From left to right: Huan Japes, Bill Randell and Gordon Watts

Last weekend, it was the BELTE (Brighton English Language Language Training Event) 2012 conference and has been the 3rd time that I have attended this training event.  It was pretty easy getting the train to Brighton and I met some familiar faces from LTC Eastbourne at the train station.  We all sat down on the train to compare the list of presenters and decide who we were going to see at the conference.  This year, there had been a number of famous ELT professionals such as Luke Meddings, Hugh Dellar as well as Martin Parrott to name just a few.  Having received the BELTE 2012 timetable early, thanks to Gordon Watts, I had already decided which talks that I was wishing to attend.

Anyhow, once I had arrived, I was given the usual goody-bag, free books supplied by Global ELT and had an opportunity to speak to the various publishers.  The best thing about the annual BELTE is that it is free for all attendees and you can get a free book with the goody-bag.  Nevertheless, once I had met some fellow ELT professionals and said hello to some friends to teachers and publishers, Gordon Watts formally opened the event with current Brighton Mayor (Bill Randell) and English UK Deputy Chief Executive Huan Japes.  Brighton Mayor asserted that ELT was an estimated value of £100 million for Brighton, while Huan Japes discussed the complex issue of visa issuance and regulation for non-EU students wishing to attend language schools in the UK.

Attendees choosing which talks to attend.

After the formal opening of the BELTE, attendees were encouraged to write on boards which talks that they wanted to attend.  Of course, with over 300 attendees to the small conference event, all the talks were very popular and good attendance for each talk.  For a full list of the presenters for the BELTE, please view my previous blog post (This Year’s BELTE – 20 October 2012).  I decided to attend Luke Meddings’ talk on Dogme ELT (due to a personal interest in the subject), Hugh Dellar’s talk on Translation in the Classroom (a subject that I haven’t really considered before) as well as Rachael Roberts’ talk on the IELTS Examination and the implications for fluency in the test.

10:30: ‘What Happens When We Unplug’ by Luke Meddings

The first talk which I attended at 10:30am was Luke Meddings’ focus on “What happens when we unplug?“: a talk focused on the implications of Dogme ELT inside and outside the classroom.  A few weeks ago, I attended a talk at the British Council in Spring Gardens about “Found Objects” and was keen to learn Luke’s take on Dogme ELT compared to my dissertation on this subject.  Anyhow, he started the talk by getting attendees to write down the first thing that they had mentioned, thought or said to another person and scribble this down on a piece of paper.  These notes were handed back to Luke to refer to later in the talk.

Luke Meddings during his talk at BELTE 2012

He then proceeded to share his experience of initial teacher training during the equivalent of the CELTA 25 years ago and some feedback from the teacher trainers.  He then started reflecting on the use of Teacher Talking Time (TTT), which struck a chord as I had blogged about this two weeks previously (How Appropriate is TTT in the Classroom?).  Some of the thoughts and reflections that he mused over regarding TTT many years ago were similar to personal thoughts and ideas that I had, as Dogme ELT is associated with an interactionalist approach to language teaching.  As Luke maintains: “Talking with the learners, rather than talking to the learners”.  I suppose the reflections on TTT is more relevant towards the provision of instructions rather than a conversational approach to teaching.  Nevertheless, the ‘conversational-driven‘ aspect of Dogme ELT is rather interesting (as this philosophy of teaching is not new when considering the amount of teachers proclaim that they already incorporate elements of Dogme ELT either knowingly or unknowingly) and Luke then decided to share of the ‘materials-light‘ tenet of teaching unplugged.

Luke decided to focus on the aspect of materials in the classroom and pointed out that with the amount of technology in the classroom, the amount of materials has actually increased in real-terms.  For example, teachers and learners have access to coursebooks, CDs, DVDs, IWB materials, online forums, photocopiable materials, teacher manuals, supplementary learner books, dictionaries, digital apps, etc.  When I started English teaching, we only had access to student coursebooks, teacher manuals and CDs.  There appears to be a digital revolution occurring with English teaching resources.  Many people thought that the advent of technology would make the learning experience more motivational and adaptable for the classroom.  However, material has been piled on with teachers and learners expecting more bang for their buck.

