Sandra Vida, President of IATEFL Slovenia, reflects on our 29th conference

IATEFL Hungary conference lured participants this year with the promise of a fantastic line-up of plenary speakers, so we expected a lot, with a cherry on top in the form of David Crystal.  As we drove to the venue on Thursday evening, we realised how good it is to know ahead where you are staying and where the conference is taking place. Of course we love discovering new places, but the knowledge that the venue is the same as last year, that we know where we can park our car, which way to turn to after that and the little things that go with that made the journey less stressful than normally. 

As always, when I attend conferences in other countries, I try to look out for anything we can use at our conference: new exhibitors, great speakers, things that work out well and those that don’t. This conference offered all those things.

The conference opened with Thom Jones’s plenary on multilingualism, which in essence celebrated the opportunities and possibilities that we were given just through the fact that we were born into a small country where the need to learn foreign languages is more a necessity than a wish. So teach your students to embrace the fact that understanding and speaking English is a necessity and at the same time respect and be grateful for the fact that they were born into a beautiful language like Slovenian or any other language they started their lives with. Being bi- or even multilingual is proven to influence positive brain development and we may all be considered cleverer for it.

Laszlo Nemeth reported on his research into why English language students in Hungary can get through their English teaching studies without really improving on their English language skills and it made me wonder about internal motivation of students who start studying English in pedagogical programme after he claimed that in recent years, there is an increase of students who, when they start their studies in a pedagogical programme, don’t REALLY want to be teachers, because I distinctly remember that the majority of people in my pedagogical programme years ago also claimed the same thing. Why do we become teachers? Is it just because it seems like an easy job from the point of view of students and their parents? Can people who do not really want to be teachers, BE good teachers? How do universities produce English language teachers if what they get in classrooms are people who do not even have the basic love for the beauty of language, literature or even working with students?

According to Laszlo, the system is often self-destructive in Hungary, creating too many teachers with bad command of English language from students who see teaching as a necessary evil rather than a vocation. Being an idealist, I hope this does not apply to our context as well.

In the evening plenary, Nora Tartsay gave us a bit of insight of how big (I would say huge if someone hadn’t completely ruined this word for me) Internet has become and how it is really impossible to ignore the fact that it has become a major influence on our lives and even language. Even though I thought I am pretty well informed in this respect, too many things surprised me.

The highlight of the conference were undoubtedly the plenary and workshop by Sarah Mercer, whom we will be able to hear at our conference as well. She quoted a study by Johnson and Johnson, 2017, where they analysed data from almost 150 studies and came up with the following conclusion: “If teachers want to increase early adolescents’ achievement, they should facilitate the development of friendships,” as they found a correlation between student’s achievements and peer relationship in as much as 33%. This is the reason we must make effort to get students to be comfortable with each other, within the group. It gives them psychological safety in the unsafe environment that a language classroom essentially is.

Sarah Mercer also talked about teacher wellbeing and how important it is for teachers to take care of themselves. We often forget about ourselves, especially women, primed for taking care of others first. For me personally, going to conferences is just that - time for me to spend with like-minded people who challenge me to aspire for more and better, in my personal and professional life. From that point of view, IATEFL-HU conference catered fantastically well. The last plenary speaker was David Crystal, who talked about recent changes in language and the way we communicate, which occurred because of changes in technology and our way of life. His ability to speak with ease and at the same time with such professionalism is a pleasure to listen to. Too bad so many participants left the conference by the time of his plenary in the tradition of “boring seminars, let’s try to get away as soon as possible”.  This same idea is very persistent in our culture as well, although we are happy to report that in case of IATEFL Slovenia events the trend is promising, which gives us hope and zeal for the future work.

Sandra Vida