A tribute to John Trim, 1924 - 2013
John Trim - whose death was announced last week - was a man of conviction who truly believed that modern languages were fundamental to education and that language learning had far-reaching cognitive and social benefits. He will be remembered as an indefatigable promoter of theoretical linguistics, phonetics and applied linguistics, and a committed European who deeply influenced his own generation and the next.
Born in 1924, he graduated from University College, London in 1949 and started his lecturing career there. He remained at UCL until 1958 when he came to Cambridge as University Lecturer in Phonetics. He became a Fellow of Selwyn College in 1962. He was successively, founding Director of the Linguistics Department constituted in 1966, Director of the Council for Cultural Cooperation of the Council of Europe Project for Modern Language Learning by adults (1971-97) and Director of the Centre for Information on Language Teaching ( CILT) from 1978 to 1989. He was Chair of BAAL and an honorary member of AILA and was honoured by many Universities around the world. Throughout his life, he deeply influenced the pedagogical thinking of the constituencies of the modern language world including those who experimented with the media and new technologies.
The General Board Report establishing the Department of Linguistics in 1966 shows that John Trim believed in bringing together the theoretical and the practical aspects in the same department. It included the phonetics laboratory and the language teaching laboratory. The latter was originally used for the teaching of phonetics but gradually grew into a private study multi-media library promoting the independence of learners with appropriate guidance available. It paved the way for the university-wide Language Centre which was established as a General Board institution in 1990. Thus it was totally appropriate that the Language Centre should have named its Independent Learning Centre after John Trim.
After his official retirement, John Trim remained none the less very active on the Cambridge language scene and continued working as an adviser with Cambridge English Language Assessment and participating in the work of the Council of Europe. The publication of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages by CUP in 2001, on the occasion of the European Year of Languages, gave him the satisfaction of seeing the outcome of the collective work carried out for thirty years with international colleagues used widely not only in Europe but worldwide.
His remarkable talent in bringing diverse people together was largely due to his ability to listen and thus to draw people into participation. His gentle and unassuming demeanour contrasted with his analytical capacities and the searching questions he was prone to ask at the end of talks or seminars. Until recently, he remained a regular attendant of the series of seminars on Second Language Education run by the Faculty of Education where he enjoyed meeting students and visitors from abroad.
The Language Centre has lost an inspiring teacher as well as a great friend.
Edith Esch, Language Centre Director 1990-2000