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Or IATEFL for Dummies (the dummy in question is actually me!)…

While I’ve been packing my bags for Liverpool and tweaking my talk and slides (and then my talk again), my mind wandered over the fact that I will have been to 3 IATEFL conferences this time next week. That’s rather a lot of learning that I could have potentially done, isn’t it?

Could have? Well, I say could have because I sometimes think that I might not be getting all that I possibly could out of the sessions that I attend. I am the type that makes copious notes from time to time while in workshops, seminars and talks, but I sometimes think afterwards that I don’t remember so much of them. How could I change this and squeeze the maximum out of IATEFL 2013?

I thought about registering as a blogger for Liverpool Online (which, by the way is a great thing to do), but that seems like a commitment a little too much (and I’m rather nervous about my talk so don’t want any unnecessary added pressure of ‘having to’ blog)…

I thought again. I’m definitely going to be a lot more picky about sessions I attend, having hyperactively tried to be everywhere in Brighton at my first IATEFL and make the most of a shorter stay in Glasgow last year. A lighter load of sessions to attend may mean that the learning will be deeper and stick better. So fewer sessions (except Tuesday – there’s loads of really good stuff on then and I don’t want to miss any of that, is anyone else finding the same?).

I also thought ‘maybe I need some kind of framework’ in my approach to experiencing a talk. Previously I’ve gone into them with a ‘let’s see what happens’ mindset. Here’s what I’m going to try and do this year.

First of all, having picked a session, I’ll have a look at the abstract. Let’s take the opening plenary by David Crystal as an example:

The world in which we live in: Beatles, blends and blogs

The language of popular music is a great source of data for ELT, especially because of its motivating force among young people – and the not so young, for older people remember the pop songs of their youth with accuracy and nostalgia. Pop songs are also one of the most ubiquitous manifestations of English as a global language, so it is not surprising to see them often used in ELT classrooms. But there has been relatively little analysis of the kind of English that they contain. As we are in Liverpool, this talk uses the songs of the Beatles to illustrate some interesting features of phonology, syntax, and lexis, and finds trends that go well beyond pop lyrics. Blogs, in particular, display interesting similarities in usage which can be significantly different from other modes of written expression.

Cool, looks interesting. I like music, I like blogs and I like language teaching. I’ll probably get something out of this. But how can I focus on a particular aspect and maybe remember better what Crystal says on that? Let’s look at the abstract again and pick out some key words (subjective, these are keywords I have picked – yours may differ):

The world in which we live in: Beatles, blends and blogs

The language of popular music is a great source of data for ELT, especially because of its motivating force among young people – and the not so young, for older people remember the pop songs of their youth with accuracy and nostalgia. Pop songs are also one of the most ubiquitous manifestations of English as a global language, so it is not surprising to see them often used in ELT classrooms. But there has been relatively little analysis of the kind of English that they contain. As we are in Liverpool, this talk uses the songs of the Beatles to illustrate some interesting features of phonology, syntax, and lexis, and finds trends that go well beyond pop lyrics. Blogs, in particular, display interesting similarities in usage which can be significantly different from other modes of written expression.

So far, so obvious maybe, but it’s helping me focus. From these I’ll draw out a few key questions I’d like to be answered by the talk:

  • What is the ‘language of popular music’? Is Crystal just referring to the lyrics or is there anything more to it?
  • What is English as a global language? How does ‘Global English’ manifest itself in songs?
  • What language is contained in songs? Is it useable and relevant in other contexts? Could it be useful to analyse songs with my students?
  • How are blogs ‘significantly different from other modes of written expression’? How are blogs and pop music similar?
  • Is there anything practical in this talk that I could use on Monday morning? Or will I need to do more reading or research?

None of this rocket science, I’ll be the first to admit, but hopefully this will help me get the most out of the session. In particular, I think any teacher should always ask the last question listed above.

If any of my questions go unanswered after 50 minutes or an hour of talking, well, I’ll have something to ask Mr Crystal if I bump into him wandering round the exhibition =)