31 May 1996
John Haycraft, who has died aged 69, was a pioneer of teaching English as a foreign language.
As the founder of International House in London, Haycraft built up a network of 100 language schools in more than 30 countries. On his retirement from the organisation in 1990 he estimated that 30,000 teachers had completed his training course and passed on their knowledge to more than a million students.
Haycraft introduced innovative teaching methods. He believed in colloquial and conversational English rather than adhering to dry, formally correct grammar.
Another of his precepts was that teaching should take place outside the classroom as much as inside it. He encouraged teachers to take students on cultural trips, outings to the cinema and even pub crawls.
Positive and enthusiastic, he was always seeking new ways to inspire teachers and students. In 1970 he opened the English Teaching Theatre at the Magic Circle’s small theatre in Holborn, where members of the audience could interact with performers.
An unusual aspect of some of these dramas was the use of striptease. A young girl would slowly remove her clothes and the students were asked to repeat such phrases as, “She’s taking off her stockings,” then “She’s taken off her stockings”.
Haycraft found that students could not learn if they were not happy. It was a policy of all the schools affiliated to International House that they should offer advice, not only about language but also about the customs of the country, and such problems as finding decent lodgings and jobs.
In more than 40 years of teaching English, Haycraft helped to set up codes of practice and assurances of quality in a profession where there had been none. He was motivated by a desire to see English established as a second language all around the world so that communication would be possible between peoples of every nation.
John Stacpoole Haycraft was born on Dec 11 1926 in India, the son of an officer in the 5/8 Punjab Regiment. His father was killed by a soldier whom he had passed over for promotion, and John spent much of his youth travelling around Italy and France with his mother on her widow’s pension. He was educated at Wellington and did national service before going up to Jesus College, Oxford, in 1948. After a postgraduate course at Yale he went to Spain, supporting himself by teaching English, and with his wife, Brita, set up the first International House school, in Cordoba. He described his time there in his book Babel in Spain, which was well reviewed but earned him the displeasure of Franco’s government.
In 1959 he returned to England to start an International House in modest premises in Neal Street, Covent Garden. At the same time, with the sponsorship of Christopher Dilke at Bush House, he started the BBC series English by Radio.
In 1964 the school moved to a corner of Piccadilly Circus, available at low rent, since the buildings were due for demolition.
With English fast developing as a world language, the demand for new schools was rising; at one time there were 17 International House schools in Italy alone.
In 1977 International House moved to 106 Piccadilly, the home of the old St James’s Club. The new premises were opened by Harold Macmillan, an old member of the club, who could see in Talleyrand’s house (which it had once also been) the continuation of a multi-lingual tradition.
After his retirement from International House in 1990, Haycraft collaborated with the businessman George Soros in opening schools in central and eastern Europe.
John Haycraft was appointed CBE in 1982. His publications include Babel in London, Italian Labyrinth and In Search of the French Revolution.
He married, in 1953, Brita Langenfeldt; they had two sons and a daughter.
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