IATEFL BESIG Dubrovnik conference, 2011

Photos by Mike Hogan and Chia Suan Chong

The BESIG Annual conference this year was held in the Grand Palace Hotel of Dubrovnik, Croatia, and most of the delegates were staying at the very hotel that hosted the conference. On a practical level, this made it much more convenient for speakers who did not want to lug their laptops around all day, but an unexpected effect of this was an overall feeling of warmth and familiarity that bonded the members of BESIG.  IATEFL conferences have always been a great opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new ones, but the BESIG Dubrovnik conference went beyond that. BESIG Dubrovnik was about letting our hair down and relaxing while getting to know old friends better and feeling like a family – a family that shared the same goals and beliefs.

The Welcome

Despite the delayed and missed flights due to the unfortunate strike at Zagreb airport on the first day of the conference, most delegates made it in time to see the beautiful coast of Dubrovnik twinkling in the evening lights.  After a wonderful buffet dinner and some plum brandy amidst conversations with like-minded friends, we retired to our bedrooms, ready to wake up and see the Adriatic Sea in daylight.

The Plenary

Speaking of the importance of raising our clients’ awareness of the different cultures as they use English in this globalized world, Jeremy Comfort in his talk ‘What’s culture got to do with business. Supporting our learners in a complex world’ explains how to help learners develop mindfulness – an ability to step back and observe. He briefly addresses the more essentialist notions of national culture, e.g. Hofstede’s taxonomies, but goes beyond that by broadening the view of culture to encompass conflicts that are caused by different personality styles and different attitudes to time and directness in communication, and talks of the development of ‘push’ (presenting, telling) and ‘pull’ (eliciting, getting participation) skills as tools to avoid and/or getting around conflict. He wraps up the plenary by reminding BE trainers to focus on cultural issues that are of benefit to our clients’ businesses rather than those of interest to the trainers. There is no doubt that the key to understanding other cultures is curiosity and openness.

Photo by Mike Hogan

The Talks

Vicky Hollett’s talk ‘Learning to Speak ‘merican’ was a brilliant lesson in the significance of pragmatics in our understanding of intercultural interactions. Challenging the traditional stereotypes that Americans do not share the British sense of humour, and that Americans are more direct than the ‘Brits’, Vicky cleverly uses many familiar and humorous examples to demonstrate how being indirect could make utterances less threatening and help avoid awkwardness, and this ironically allows British conversations to have much more cut and thrust since we can always use jokes to cover it up. While the Americans tend to try and maintain positive face (i.e. the need to be accepted and appreciated by others) and therefore pride inclusion even when telling jokes, the Brits are more concerned with maintaining negative face (i.e. by not intruding or get in people’s way because of their need to be free and not be burdened by others) and are happy to use the ambiguity of jokes at any time or circumstance to relieve uncomfortable moments or rescind our initial requests. Thus, what might seem sarcastic to American might simply be witty quips to the Brits.

This cross-cultural interaction theme was continued by several speakers, including my own talk about perceptions of politeness in cross-cultural NNS interactions, Richard Lewis’s ‘Cultural Factors in International Business’…

Photo by Mike Hogan

and Dr. Sabrina Mallon-Gerland’s talk ‘Case Study – Why the Germans are arrogant and the Americans are not committed’. Sabrina highlighted the cultural effect on linguistic use and suggested that we could teach students to use certain formulaic language but cannot expect them to feel comfortable using them if it is not something done in their own culture. She goes on to use concrete examples in a comparative case study, e.g. the German use of ‘The problem with that idea is…’ to signal an interest to take the idea further through discussion, but could be mistaken by Americans to mean ‘I find this idea problematic and am not interested in it’.  In order to prevent misunderstandings caused by such cultural differences, Sabrina proposes the use of meta-language to describe communication intentions so as to enable clients to explicitly define and discuss each stage of their communications, and not leave it to cultural interpretation to inaccurately understand the pragmatic intentions of the speakers.

This ‘training’ and ‘coaching’ aspect of the Business English teacher’s portfolio continued to take centre stage throughout the conference, and it was perhaps most appropriate that we ended the conference with Barry Tomalin’s ‘Teaching Business Communication in the 3rd Space’ Barry describes the ‘3rd Space’ as ‘the new phenomenon in globalisation’ where ‘managers’ reporting lines are internationalized and they are reporting to managers in different countries who they never meet…’ In order to overcome problems of unfamiliarity, Barry suggests several useful mnemonics to help clients make their communication more effective. This included the importance of signposting, summarizing key points, concluding and inviting questions when structuring a presentation, and training clients to give F.A.C.E time when interacting, i.e. Focus, Acknowledge, Clarify, Empathise.

