the unit – what interactions and activities the learners would take part in.

"We then worked backwards to determine the vocabulary, grammar and other components the learners would need to know in order to accomplish the final activity in each unit."

The course was launched at a conference in Japan in 1990, and created quite a stir among publishers. At the time the competition was weak, there was a need for something different, and Cambridge was actively expanding its offices in markets that favoured American English in their teaching materials.

"I took on an active role in presenting the course world-wide and found a very receptive audience for the course from teachers and students."

This year he will launch the 5th edition of the course, a revision that includes some 50 percent new content.

“It is my expectation that it will continue to appeal to teachers and students."

When asked to explain its success, Richards cites the many comments he gets from teachers.

“It works. Students and teachers like it and it delivers results,” he said.

From Hong Kong, he returned briefly to New Zealand for personal reasons and helped establish a MA TESOL degree at the University of Auckland.

By now however with the success of Interchange he was frequently needed to speak at teacher conferences and conduct seminars and workshops world wide.

“I took early retirement to enable me to give more time to these activities.

"This did not mean abandoning my teaching or academic interests, and since then I regularly give lectures or workshops and seminars in many different parts of the world.”

Music and the arts

The income from his textbooks has enabled him to pursue his passion, music and the arts.

“I took music as one of my subjects as an undergraduate and over the years music and the arts have come to play an increasingly important part of my life.

"Although I am not a performer I enjoy supporting musicians, artists and composers."

He is a patron of The Dame Kiri Te Kanawa Opera Foundation, the Gisborne International Music Competition and the Toihokura Programme in Contemporary Maori Arts.

“I have the chance to meet and support young musicians and artists.

"I provide support in different ways, through scholarships and grants and through a series of fund-raising summer concerts at my summer house in New Zealand. Over the years I have also built up a significant art collection that includes fine art, textiles, Lalique glass from the 1920s and paintings.”

Much of this is now displayed in the Jack C Richards Decorative Arts Gallery at Tairawhiti museum in Gisborne.

“Looking back on my career makes me realise how fortunate I often was to be in the right place at the right time, to work with many exceptional colleagues and students, to enjoy the work that I do and to have a supportive and patient long-term Korean partner – Won Gyu, a former engineer who shares my interest in travel, the arts and the garden at Tiromoana."

They divide their year between the Gisborne residence and apartments in Wellington, Sydney, Seoul and Pusan.

The Gisborne summers mean more than time to catch up on gardening and local friends. December saw a focus on organising four piano performances at their summer house in support of the Gisborne International Music Competition, while in January and February three more concerts are scheduled featuring violin, cello, and piano.

Gisborne’s Professor Jack Richards has been named one of the 50 most influential language teaching specialists in the world — and the only Kiwi. Reporter Kim Parkinson meets the man known for his generosity in supporting the arts, at his summer home Tiromoana in Okitu.

It is a stormy day when we meet at the 1.8-hectare Winifred Street property — a stark contrast to the stunning afternoon when I was last there for a concert by virtuoso pianist Tony Lee and oboist Long Nguyen.

The sea is grey and angry, the sky overcast and after a late night recording a video for Youtube the night before with video producer Mark Chrisp, he apologises for getting the time wrong.

Professor Jack Richards is nowhere to be found when I first arrive, but later he appears freshly showered and dressed in a crisp, bird-print shirt.

Suggesting we do the photo in the Lalique room, we are guided to a room lined with shelves containing the priceless French glassware and a single desk with a laptop in the corner.

Now in his 70s, he is the picture of good health with clear, bright blue eyes. He was wearing his characteristic tortoishell-framed glasses and was casually dressed.

Prof Richards’ career is one that almost never happened. It was neither planned or anticipated, he says in a soon-to-be published book Content and Process in Language Teacher Education, due out next July.

“I grew up in a small town in New Zealand that has a bicultural population (Gisborne — population 30,000 and around 50 percent Maori), and where I had my school education.

“My years at high school were not times I recall with much pleasure, mainly because for some reason it was decided that the science stream would be best for me.

“So I found myself locked into chemistry, math and physics classes, none of which I had the slightest interest in or aptitude for. I struggled on.

