Monday, the 19th March 2012, Glasgow Conference Centre.
The IATEFL BESIG PCE
This was apparently the first year that saw all the different SIGs each having their own PCE, thus accounting for the very long queue seen at the registration desk on Monday morning. The conference organizing committee members were operating super efficiently though, and managed to move the masses relatively quickly.
The theme of the BESIG PCE this year was ELF (English as a Lingua Franca) and I was the first speaker up. After giving an overview of what ELF was from the point of view of my personal journey, I spoke about my conversion into ELF and how my exploration into the factors that affect the perceptions created by NNSs on fellow NNSs. See my IATEFL Online interview here for a summary of my talk. Also see these blogposts by Phil Wade and Eduardo Santos regarding the interview I gave.
Below are some tweets that were shooting around while I was speaking.
Following my talk on the pragmatics of ELF politeness and a lovely coffee break, Evan Frendo followed with a talk on the miscommunications in ELF scenarios, and Almut Koester on metaphors in ELF. I must apologise for not being there for these two talks as I had to run off for the IATEFL Online interview. But you can read about their talks using the #besig #iatefl hashtags on Twitter, or join BESIG as a member for access to videos of all the PCE talks.
Vicki Hollett, the organizer of the BESIG PCE came on next, and started talking about developing competence in ELF scenarios. Quoting Alessia Cogo’s definition of accommodation strategies, Vicki states that accommodation is about the adjustments you make to your speech according to the context and who you are talking to. Showing how Alan Firth’s ‘Let it Pass’ principle might work in an example about ‘cheese blowing’, Vicki then goes on to say that when the information is crucial, it is found that interlocutors do not simply let it pass. Instead, they go to great lengths to clarify.
Accommodation is not simply letting it pass, it includes turn-taking and calibrating for competence in a way that we English teachers already naturally do in our daily interactions with our students. In a very clear example of the different turn-taking, meaning negotiation and discourse strategies, Vicki shows the audience videos of two groups of students doing the same task. The group consisting of Japanese, Koreans, Taiwanese and Swiss participants took some time at the beginning to decide who was to begin speaking, and displayed features such as the use of long silences and pauses, and allowing one person to hold the floor without interruptions. The other group consisting of Venezuelans, Brazilians and Spanish speakers, on the other hand, used more interruptions, cooperative overlapping and fewer pauses when discussing. The former, named ‘Bowling’ had a Highly Considerate Conversational Style, while the later, named ‘Rugby’ had a Highly Engaging Conversational Style. Those with mixed conversational styles were named ‘Basketball’. Through this video, Vicki not only shows us the different discourse styles, but also the importance of raising our students’ awareness of such differences.
In the next part of her talk, Vicki goes on to talk about vague language versus direct language. Stating that although clarity is often of utmost importance in ELF communication, we must not neglect the relationship benefit in ambiguity and vague language. Words like ‘whatchamacallit’, ‘approximately’ and ‘kind of’ can maintain an informal atmosphere without being committed. The use of euphemisms like ‘wellness centre’ for ‘hospital’, ‘dental appliance’ for ‘false teeth’, ‘facilitation payments’ for ‘bribes’, all have their social purposes.
However, some utterances can hold different illocutionary forces for different people. The utterance ‘Are you suggesting that we should make our staff redundant?’ could come across aggressive and defiant and perhaps a precursor to a challenge, but could this only be a perception of the NSs? It is often found that in NNS speech, performative verbs such as ‘suggest’, ‘advise’, ‘promise’ etc are used not to create a highly marked sentence but simply to clarify the speech act.
In a key point that echoed my talk, Vicki emphasized the importance of not oversimplifying the issue by giving learners lists of stock phrases but instead allow for more discussion of the contexts in which they are used and how they are used. For example, simply telling students that in the UK culture, it is rude to disagree directly, and to make a disagreement more polite, students have to simply use formulae like ‘I’m afraid I don’t quite agree with you’ or ‘I agree with you up to a point but…’ Interlocutors who are slow to agree may often use tactics like claiming they partly agree and apologise, but this is not taking into account of other strategies like the asking challenging questions and hesitation, or of the fact that once the disagreement is clear, speakers are usually more forceful and disagree more openly.
Often, it is not the linguistic choice per se, but the context and the status of the interlocutors that differentiates, say, an order from a request. It is also perhaps a misnomer to say that we employ more distance and formality the more we are unfamiliar with a person. Using the ‘bulge’ in Nessa’s theory of speech behaviour and social distance to explain why we are sometimes more polite to acquaintances than to strangers, Vicki hammers home the point that the exploration of context is the way to go in the classroom. Publishers seem to want black and white answers, discrete item lexico-grammar tests seem to want right or wrong answers, but what we really need to be doing in class is to use texts to illustrate ambiguity and provoke discussions.
Right after a fascinating and invigorating panel discussion and a couple more interviews for the BESIG website (I can’t wait to see a video of the panel discussion on the BESIG website!), we attended the opening ceremony of IATEFL Glasgow, followed a session of drinks where we finally were able to network across the SIGs, catching up, meeting up and tweeting up with old friends, new friends and online friends.
Those involved in the BESIG PCE were invited to an amazing curry dinner with the BESIG organizing committee, but some of us were still able to make it in time for the Karaoke night organized by Petra Pointer. As we danced the night away to the wonderful voices of our TEFL colleagues and met up with more members of the Twitteratti, we just knew that this year’s IATEFL was going to be one of the best yet…
To be continued…