Nearer the end of the talk, Luke reviewed the three key tenets of Dogme ELT (those being ‘conversation-driven‘, ‘materials-light‘ and a focus on ‘emergent language‘).  The talk then considered the ‘test-teach-test’ of language learning and Luke suggested that Dogme ELT should be related and focused with an ‘assess-teach-assess’ element of language learning.  It was highlighted that when teaching in an unplugged style, it is reactionary rather than prescriptive.  Thus, you are always assessing teaching opportunities, assessing learner capability, making informed decisions on language learning then reassessing learner understanding, hence its relationship with the ‘assess-teach-assess’ philosophy.

The next part of the workshop, Luke used various prepositions (in/out, above/below, etc) for attendees to discuss the relationships with language learning with the person sitting next to them.  There was some very interesting discussions with all attendees and Luke elicited some examples from those that were present.  Finally, Luke picked up the pieces paper (which had been passed along at the start of the workshop) and he then read out some examples from the first thing a person said:

  • “Do you want to go for a walk?”
  • “I’ve knocked over some water! Towel, towel, towel!”
  • “Oh my god!”
Luke gave some wonderful techniques to teach with the suggested sentences.  Some of this included drilling, analysis of grammar, L1/L2 translation, etc.  It was a wonderful example on how to incorporate a ‘materials-light‘ approach to teaching and one that I will try out with my learners in my next class.
As a final attempt to demonstrate the ease of technology in the classroom to develop interaction, elicitation and experimentation in the classroom, Luke brought out his iPhone with some pre-recorded material in particular places.  He played the audio (which consisted of some people chatting, some loud clanging, etc – which was actually the train station) and he got attendees to guess the place.  After some suggestions, one person got the right answer.  Luke mentioned that through the use of some very common tools with technology, you could create a rich and engaging lesson.  Obviously, the use of material flies in the face of a ‘materials-light‘ tenet of Dogme ELT, but this tenet is not ‘materials-free‘.

11:45: ‘Translation: Tackling the Taboo’ by Hugh Dellar

Hugh Dellar starts his talk at the BELTE.
The next workshop that I decided to attend was related to translation in the language classroom, an area of language teaching which is a rather under-respected topic mainly due to its pedagogical relationship with grammar translation methods of language education.  Historically, grammar translation was taught when children had to learn Latin, having to translate reams of text from Latin into English, learning the grammar forms as well as learning verb conjugations.  However, as my wife is a professional Korean translator and interpreter, I have a personal interest in translation methods of teaching in the language classroom and whether a place exists for translation/interpreting in the classroom.  There is a commonly error between the difference between translation and interpreting.  Translation is the conversion of text between one language to another, while interpreting is the conversion of speech between one language to another.
Dellar arrived after a brief panic (his underground train was delayed and he spent a number of hours trying to travel to Victoria Station then to Brighton), but he was not late for his talk.  He rushed in, got things organised and started his talk.  He obviously didn’t refer to the difference between translation and interpreting (perhaps something that he could focus on in a future talk) but his talk was aimed for translation in the classroom and he initially looked at why translation was considered a taboo in the classroom.  He encouraged attendees to discuss this amongst themselves and whether they have ever used translation in the classroom.  There was much debate about the use of it in the classroom and whether L1 should actually be included within the lesson if the aim of the lesson is L1.
Practical applications of translation in the classroom.
After some discussion and pointers by Hugh, he suggested some wonderful classroom ideas to incorporate translation in the classroom.  These included writing up a script of L1 to L1 interaction between learners and getting learners to translate this, providing students with the materials to translate which they may encounter in their work as well as raising the awareness of differences between language and culture by getting learners to translate from English to their language then, after a while, back into English (usually called back-to-back translation and a tool used by professional translators to assess quality of translation projects and something that my wife is forever doing).  However, the teacher will have to have some knowledge of the learner’s L1 if they are expected to incorporate some ideas for the classroom but is a wonderful opportunity for learners to teach their teacher about their own language/culture.  The workshop appeared to pass by so quick and it was already time for lunch and the Q&A Session.