“My parents were not well-educated and had no guidance to offer.

“When it came time to leave high school, my mother thought I should be an accountant like my father, a field I had no interest in. Neither my parents nor I ever considered that I should continue to university since I had performed dismally at high school, nor in fact did we have the slightest understanding of the nature of university studies.

“I don’t recall it ever being a topic of discussion at high school. However, I had enjoyed music and drama at high school and thought perhaps a career in some related field might be a possibility.

“So after leaving school, I was taken on as a trainee in the New Zealand Broadcasting Service (NZBS).

“I excitedly reported to work on my first day in the capital city, Wellington, eagerly anticipating a whole new life and career. Imagine my shock when I found I was assigned to work first in the mail room and later in the accounts division!”

A new book

This month saw the release of his 20th academic textbook, 50 Tips for Teacher Development (Cambridge University Press), 2017.

The tips in the book contain a wide variety of activities teachers can use to plan and manage aspects of their own professional development.

They draw on his many years of experience in working with teachers at different stages in their professional development.

As a young man living in Wellington in the 1960s, he got the idea to go to university from one of his fellow employees at the New Zealand Broadcasting Service who informed him that as a civil servant, he was entitled to take part-time courses during office hours, at Victoria University.

“This was something I had never considered, however I did wander up the hill to the university and enrol in my first university course — a course in English literature.

“Experiencing university for the first time was an eye opener.

Fascinating lectures and teachers and warm comradery from fellow students.

I continued with part-time study the following year, and then realised this was the place I needed to be, so decided to quit government service and study full time.”

“Although there was no such thing as student fees in those days, I still needed to cover my rent and daily expenses.

My parents had nothing to offer, and even charged me for accommodation when I went home in the university holiday to take a summer job, but then someone else came to my rescue.

A student friend told me she had a part time job in a language support centre on campus known as the English Language Institute, and they needed someone else to work part-time in the language laboratory, listening to foreign students completing their drills and exercises and giving them feedback on their English.

This was a transforming experience for me.

I suddenly discovered there was a field called English language teaching – and overnight I found my vocation. This was what I wanted to do.

Had I not had that part time job in the language institute who knows what sort of career I might have had.”

“Of course I spoke English but I knew nothing about the English language nor anything about language teaching.

In order to better prepare myself for a possible teaching career I took all the linguistics courses that were offered at the undergraduate level and also acquired a diploma in English language teaching.”

A passion for the arts

“I was also active in drama activities during my student days and took leading roles in a number of productions. I think the ability to act before an audience has helped me speak to large audiences at public lectures in later years. After graduating with my BA, I decided to continue to the MA degree and also began to acquire some practical classroom experience as a tutor in the English Language Institute.”

“After teaching for a couple of years I realised I needed to go further with my education. One serious gap in my experience was that I had never had the opportunity to learn a second language. Then I realised I could kill two birds with one stone – to learn a second language and acquire a Ph.D at the same time. I had been fortunate to obtain a first class pass for my MA which gave me the chance to apply for a scholarship to study abroad.

"And a scholar whose work I admired was a professor at Laval University in Quebec, Canada, a French-language University in a French speaking city.

"So I applied and received a Canadian Commonwealth Scholarship to study in French Canada.

Quebec, Canada

“On arrival in Quebec City I enrolled in a summer course in French, taught under the strict dictates of a method that was popular at the time, a kind of French Audiollingual method (known as the audiovisual method), which consisted of memorising dialogs and repeating drills.

"This gave me a distaste for pre-packed methods which I felt assumed both the learners and the teacher were idiots and all one had to do was to submit to the method. Some years later I followed this line of thought when I wrote Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching (with Ted Rodgers), which remains perhaps my best known academic text book, has been translated into many languages and is now in a third edition.

"I spent four years in Quebec City, a delightful place to live, and during that time experienced snow for the first time, learned a passable French through interacting with French Canadians in the community, and obtained further teaching experience in a local primary school.

"I didn’t find the courses I took at Laval particularly challenging or interesting. However two events triggered the next stage in my career.

"One was my foray into academic writing and publishing.

