My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 2

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.

Photo by Mike Hogan

Below are some tweets that were shooting around while I was speaking.

‪@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan asks audience: “Is ELF Globish?” hm…. Audience doesn’t seem to think so.

‪@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan has a great ear for accents.

‪@IHLondon:    We’re so proud of Chia! RT @bethcagnol: @chiasuan is such a lovely speaker! 🙂 Lots of presence and poise.

‪@kit2kat:    Great hearing @chiasuan talk at last SO energetic and engaging about #ELF 🙂

@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan says perhaps we should shift our teaching to helping our sts communication with other non-native speakers.

‪@bethcagnol:     @chiasuan says it’s about the impressions you are creating of yourself.

‪@cleve360:    @chiasuan discussing politeness as “mutual maintenance of face” in context of ELF.

‪@kit2kat:    Politeness – a mutual maintaining of face 🙂 @chiasuan

‪@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan suggests exploring levels of directness.

‪@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan conducted an insane amount of ELF research.

‪@jenverschoor:    Attending the BESIG PCE. Listening to @chiasuan talking about “The Research Design”

‪@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan compared the perceptions NS have towards NNS. And NNS perceptions of NNS.

@brad5patterson:    Go chia!!!! ENJOY Jen RT @jenverschoor: Attending the BESIG PCE. Listening to @chiasuan talking about “The Research Design”

‪@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan “principle of charity” — the understanding, compassion, for a NNS’s simplified English usage.

‪@phil3wade:    @bethcagnol @chiasuan I wish I got that when I speak French!!

‪@kit2kat:    Is politeness set in stone or dependent on the dynamism of a fluid interaction? @chiasuan

‪@bethcagnol:    @phil3wade @chiasuan Well…that’s debatable. The French correct foreigners because the French think they are helping them.

‪@bethcagnol:    @phil3wade @chiasuan The French don’t know that it’s impolite in dozens of nationalities to correct foreigners.

‪@phil3wade:    @bethcagnol @chiasuan Nobody ever corrects me.The foreigner teachers used to even criticise the local’s speech.1 said ‘truc’,scarred 4 life!

‪@cleve360:    Extraordinarily useful session on ELF by @chiasuan, great mix of theory and practice, audio examples. Audience is enthralled

‪@kit2kat:    Requests – as always ‘context’ overrides linguistics! @chiasuan

‪@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan “Help students know that there are different strategies of politeness”.

‪@NatalieGorohova:    @chiasuan “Native speakers may not have the skills that the non-native speakers need”

‪@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan ELF and Intercultural Communication go together!

‪@kit2kat:    😀 @chiasuan just used a triangle – @Lydbury will be pleased!!! 😀

‪@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan says we should encourage discussions in the classroom about the levels of politeness.

‪@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan cites Theater of the Oppressed.

‪@bethcagnol:    @chiasuan suggests filming conversation bits and playing them for sts to discuss appropriateness, politeness, etc.

‪@phil3wade:    @bethcagnol @chiasuan My wife tried being polite.Someone called her ‘luv’ so she went round saying it to everyone.

‪@andivwhite:    Live interview scheduled with @chiasuan at 12:15. She’s amazing. Check it out: http://bit.ly/yfJ3t2

‪@phil3wade:     @andivwhite @chiasuan She’s the DA. Watch out!

Photo by Mike Hogan

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.

Evan Frendo - Photo by Mike Hogan

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.

Vicki Hollett on ELF

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.

For more discussion, go here for my Devil’s Advocate (DA) interview with Vicki Hollett about the pedagogic implications of ELF.

ELF Panel Discussion with Chia Suan Chong, Evan Frendo, Vicki Hollett and Almut Koester - Photo by Mike Hogan

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.

IATEFL President Eric Baber at the Welcome Event - Photo by Mike Hogan

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…

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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.

Intercultural Dining Etiquette and Table Manners

This week, a future mother-in-law wrote a enraged email to her step-son’s fiancee criticising her fussy eating habits and lack of table manners after her visit to their family home. The email went viral and was published in the Metro on Wednesday, and this piece of authentic material soon found its way to the English language school. In the staffroom, a debate ensued as to whether the future mother-in-law or the supposedly impolite girl in need of finishing school was to be blamed, and it soon became apparent that this would make for great discussions in our classes. Nevertheless, my colleagues weren’t sure if the article would be suitable for my low-intermediate class. Determined to grade the tasks (and discussions) and not the text, I brought the article into my classroom, and the discussion that actually emerged was more interesting than I could have ever expected.

It soon became obvious during the reading and discussions that the mother-in-law’s perception of what was good etiquette and appropriate manners was very culturally biased. And the following questions regarding etiquette arose:

When you are a guest at someone’s family home,

1. Do you normally wait for everyone (including the female hosts) to be seated before starting on your food? Should you say something before starting?

2. If you don’t like something, should you force yourself to eat it or do you find a way to refuse? What would you say?

3. Do you normally take small helpings of the side dishes (e.g. the potatoes, salads, etc.) throughout the meal, or do you take one big helping that will last you for the rest of your meal?

4. Should you finish everything on your plate or can you leave some if you have had enough?

Question number 1 initially seemed to invite unanimous responses of ‘yes’es’ but after some probing, it was revealed that in Japan and Thailand, the female hosts of more traditional families often remain standing, waiting to serve the guests, and don’t sit down to eat until everyone else has finished.

