Chris Sowton portrait

Chris Sowton has been working in the field of English Language Teaching for 25 years. He has worked for a range of institutions, including Cambridge University Press and the British Council, and taught at institutions including Cambridge University and King’s College London (University of London). He has written extensively in the field, as author or co-author on more than 20 ELT books, including CUP’s Unlock and Prism series. His most recent work is Teaching in Challenging Circumstances, which provides practical advice and classroom-ready teaching tips for teachers working in difficult circumstances, and was shortlisted for a British Council ELTon. He has conducted teacher training and educational research in many countries, including Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Nepal, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, India, Somaliland, China, and Indonesia. He has also made and presented two podcasts for the British Council: The Climate Connection, which explores language education and the climate crisis, and Teaching English, which provides practical advice for teachers. He has an MA, a DELTA, and is currently pursuing a doctorate at the University of Bath, focusing on the language-in-education policy of South Sudan. Further information can be found at


What Paulo Freire can teach us about ELT 

To wash one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral. A century after the birth of Paulo Freire, and despite the fact that his ideas are little-known in many parts of the world, there is much that we can still learn from the Brazilian educator.

This plenary highlights some of the areas in which Freirean thought could have a positive impact in the world of English Language Teaching, especially as we emerge into a post-COVID landscape. The session will initially explore some of Freire’s key writings about conscientização (critical consciousness), the banking model of education, his view that language could never be neutral, and how education can liberate human potential. These ideas will then be used to explore the world of contemporary ELT, analysing areas such as language-in-education policy, curriculum and syllabus design, assessment, pedagogy, and methodology, as well as students’ (and parents’) rationale for learning English, and indeed the type of English which is being learnt. In the plenary, I will argue that by adopting a more Freirean approach, the ELT community can become more equitable, fairer, and more closely connected to social justice issues, for example by employing multilingual approaches in the classroom, adopting a more problem-centred pedagogical approach, and developing materials which are meaningful for all students, rather than just a select group.

In so doing, our language teaching can become richer, deeper, more effective, and more relevant, as we look to support young people in addressing the myriad economic, social, and environmental challenges that surround us.