30 May 1996
John Haycraft, CBE, language teacher and writer, died of a heart condition on May 23 aged 69. He was born on December 11, 1926.
In the world of teaching languages to foreigners, John Haycraft was a charismatic and uniquely influential figure. Through International House in London, which he co-founded with his Swedish wife Brita, he built up a British-based worldwide network of more than 100 affiliated privately owned language schools. But International House remained a non-profit-making foundation. Haycraft worked in the best tradition of the British amateur, scorning riches and seeking a simple lifestyle.
From the 1950s he pioneered lively new ways of teaching languages, using, for example, drama and role-playing. His intensive teacher-training courses in London became famous and did much to establish EFL - English as a Foreign Language - as a recognised discipline of its own. A man of huge energy and passion, Haycraft carried through his life a strong internationalist vision. He hated the narrowness of nationalism and saw the learning of languages as an essential vehicle to world understanding. While his main effort went into teaching English, he was equally concerned for the British to learn other tongues: he spoke six languages himself.
John Stacpoole Haycraft was born in India. He was the son of a British officer in the Indian Army who died when his son was only two. With his mother - a professional tennis player, part Bavarian and part Italian - Haycraft spent his early years in France and Italy. Despite the classic English education that followed, at Wellington College - of which he became head boy - and Jesus College, Oxford, he never felt totally English and was more at home with foreigners. After the war he crusaded for the World Government movement.
Intending to be a writer, and feeling an affinity for the Mediterranean, Haycraft went in 1953 to Spain, planning to earn his living by teaching English. He and his wife set up the first modest International House School in Cordoba. His book Babel in Spain described the six happy years which he spent there.
In 1959 Haycraft transferred his venture to central London, starting a small International House there. Believing that most EFL teaching was stilted and archaic, Haycraft set about training new teachers in his methods. At a time when English was fast developing as the world language, the need for new schools rapidly grew. Affiliated schools were opened all across the globe - from Estonia to Argentina - although International House itself owned only its London base.
Spain and Italy currently have about 20 schools each. Haycraft and his wife started and ran the Rome school for a while before, in 1971, founding another big school in Paris. This one, however, caused some complications, partly because of French bureaucracy and suspicion but also in part thanks to Haycraft’s own blazing optimism displayed in the face of every adversity, which often led him to overreach himself.
In London, Haycraft pioneered “teaching theatre”, with actors performing little plays as part of the learning process. Students did similar role-playing sketches. Haycraft collaborated with the BBC World Service’s English by Radio. He was always quick to see the benefits of new technologies, first language laboratories, later videos and computers. Haycraft also put stress on social and cultural activities, on music, discussions, parties and outings.
Haycraft was appointed CBE in 1982. In 1990 he retired as director-general, but was then invited to help set up International House affiliated schools in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet bloc. Haycraft was quick to take up the roving job, starting schools in Kiev and Timisoara. But the work was a strain and probably hastened the heart trouble which killed him.
Haycraft rarely gave himself enough time for his second career and first ambition: writing. His two accounts of his earlier teaching years, Babel in Spain and Babel in London, show the lively humour and insatiable interest of their author.
There followed Italian Labyrinth in 1985 and In Search of the French Revolution in 1989, an unusual travel book which revealed his fascination with history. He had just completed his memoirs when he died - two years after his younger brother Colin, the well-known publisher and chairman of Duckworth.
He leaves his widow, Brita, and their daughter and two sons.
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