14:00: Q&A Session with BELTE Experts

The Q&A Session is a wonderful opportunity for teachers to ask their questions to the professionals during a very informal and lighthearted part of the BELTE.  Some of the teachers asked questions related to the recession, ESOL and charity work, examining, translation as well as developments in technology applicable for the classroom.  It was very insightful and for those BELTE attendees that asked questions were given a free book so I was dead keen to ask a question about translation (considering I had attended Hugh’s talk just before).  Hugh Dellar was chairing the panel and some comments from the professionals were invaluable.  One thing that I was interested to hear about was the role of charities with private language schools and how they could both benefit each other.  As I work for a charity in a voluntary role, I am keen to see what opportunities there are for the charity and I would be keen to link English in the Community with local language schools.

15:30: ’11-14 Minutes of IELTS Speaking Hell?’ by Rachael Roberts

The last session that I attended was Rachael Roberts’ session on the speaking element of the IELTS, possibly the most daunted part of the IELTS for students taking the test.  I have never really felt much interest in attending examination workshops before, as I like to gain new ideas for the classroom rather than attend a talk about examining which won’t offer me possible ideas for classroom techniques.  However, I was really glad to attend Rachael’s talk as she attempted to bridge both areas for those interested in the examination as well as those more interested in classroom ideas.
Rachael introduced the descriptors for IELTS assessment which included fluency being one of these descriptor which is assessed.  She used the term ‘fluency‘ to create a Wordle so that attendees could see the most common and least common terms used to describe ‘fluency‘.  After showing the image, Rachael got attendees to share their own ideas about the teaching and preparation for learners (particularly in relation to the speaking part of the examination) with the IELTS and to try to describe fluency in their own words.  The descriptors which are assessed during the speaking element of the IELTS includes the following:

  • Fluency and coherence (the main focus of the talk)
  • Lexical resource
  • Grammatical range and accuracy
  • Pronunciation
Some quotes that Rachael referred to during the talk to describe fluency included the following:
  • Fluency is the “production of language in real time without undue pausing or hesitation” (Ellis and Barkhuizen 2005).
  • “Fluency is not so much speaking fast as pausing less” (Thornbury 2005).
The next part of the workshop, Rachael offered suggestions on various lexical phrases for specific functions (making recommendations, justifying opinions, agreeing, etc) which is quite useful for those teachers preparing learners for the IELTS.  When you drill learners phrases for speaking, by using some of the suggestions that Jeremy Harmer mentioned during his drilling and repetition talk in Bucharest, it can be invaluable and more useful when teaching examination preparation classes.
After the introduction of the 11 useful set phrases appropriate for learners to acquire for the IELTS, Rachael then focused on awareness raising activities to improve fluency and accuracy in English.  This included a nod towards an old book known as “Function in English” by Blundell, Higgins and Middlemass (1982), which is now discontinued and is now due for a revival for current language teachers, for more creative aspects of language preparation classes.  In some respects, language awareness and the development of emergent language is loosely related to Dogme ELT and it is interesting to see how close this philosophy of language teaching is affecting examination preparation classes.
Rachael suggested that the key for improving fluency and language awareness was to promote autonomy in the classroom.  She suggested that particular activities could be included such as:
  • Using phrase cards
  • Maintaining pressure during the classroom
  • Using a student as an observer
  • Developing more awareness raising activities (which I would recommend teachers to read “Teaching Unplugged“)
It was a wonderful workshop and I was glad that I attended an examination-based talk.  As mentioned previously, this was my first exam-focused workshop that I attended and I would recommend other teachers to attend them in the future particularly for those that have an opportunity to attend Rachael’s talks.  She was able to incorporate some aspect of her latest IELTS Coursebook for the workshop but it played a minor role in the talk and it was very nice to meet a fellow educator that I follow on Twitter in person.

BELTE 2012: Conclusion

Overall, the BELTE Conference was probably one of the best organised so far.  There were some big names from the ELT profession and the Q&A Session was very useful.  The attendees to the conference were given the opportunity to receive some free books and the best thing about the conference is it is free of charge.  You can hob-nob with some EFL professionals and meet other like-minded individuals during the day.  However, the day of the conference conflicted with other big events such as the Language Show (which is held annually in London) and preferably I would love to attend both conferences.  Nevertheless, one cannot complain about the quality of the talks and presenters during the conference.  It is invaluable for all educators and you will have the chance to meet other teachers or publishers.