On 16-19 April 2024, 57th IATEFL International Conference in Brighton, UK

On 16-19 April 2024, 57th IATEFL International Conference in Brighton, UK

On 16-19 April 2024, 57th IATEFL International Conference  in Brighton, UK

It was a huge and very well-organised event at which English language teachers from all over the world were represented. Ot was impossible to attend all the sessions that were of interest to an individual participant. This was the first Conference of IATEFL...

 

On 16-19 April 2024, the 57th IATEFL International Conference took place in Brighton, UK. It was a huge event, very well organized and rich in content, the event at which teachers eager to have a say in spreading English in the world meet from all over the world. It was impossible to attend all sessions that were of interest to an individual participant.

This was the first Conference at which its long-time Patron, Professor David Crystal, did not participate. In Professor’s own words, he was Patron of IATEFL for over twenty years. It used to be a pleasure to meet Professor Crystal and to hear his quiet composed wisdom and opinion.

Plenaries were the most important and interesting sessions. The morning plenary on the 16th of April was titled, The AI factor: Have we figured it out yet? The speaker was Vicky Saumell, a teacher from Agentina.  It must be acknowledged that Ms Saumell did not scare the audience with an independent and unmanageable functioning of AI,  feeding data, then, hallucinating. She rather said that AI has developed by now because of the qualified people and quality input to enable its functions. The questions she asked, some of which she answered, were indicative of her balanced view of AI and its realistic treatment:

How can we explain the potential of AI?

How can AI support language teaching?

What are the limitations of AI?

What’s being done to counter the environmental damage?

What are ethical considerations in AI functions?

Is AI going to democratize education?

Is machine learning going to increase further digital divide?

What may be the uses of generative AI?  The known applications are face recognition, self-driving cars, automatic machine translation, etc.  How does generative AI create something new? It analyses data and uncovers the analysis of grammar, it analyses figures. It mimics language to create something new, not necessarily from the data and uses large language models, with statistical correlations to articulate interactions. Where it doesn’t know, it hallucinates.

In short, AI is data-driven and creative – it creates something new. It  can improve over time from the work of creators and by constant use. It is versatile, it can perform a great variety of tasks. The speaker further added data in per cent to show that AI increases the output of research papers by 40%; the number of AI-created jobs increased last year 36 times. There are roles of AI to improve skills facilitation. How can we keep up with that? Ww must accept it.

To conclude, Ms Saumell asked: What is it we should we worry about? Learning about it rather than ignoring and protesting may help the teachers of English to manage the data processed and offered by AI and to exploit it to advantage. There is a disbalance in data deficiency in other languages and the danger of plagiarism and cheating but the advances of AI are too great to ignore.

An interesting a researcher-teacher collaboration project presented by Jessica MacKay from the University of Barcelona  focus discussion at the Research SIG (Special Interest Group of IATEFL) on the same day. The speaker intriguingly exposed two opposite views on teacher research: teachers don’t need research (Thornbury, IATEFL, 2017) because it’s costs time, is inaccessible, full of constraints, because of apathy and irrelevance. Other members of IATEFL and well-known authors (Rebolledo, 2017, Ortega, 2018) were quoted for their opposite views: teacher research is overpowering and should be RESEARCH that would be devalued by any other name; teacher research is valued for its challenges of our daily practice. The speaker voice her opinion favouring teacher research and finished her talk with a sample of successful research-practice collaboraytion.

In her presentation, From conflict to compliment, a famous author and presenter, Penny Ur, from Cambridge University, spoke about the contrast between Standard English and diverse world Englishes and explained how a realistic approach to language and language teaching these days has gained acceptance. She overviewed two controversies: the opposition of standard – nonstandard and that of task-based language teaching (TBLT). If standard language is to be taught it is clearly meant for learners’ own written practice, but new and variant forms of current language should be noticed as interactional and parallel usages (count-non-count forms, pronoun variation, etc) to enable and empower learners as prospective participants in business and communication. As focused on making and receiving meaning, TBLT teachers through communicative tasks in which realistic variants of English cannot be ignored. The question is about the proportion of one and the other variant and of choice. A publication in the ELT Journal argued that the two models are exclusive, but left the question of why can’t we have both open. Penny Ur’s argument was that of “methodology that combines both with the best outcomrs”. While mentioning choices (the level and age of the learner, local culture, stakeholders’ preferences, I ndividual teachers’ preferences and upcoming exam), she highlighted her last controversy, which is digital technology. She rejected the approach which propagates technology just because it’s there and spoke for its contribution to learning (the power of circumstances, such as the pandemic conditions, support to teachers, convenience and up-to-date methodology). She relegated the inhibition about technology to a lack of knowledge due to a lack of research and warned against too much screen time, irrational use of corpora in the class and technology itself. While it is  not “all that can be converted to profitable results”, working out from the stand of how “the insights and outcomes lead to the best results” was her suggested conclusion.

In her presentation, Walk in their shoes: English as a ‘distant’ languageIsabel Martin overviewed differences in English and Laos language (formal, functional and cultural, Laos people cannot say NO, etc) and suggested ways of how the difficulties can be overcome in teaching.

