53rd Annual International IATEFL Conference, Liverpool, UK

On 2-5 April 2019, 53rd Annual International IATEFL Conference was held in Liverpool, UK. A Pre-Conference Event (PCE) took place on the 1st of April 2019 at the ACC Centre in Liverpool, when members of Special Interest Groups (SIGs) presented. The author of every poster had a few minutes to present their presentations orally, then discussions, Q and A periods and feedback from the authors followed. Two very interesting poster presentations, which were in accord with Professor Henry G.Widdowson’s dictum that research cannot be taken directly to the classroom, were given by Anna Burns (a namesake of the Booker Prize winner, but no relation) from Australia, who spoke of what teacher researchers can learn from academic research. The other presentation was by Richard Smith, who spoke of what academic researchers can learn from teacher research. It was assumed that, although teacher research seems minor, it can contribute to the enlightenment of academics. The conclusion was that both kinds of research are required and that greater cooperation among the researchers is necessary. Other poster presentations concerned more concrete questions of teaching EFL. Marija Liudvika Drazdauskiene presented a paper of cultural refinement of the pre-war generation of teachers, of its excellence and of the deterioration of culture in present-day classrooms. She claimed that cultural refinement in EFL could be achieved, if it were required, but this would require to respect the potential of language to exercise power over its speakers, to fix rules and to expose inexpert speakers on its own. This would consequently require discipline from the teachers and learners, respect for standard language, courses of grammar and rule-based courses of usage and general responsibility. Much of what liberalism has installed in the classrooms would have to go if brazen culture of present-day teenagers were to be replaced by cultural refinement under the influence of the language studied. It was very good that poster presentation could be introduced orally at the Conference. Response from the participants was activated thus and their interest was genuine and useful to both sides.

Plenaries at the 53rd IATEFL Conference 2019 concerned questions of teacher empowerment (Paula Rebolledo Cortés), change and growth in teaching (Rachel Jeffries), a consideration on integrating content and language (Aleksandra Zaparucha) and paradoxes in teaching, titled Methodology, Mythology and the Language of Education Technology (Lindsey Clandfield). It was stated that teacher development should lead him to autonomy, especially when nothing is written of teacher empowerment and when little is known to what degree workshops, talks and courses truly empower the teacher. Empowerment was said to be not only within but also power with others. Teachers feel empowered when they learn and share their knowledge and especially when their voice is heard in a broader context and when they are listened to. Rachel Jeffries defined the concept of an influencer and explained from where influences in education came from: they were from authors like Sir Ken Robinson, Jennifer Gonzalez, Ross McGill and others. She also emphasised that real insights to teachers come from books and that authors matter. Her conclusion was that “our thinking must focus on what learning truly can be, not what it has been”.

Aleksandra Zaparucha drew attention to how intricate learning the subject knowledge for language teachers may be when CLIL is conducted in sciences’ classrooms. She also, mentioned that learning in arts may well be done using CLIL, which somehow confirmed the practice of a group of teachers in the programme of EFL and literature at Vilnius University in the 1970s as standard CLIL practice.

Like other speakers on technology in modern teaching (for instance, Gavin Dudeney, Director of technology at TCE and a published author, Disruption ain’t what it used to be: EdTech & EL, who said that “study finds no differences in VR learning outcomes compared to other modes”), Lindsey Clandfield was moderate in extoling the uses of technology. In general, the view on technology was as it should be, which is, decided by the result rather than by the promotion.

There were numbers of other interesting presentations and I can highlight some of them. Tessa Woodward spoke of age differences between teachers and learners, of the importance to care for the mindset in the circumstances, of the awareness of how the world changes while illustrating how technologies changed in EFL and other matters. She finished her presentation with questions to the audience of what the young never do and of what teachers advanced in age never do in the classroom.

The president of iATEFL, Harry Kucha Kucha, spoke of teaching English in difficult circumstances, which included insufficient and outdated textbooks, crowded classrooms, limited space and a lack of adequate resources and facilities for teaching and learning including ICT. Tis was different from what Michael West considered difficult circumstances and in general was refreshing to the minds of the audience who are oversupplied with resources in teaching. He also emphasised the known dictum that “a language is learnt rather than taught and that too much teaching can be an obstacle to learning”.

Hanna Kryszewska, Pilgrims, Poland, and Editor of the magazine, Humanising Language Teaching, spoke of communication leading to mediation in B1+ language classes. She reviewed numbers of activities and concrete tasks in the classroom, emphasised the need to reflect on the activities and stated that “mediation has to improve the students’ ability to communicate in the world”. She also said that mediation is not confined to ELT and that mediation competences are relevant to all language use in all contexts. As mediation is quite a new concept and way in teaching, her insights into it were very useful.

Scott Thornbury, who is a known author in methodology, spoke of strategies to teachers in how to answer grammar questions to students. He based his presentation on paradoxical questions and was quite frank in his advice. He said that teachers should not pretend when students’ questions shatter them and rather say they will come back to it and remember to do it. He advised to appreciate students’ questions with, “That’s a great question”, but then not to attempt translation unless they are equipped to do it, to ask to elicit and expand contexts for the questions, to ask for clarification and to create a non-threatening classroom atmosphere.

Early morning hours on all conference days were given over to brief How To.. presentations, at which editors of Journals, agents and promoters spoke. They were useful for publishing teachers and for young authors.

It is impossible to review nor to sum up all the presentations at the IATEFL 2019 Conference. They are too many and too rich. Of more personal news, I would praise the opportunities to meet Professor David Crystal, who is the Patron of IATEFL, with questions, which I did and am very grateful for the Professor’s answers. I have also learned sad news from Anna Burns that professor Michael Halliday died in 2018 in Australia after a grave illness.

The exhibition at the IATEFL 2019 Conference was something to marvel at and it was only the weight limit on airline baggage that prevented me from buying more than a couple of books directly from the publishers and taking them home with cherished signature of their authors. This was an impressive event, and I had the time to add a visit to the Liverpool TATE Museum to it. I appreciated viewing an exhibition of modern painting and pop art, including op-art. It was very good that the exhibits were accompanied by descriptions which deepened the impressions and fixed them in memory. I remember, for some reason, Michelangelo Pistol’s work, Venus of the Rags, which shows a kitch sculpture of a woman with her back turned to the audience and her face pushed into a heap of rags higher than her figure. The description said, this work represented the Italian arte povera. The most interesting were a few paintings in the refined style of the nineteenth century and a few minimalist expressionist modern.