Question number 3 brought up some interesting cultural differences. Most Europeans thought it appropriate to pile on one big helping  onto one’s plate right at the start of the meal, but most Chinese students found this rude. A meal was meant to be an occasion for sharing, and the ‘this is my share and that is yours’ attitude didn’t go down very well with them. Taking just one piece from a side dish and eating it before going for another piece was the accepted approach.

In response to question 4, the Arabic students agreed that in some families, finishing the food on a plate would mean more is desired, and this would prompt the host to refill the empty dishes with more food. This would usually be pre-empted with an offer to refill the plate, which the guest can politely refuse, but if the host is unable to speak English well, they might enthusiastically refill the plate without asking.

This discussion prompted more questions about guest etiquette to be written up on the board and the discussion continued in groups.

5. What should you bring when you are invited to someone’s house? What should you bring when you are invited to someone’s wedding?

Most students agreed that something should be brought but the items ranged from wine to food, and even flowers. As for weddings, most Asian and Arabic students agreed that money should be given as a present, much to the surprise of the Europeans. The Japanese, Chinese and Korean students all insisted that the start of a couple’s life together would cost a lot of money, and therefore, the guests should be obligated to give more than the cost per head. A wedding would therefore bring in a profit for the happy couple to have a headstart in life. The Europeans, however, saw it as the happy couple treating their friends to a meal, and shared concepts such as wedding lists.

6. Where should you sit when at the dinner table? How should you sit? Where should you place your hands?

Some cultures had elaborate rules when it came to seating positions, which was often based on seniority, and which direction the host should face. The Japanese and Koreans agreed that it was rude to cross one’s legs in front of those more senior than oneself, but they disagreed as to how to place one’s hands. In the Japanese culture, both hands (and arms) should be seen above the table at all times. One hand ought to be holding the bowl of rice while the other hand held the chopsticks. The Koreans, on the other hand (no pun intended), found the holding of the bowl to be ‘beggar-like’ and insisted that the bowl should be left on the table, while one hand picks from it either with chopsticks, or more commonly, a spoon. Elbows, we all agreed, should be kept off the table.

7. Where do you place the cutlery to indicate you are still eating? Where do you place them to show that you have finished your meal?

Those that used knives and forks agreed that placing them side by side on the plate indicated that one had finished with the meal, but there was less agreement as to what to do with cutlery in the middle of the meal. Some suggested we should cross our knives and forks on our plates to indicate that we were not finished, but some were adamant that this was rude. The use of chopsticks was less familiar for the non-Oriental students, who were surprised to learn that one must never stick the chopsticks in their rice bowl as it resembled the incense used when praying to the dead. The Oriental students all agreed that placing the chopsticks back down on the table beside the bowl was the most polite way to do this, although the Korean and Japanese students reacted in horror when the Taiwanese students remarked that they also placed them together across the top of the bowl.

8. How many courses are usually served, and in which order?

Talking about courses reminded me of an experience I had with some Spanish visitors who came to London some years ago. They had wanted to try some Chinese food, so I had some dishes delivered. You probably already know this, but the Chinese don’t typically do ‘courses’, except for dessert and tea/coffee. All the dishes are placed in the centre of the table, and each person gets their own bowl of rice. One then takes what they want to eat from the dishes in the centre and ‘shares’ the meal with everyone at the table. But when I placed the dishes in the centre of the table, my Spanish friends started to eat out of the vegetable dish until it was empty, and then proceeded onto the Lemon Chicken. Despite my continual insistence that they had to mix all the dishes together, they stuck to their belief that the ‘salad’ had to come before the meat dish, and the rice came last. Imagine my shock when they finished off the meal chomping down on the plain rice in their bowls once all the dishes were done with!

9.  What do you normally drink with your meal? Are there any codes of behaviour to observe?

The Chinese students were keen to state that Chinese tea was usually drunk after the meal and not during, contrary to what Chinese restaurants in London would have you believe. The Japanese students, however, saw drinking green tea during the meal as totally normal. While the tea at the Chinese table should be refilled by the person seated closest to the teapot, when it comes to alcohol at the Japanese and Korean table,
it is customary for people to refill each other’s glasses/cups, and not one’s own. But the most interesting comment came from the Koreans, who said that when drinking alcohol in front of someone more senior, one should always turn away (about 90 degrees from the person with more seniority) and sip from their glass with their hands covering it.

10. How much time do you usually spend at the dinner table?

This brought up some stark differences. Most Europeans and South Americans saw dinnertime as time for communication with the rest of the family, and would spend anything from 1 hour to 4 hours at the dinner table. Those from the Far East were more efficient with their meal times and would typically finish a meal in 5-20 minutes, unless a guest was present.

This lesson went on for about 3 hours, throwing up lots of useful lexis and grammatical structures in addition to very useful speaking practice. The discussion/debate was definitely not about what I had expected it to be, but going with the flow definitely allowed us to learn so much more about each other. In a time of international business dealings, an understanding of the social norms and etiquettes of different cultures is becoming more important than ever. And lessons could be made so much more fruitful if we could kill two birds exchanging such information whilst providing practice of English. Meanwhile, on a more selfish level, I’ve learnt lots too.