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The annual IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language) conference was held in Manchester this year. 

Taking place in the Manchester Central Convention Complex (a bit of alliteration that suggests it was meant for an English language teachers’ convention perhaps?), this year’s IATEFL conference was packed with a variety of talks, workshops, poster presentations and evening events. I was fortunate enough to have been able to attend the four days of the conference, and will attempt to summarise most the talks and workshops I went to in those four days. 

I arrived on Saturday the 11th April, having missed the Pre-Conference Events (PCEs) but word had it that the relatively new MaWSIG (Materials and Writing Special Interest Group) delivered a truly outstanding and memorable programme for their PCE day. 

After getting myself registered, I went to my first IATEFL talk by Andreas Grundtvig interestingly titled ‘Twerking the meaning: the pragmatic implicature of song lyrics’. Covering songs by musicians from Manchester like The Smiths, Joy Division and Swing Out Sister, Andreas walked us through the lyrics of their more famous songs, decoding the meaning and intention behind each line. An exercise that some of my music-crazed students would enjoy, this was definitely a way to make English classes more enjoyable and motivate bored students. Recommending as a website we can use with our students to count the words in a song or chart the word frequency, Andreas then ends his talk with the little titbit that while it apparently take 10.3 years of education to understand the lyrics of Depeche Mode, with Elton John following closely behind at 9.3 years, it takes only 4.4 years of education to understand Led Zeppelin’s lyrics, 5.3 years to understand The Who’s, and 5.5 years to understand The Smiths, suggesting that songs of the latter three bands are ones we should use in our language learning classrooms. 

Following that talk, I went to Benjamin Dobb’s talk on the teaching of culture in today’s language classrooms and whether the two can even be separable. This led to a discussion among the audience about what it meant to ‘teach culture’ and how much of cultural stereotypes were useful or harmful.  

Next on my programme was Christina Rebuffet-Broadus’s talk about the importance of having the right marketing message as a freelancer. In a very useful presentation about pricing and the importance of building trust and providing value, Christina very skillfully gave us practical suggestions to reviewing our marketing practices as freelancers. 

In an inspiring talk called ‘How low can you go? High-impact low-resource activities for YLs’ , Tom Ottway, Barbara Gardner and Rachel Johnson (StudyGroup) shared their experience of training teachers in rural Uganda where coursebooks and photocopiers are not always readily available to teachers. The recounting of their experience certainly prompted a few teachers to consider dedicating two weeks of their lives volunteering in Uganda and doing a part for the education of the young learners there. 

I am a big fan of the book ‘Teaching the Pronunciation of English as a Lingua Franca’ and naturally chose to go to the author, Robin Walker’s talk ‘Pronunciation – (m)other tongue tied?’. Providing useful examples and ways of helping our learners with their pronunciation, Robin’s key message that the learners’ mother tongue is not an obstacle to be overcome, but is in fact a foundation upon which to build their globally intelligible English, is one that all language teachers need to hear. 

I was up next, speaking about the Pragmatics of Successful Business Communication, but that is a summary for a different blogpost. 

That evening, I was privileged to have the chance to host the IATEFL PechaKucha evening, where I gave my own PechaKucha presentation based on the blogpost ‘Things Students Say that Break my Heart’. It was a real honour to be able to introduce this year’s PechaKucha presenters, including the very funny Danny Whitehead who brought the house down, my ex-boss and Director of Studies of International House London, Varinder Unlu, the inspirational Katherine Bilsborough and world record holder for circumnavigation by bicycle Julian Sayarer (thanks for raising money for IATEFL!). 

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On day two of the conference, I went to Tyson Seburn’s very interesting talk on the use of Academic Reading Circles to improve the learners’ engagement and text comprehension. Tyson suggested giving different roles to the different learners of a group/circle, namely ‘leader’, ‘contextualiser’, ‘visualiser’, ‘connector’ and ‘highlighter’. The learner would then be given different tasks depending on their roles, and individual homework on the text would be carried out. This would be followed by group work in class where individuals would present their findings to the group and then to the class as a whole. President of TESL Toronto, this was Tyson’s first IATEFL presentation, and judging by the positive responses to his talk, we certainly hope he’ll become an IATEFL regular! 

The ELT conversation this year took place between Evan Frendo and Almut Koester on the topic of English for the workplace. Facilitated by Ros Wright, the discussion covered three areas: English as a lingua franca, research into teaching English for the workplace, and the role of the teacher. In order to train learners to use English in their workplace, Evan argues that one has to be coaching the learners in their workplace so as to help the learner become truly communicatively competent in their workplace situations. Formal teaching situations like language schools and general business English coursebooks can only guess what it is that the students need and might not truly be addressing their needs. 

