Looking at ESL from an International Perspective

Image source: bigstockphoto.com
Image source: bigstockphoto.com

I had the privilege of attending and presenting at the ACPI-TESOL National Conference in Costa Rica earlier this month.  Although it was a relatively small conference (under 60 participants), the organizers were able to attract presenters from the U.S., Panama, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and UAE (and me from Canada).

I believe as teachers, we can always learn something new no matter how many years we have been teaching. This conference was no exception in that there were many take-aways from the presentations.  However, before I provide some of the conference highlights, I wanted to talk about my experience trying to navigate in a Spanish-speaking country as a non-speaker of Spanish.  (I did take some lessons a few years ago, but I didn’t even have enough language skills to function.)  I forgot how it feels to be unable to communicate – even a simple request!  The last time I experienced this kind of powerlessness and vulnerability (not to mention feeling dumb) was when I got lost in Hong Kong; I actually got lost 3 times in 3 different taxis in Costa Rica!  There is certainly nothing more meaningful for a language teacher than experiential learning and appreciating the daily challenges for many of our students!

Here are some of the conference highlights:

Professor Valeria Sumonte (Catholic University of Maule, Chile) presented findings from her research on pre-service teachers’ language improvement as a result of spending a semester abroad in an English speaking country.  Her data suggests that the male teachers had a greater improvement in their language learning as opposed to female pre-service teachers. This elicited some very lively discussion!

Andwatta Barnes (from the U.S., teaching at UAE University) presented findings from her own action research and reminded us how it can inform and improve our teaching practice.  Andwatta investigated ways to reduce foreign language apprehension in her students who were enrolled in communication courses that included oral presentations.  The workshop participants agreed that most students find presenting in English a very nerve-wracking experience, and that it is important to start with small (1–2  minute informal talks) to increase their confidence.

Alex Monceaux (Lamar University, Texas, U.S.) discussed affective learning (Bloom’s Taxonomy).  Again, this presentation created a robust discussion!  Teachers seemed to have very strong views of the affective domain in teaching. Interestingly, many teachers said that they had no interest in the affective domain.

Dr. Michelle Benegas and Kathleen Mitchell from the U.S. asked us to use the Turn and Talk strategy in their presentation.  I liked the simplicity of the turn in your chair, face your partner, and talk activity which emphasized the importance of looking at the person you are speaking to. It is also easy to remember turn and talk. In fact, I used it during my own presentation on Grit, Growth Mindset and SLA, the slides for which you can link to here:  http://www.slideshare.net/PatricePalmer/the-role-of-grit-and-growth-mindset-in-second-language-acquisition.

My favourite presentation was by Dr. Luciana de Oliveira from the University of Miami.  She is truly a teaching professional and seamlessly transformed our workshop into a classroom where she demonstrated the power of collaborative writing.  The participants came alive and loved the opportunity to try this activity and experience it first-hand so that they could see how the technique could be applied to writing classes.

All the conferences that I have attended in the past have had several workshops going on at one time.  The process is that once you present, you leave the room and attend another session, if you like.  What was most unique about this conference was that once we presented, we stayed in the room for the next session.  This gave the presenters a chance to provide feedback on our sessions which has never happened to me before.

I have to say that the best part of the conference was having a chance to get to know the other presenters over lunch and dinner! There is nothing easier than connecting with your teacher tribe–other ESL/EFL teachers from around the world!

If you have ever thought about presenting at a local or international conference, you should know that it can be a highlight of your professional career.  Just like it was for me.

Patrice Palmer, M.Ed., M.A., TESL has 20 years’ experience as an ESL Teacher, TESL Trainer, and Curriculum Writer in Canada, including 7 years in Hong Kong. Patrice has taught students from age 8 to 80 years in ESP, EAP, LINC, ELT, and OSLT.


4 thoughts on “Looking at ESL from an International Perspective”

  1. Patrice, Thanks for the article. There are many interesting things in it. In particular, I was intrigued by the comment “many teachers said that they had no interest in the affective domain”. Any idea why this was so?


    1. Thanks for reading and for your comments. I was surprised at the reactions. The presenter used Bloom’s Taxonomy as his framework and his presentation was very good. The negative comments were mainly from North American teachers (not the local teachers) who felt strongly that emotions had no place in the classroom. The discussion even continued that night at dinner. I think some teachers just feel uncomfortable dealing with this topic which was a big surprise. What do you think?

      1. I am saddened by the response. I think that the affective domain is very important… if not the most important. Various experts wrote on it, e.g. H. Douglas Brown, Rebecca Oxford, Jane Arnold etc. Perhaps why some are so uncomfortable is because emotions are unquantifiable, and vary amongst individuals. Perhaps we need to be more comfortable with our own emotions before tapping into those of the students.

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