Former Fellow of Selwyn College, Cambridge
Fellow of the Association for Language Learning

It is with the deepest sorrow that we announce the death of John Trim, who died peacefully on the 19 January 2013 in Suffolk. John had been incurably ill for some time but with his indomitable will, uncommon courage and generosity of spirit, he withstood his illness, rarely letting it prevent him from pursuing his goal to further the cause of language learning. This unwavering commitment often involved him in tiring and extensive travel to join conferences and seminars across Europe, which he relished.

John was actively engaged in the languages debate and eager to contribute to the very last days of his time with us. Until recent months, he was a regular visitor to the Language Centre in the University of Cambridge, participating in the research network at the Faculty of Education and personally supporting action research in local schools. In 2011 he willingly agreed to be interviewed and recorded for the Association for Language Learning, giving language teachers and all those with an interest in languages education the benefit of his extraordinary scholarship and wisdom in addressing matters of how and what we should be teaching, as we develop new curricula in response to forthcoming policy reform.

At Language World 2012, the Association was very proud to honour John with the award of a Fellowship in recognition for his lifetime of distinguished service and outstanding achievement in the field of language learning and teaching in Europe and the UK and for his long-term contribution to the furtherance of the Association for Language Learning. Those present at the University of Manchester will recall with great fondness John’s inspiring acceptance speech. His words illustrated the intellectual rigour, clarity of vision and quiet authority which had been the hallmarks of his illustrious career. The wisdom of the message, the faultless eloquence of his phrasing and the gentle timbre of his voice with its meticulous diction and resonance will live long in our hearts.

John Trim was a remarkable linguist. As a scholarship boy in East London, he developed a keen interest in German language and literature which he later studied at University College London. Interrupted by the war years and army service, John could have taken a different path and entered the civil service but passion for languages and his love of UCL led him to complete his university degree. He was all set to enter a life of research into German literature, being particularly drawn to Goethe, when in 1949 an opportunity came to research and teach phonetics. John became a leader in the field. He spent nine years in UCL (1949 – 1958) and then moved to Cambridge, where he was first Lecturer in Phonetics (1958 – 1965) and then Director of the Linguistics Department until 1978. He is a former fellow of Selwyn College.

John was one of the great modernisers of languages and linguistics. In Cambridge he focused on the interests of applied linguistics, developing a kind of troika linking theoretical linguistics, applied linguistics and phonetics. John was always eager to broaden the linguistics agenda. Linguistics was a relatively new discipline and he was one of its early pioneers, recognising the value of applying linguistic understanding to a range of social contexts, for example to the field of speech therapy.

John played a leading role in the Council of Europe’s Modern Languages Projects from 1971 – 1997 and was the driving force behind the Threshold Level and a key author in the subsequent development of the Common European Framework of Reference for languages, now widely respected by linguists and policy makers across Europe and increasingly across the international community. John understood the central importance of sharing each other’s languages and cultures to social cohesion and was one of the first champions of plurilingualism, providing guidance and advice to the Council of Europe on all matters of languages policy and practice.

First as Trustee and then as Director of CILT the Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research (1978 – 87), John was influential in supporting adult education, the Graded Objectives Movement and the developments in communicative teaching methodology. It was during this period that John was able to support and encourage Brian Page in the complex task of bringing together the different languages committees and national organisations to form what is now the Association for Language Learning.

John Trim will live on through his extraordinary legacy. He was an outstanding linguist and scholar whose vision and wisdom will guide and inspire generations of future language learners, teachers and researchers. His unique and immeasurable contribution to applied linguistics and to languages education has helped to develop a shared understanding of the learning and teaching of languages across the world. We must aspire to build on his achievements and continue.

Bernardette Holmes
Past President of the Association for Language Learning

21 Jan 2013

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