Photo by Mike Hogan

The Publishers

Photo by Mike Hogan

Aside from the opulent amount of wine and plum brandy sponsored by the wonderful publishers (thank you, it was delicious!), it was wonderful to see the rich and innovative BE resources that were being presented at the conference and the exhibition area. Ian Badger’s ‘Listening’ (Collins ELT) must be one of my favourite as he makes use of authentic recordings from various real-life business interactions and offers not just listening practice, but thought-provoking, awareness-raising discussions through them. Co-writer for Grammar for Business (CUP) Rachel Clark continues to make her mark with her cleverly-written and –organised corpus-based grammar reference book, while Mike Hogan presents his new business series starting with Business English for beginners (Cornelsen Verlag). However, perhaps making the most waves is Paul Emmerson’s photocopiable resource book ‘Management Lessons’ which he has bravely published on his own through PaulEmmerson.com, making this the first BE book to ever be self-published. Judging from Paul’s previous successes with ‘Email English’ and ‘Business English Handbook’ (Macmillan), he wouldn’t have any trouble getting this one off the ground.

Photo by Mike Hogan
That's just me...

The Partying

Delicious seafood, colourful (but lethal) cocktails, and BE Trainers dancing to ‘Like a Prayer’ on what was an exclusively BESIG dance floor till the wee hours of Sunday morning. Need I say more?

The Goodbyes

For those heading home on the last day of the conference, there was a mere 3-4 hours of a quick city tour before making our way to Dubrovnik airport. For the lucky few who got to stay for an extra day, they were made luckier by a last-minute cancellation of what would have been a second strike at the airport. For those that were heading back to the UK, foggy weather meant that Dubrovnik airport saw a whole herd of more than 50 BE teachers hanging around nostalgically looking back at how wonderful BESIG 2011 had been…

See http://www.flickr.com/photos/irishmikeh/sets/ for more BESIG Dubrovnik photos by Mike Hogan.

My trainees’ 10 (+1) Maxims of Teaching…

I previously blogged about the importance of the foreign language lesson in the CELTA, and before that, wrote about the lessons we can learn from the bad experiences of a language learner.

Upon meeting my new Celta group today, I decided to make a few quick changes to the foreign language lesson. To start with, one of them speaks Chinese and so I had to make an emergency switch to teaching Japanese instead. However, the problem with teaching Japanese in the context of a cafe is that most cafe items in Japanese sound exactly as they do in English since most of them are ‘loan words’ from the west. So orange juice is simply ‘orenji jusu’, coffee is ‘cohee’, and ‘milk’ is ‘miruku’. After all, the concept of a cafe was a western one in itself.

So I decided to instead bring in some fruit that do not have western names and group the items into drinks and fruit. After making some changes to the dialogue, I thought while I am at it, I might as well change the format of feedback. Instead of only getting trainees to talk about how they felt, they were given the task of formulating maxims for their own teaching, in hope that it would contribute to feelings of ownership of the ‘maxims’.

The maxims that they formulated were impressively similar to the points made in my previous post about the foreign language lesson…(I did guide them and summarise what they were saying of course…) Here are their 10 +1 maxims.

1. Thou shalt allow lots of repetition. 

This was the first point that lots of the trainees mentioned. They realised how important repetition was and passionately stated that no matter how many times I allowed them to repeat ‘mizu’ (water), each time was precious to them and a chance to review and etch the word into their memory.

2. Thou shalt not make students feel bad for not remembering. Instead make them feel relaxed.

The phrase ‘energetic antenna’ is starting to make a regular appearance on my Celtas. The  teacher is the energetic antenna of the group in the same way a manager of a team conducts the energy and affects the dynamics of its members. The teacher is therefore responsible for fostering an enjoyable, friendly and relaxed atmosphere conducive to making mistakes and learning. After all, as I always say to my students, ‘if you don’t make mistakes, I don’t have a job.’

