Some general reflections on conferences and the IATEFL annual conference in particular


April 13, 2015 by helenwaldron

Dear Readers,

As you may know, Writewell, my business partner, is away and I have been trying to cover the annual IATEFL conference on my own.

Abbreviations are odious, so let me explain right away that IATEFL stands for the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language, and must be the biggest organization of its kind in the world.

Teaching English as a foreign language is an enormous industry, encompassing everything from audio materials to be played to the unborn child, through preschool learning, to the dreaded school English, adult education, English for business, English for specialist business and scientific fields, English for people who aspire to improve their life, English for people who have found themselves living in countries where they cannot make themselves understood, and a whole range of other purposes.

Have a look at this short TED talk entitled “The World’s English Mania” :

The conference is in Manchester this year, and although Manchester is a grimy, cool part of England to visit, I couldn’t be there, and decided to follow it online. Luckily there are livestreams, filmed sessions, interviews and lots of extras. Unfortunately I also experienced an awful lot of Mr Google saying “Whoops! That didn’t go well!”

No matter. You take what you can. Beggars can’t be choosers. I didn’t get to see a lot of the talks I wanted to see, but I saw some things I wouldn’t have seen otherwise, and these got me thinking.

Tell me, why do you think people attend conferences, or even speak at them?
Obviously the answer is either “because they want to”, or “because they have to.” Maybe this applies to anything people do.

Well, yesterday I watched a lot of talks I wouldn’t normally have watched because they were the only ones I could access, and in the end I enjoyed them. So I started off by having to, and ended up wanting to.

Many of the speakers had books, or a business, an idea, or themselves to promote (let’s say they wanted to speak), a few of them worked for the sponsors behind the event (the employees: let’s say they had to speak), a few were freelancers with their expenses paid for by the sponsors (so let’s say a combination of both).

Of the materials available for me to watch there were basically interviews with speakers and presentations by speakers. As I do a lot of presentation training (and almost no journalistic interview training), I concentrated on the presentations.

It was quite an eye-opener.

English teachers present differently to my German business students. They’re very personal and often emotional, and I wondered whether this was the culture of the language (although the teachers were not necessarily natives of an English speaking country), or the culture of the teaching profession. I think it was the latter. I am used to watching people present facts and figures (because they have to) and – even if they didn’t always convince me yesterday – it was good to see people clearly wanting me to believe what they thought. Teaching is a vocation, then.

One small point. There were several female presenters “of a certain age” who kept drawing attention to their age and appearance. Don’t do this, ladies, you’re ruining it for us. It’s a bit like serving up a delicious meal and then talking all through dinner about how you should have added different seasoning, or taken it out of the oven earlier. In the end we can’t enjoy the meal for reassuring you, it tastes fine, I didn’t notice, I was listening to what you say, I thought you might have some experience. None of the men “of a certain age” did it, and from the back none of the heads I could see in the first few rows looked that young either, so I couldn’t understand it.

Here’s a TED talk where the English teacher starts off by drawing attention to her appearance a bit like that:

Tomorrow I’ll deal with subject of fear.

Looking forward to seeing you then!

James Speakeasy.


2 thoughts on “Some general reflections on conferences and the IATEFL annual conference in particular

  1. Richi says:

    Ooh! Very interesting!


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Helen Waldron

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Teachers as Workers

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