International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL) 2016

by Sabina Pillai

Birmingham,  UK

It was the turn of Birmingham or “Brum” as it is called colloquially, to host the IATEFL 2016 conference in its Golden Jubilee year. Believed to have more numerous and longer canals than Venice, Brum boasts of a state-of-the-art International Convention Centre in Brindley Place, alongside what is probably the poshest public library in the world. The icing on the cake this year was the snow one morning, a lovely surprise after the intermittent rain!

As  a representative of FORTELL, I had the privilege of meeting stalwarts such as Professor David Crystal and Adrian Underhill, among others at the pre-conference dinner  on 11 April  2016 as well as at the day-long Associates’ Day event on 12 April.  The IATEFL President, Marjorie Rosenberg welcomed  the  representatives from different countries, after which the  IATEFL Associates’ Representative Lou McLaughlin deftly steered the events for the day with clockwork precision.

There were TED-like talks by representatives from ELTed-Ireland, ETAS-Zimbabwe, ETAI-Israel and ANELTA-Angola on the various initiatives their associations had taken. This was followed by a thought-provoking presentation by Bernadette Macquire of  British Council, Madrid who made a plea for “kind teaching” and learner autonomy. She went on to suggest  that language learning should be likened more to a garden where learners could pick their way  than to the customary metaphor of  a ladder which had to be climbed. The afternoon session was devoted to poster presentations and networking. It was exciting to introduce FORTELL to the audience, who eagerly grabbed copies of the journal I had carried with me. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them contribute to FORTELL in the days to come! This enthusiasm was evident again at the Associates’ stall at the conference, where our remaining copies  disappeared in no time.

The main conference began with the customary fanfare. The opening plenary by Professor David Crystal was a master class on how to hold a three thousand strong crowd from a hundred countries in thrall! The other plenaries by Silvana Richardson, Diane Larsen-Freeman, Scott Thornbury and Jan Blake were rivetting in their own distinctive ways too. More than five hundred presentations by delegates lined up during the conference  kept  us busy. Some of the well known speakers such as Penny Ur,  Jack C. Richards,  Jeremy Harmer,  Jim Scrivener and Nicky Hockly  spoke to packed  auditoriums. The British Council hosted a Signature event to commemorate Shakespeare’s 400th birth aniversary. My presentation titled “Dictionary Matters” was well received by the audience.

It was certainly not all work and no play! The evenings were busy with the Mayor’s reception, music, story-telling, Pecha Kutcha and networking sessions. I couldn’t agree more with the IATEFL President when she said that  IATEFL is a “gift” and we should all partake of it!
Sabina Pillai is an author, academic and teacher trainer. She teaches at the University of Delhi.