The IATEFL Experience

27/05/2023 - 22:36

Ana Lima and Simon Halleux were the lucky winners of the Joris De Roy Memorial Grant 2022, which enabled them to attend the 2023 IATEFL Conference in Harrogate. In her blog post Ana describes this unique experience!

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Now, how surprising is that???? Imagine two language trainers working for the same Belgian public service (Le FOREM) and both winning the BELTA 2022 Joris de Roy memorial grant to attend IATEFL Harrogate 2023! Simon Halleux and I are language trainers. We teach unemployed workers, giving them that extra language skill to add value to their job applications. Sadly, Simon never met Joris but I did. I remember him well. He was great fun, dynamic and so involved. We were very grateful and proud to attend this annual top international event for English teachers.

Getting to the Harrogate venue was fairly easy even though we found out that we would not be on the same train, nor at the same accommodations and not even have the same travel dates! Admin planning sometimes works in mysterious ways indeed!! London is a frequent travel destination for Belgians but North Yorkshire is a whole new world. The landscape was astounding and the people were very friendly! We may share the same language but it was still somewhat of a cultural shock to hear the excellent LNER train steward call you love (“Change seats love, you’ll see the best view of Harrogate as we come in”), the Harrogate convention center security guard called me dear (“There you are dear, the lift’s all yours”) and my guesthouse host called me honey. So often I almost called him that too! When Simon asked about this strange custom to a waiter, he was told that they also use “duck”, but that it’s more the old folks. What’s more, Harrogate is an old spa town, well-known for its mineral waters. The term “spa town” refers to our own town of Spa in Belgium. Now, how surprising is that???

IATEFL Harrogate 2023 was indeed a huge event. Well-organized and as I said in the video interview used for the summary presentation at the closing plenary …it is EMPOWERING!!! You come back full of ideas and so much energy even if you did end up walking more than 10,000 steps a day. We got to meet hundreds of other teachers from dozens of countries, all sharing good practices and challenging experiences. Our guess is that the official numbers will probably be about 2000 plus delegates coming from over 85 countries. We were an excited and exciting bunch! Now the question most often asked when you meet people in this type of convention is ‘Where are you from?”. This is where the diversity of IATEFL adds a whole new twist…because practically everyone said, “Well I’m originally from…but I teach in…”. So Isabella from Rio de Janeiro teaches in London, Laima from Riga teaches in Berlin and so on: Proof once more that English teachers are very mobile. Often these teachers are not native speakers, but with a high level of expertise combined with the right certification they teach everywhere else! Many of the workshops also included talking amongst ourselves. Sharing difficulties and exchanging ideas was a real plus. Lunch was also a great opportunity to meet other delegates. The round tables were huge and many delegations had only 2-3 people so you always ended up mingling with others. Most teachers did not have business cards but it’s a good idea to carry visiting cards. Exchanging such cards allows for a prolonged contact.

This IATEFL convention allowed us to perfect our soft skills. We’re talking time management, stress management, strategic thinking, you name it. Simon and I sat down with the programme and decided together which conferences we each would attend. There were about 16 main themes so it was important to pick and choose according to our areas of interest or what seemed more pertinent. Though stepping out of our comfort zone brought about some nice surprises. I was more interested in the new practices to teaching grammar, pronunciation and team building. How could you possibly resist a talk named “Yeah but …No but”? He was more interested in the new technologies and so on. There was really something for everyone. This year’s buzz focused on artificial intelligence. I wonder what ChatGPT would have to say about IATEFL? Try it and see for yourself. Another major topic was about inclusive practices and new gender issues. Talks on using social media and enhancing the online experience were also numerous.

Clearly IATEFL Harrogate 2023 was all about great talks and a lot about great speakers as well: People who are highly competent in their fields, great at sharing and so easy to speak to. In the large exhibition hall we got to chat with authors, publishers and found out what was new with universities, language schools and other support organizations such as the British Council. Simon was able to sit and talk with his new idols, Jeremy Harmer (The Practise of English Language Teaching) and Sheila Thorne (Integrating Authentic Listening into the Language Classroom), and came home with a signed copy of her book. . Coffee was free and we took advantage of this. We needed the coffee! Now here’s a tip for you… though many publishers did not sell books at the convention (too complicated to handle stocks and payments) you could get some of their exhibitor copies at the end of the convention. Some publishers “reserved” copies for me to pick up as they dismounted their stands. They always present brand new books, people sometimes leaf through them and they won’t ever be used again. At the end of the week it’s hard work to pack it all. It’s a win-win situation. Of course save some free space in your luggage. Guess who didn’t and ended up carrying them in an extra bag???

The four days went quickly by, filled with lots of walking, taking notes, chatting to everyone and finding enough energy to attend fun-filled evening events. One such event was the “Welcome to Harrogate” talk by a young man who does these free walking tours. He was funny, passionate and so knowledgeable. Vikings, Romans, the Russians… everyone has been to Harrogate: Even English teachers, since this was not the first time IATEFL met in Harrogate. Harrogate and its church is one of the pictures in the famous Fabergé Rock Crystal egg. I will try to come back for a few days to visit Harrogate with more time. Of course Simon is younger and got to enjoy some of the local pubs. He even went jogging some early mornings and saw a movie at the Everyman Harrogate cinema. According to him they had luxury double sofas. We don’t have that in Belgium. I just managed to go to the Turkish Baths on the last evening.

What more is there to say about the IATEFL Harrogate 2023 experience? It’s a great enriching experience for all English teachers!

Don’t miss out on this at-least-once-in-a-lifetime experience. Of course BELTA Days are not to be missed either. It is a national event, centrally located and you don’t have to pack for several days. But the IATEFL experience is BELTA Day times 1,000!!

Hope to see some of you in Brighton !!