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3 Unexpected Lessons From 1 Language Teaching Conference

Last year, my first IATEFL conference nearly killed me. This year I did it again. April is truly the cruelest of months for English teachers. If you want to know what I learned at IATEFL in Liverpool, read on: I’m hoping to make this one useful for all languages, learners and teachers alike. Unexpected, but useful.

Lesson One: No time like “ME-Time”

There were over two thousand teachers at the conference – probably around 3k people if you include the organizers, the publishers, the exhibitors and so on. And for the happiest among them, one thing was probably certain: they felt like the whole thing was made just for them.
The people who remember your name. The colleagues you only meet once a year. The presenter who finds the time later to thank you for your question. Smiles, hellos, photos, small chat. This is what makes you feel welcome, and important, and recognized – even when (especially when?) you’re not actually the centre of attention.
Homework One: language learners – every interaction is more meaningful than you think. Thrive on the good ones, reflect on the toxic ones. And make sure which ones you’re headed for. (Language teachers: how many more interactions, gestures, exchanges can you embed into your teaching? How much more engaged can your students / clients feel?)

Lesson Two: The Power of Timeless

Okay, so there was this party. 500 tickets sold out fast, and on Wednesday evening, there we were, listening to a Beatles lookalike band. Singing and dancing to every song. Enjoying the company of people we’d never met before. Laughing our heads off.
I’ve spoken to some people who were convinced that this was the best moment of the conference. There is something about timeless things – music, laughter, The White Album – that helps just about every situation. Politics and news are divisive. Teaching materials and grammar books will numb and isolate you. But there’s a list of situations, contexts, gestures and objects that brings out the best in a teacher, learner, conversation partner.
Homework Two: look at all the “ins and outs” of your language lesson. Pick out the things that are timeless and universally beneficial – songs, culture, good times, dance… – then start thinking about them. And every time you teach / learn a language, make sure you’re not far from them. This sounds super-cheesy until a bored, intensive and detached course kills all joy of language learning in you / your clients.

Lesson Three: The Trend and the Undertow

  • Everybody knows that the future of language learning is digital.
  • Everyone agrees that testing and assessment is crucial, and that we can do better.
  • Every student wants, needs and deserves a language proficiency exam.
  • Every teacher should be familiar with new technology.
  • Everyone will have a smartphone soon.
  • Everywhere you look, language frameworks inform teaching.
  • You?

Homework Three: Keep researching your foreign language learning / teaching. See what is available, notice where people are going. And realize this, please realize this one thing: as trends become fashion and fashion becomes norm, people who don’t fit in are left behind (unless they never wanted to fit in). For a teacher or a language learner, there’s nothing worse than being assured that “this method works for everyone, every time.”


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