A 27th year student as lecturer

Lecturer in English Tony Foster likes to create surprises in his lectures. This could range from dissecting Obama’s election debate to doing a striptease to make sure his lecture on the semi-colon is never forgotten. Foster is one of the nominees for the LSr Education Prize, the prize for best lecturer.

Twilight zones

Tony Foster: ‘I like to study the twilight zones between subjects’

Tony Foster: ‘I like to study the twilight zones between subjects’

The subjects that Tony Foster (46) teaches include English Discourse Studies and Applied Linguistics. He is also an expert in Legal Translation. Foster does not limit himself to a single discipline having graduated in English, Classical Languages and Law. ‘I had to give lectures in Legal English, but realised that my knowledge of law was lacking. In a legal sentence a slightly different word can result in a significance difference in interpretation. I like to study the twilight zones between disciplines. If you understand them more, you also understand the individual disciplines more.’


His knowledge of the classics comes in handy in his lectures on rhetoric. He finds current examples to illustrate his point. In a lecture on rhetoric he covers Aristotle’s rhetoric before showing footage from the presidential debates between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. He then asks students to analyse their styles. ‘Romney tends to stick to the classical structure of an oration, as prescribed by Aristotle. Obama uses more modern storytelling techniques, which are more popular with a modern-day audience.’


In a grammar lecture on the double negative Foster often plays ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ by The Rolling Stones. This is to demonstrate that what is grammatically acceptable in a text genre such as song lyrics is unacceptable in another genre such as an academic essay. During a lecture on the use of the semicolon he sometimes even puts on a hilarious act. Wearing a raincoat, he devotes the first half hour to the theory of the role of punctuation in English. He then plays ‘I Wanna Be Loved By You’ by Marilyn Monroe and slowly removes his raincoat to reveal a T-shirt bearing a big semicolon. ‘Students tell me they’ll never forget the semi-colon again. Modern research has shown that attention drops in the middle of a lecture in particular. Psychologist Von Restorff came up with the “isolation effect”: as a speaker do something out of the ordinary to retain the audience’s attention.’

Scientific articles

Foster lets his students analyse president Obama's rethoric style

Foster lets his students analyse president Obama's rethoric style

Surprises and jokes are important, but lectures should not become a one-man show, he says. He wants to kindle students’ enthusiasm for research and writing scientific papers, which is why he gives his students plenty of research assignments such as checking the facts in newspaper articles. He also has them help write articles for linguistic journals. Students highly rate Foster’s enthusiasm and approachability, says study association Albion Association in its nomination of him for the education prize. ‘He sees himself as a 27th-year student who’s allowed to teach his fellow students.’ Says Foster, ‘It’s true, I do see myself as an eternal student. I’m just as enthusiastic as I was in my first year and am still learning. I see my students as colleagues with whom I’m embarking on a voyage of discovery.’

(24 January 2013)

LSr Education Prize

The winner will be announced by the Leiden Student Council during the Dies Natalis celebration (8 February). Until this time, every week one of the candidates is placed in the spotlight. The other four nominees for the LSr Education Prize are

The jury, all members of the Leiden Student Council, selected five lecturers from the nearly thirty nominations of the study associations. The most important criteria are integrating research and current events in the lectures and greatly motivating the students. Coming up next: what is Martin Baasten’s secret?

See also

Studying in Leiden



Last Modified: 31-01-2013