On the 18th-21nd April, 2023, 56th Annual International IATEFL Conference took place in Harrogate, UK



This was a truly international world Conference for teachers of English as a foreign language (EFL), judging by the number of participants and representation. A compressed Conference Programme recorded between 500-540 presentations. Apart from Plenaries and general sessions, there were a Pre-Conference event (PCE), which was dedicated to technologies in the teaching of literature and language through literature, Special Interest Groups Open Forums and Special Interest Groups Showcases. The lead themes of the Conference were technologies in teaching EFL and the teaching of language to migrants and minorities. It was impossible to attend all the sessions that might have interested an individual participant and there was no time for the sights of Harrogate. The Conference was a wholly involving event in terms of content and time.

The first Plenary, 18 April 2023, titled, English for the workplace – looking for new answers, presented by Evan Frendo, addressed a known question of realistic currency of English, specifically in Vessel Traffic Service (VTS), where the language was indistinguishable by any academic linguistic measurements, yet functioned acceptably and helped the employees to do their tasks. The problem highlighted branched into several aspects: education, (it is not everyone who has university education), needs in employment, (language as a means rather as an end), and practical ways to communicate tolerably well. It was obvious that English in the workplace is other than textbook English, which defied an accepted description, nevertheless was “quite structured”. This poses two questions – how to decipher it and learn from it pedagogically, and how employ the observations in language teaching in schools. Adding English from aviation, from the brokering of this language by the children of migrants to their parents and from other spheres, the evaluation of linguistic competence was bound to change in schools. The speaker said the evaluation in professions does not mean only how good someone’s English is; a more sensitive question is” how to know whether the person can do his job in English”. Perspectives in ELT were said to require adjustments, from academic correctness as a teaching criterion to a realistic evaluation of realistic needs and results.

The speaker noted that much has already changed around us: English is taken for granted these days, everything is done by Companied in workflow and English is partly learnt in the flow and definitely tailored to the flow; learning happens surreptitiously, informally and piecemeal, which has to be accepted and exploited for the benefit of both the learners and the teachers.

The final but one plenary, 21 April 2023, titled, Translanguaging and teaching English as a foreign language, was presented by Ofelia Garcia, US. The speaker explained that translanguaging emphasise “the human factor in communication” while teachers minded semiotic features in speech acts because “all speakers do language with their own unitary repertoire” and resort to their own meanings in message transfer. This meant taking a view from the position of migrants, that is, people who have no family, no relations or place and certainly no language to function in anew country. But they have to find a way. They find this way through the language they have, which may be a mixture of languages. The speaker mentioned a learner of English in the US who communicated part Spanish and part English and another who was twenty and a beginner in English. Their ways in language were mixed and messed up before some form of English appeared. She said that bilingualism and multilingualism have to be embraced in the teaching of migrants and both should be translanguaged. This is not code-switching. It rather means extending repertoire when interculturality of the learners has to be recognized and all language practices of all people included. Teachers have to translanguage pedagogical practices and acknowledge the value of all uses of language. Correctness in the teaching of migrants is undesirable. There must be an alternative to “policing English”. Learners should be allowed to transfer their own meaning in learning. This was enlightening hut also a blow to school as an institution with its superior obligations.

On the question of technologies, it was said at least by two speakers that present-day teachers should have the necessary technical skills but should also mind what goals they pursue and what they want to do along the way before choosing and applying technologies in teaching. When deciding on technologies in education, the same teachers have to be familiar with available and required e-materials so that neither time nor money were wasted and that both the learners and teachers were satisfied.

In the Conference, my personal choice fell first of all on presentations in the Literature Special Interests Group (LitSIG) showcase. I appreciated very much what I chose in this Group of literary-minded presenters because they highlighted the personality of the teacher, its influence on the methods and results as well as the role of literature and the ways of how it may be exploited in the classroom. For instance, Robert Hill, former Chairman of LitSIG, Verona, Italy, spoke about “Myths, legends and the modern reader”, 18 April 2023. He chose to focus on the myth of Psyche and Cupid and managed to familiarise the audience with the story line and its subtler points. Initially, he mentioned the pattern of myths and folk tales. Then, while questioning how the story developed and what turns it could have had taken and did not, he showed how the same and other myths and stories can be exploited in the classroom. Students may be encouraged to change the end of the tale, discuss why the lead characters behaved the way they did, take a view of minor characters and practice other approaches to well- or less well-known myths and tales. This was a very refreshing presentation, especially that some international presenters reminded the audience that pedagogical exploitation of literature is still little researched and described.

