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Union Jack

Non-British English-speakers, I have a weapon for you:

Language … cannot become bastardized in any country where intelligence is active and where there is no obstacle to progress.
It will change, yes, and by changing, it will simply follow the current formed by the passing of time, which is revolutionary and irresistible.”

This was quoted in a paper called “Total Spanish: The Politics of a Pan-Hispanic Grammar,” by José del Valle, in the May 2009 PMLA, but the person who wrote it is Juan María Gutiérrez of Argentina. He was thinking of South American Spanish in relation to Spain, but it applies equally well to English spoken outside of the United Kingdom. (The phrase I removed was “closely related to ideas”, which was set off by commas.)

Yes, I do sometimes get tired of “jokes” by British folks about other people’s native English. It’s such a kneejerk response for a handful of British people that I have a few friends whom I try not to remind that I (an American) teach English for a living. These jokes are sometimes funny and harmless, but often they betray a lack of knowledge about the history of English (even within England), let alone any grasp of how languages grow and change. Of course, your really snarky “friends” will then get on you about whether your country has any active intelligence, but at that point they’ve probably proven themselves to be actively hostile rather than just kidding around.

But this quote is a double-edged sword: if you use it to defend your North American, Australian, or similar English, then you need to keep it in mind when you encounter Indian English, Singaporean English, Filipino English, and all of the other native Englishes in the world.

P. S. If you’re a British person who doesn’t do this to your other-English-speaking friends, then please accept my gratitude, as well my apologies for all the times “English” gets equated with “American”. I know that’s obnoxious and wrong, whether it occurs in person or in default software settings, and I’m sure that’s the source of some of the soreness!

Get Together with International Conferences and Groups

Get Together! (image by lumaxart.com)

Get Together! (image by lumaxart.com)


Dear Korean teachers, Japanese teachers, Thai teachers, etc.,

Do you remember how much fun you had when you were a MATESOL or PhD student in the US going to your local conference, or in the UK or Australia, or going to the international TESOL conference? I remember going with my international student classmates. The conferences were so much better because they were there! You don’t need to stop going to conferences just because you are back in Seoul or Okayama or Bangkok. In addition to the fun and inspiration of conferences, you may be able to find out about grants for materials and training, get free books, make useful international and local connections, etc. It can be great just to share ideas with (and complain to) people who really understand your job and concerns, when your non-English-teaching co-workers, friends, and family probably don’t. For example, if your country tends to prefer old-fashioned teaching methods like grammar-translation or the audiolingual method, other teachers from your country may know how to help convince school administrators to let you add more modern teaching techniques like extensive reading or task-based teaching. They may know about successful programs at specific schools and have exam results that you can show your school’s administrators and concerned parents. How else can you get this information? It’s invaluable!

Of course, time and money are still an issue, but you can check each group’s website for grants and reduced fees. You may even be able to get your boss to pay for your membership or attendance if you bring up the idea in the right way. Another concern for some teachers is that a few of these conferences and associations are dominated by foreign, “native-speaker” teachers. However, I’ve heard that a lot of them would be really happy to have more local teachers involved. They just aren’t sure how to reach out, because (…sigh…) many of them are monolingual English-speakers. So I’d like to encourage you to try joining your local association, going to their conference and workshops, presenting at the conference, writing for their publications, and becoming part of their leadership. Even if they don’t know it, they really need you! If you’re nervous about going, try to find a co-worker or former classmate to attend with you.

I’d also like to address this to any Canadians, Americans, Singaporeans, and others who have found themselves teaching English abroad despite having no teaching training and no applied linguistics background: Please check into these conferences and associations. You won’t become a full-fledged professional in a weekend, but sometimes the workshops are amazing. You could learn enough to really benefit your students and make what you do far more interesting for yourself, as well. (Some conversation-school instructors have told me that they’ve wound up totally rethinking the entire concept of “English teaching” as a result of being dragged to a conference.) Major conferences sometimes have free resources, too, which can make your life a lot easier. You, too, can bring a co-worker or fellow expat with you if you’re nervous, and you may also be able to get your boss to pay for membership or attendance.

