WHEN WENDY ARNOLD, a teacher at Po Leung Kuk Siu Hon-Sum Primary School in Fo Tan, found herself sitting between two Irishmen at the British Council having separate conversations with each other recently, she took it in her stride. 'Women are used to multi-tasking,' she said. Ms Arnold hadn't stepped into a parallel universe; it was simply a drama exercise called 'two-way conversation', used as part of a seminar for teachers designed by the members of Interacting, a theatre group dedicated to helping promote good practice in the teaching of English as an additional language. Directors and co-founders Ed Cousins and Patrick Deas spent an exhausting week in Hong Kong recently showing how using language in a meaningful and creative way can support learning and generate positive energy. 'The most fundamental thing is motivation. When students feel a sense of fun they begin to enjoy themselves and then they learn more effectively. Our belief is that learning is a living and dynamic process,' Mr Cousins said. 'Exposure to language is not enough. To communicate effectively, you need to participate. In learning languages the quality of interaction determines the speed of skill acquisition.' Teachers certainly had fun at the workshops and were encouraged to use speaking and listening games such as the two-way conversation and others to build on and extend the formal introduction of language. Mr Cousins explained how the games they recommend are thinly-disguised drills using repetition and co-operative learning strategies designed to boost confidence and engage students in their own learning. 'Once the basics of English have been taught in the conventional way, teachers need to make the learning active,' he said. 'Games are a non-threatening way for students to use that knowledge, apply it and take control. When this is done harnessing students' natural energy the results can be incredibly powerful.' Mr Cousins is keen that learners have opportunities to demonstrate their learning in a dramatic medium that applies to situations in which they are comfortable and are likely to meet in real life. As well as short teaching workshops and longer courses of up to 30 hours, Interacting also presents theatre shows to students. They are comedies written especially for language learners. Stories are simplified to focus on meaning and appropriate vocabulary is used. Two hundred students at ELCHK Lutheran Secondary School in Kowloon were transfixed by an energetic, hilarious performance of Around the World in Eighty Minutes. But they weren't passive. 'We get volunteers up on stage to help,' Mr Cousins said. 'And the amazing thing is that even though most of the audience stay where they are, when someone they know is up there they almost always repeat the lines. They are all taking part, you can almost feel the electricity that's generated.' Interacting is based in Madrid, where it was formed in 1990. Though it operates mostly in Spain and the rest of Europe, Messrs Cousins and Deas have worked briefly in Japan. Yet their recent visit to Beijing, Dalian and Shanghai confounded their preconceptions of Asian students. Mr Cousins explained that he and Mr Deas expected to find orderly, obedient students but had not expected the creative, willing, open and capable ones they met. They had shown a video of their company's work to Chinese government censors four years ago and were told mainland audiences wouldn't like their approach. The opposite turned out to be the case. 'OK, they were from key schools, but in many ways the [Chinese] students were more able and willing to compromise than Europeans. They were more flexible. That surprised us,' he said. Interacting's work now extends to teaching basic English skills to asylum seekers in Europe and adults in the north-east of England. Increasingly, and perhaps as a result, the pair see the need to address racial issues in their work. 'As more and more nationalities begin to mix in schools, it is important that students understand and are made aware that regional identities and ethnic differences are not barriers to integration,' Mr Cousins said. Wherever they work, Messrs Cousins and Deas are committed to their cause and say they are thrilled when they inspire students. Mr Cousins takes great delight in telling how when a boy in one of their audiences in Dalian was chosen to act on stage as a bull in a bull-fight he turned around just before his entrance with a serious, stentorian look and promised faithfully, 'I will not fail you.' He was as good as his word.