IATEFL Conference Belfast 2022

27/05/2022 - 22:11

From 17 to 20 May 2022, the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL) Conference took place in Belfast. BELTA Board member Natascha Coene travelled to Belfast to represent BELTA on the Associates Day and to attend the conference. In this personal blog post she tells about this experience.

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IATEFL Conference BELFAST 2022

by Natascha Coene, BELTA Board Member

Last week I spent a marvellous week at the IATEFL Conference in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Getting to Belfast didn’t run that smoothly. Convincing my headmistress to let me off for one week was only the first hurdle to take. When I tried to register as an IATEFL Associate for BELTA I received the message someone from BELTA had already claimed that spot. No one from the BELTA Board had a clue about this. Thanks to previous Internet researches I remembered the BELTA from Bangladesh: Bangladesh English Language Teachers Association. Problem solved.
Next problem: the flight I had booked was cancelled. I only found out about that rather late, so having to look for another flight caused a mild feeling of stress. A lot of people had decided to leave with me from Schiphol at the same time. After almost two hours of queuing – yes, I had arrived way ahead of time in the airport – I noticed standing in front of the last passport check that my gate would close within two minutes. A new wave of stress gave me wings to get to the correct gate. It was still open and there was no plane yet. Probably there was some queuing going on up in the air as well. Ultimately we left more than an hour late. Without any further complications I arrived at my Airbnb address where the boiler had broken down. But at least my host had already warned me about that a few days earlier. And it would be replaced the next day.

On Monday I attended the Associates Day as a representative for BELTA, the Belgian branch. The Associates Day focused especially on how to involve young teachers in our organisations. Organisations all over the world face the same problems, but can we all solve them in the same way? During the day we had to discuss a few subject matters in small groups offering us a real opportunity to get acquainted to some people. There were also a few organisations that presented their way of working. Most organisations offer conferences and webinars just like BELTA does. And all the organisations presenting themselves had very enthusiastic speakers in common. However, there were also some announcements. The one that organisations could no longer use IATEFL in their own names exploded like a bomb. Especially the woman from IATEFL Poland was heartbroken.

And then the actual conference started. The number of attendees was in no way up to previous conferences. In the old days plenaries were flooded with attendees, in Belfast they didn’t even open the upper floors of the enormous auditorium. The person sitting next to me summarized it like this: “It’s COVID, the War, Brexit and Belfast, all these things together.”

Some of the sessions were broadcast, but there is nothing like the real thing. IATEFL offers an enormous variety of talks having got to do with English: applied linguistics, business English, global issues, inclusive practices and special educational needs, testing, evaluation and assessment and lots more. Some sessions promised to be fantastic like ‘Using humour in the classroom as a teaching aid’ but then only delivered a message like ‘be careful when you use humour in a multicultural class’. Some talks reinforce what you are already doing like adding stories to words to explain them, e.g. how mortgage is connected to the French mort gage and explain for the silent t in that way and then there are of course the new ideas, the new techniques to try out. I will definitely make my students debate and then ask them to summarise the arguments of their opponent.

There were definitely some thought provoking tendencies that returned in several talks and plenaries, one of them was the use of English as a lingua franca. He go to the shop yesterday. Everyone can understand this and in actual situations this will be efficient, but should we teach this? According to a colleague from the Netherlands there are more students in vocational education. They also have to learn and use English and they also deserve courses. But how can we start teaching that everything is allowed as long as it is understood? Shall we all start allowing the ‘l’ to be pronounced in salmon?

Other hot items were mental health, every morning you could attend mindfulness practises during an early morning session. And then there were also a lot of talks about the use of the mother tongue in the English classes. Environmental issues was another trendy topic, however they did not really support the use of reusable coffee cups or bottles.

The last, however sparsely attended, plenary was a very impressive one. IATEFL had boldly chosen to have two English teachers from Gaza testify about the execution of their job in a conflict zone. They work with traumatised students and teachers. At times the electricity is cut off. Resources are scares and the pay is very low. The two women were exhausted, barely knew how to continue, but they just had to.

An event like this needs sponsors and the publishing houses, universities, language schools and other supporting organisations were given space in a large exhibition room. This exhibition hall is a real treasury. You can talk to publishers and have a look at their publications. In contrast to previous IATEFLs they hadn’t brought that many paper books with them. More and more samples are provided online or will be sent later on. A nice extra was the possibility to claim a free copy after attending a presentation organized by the publishing house. Thanks to the free coffee and tea, this was also a great place to meet people and compare notes and thoughts about the talks or workshops you had just attended.

And last but not least you could also visit Belfast. Up till the Conference I had only heard and read about the city. In certain lessons I had told my students about the Troubles. Belfast is a very charming city that has a lot to offer, but the rivalry between the Catholics and Protestants is still very much present and when you talk to the Irish you can feel the anger that is still there. All this is visualised in murals and the peace walls or peace lines running through parts of the city.

The IATEFL International Conference and Exhibition 2022 was a great experience and hopefully more BELTA members and other English teachers will once have the opportunity to visit this event. Maybe next year in Harrogate.