It was by Maike Grau from the Justus-Liebig-Universitaet in Gaessen, Germany and was entitled English inside and outside the classroom: an empirical perspective. Maike pointed out that, through the impact of the mass media, English has become a part of popular youth culture throughout the world. She used data from questionnaires and focus groups with 15-year-old learners and their teachers to see how this affected what happens in classroom. One thing that came through clearly was that the learners make a clear distinction between ‘school English’ and the English they come into contact with in their everyday lives. They could see little connection between the two. Teachers did not seem to take advantage of the fact that learners are exposed to lots of English on a regular basis. The implications are not straightforward. It’s not a matter of simply importing the language of pop culture into the classroom. But we should recognise that learners, including young learners, are sophisticated language users. From using their first language they know a lot about language and how it is used. We should not ignore this fact. Indeed we should take advantage of it in our teaching.
There was one thing I didn’t enjoy at IATEFL. I went to two talks in which the presenters attacked positions taken up by other theoreticians and materials writers. I have no trouble with that. We need serious discussion if we are to advance the profession. And that discussion can be robust. But the two talks I have in mind did not really contribute to serious discussion. They did not accept the scholarship and honest intentions behind the views they were opposing. Instead they offered a caricature of those views and then a sarcastic dismissal of those caricatures. It’s all to easy to fall into this kind of discourse – I’m sure I have been guilty of it myself. But it really doesn’t help. In both cases I happened to agree with the positions the speakers espoused. But I would have been much happier if they had used honest argument rather than sarcasm to advance their cause. Humour is an important part of a good presenter’s repertoire, but it should support argument, not replace it.
But I’d like to end on a more positive note. I thoroughly enjoyed the launch of this new website. The reception which accompanied the launch provided an opportunity to talk to lots of people. I particularly enjoyed getting to know Harshwardhan Kadepurkar, Harsh for short. Harsh is this month’s guest teacher. As often happens in the TEFL world it wasn’t long before we had established that we have quite a lot in common, including a close friend in N.S. Prabhu, whom I named in my interview for this site as one of the major influences on my thinking about EFL.