“The other was publishing classroom materials. My academic writing career started with a well-received conference paper on error analysis that was subsequently published in English Language Teaching- an important professional journal for language teachers, which led to a number of speaking invitations and two edited books that gave me good credentials.

"A set of my primary materials were also picked up by a newly established publishing company called Newbury House. The owner of Newbury House was a friend of my Ph. D supervisor (W.F.Mackey), who made the connection for me.

"Newbury later went on to publish other books of mine. I also recommended a number of authors to Newbury House and helped them establish their reputation as a leading publisher of applied linguistics titles.

"However I was soon confronted with the decision as to what to do after completing my Ph.D. This was now 1972. Again, friends came to the rescue.”

The chance to learn another language

“I had befriended an Indonesian-Chinese student during my student days at Victoria, and she arranged for me to teach for a year as a volunteer teacher at her university – Satya Wacana University - in Central Java, Indonesia. The salary was $100 US a month. The organisation that sponsored my year at Satya Wacana arranged me to visit other universities they were affiliated with on my way to Indonesia, which involved stopping off in such for exotic locations as South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Thailand.

"I also decided to visit the newly established Regional Language Centre in Singapore, on my way to Indonesia.

"There I met Madame Tai Yu Lin, the first director of RELC, who invited me to consider joining the staff of RELC on completion of my year in Indonesia, an appointment that was made possible through the auspices of the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"I then continued on to central Java, spending one of the most memorable years of my life in one of the most beautiful parts of country.

"It also gave me the chance to tackle another language – this time, Indonesian, although the town and region where I lived in central Java (Salatiga), was Javanese-speaking.

"Despite folk wisdom that Bahasa Indonesia,or Bahasa Malaysia as it is known in Malaysia, is an easy language to learn, a comment frequently made by people who have never mastered the language, like many who have studied Indonesian I found that although acquiring a core vocabulary and simple daily Indonesian took less time than it took me to learn French, to acquire standard educated Indonesian with its complex lexical grammar would take at least a year of full time study.

“Consequently although I have mastered simple Indonesian my ability in the language is very limited. I have not had the chance to stretch my language skills through using it for the more complex interactions and purposes that language development depends upon.

"I also dipped further into publishing classroom materials during my year there.

"A representative of Oxford University Press, Kuala Lumpur, visited the campus one day and asked him for suggestions for the kind of books they should publish.

“I gave a few ideas and was then invited to submit a manuscript for them to consider – my first attempt at writing materials for teaching spoken English.

"The book that was resulted was pretty dreadful viewed from today’s perspective, however since it soon sold over 100,000 copies, Oxford asked me to consider writing full time once I had completed my first two year stint at Regional Education Learning Centre (RELC).”

RELC Singapore

“After Indonesia I took a two year position at RELC, a regional teacher education centre which is part of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation.

"Each member country hosts a centre, and the one in Singapore funded by the Singapore Ministry of Education was established to develop courses for English language teachers from the region.

"The course offering has been drawn up before I joined the staff and consisted of the usual range of courses assumed to constitute the professional knowledge and skill base of English teachers: teaching the four skills and theory courses drawn from linguistics and the emerging discipline of applied linguistics.

"The field of teacher development for language teachers at that time (the 1960s) was in its infancy.

“Like many recent PhD graduates I assumed that courses in psycholinguistics, English linguistics and so on, would somehow enable teachers to rethink their knowledge and practice.

"A gradual realisation that this approach was generally neither relevant nor long lasting prompted me to embark on a quest that continues to this day – namely an exploration of both the cognitive and social lives of language teachers in the classroom, how teachers develop their identities and practices, and how teacher education can move from transmission-oriented to a more transformative perspectives and practices.

"After my first two-year assignment at RELC I wrote full-time for Oxford in Asia for a further two years, and then completed a second RELC contract through the New Zealand government.

"During those years I was active in both academic publication as well as textbook writing, but felt it was time to take a lecturing position at a university.”

Professorship at University of Hawaii

“This led first to a year at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, followed by a full professorship at the university of Hawaii, whose ESL department was being recognised as one of the best in the US.