Two speakers and authors, Rod Bolitho (NILE) and Alan Maley, a retired teacher and poet, spoke about “Connecting what we do with who we are”, 18 April 2023. They claimed that it is important to know “who we are, what we are and what we believe”, in the classroom. Teachers cannot succeed without so much knowledge about themselves. But to be good teachers, they need to be secure. Three things define teachers: the way the learners see them, the way teachers see themselves and teachers’ beliefs about teaching. There must be congruence between doing and being, between believing and enacting beliefs. While espoused beliefs are easy to dislodge, deep beliefs are not so easily dealt with. But there is no straight way from beliefs to actions. Yet actual beliefs can be transferred into teaching. When actions are not based on beliefs, the process f teaching may be disrupted. “Cognitive dissonance” (Festinger, 1957) occurs in teachers when there is a chasm between what they believe and what they are expected to do. Beliefs is a starting point in work with teachers (in in-service).

The success of teaching also depends on the learners’ perception of their teachers. Learners usually look for personal qualities: human qualities, pressure in the classroom , charisma. In teacher education, the process is from doing to being through awareness raising, wisdom stories, interpretation of key quotations or poems and similar ways. Like in all spheres in modern life, the teacher’s physical fitness and mental support also matter. It is sonly the teachers who do their work and behave in congruence with their beliefs that can succeed in their work sooner rather than the teachers who are out of their depth in work because their beliefs and duties run apart.

This was an inspiring presentation today, when teachers are obliged to be responsible not only for teaching and contact with the learners but also and, most importantly, for psychological comfort, emotional intelligence, mental health and human rights of the learners.

The presentation, titled “Teaching English to Advanced learners” given by Hanna Kryszewska, 21 April 2023, had much advice on how to treat and teach advanced learners and was very relevant to me personally. Her initial statement, which acted blow-like, was “break the rules” when you teacher the learners so advanced (C1, C2, C2+). What the speaker meant was to break away from routine and from the same ways which become dry of result. Instead, so advanced learners permit tasks challenging them in terms of an aim and time (Write 10 questions in 5 minutes; let’s see how many questions you can write in 10 minutes, and so on ). Breaking the limit rule can have positive results in the classroom. Explaining, translation, periphrasis work well with students so advanced, while the teacher finds freedom in seeing how many students understood. Illustrative examples should be very well selected for such students. Tasks based on photos and pictures are challenging enough for them. Leaving tasks of exercises in the students’ hands raises their awareness and responsibility, involves them in their choice of topics, their presentations and discussion of results. As webinars and presentations for advanced learners are rare, this was an especially welcome talk.

Two representatives from the Lithuanian Association of Teachers of English was represented by two presenters, Kristina Urboniene and Diana Galatiltiene, who spoke of how to teach listening comprehension to teenagers in secondary schools. They emphasized the involvement of the whole body in support of the process of gleaning the meaning from the words, some of which may slip away before catching their meaning. This was a useful talk about the skill which requires much insight and practice.

Among other undetailed presentations, a talk titled, “Using word histories, cognates, etymologies in language teaching”, given by Michael Carrier, Freelance, was interesting as it considered new ways and approaches to forgotten and fascinating fields of vocabulary. Although it has been stated that “etymology is a fascinating subject but it will never teach you to speak a language”, some inroads into etymology for advanced and even for intermediate learners is very interesting, involving and educating. This speaker summed up his stalk in an excellent way: build awareness of language, awareness of where words come from, motivation to learn more, to explore and play with words; help students to see links from English to their own language and build an understanding of our shared humanity via shared language history.

Marija L. Drazdauskiene’s presentation, titled “A way to advancement in EFL through literature and polish”, was wholly focused on the deep and immersed exploration of literature and language in their subtlest senses. That is why this theme was thought to be a “niche subject”. The Conference’s call to take into consideration the difficulties of teaching a language in difficult circumstances rang the bell to me and I could see an extension of this elevated topic to the teaching of language to migrants, for instance. The shift should be to a greater variety of texts and sources and a narrowed focus on mini texts, poetry and quotations while retaining the conditions of teaching a foreign language in context.

56th Annual International IATEFL Conference was a great event which has informed me, taught and refreshed my knowledge of how a foreign language can be taught and what may be successful in this endeavor. I am grateful to the Organisers for the invitation to this event this year, my possibly final year in scholarship and active scholarly work. I am also very grateful to Sarah Ward of the IATEFL Head Office, who kept me informed before the Conference and to Professors Alan Maley and Robert Hill who supported me at the Conference. This Conference will remain a major event of the year for me.