Prof Eric Hawkins

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AFTER Eric Hawkins was appointed director of the Language Teaching Centre at York University in 1965, he became one of the country's foremost authorities and his expertise earned him international reputation. He continued to publish until he was 90, five years before his death.

Eric William Hawkins was born in Heswall, Cheshire, the second of six children, their father a cabinetmaker and wood carver. He went to Liverpool Institute High School and Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he read Spanish and French.

A frequent visitor to Spain, it was there in 1935 that he met a Danish girl, Ellen Thygesen, whom he married. He helped bring Basque refugee children to England during the Spanish Civil War which broke out the following year.

He was studying for his Certificate in Education at the time, and having obtained it in 1937, taught for three years at the Royal Masonic School, Bushey. He then served with the Loyal Regiment in North Africa and Italy. He was wounded in 1943, and in 1945 was mentioned in dispatches and promoted to major.

The war in Europe over, he went back to teaching. From 1949 to 1953 he was headmaster of Oldershaw Grammar School in Wallasey, followed by a headship at Calday Grange Grammar School, West Kirby, where he installed one of the first school language laboratories.

In 1961 he served as chairman of a Headmasters' Association working party for which he wrote a widely-acclaimed report on modern languages in the grammar school. Subsequently he served on the Plowden Committee on primary education, and as a member from 1965 of the National Committee for Commonwealth Immigrants, he established summer schools where children from ethnic minorities and those with reading difficulties received individual tuition from sixth-formers and university students.

As director of York's Language Teaching Centre and chairman of the Schools Council Modern Languages Committee (1968-74), Professor Hawkins spread his influence from language teaching to teacher training, reforming exams and developing curriculums.

He published New Patterns in Sixth Form Modern Language Study, and co-wrote Le franais pour tout le monde, a French course for a wide ability range and based on his experience teaching French. In 1977, after the schools' inspectors had criticised the state of modern languages teaching in the comprehensive system, Professor Hawkins persuaded the Nuffield Foundation to fund a study to develop the practices which the inspectorate had identified as being most beneficial.

Following his retirement in 1979, he continued to campaign to improve foreign language teaching in British schools through the Languages Awareness movement, and published two influential works, Modern Languages in the Curriculum in 1981 and Awareness of Language: An Introduction, three years later.

Professor Hawkins was appointed CBE in 1973, and the French, among others, honoured him by making him a commander dans l'Ordre des Palmes Acadmiques. In 1971 he received the gold medal of the Institute of Linguists. He was president of the Modern Language Association and honorary president of the Audio-Visual Language Association (now the British Association for Language Teaching).

A modest and generous-spirited man, Eric Hawkins was known for remembering good deeds and forgetting bad ones. For relaxation he worked with wood, did pottery and played the clarinet, piano and cello.

In 1999 he published a volume of memoirs, Listening to Lorca: A Journey into Language.

Predeceased by his wife, Professor Hawkins is survived by their son and daughter.