"It was an exciting time to be a university teacher. The ESL department had some of the best brains in the field and we often had heated discussions as to what the department’s mission should be, what kind of graduate courses we felt were appropriate for our students, and what the most important issues in the field were.

"It was a good preparation for my return to Hong Kong in 1989 to set up a new department of English at City University (known as City Polytechnic at the time).

"This involved designing both graduate and undergraduate degree programs. Supported by a strong group of colleagues, this as a chance to put my ideas about the nature of teacher learning in language teaching, into practice. I was also active in academic publishing during this period and published a number of books on methods, teacher development and applied linguistics.

"During this period my textbook writing projects also expanded both in scope and impact. While based in Southeast Asia I had written some skill-based courses for Oxford University Press, mainly aimed at the Asian market and these were quite well-known and received.

"Meantime Cambridge University Press wanted to develop a basic series in American English to enable them to have access to the huge demand for textbooks in American English in countries such as Brazil, Mexico, Japan, Korea and China.

"They needed someone with academic credentials as well as a track record in writing ESL materials to lead the project , so began discussion with me on writing a new four level series for Cambridge."

This became the Interchange series, now in its 5th edition, that has sold more than 50 million copies world wide.

"Developing a course of this kind did not happen by chance. There was no clear model to follow and with the help of two assistants (two of my former students).

"I tried to develop a framework for a course that reflected the assumptions of communicative language teaching – namely that one learns a language through using it as the basis for communication. One idea that informed the course is the process now known as backward design. This means that in planning each unit, we first identified the communicative outcomes of the unit – what interactions and activities the learners would take part in.

"We then worked backwards to determine the vocabulary, grammar and other components the learners would need to know in order to accomplish the final activity in each unit."

The course was launched at a conference in Japan in 1990, and created quite a stir among publishers. At the time the competition was weak, there was a need for something different, and Cambridge was actively expanding its offices in markets that favoured American English in their teaching materials.

"I took on an active role in presenting the course world-wide and found a very receptive audience for the course from teachers and students."

This year he will launch the 5th edition of the course, a revision that includes some 50 percent new content.

“It is my expectation that it will continue to appeal to teachers and students."

When asked to explain its success, Richards cites the many comments he gets from teachers.

“It works. Students and teachers like it and it delivers results,” he said.

From Hong Kong, he returned briefly to New Zealand for personal reasons and helped establish a MA TESOL degree at the University of Auckland.

By now however with the success of Interchange he was frequently needed to speak at teacher conferences and conduct seminars and workshops world wide.

“I took early retirement to enable me to give more time to these activities.

"This did not mean abandoning my teaching or academic interests, and since then I regularly give lectures or workshops and seminars in many different parts of the world.”

Music and the arts

The income from his textbooks has enabled him to pursue his passion, music and the arts.

“I took music as one of my subjects as an undergraduate and over the years music and the arts have come to play an increasingly important part of my life.

"Although I am not a performer I enjoy supporting musicians, artists and composers."

He is a patron of The Dame Kiri Te Kanawa Opera Foundation, the Gisborne International Music Competition and the Toihokura Programme in Contemporary Maori Arts.

“I have the chance to meet and support young musicians and artists.

"I provide support in different ways, through scholarships and grants and through a series of fund-raising summer concerts at my summer house in New Zealand. Over the years I have also built up a significant art collection that includes fine art, textiles, Lalique glass from the 1920s and paintings.”

Much of this is now displayed in the Jack C Richards Decorative Arts Gallery at Tairawhiti museum in Gisborne.

“Looking back on my career makes me realise how fortunate I often was to be in the right place at the right time, to work with many exceptional colleagues and students, to enjoy the work that I do and to have a supportive and patient long-term Korean partner – Won Gyu, a former engineer who shares my interest in travel, the arts and the garden at Tiromoana."

They divide their year between the Gisborne residence and apartments in Wellington, Sydney, Seoul and Pusan.

The Gisborne summers mean more than time to catch up on gardening and local friends. December saw a focus on organising four piano performances at their summer house in support of the Gisborne International Music Competition, while in January and February three more concerts are scheduled featuring violin, cello, and piano.

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