The final session I attended on day two was Ela Wassel and Dita Phillips’s talk on peer coaching. An inspiring talk targeting teachers who are keen to reflect on their own practices and develop professionally, Ela and Dita shared their experience of observing each other in their classes and using peer coaching to motivate them and move them closer to their professional goals. 

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The evening event I attended on Day two was the ‘Alice in Wonderland’-themed Macmillan party held at the football museum. A great opportunity to catch up with old friends, network with new ones and let your hair down, the party also showed me what fantastic dancers English teachers can be.  

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 The highlight of day three of the IATEFL conference was the forum on dyslexia. The very charming Martin Bloomfield (of York Associates) kicked off the forum, making us all aware of what dyslexia is, how it is being unfairly treated in society, and inspiring us to take action in terms of improving our best practice in the language classroom. Julia Koifman then spoke about the use of modern technology in teaching students with learning disabilities, and this was followed by Maria Reraki who showed us ways we could develop a more dyslexia-friendly classroom through simple accommodation techniques like using a yellow or blue background for our PowerPoint slides, or using the Dyslexie font on the handouts that we give dyslexic students. 

Chaz Pugliese’s presentation was a promotional plug for his new book with Helbing, The Principled Communicative Approach, but it was a useful presentation as it served to remind us of the principles of Communicative Language Teaching, highlighting the importance of the ‘Focus on Form – Controlled Practice – Freer Practice’ lesson shape (not unlike the Present – Practice – Produce a.k.a. PPP paradigm) and Zoltan Dörnyei’s seven Communicative principles. I was delighted to be sitting beside Fiona Dunlop (of Wimbledon School of English) during this presentation as was able to work with her on several of the ‘controlled-practice’ activities that Chaz suggested. 

The next talk I went to was Rudi Camerer’s ‘Teaching English as a lingua franca’ as it fuelled my own personal interest in the topic. Quoting Graddol, Rudi emphasized the fact that soft skills like ‘the ability to communicate well with people from other cultural and social backgrounds’ and ‘the ability to present well’, rather than language specific skills, are what makes people employable in today’s business world. Rudi then went on to look at the culture-based communication strategies for global dexterity by Molinsky, and highlighted the fact that Anglo-American discourse strategies should not be assumed to be appropriate for the world over just because English is being used as the language for global communication. 

 Chia and pub quiz new
The entertainment for that evening was provided by Gavin Dudeney and Victoria Boobyer as they got an intoxicated audience making logical connections, making out silhouettes of famous landmarks, and identifying sounds made by 80's computer games and 90's operating systems in their well thought-out pub quiz.  

The last morning at IATEFL was spent making my last rounds at the exhibition hall, browsing through the books on sale and saying goodbye to old friends and colleagues. That morning, I went to IATEFL committee member Caroline Moore’s talk on last October’s IATEFL first online web conference in which I gave the closing webinar. Caroline presented her findings with regards to the online interaction between the participants of the webinars and it was interesting to see the different ways that participants used the chatbox and how giving them tasks were able to focus the participants’ interactions more. 

My last IATEFL talk was given by my husband Mike Hogan, who spoke about the importance of dealing with discourse, soft skills and cultural awareness when delivering a business English course. Introducing a soon-to-be-launched online course called Biz 15 Byte-Sized Business English, Mike highlighted its key features and fielded questions from interested members of the audience. Those who missed this session can watch it on IATEFL Online 2015 where you can also watch the conference plenaries and a selected few other sessions. 

IATEFL Manchester finally ended with Britain’s famous Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy in the closing plenary reciting from a variety of her works including her collection of love poems ‘Rapture’, she had the audience in laughter and then in tears as she showed us the power of words in bringing up emotions.

With that, the conference ended and it would be a whole year before IATEFL Birmingham comes round. In the meantime, we have a year to make good use of the ideas and the inspiration that we gained from our time in Manchester.

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Chia Suan Chong is a General English and Business English teacher and teacher trainer, with a degree in Communication Studies (Broadcast and Electronic Media) and an MA in Applied Linguistics and English Language Teaching from King’s College London. 

Fascinated by the interplay between culture, language and thought, Chia is also an intercultural skills trainer and materials developer, and is now based in York.  

She is also the voice of @ETprofessional on Twitter. You can find out more about her on her blogsite