3. Thou shalt drill! drill! drill!

A more experienced trainee came to me during the break and asked if I was advocating the audio lingual approach or the direct method. Although I’ve had lots of experience with the Callan Method in my early days of teaching, it was important to get across to him that a multi-method ‘cream of the crop’ approach (where we select and pick the ‘cream’ or the best of each approach/methodology to suit the occasion and the student) was what we hope to encourage (and not the ‘Celta method’ which some cynics seem to complain about).

4. Thou shalt not overload students with too much information.

Although it is never wise to overgeneralise, I suggested to trainees that for a 40-minute Celta lesson, it is perhaps appropriate to introduce 7-10 pieces of new lexis (if lexis is the main aim), but it was also a good opportunity to highlight the fact that words like ‘orenji jusu’, ‘coca cora’, ‘cohee’, etc were easier due to their similarities to English, and therefore allowing us to include more than 10 pieces of lexis in that lesson.

5. Thou shalt teach lexis in chunks.

Several trainees were puzzled by the meaning of certain words in the phrases I taught them. When encountering ‘cohee o onegaishimasu’ for ‘coffee please’, I overheard some of them wondering out loud what ‘shimasu’ might mean. But ultimately, it did not matter for as long as they knew that the whole expression ‘onengaishimasu’ was one that allowed them to ask for favours in Japanese, our job was done.

6. Thou shalt train students to tolerate ambiguity.

A skill that is so important to every language learner – the ability to face unknown language items and not suffer a psychological block or a deflation of one’s self-esteem. The language classroom can already make the most powerful of business people feel like a child – one without control of his/her environment and not able to achieve what must be one of the most basic of human abilities – the ability to communicate. It is thus extremely vital that learners realise that there will be times when lots of words will be unknown and that is okay. We can still try to guess the meaning from context. And more importantly, for learners to understand that language learning is a long process. One of my trainees exclaimed today that we had spent 40 minutes and had only learnt a short dialogue at a cafe. Language learning is like a race with no end, a run where the destination is unclear…and we all know that these kinds of runs can be psychologically exhausting. That’s why it is all the more important that we enjoy the journey and the small successes that we achieve.

7. Thou shalt use visuals.

The trainees clearly found the use of realia was novel and motivating, and mentioned that it was important to cater to more visual learners. This also included the writing down of the dialogue on the board so that trainees were able to see the words and not just hear them. My co-tutor doing the session on learner styles tomorrow is going to have the trainees all prepped and mentally ready for that session!

8. Thou shalt motivate the learners.

Several trainees commented on the importance of the lesson being fun, and the trainer being energetic and engaging. The teacher of course does not have to be jumping around like they are high on an overdose of ADD medication. The teacher is not a performer and does not have to behave like mad ol’ me. A teacher can be calm, sedate and relaxed and still motivate and engage their learners all the same.

9. Thou shalt correct the students’ mistakes, albeit judiciously.

This seems obvious but I was once told that one of the most frequent complaints that students make to managers is that they don’t get corrected enough. Students pay to be corrected, so as long as you do it in a friendly, supportive and encouraging way, and in a way that doesn’t interrupt that fluency too much, correction should be a feature of the language classroom. And I encourage my trainees to do so from day 1 of their Celta.

10. Thou shalt set a context and present language in context.

Probably a cornerstone of the communicative approach to teaching, the context-based presentation creates a place in the brain for learners to ‘put’ the new language and this therefore helps learners to retrieve the new language more efficiently and effectively. But my trainee today probably gave a less-noted, but equally valid reason for presenting language in context : it is more fun and shows you directly how you can use the language. He claimed he was now looking forward to going to a Japanese cafe and putting the language he had learnt to good use.

+1. Thou shalt encourage lots of student talking time and only quality teaching talking time.

Okay, this is a +1 because it is the one I deviously slipped in so it actually came from me rather than the trainees…although some of the trainees did mention the importance of the use of clear and graded speech, gestures, and facial expressions to ensure understanding – a tenuous link to ‘quality teaching talking time’ I admit, but nevertheless useful. Related to the importance of increased practice in the language classroom, increased student talking time is achieved by encouraging pair/group work, and multiple opportunities to rehearse the language taught.

So there they are – the ten (+1) maxims that my trainees formulated all on their own.

Ten (+1) maxims that beautifully describes the foundation of the SLA (Second Language Acquisition) principles and the communicative approach.

Ten (+1) maxims that I will be holding them to throughout the teaching practice lessons on the Celta.

And here is a blog post to remind them that I will.