An Open ReSIG (Research Special Interest Group of IATEFL) Forum voiced an encouragement to teacher research and presented ReSIG community as a movement.

An Open  MawSIG (Materials Writing Special Interest Group of IATEFL) Forum held a panel discussion on inspiration in materials writing and gave open contacts for those interested. I was grateful to this Group, of which I was not a paid member, but the people at the meeting of which accepted me in a friendly way and even gave a MawSIG Guide book as a present. I have participated in this Group’s PCE event five years ago with research results on teaching English for the attainment of culture.

In the morning plenary of the 17th of April, titled Because you’re worth it, Zarina Subhan, UK, broke the topic of cultural maltreatment and inhibition in international contacts. Her main point was how strangers maltreated her while questioning her status , with “Are you British? She was born in an Indian family in London, educated in England and spoke accentless English, but the people in contact obviously responded to her ethnic features which she found insulting. This plenary was a significant testimony of what matters in intercultural contacts (emotional sensitivity and reaction, tactless and brazen questions to a newly-met, indifference to human needs and expectations, etc), which is especially relevant to know today after the technical, statistical and otherwise loaded studies of culture in the twentieth century, which overlook man himself in culturally sensitive circumstances.

In her presentation titled Addressing sustainability and global issues in the language classroom, Hanna Kryszewska, Editor of the magazine, Humanizing language teaching, and representing the Pilgrims Group, spoke of a variety of ways and exercises designed to practice English and include the sensitive topics of today. She highlighted why it is important to be selective in teaching vocabulary, to combine  graphic, audio- and visual material, to structure consecutive questions formally and thematically, and to use language to advantage to conclude the  multimedia tasks for the benefit of learning. This was a very well presented and inspiring talk which attracted a big audience and profited all those present.

M Liudvika Drazdauskiene presented in the section of Lightning Talks, which was the first of its kind at the IATEFL Conference. The topic was, Learning a language on the run. Presentations in  this section were limited to 3 minutes only, which was followed by questions from the audience. The time so short required counting the words and fitting them exactly into 3 minutes. The words so well selected gave a pleasure to the speaker after he finished. Few words were a dictum known from the classics and also from some poets: to place the words in a tight and thoughts in an expansive space. It would have been a pity to cut a major report to three minutes only, but a minor presentation  like this one, fit into so short a time fine.

The morning plenary on the 18th of April, titled Teaching EFL and teaching other language, same or different, given by Scott Thornbury, a famous author and presenter, whose depth of thought and clarity of vision, as well as good-humoured respect for authors relegated to history surprised not a few readers a couple of decades ago, exposed the situation of English questioned by representatives of minority languages. He quoted such proverbial remarks and questions as “Our language is different”, “Our language is more difficult”, “Our language needs protection”, etc  The speaker’s reference to Breal, a nineteenth century author, showed that questions of teaching other language had a long history and representative authors never made this distinction of difference among languages. He also noted how the Common European Framework of Reference for \Languages ignored such naïve questions and how widely beyond the borders of Europe its principles spread and were accepted.

Although Japanese and Korean are different, it does not mean that Arabic is intrinsically more difficult  to some learners, nor does it mean that English is not difficult. Languages are different but they are acquired in similar ways. It is rational to learn the things that are most useful and it is impossible to learn a language to any level before a person acquires a more general concept of the language’s system: the pragmatic phase may be followed by the lexical phase, by the grammatical phase until the learner comes to grips with the most subtle aspects of expression. “We learn first the things that are most useful”.  This is pragmatic consecutiveness which, incidentally, confirm Aeschylus’s dictum that “Wise is not the man who knows a lot of things but he who knows useful things”. In language learning, this is an obligation rather than a prescription.

In his plenary, Scott Thornbury answered three questions: Are some languages more difficult than others? Are some languages taught differently? Should different languages be taught differently?  The answer was NO. Although languages are different, their difficulty measures in qualitative rather than quantitative ways, which may not base the claim that some languages are more difficult than others. (I thought that the idea was that those who reverse qualitative and quantitative differences in languages may come to different assumptions and answers which are not true).

Scott Thrnbury’s plenary was the crowning point of the 57th International IATEFL Conference for me in a British coast city of Brighton. I respected this author for his publications turning back to at least a century or two ago and showing that what we assume to be new and revealing, is only a verbal repetition or a variation on one or two more, which we should have never forgotten.

The 18th of April was also the end-point of this Conference for me. Classes in Warsaw were calling me back a day early from the Conference. Minding that my accommodation was well-selected by my son, that the Brighton Centre was a short walk from the hotel along the sea coast and the Regency restaurant, where I enjoyed one dinner, very pleasant and ancient, my fears of the impossibility of the trip (plane – train – metro train - train – plane) was not really impossible, this Conference was a very pleasant and worthwhile experience. Meeting people from the world some of whom were former acquaintances, was a great pleasure. A special word of thanks is due to the Organisers of the Conference whose attention in their messages was very pleasant and helpful. Meeting some of the Organisers was a social occasion to remember. It is a pity that conference experiences do not interest any audience on return.

 

Marija Liudvika Dradzauskiene                                                         14 June 2024