Vicki Hollett on Cristina Whitecross

She-in-ELT series - 2

Karenne, there are so many inspiring women in TEFL, what about all the ones you're bound to miss?

But, actually, I think I have your winner!

I am proud to know the most inspiring woman, or person for that matter, in the field of English Language Teaching.

Her name is Cristina Whitecross.

Cristina's big and small: a huge intellect, a vast store of knowledge that she's constantly sharing and a gigantic personality all packed into a tiny 1.64m frame. She's Argentinean and was an English teacher there until life took a tragic turn.

In 1976, under the Galtieri dictatorship, Cristina and her husband were imprisoned for six months for harbouring Chilean refugees. Argentinean prisons were filled with intellectuals who tried to find ways to share knowledge and keep going on.

Thankfully Cristina and Richard survived and were freed, but they were exiled. Many years on one of her sons, inspired by the political injustice suffered by his parents, co-directed the movie The Road to Guantanamo with Michael Winterbottom.

Once Christina was in the UK, she worked behind the scenes at Oxford University Press in the UK, heading up the professional English and applied linguistics list, along with the ELT Journal.

She has also volunteered for Amnesty International and similar organizations, helping refugees in the UK to access support and ELT training. Sadly Richard has now developed Alzheimer’s so she spends a great deal of time visiting the hospital.

Did I mention she has super-human time management skills?

We’ve all wondered how she managed to do so much but now she's freelancing and doing even more. She still edits, exercises, sings, she takes courses and here's Dougie, the puppy she's training for Dogs for the Disabled.

Here are a few of my personal reasons for nominating Cristina:
  • Over the years, she has sent me countless inspirational articles and sources of ideas – sometimes an in-flight magazine she picked up, a newspaper cutting - little packages arriving out of the blue just in case something might help. Writers wonder what they did before Google. I had Cristina.
  • Cristina has sound, sound publishing judgment. Her colleagues say it's instinctive but I think it stems from a deep understanding of both theory and practice.
  • Cristina would allow me make 'one last change' to a manuscript many, many times. But she also knew how to wrench it out of my hands at the right time.
  • Cristina sticks her neck out. She's championed groundbreaking research and publications in English as a Lingua Franca, regardless of the political furor they've stirred amongst her peers. If you're fighting to do some good in the world, you'll never find a more loyal supporter than Cristina.
  • Cristina gave me kicks up the backside when I didn't do things well, and there have been a good few. I remember her giving me a dressing down after a poorly angled talk. Donald Trump and Alan Sugar are wimps in the board room compared to Cristina. But I never left feeling abandoned, and I've always understood why I needed to do better.
  • Cristina cares deeply about the development of the people around her and she's given me great advice over the years. Lots of other authors feel the same and her colleagues too. It may seem like publishers have a glamorous job, but they scrape by, in my experience - much like ELT teachers. For the most part, they're working very long hours for not a lot. Cristina takes a personal interest in us all.
  • One last curious thing about Cristina. She can't read a newspaper without a pen in her hand. Even though it's been published, she's making corrections to the text. My take on it is she can't stop. She'll always be trying to make the world a better place.

Vicki Hollett is the author of textbooks like Tech Talk, Business Objectives, Business Opportunities, Quick Work, Meeting Objectives, In at the Deep End and the soon to be Lifestyle. She attributes their success to imaginative students, her patient family and friends, and Cristina Whitecross. Oh and history – if anyone waits long enough they’re bound to come back into fashion again!

Vicki’s special interests are business English, sociolinguistics and pragmatics.

British by birth, she’s currently based in the US where she’s writing more courses, teaching at the University of Pennsylvania and learning to speak ‘merican.

She'll also be giving the Plenary at BESIG in Poznan, Poland, November 20th 2009.

More in this series:

7 Responses to “Vicki Hollett on Cristina Whitecross”

  • Shelly Terrell says:
    August 27, 2009


    What a wonderful piece! I really enjoy learning about the feats that make a person in the industry personable. I really admire how Cristina Whitecross has managed to accomplish so much and is passionate about her work. I believe the best educators have an enormous amount of passion. I would love to attend a workshop about her time management skills.

  • monika hardy says:
    August 28, 2009

    wow. what a delight.

    powerful statement to how enriching tragedy and persecution can be if we just let them.

    i especially felt the essence of the comment - many wondered what they did before google - i had cristina. in today's world - esp in ed - that speaks volumes.

    thanks for sharing this story vicki and karene.

  • Darren says:
    August 30, 2009

    I met her once... she interviewed me for a job I didn't get, but I was very impressed by her and the set up there. Interesting to hear a little about her, now I'm even more impressed.

  • vicki says:
    September 06, 2009

    Shelly, Monika and Darren,
    Thank you so much for your responding. You've all captured the essence of Cristina in your responses. Now I need to find a way to 'fess up to writing this piece to Cristina (who has no idea it's here) without her balling me out. :-)

    September 06, 2009

    Whoops, Vicki - that was naughty ;-) I didn't know you didn't ask, now I'll get balled out too? Ducking for cover, Cristina seems a formidable lady although above all, an incredible person and I'm glad she's a part of our industry.

    Thank you so much for writing this article and sharing what you know about her!


  • vicki hollett says:
    September 16, 2009

    I screwed up, Karenne. It wasn't Galtieri who locked Cristina and Richard up but Isabel Peron (by then the military were running the country, so Videla would probably be more accurate).
    Gosh, I am so relieved. I think this might be the only correction I need to make.
    Ha! Many thanks to all the folks who helped me write this piece and supported it on the way. The experience has been so heart warming.

  • Anonymous says:
    February 27, 2011

    I am very glad to hear about Cristina Whitecross, one of the best teachers I had during my Teacher's Training Course, at Joaquín V. González Institute, in 1975.
    We learnt and talked about Linguistics, especially Chomsky, and our minds started to search for new ways of thinking.-
    Than you very much
    M. Susana Biagioli


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