Of course, if you’re teaching overseas as a professional, whether it’s long-term or short-term, you should definitely check out these groups. As a bonus, a few of them include the teaching of local languages as part of their mission statement, which could make things more interesting (and perhaps provide some high-quality language-learning connections for you). I’ve noted a couple that mentioned it, but others likely do as well. Some groups have peer-reviewed or less formal publications, both of which can provide a good place to start getting published if you have extra time on your hands. Several groups, like JALT, have affiliations within an entire region–I recently received information from JALT’s Extensive Reading group that they’re doing presentations with KOTESOL in Korea. So you may be even able to make connections in the next location where you’re considering teaching, without going anywhere.

Okay, where do you find these groups? Well, TESOL has a list of worldwide affiliates, but many of the links are broken. You can at least use the title to type into Google.

Here are a few active groups:

  • ThaiTESOL, Thailand (4 regional groups, annual conference, special interest groups)
  • KOTESOL, South Korea (9 regional groups, annual conference, monthly regional meetings/workshops, regional conferences and special events, special interest groups)
  • JALT, Japan (37 regional groups, annual conference, regional meetings/workshops, special events, special interest groups, publications — note: includes Japanese and other languages)
  • HAAL, Hong Kong (7 seminars a year, a research forum “every few years”)
  • BELTA, Bangladesh (Several regional groups, annual conference, publications)
  • PALT, Philippines (Annual conference and workshops — note: includes Filipino, local, and other languages)
  • TESOL Spain, Spain (12 regional groups, annual conference, publications)
  • TESOL Greece, Greece (Annual conference, workshops and seminars, special interest groups, publications)
  • TESOL France, France (1 regional group, annual colloquium, workshops, special interest groups, publications)
  • BRAZ-TESOL, Brazil (12 regional groups, annual conference, workshops, special interest groups)
  • Peru TESOL, Peru (Annual conference, regional seminars, publications)
  • MEXTESOL, Mexico (18 regional groups, annual conference, monthly regional events, publications)
  • INGED, Turkey (Annual conference, seminars, workshops, publications)
  • MATE, Morocco (11 regional groups, annual conference, publications)

    These are just some of the many international groups. If you can’t find a group for your area, you can leave a comment and I’ll try to find them.

    If you’ve had great experiences with your local group, comment and tell us about it! I’ve heard good things about KOTESOL activities and met people from the JALT Extensive Reading special interest group when they did some great presentations at TESOL in 2007.

Use Your Benefits

I need to read my TESOL e-mails more carefully! Somehow I’d been missing out on this member benefit for a while. (I pay a lot for TESOL and rarely get to attend the conference, so I hate to miss out on a benefit…) Apparently, all TESOL members can attend an upcoming online seminar about using web applications, and it’s free. If you miss that one or you’re reading this much later, there should be another one at some point. The topics look interesting, and I think you can put this on your CV under “Professional Development.”

Even better, if you are a “Global Member” you can attend any of the online seminars–not just the featured ones–for free. If you are a Global Member, take advantage of this benefit and sign up for a seminar (if it’s possible to attend given the time difficulties). If you live in another country and have been considering joining TESOL but haven’t due to cost and distance, you might want to consider it. Global memberships are available to those from nations with gross national incomes of US $15,000 or less per capita (as defined by the UN). This list includes China, the Philippines, Thailand, India, Russia, Poland, Turkey, Peru, Mexico, Brazil, and many other countries. They cost $40 or $25 instead of $90. You can read about the details on TESOL’s membership page.

By the way, student members can also attend any of the online seminars for free. For regular, non-Global, non-student TESOL members, other seminars besides the special free ones are $35.

Finally, if you look at the bottom of the virtual seminars page, there’s information about how to access information from previous seminars. Topics include research on teaching reading, vocabulary teaching, English as an international language of instruction, and several more.

If you’re interested in the topics or need to add to your CV, this is a really great opportunity, especially if you can’t get to a local conference. (Soon, though, I’ll write about opportunities for local conferences that international teachers, especially local residents, may be missing out on.)