MULLing with the Hadfields

Our series of interviews with dedicated MULLers continues this time with the Hadfields: Jill, Charles and their daughter Laura.

Charles Hadfield  teaches at Exeter University, Graduate School of Education, after a decade at Auckland University, and a previous career in many different countries. He has always had a great interest in ‘teaching English in difficult circumstances’, spending many years working in ‘developing countries’ in Asia and Africa. As a poet published in Europe,  USA, NZ, and Britain, with four collections to date, he has always emphasised ‘creativity’ in his teaching and training. He is the author of several ELT books Including Writing Games, Reading Games , Introduction to Teaching English and the Oxford Basics series.

Jill Hadfield has worked as a teacher trainer in Britain, France, China, Tibet, Madagascar and  New Zealand, run short courses and seminars for teachers in many other parts of the world and acted as consultant on aid projects in Africa. She has written thirty books, including the Communication Games series, the Oxford Basics series, Classroom Dynamics, a primary Course Excellent!, An Introduction to Teaching English  and  Motivating Learners,  co authored with Zoltan Dornyei .  She has also written two travel books and a novel and has a passion for creativity both in the teaching profession and outside it.

Laura is an English Kiwi currently studying Linguistics and Creative Prose in Auckland Uni. She has a BA in Spanish and Linguistics, and is a keen runner, reader, writer and cat lover who loves creating and remembering bizarre dreams when she wakes up in the morning!


How long have you been a member of the MULL group?

Jill:    Since it started – about a year ago

Laura:    Almost a year

Charles:    From its early days, I think at least a year.


Where do you usually take photos for the group? What kinds of photos do you take?

Laura:    Usually in the CBD of Auckland, walking to uni in town –  mainly signs and advertisements that I find quirky or funny

Jill:    All three of us take photos in two hemispheres – Britain and New Zealand – and sometimes at points in between like Korea or Thailand. I also take photos in countries where I have been invited for conferences, Australia, Japan, Spain, were the last. Where? Anywhere and everywhere… on the street, in restaurants, on the road, in airports, in traffic jams…

I developed a particular obsession with NZ car numberplates – the kind that are called Vanity Plates in the US. NZ has few restrictions on numberplates – 5-7 characters – numbers or letters which means that people can have plates saying for example I MI55 U  or NO 1 YFE (Number One Wife).  Each numberplate has a story behind it and I spend some time wondering what induced the driver to pay money for this public message.

No 1 wife by Jill Hadfield
Just how many does he have? No. 1 wife by Jill Hadfield CC BY 4.0

Charles:    Wherever I am and whenever I can. I learnt very soon that I should always have a camera in my pocket…I often saw things and said to myself, I’ll go back to get a photo…to find it had disappeared, or I could not return easily. “Make Photo while the Sun Shines” is now my MULL proverb now.


What do you use to take photos (e.g. smartphone or camera)?

Jill:    A  small camera.

Laura:    My camera, I don’t own a phone with a camera J

Charles:    Phone? What’s that? Camera of course. I hardly ever use a telephone, let alone a ‘smart’ phone!!!!

One day Charles, one day… Photo by Elliot Brown CC BY-SA 2.0

Have you learnt anything about language through taking photos for MULL?

Jill:    It has made me more aware of the human  capacity for and enjoyment of language play in a huge variety of situations

Charles:    Heaps. I love the way we can watch various languages interweaving, English of course but not only…interesting recent posts on the borders of German and Cyrillic, the wonderful way Spanish and Portuguese  interact, sometimes with English….I really can’t specify any one example. (But thanks to the Brazilian contributions, my Portuguese has improved unbelievably over the last year or so!)

Laura:    I do find the language of advertising very odd, it’s often directed at a very small demographic in a very public area…


Have you had any interesting experiences along the way?

Laura:    I have made friends around me aware of funny signs around Auckland that they now point out to me

Jill:    Plenty.. From attempting to understand menus in Korea , where we were offered Sir-fried Knee Cartilage of a Cow, to arriving in Wellington airport to find that the airport had been renamed..Middle of Middle Earth.

How long was I asleep??? Middle Earth by Jill Hadfield CC BY 2.0

One or two strange encounters with car owners who were puzzled as to why I was photographing their numberplates and not very forthcoming about the reasons for the plate. I learned never to come between a man and his vanity plate! But mostly I like the way MULLing can make very boring experiences interesting – from sitting in a traffic jam to waiting for a delayed flight in an airport.

Charles:    Grabbing a camera to get a photo before Jill takes it!!  Marvelling at how a local friend (Ruth) manages to spot so many signs and details that I have not noticed…the ‘competitive’ element actually makes me want to MULL  wherever I go….really makes life that bit more interesting!

Finding that the most boring stop-over/wait in an unfamiliar place suddenly becomes fascinating because of all the new signs…on planes, trains, in airports, pubs….always more to see.


Can you tell us about a memorable photo?

Charles:    I particularly like the series of laconic York (UK)  newspaper hoardings sent in by Lewis Lansford! The crazy car reg plates from NZ and California and elsewhere. The great way that several Arabic signs have been sent in…we need more from other languages…

Cycle path to nowhere by Lewis Lansford CC BY 2.0

Laura:    Of other people’s photos, I found the ones in Brazil that were quite explicit when explained very surprising!
Of my photos, the ‘Seoul trading centre’ which was a dairy (corner shop) amusing.

Seoul Trading House by Laura Haddy CC BY 4.0
Seoul Trading House by Laura Haddy CC BY 4.0

Jill:    Plenty of memorable ones on the MULL site! I particularly liked Michelle’s photo essay on the Japanese T shirt, Ruth’s street signs from Teignmouth and always enjoy Lewis’s headline news from Accomb.  Memorable photos I have found: I particularly like signage with word play, for example the Auckland poster Ship happens or the sign outside our local bakers’ BA king BR ead. Or I like the unintentionally funny ones like the sign on the motorway which read SIGN NOT IN USE. And of course, my proudest moment was photographing this:

Ours too Jill. Ours too. MULL 1 by Jill Hadfield CC BY 2.0

What do you like/dislike about the MULL group?

Jill:    I think it’s great to be part of an international community united by love of language, and to be privileged to have a window on the linguistic world in this way

Laura:    I like knowing where the photos are from, sometimes a lack of context is confusing though!

Charles:    What’s not to like?!  It’s the first thing I go to when I wake up / return to my computer, always puts a spring in my step, to know that people all around the world are sharing this delight in language


Anything else you’d like to share?

Jill:    I did a  preliminary classification of numberplates on the MULL FB site . I’d like to investigate this area more , and also ways of using signage  for creative writing with students.

Charles:    I’ve been back in UK for nearly two years now, and have still not managed to get a photo of my most wished for MULL contribution /target…I see it often when I’m driving, but can’t stop…I think I will have to take a day off work soon for dedicated MULL research…, watch this space!

Laura:    Keep going!

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