The Burning Questionnaire: Ben Goldstein

BenGBen Goldstein is one of those people, isn’t he? One of those people that it’s impossible not to like. He’s also extremely good at what he does (check out the article he wrote for ELTpics, if you need proof of that). A discreet but stylish, low-key kinda ‘ELT star’, it’s a real honour to be able to share this Burning Questionnaire with you, and offer you a peek at what makes Ben tick. I hope you enjoy the read – though I personally think the first half of his surname says it all…..


What is your full name, and where did it all start?

I’m Benjamin Philip Goldstein, but everyone has always called me Ben or Benny. My middle name Philip comes from my mother’s grandfather who was Feifel (Yiddish for Philip). In fact, my mother’s family anglicised their surname to Philips.

After two boys (Joshua and Daniel) my parents were hoping for a “Catherine Elizabeth” I think but they got me instead and my father (who was a rabbi) had to officiate another circumcision. But anyway, they called me Benjamin (the youngest son) so I guess they didn’t except another. Apparently, it was a very cold April day in north London, snowing in fact like in that Prince song.

Image by Chrysa Papalazarou at eltpics

Image by Chrysa Papalazarou at eltpics

What music do you listen to or sing along with while driving / cooking / in the shower / contemplating your navel?

Just about anything and everything except heavy metal and country. Today it’s been Nick Cave, Manel, Caribou, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Aaron Copland’s clarinet concerto and Max Richter’s reinvented Four Seasons. I’m a big fan of Brazilian music because it usually gives me such a lift. As a contrast, I also ambient drone and things like Sigur Ros. I like to keep up with contemporary classical as well, though now I find myself listening to my parents’ favourite composers – Brahms, Schubert and Mozart – which I used to hate as a kid. That’s middle age for you!

What’s the most satisfying – or frustrating – aspect of your job?

Frustrating are the endless rewrites and getting permission refused for texts or images so you have to think again. That happens so often! The slowness of the ELT publishing industry is also something that drives me crazy. Everything seems to take forever. Without a doubt, the most satisfying part is the face-to-face teaching training that I do from time to time. I recently ran a materials writing course in Brazil which I enjoyed. Teaching online is also rewarding but it has its frustrations and I spend so much time at the screen anyway. A fun part of my job is all the travelling – just finding myself in unlikely places talking to teachers who have used my books and getting feedback, of course that’s satisfying. The

Image by Ian James at ELTpics

Image by Ian James at ELTpics

fact that happens never ceases to amaze me, I don’t know why.

Writing, training or teaching? Why?

Well, all three but not in the above order. I’d like to do more training and teaching but writing predominates at the moment. I guess training is what I most enjoy of the three but that could be because of the novelty value, I don’t do it enough. I’ve recently started giving talks in Spanish on methodology and I really like it. It’s amazing because Spanish is a language I’ve spoken for nearly 25 years but I’d never used it in a formal or academic register before now. I like the fact that I can train these teachers but they can also correct me on my Spanish – there’s a good balance somehow.

A teacher from your schooldays:

Tony O’Sullivan – he was my English teacher at primary school and was incredibly encouraging and gave me a lot of confidence – creative writing became my favourite subject very quickly and that was thanks to him, I think. I knew I would end up writing as I got older and even suspected I’d make a living from it. I would also like to mention a professor of mine at Sheffield University – Dr Bryan Burns. His lectures on film I still remember to this day. It was a joy to be in his class. I was very sad to hear that he had died so young.

What was the first thing you learnt as an ELT teacher?

At the start, I couldn’t understand why my chats with the students in the coffee break and before and after class were somehow more satisfying than the class itself. Unwittingly, I then think I tried to bring a bit of “that coffee break feel” into my teaching – well, that’s the essence of a conversation-driven approach but I didn’t realize that at the time of course.

Image by James Taylor at ELTpics

Image by James Taylor at ELTpics

What motivates/inspires you most?

Hitting on a stimulating text, image or a video is something that really inspires me. The art then is that you don’t kill the original by designing a task around it. That’s not always easy to achieve but it happens sometimes that you still like the text after having exploited it!

Do you ever cry at the cinema?

Not much. I think music has a more powerful effect on me. It must be something to do with the power of visualization – the images that are conjured up in my mind affect me more. But that probably happens to quite a lot of people.

Your favourite meal? Where? And perhaps with whom?
I don’t have a particular favourite. But I love the informality of sharing food it doesn’t matter what it is – sushi, pizza, tapas, paella – that’s what so good about living in Spain, people love sharing food here. I particularly like dim sum, opening up all those bamboo boxes and being surprised about what’s inside. Eating in a formal restaurant with my own dish in front of me is just not the same.

A book?
Impossible to choose one or even ten, but I’m developing a taste for big books that linger with you for days, weeks, months. I’ve just read The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, it’s set in the 1860s in New Zealand and is over 800 pages long. It’s fascinating because I didn’t really care that much about the characters or even what happened in the incredibly convoluted plot, it’s just so well written that you want to carry on reading it for the sheer pleasure of having that book by your side. That story could have carried on forever. I love books like that. Roberto Bolaño’s novels are similar – I could read Los Detectives Salvajes again and again but just because I find his voice is so compelling.

A dream?

Image by Fiona Mauchline at ELTpics

Image by Fiona Mauchline at ELTpics

To be able to have enough time and mental space to write something that isn’t ELT-related. One day…

Beach, mountains or city?
I’m lucky enough to live next to the beach, so I’m going to say mountains. My favourite holidays have always been in the mountains, for example I’m lucky enough to have gone trekking in Patagonia and Iceland – it’s in places like that where life feels worth living, simple as that.

Tablet or pen & notebook?
I don’t have a tablet, so notebook but I rarely use a notebook either – I’m not organized enough. I’m still one of those people who’s surrounded by scraps of paper and my desktop has a thousand files on it. I work in a rather chaotic way, which I’d like to change.

Day or night?
Night – I work better, I think better, I feel more relaxed as the day reaches its end. I’m hopeless in the mornings and always have been.

A sport?
I’m not good at any sports and I don’t enjoy them. Running is about all I do really and it’s good because it clears my head and makes me feel better afterwards but I can’t say like it at the time.


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