The 45th TESOL Convention at New Orleans

When I landed on the Hong Kong airport on Tuesday evening, it was already 30 hours after leaving the hotel in New Orleans late Sunday night to catch the 6:00 am Monday flight to Chicago, waiting for 4 hours in Chicago Airport Terminal 1, and then embarking on a fifteen-hour-and-five-minute flight back to Hong Kong.

Otherwise, the 45th TESOL Convention in New Orleans was a pleasant eye-opener. The Convention was gigantic in every respect: venue, turnout, and the quantity and variety of events. One could easily become overwhelmed by all these: losing one’s way and sense of time, and not knowing how to choose from the hundreds of events on offer. If you imagine every corner of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre being filled with attendees to an ELT conference, you have still not fully envisioned the size of the TESOL Convention. Of course size is not to be equated with quality, but again, (compared with the conferences I have attended) the TESOL Convention is remarkable in every respect: the variety of the events, and the quality of the presentations.

I have been to quite a few conferences. Usually, if you have a three-day conference, you will be lucky to see half of the participants remaining on the second day. And on the third day, less than one fifth will still be around. The 45th TESOL Convention was a four-day event. On the last day, a large number of the attendees were still sticking with it, and participating in the various activities in high spirits.

I was blown away by the enthusiasm of the attendees. My observation was that a good proportion of the attendees were frontline TESOL practitioners. They were very eager to pick up new ideas, techniques, and resources. They did not just sit in a session passively, but would dig out as much as they could from the presenters.

This is probably due to the fact that on top of the more theoretical and research-oriented sessions, the TESOL Convention programme also has a lot of practical sessions to cater to the varied needs of practitioners. This is food for thought for conference organisers these days. A large number of academic conferences these days are research oriented, where academics present their research findings. While these events have their own value, they hardly appeal to teachers. In a practical field like TESOL, we often claim that our research will improve practice. But look at our journals; think about most of our conferences. We really can’t blame teachers for never picking up an ELT journal, or attending an ELT conference, if we don’t make an effort to embed a significant practical dimension in the activities we organise for them. In this regard, TESOL has done a great job in valuing practical events in its programme, lining up many speakers who are themselves practitioners, and thus attracting huge turnouts to its annual conventions. (Incidentally, and I may be biased, one reason why turnouts at ‘academic’, research-oriented, conferences dwindle dramatically after the first day is that presenters, who are usually academics, attend conferences with the main purpose of presenting their work. However, they are not really that keen about the work of other academics! So, once they have presented their own paper ….)

Lastly, the 45th TESOL Convention changed one preconception of mine, which was that the United States was ‘backward’ in employing technology in teaching. I attended several CALL sessions and activities during the Convention, and even though I was aware that what I saw might not represent the typical situation in US schools, I was still totally impressed with the scope and innovation of their technology application in teaching. I left these sessions worrying about Hong Kong: despite our much better IT infrastructure and educational resourcing, we have a lot of catching up to do. Our schools are much better equipped with hardware, but in terms of enhancing the quality of learning with technology, we may be a decade behind the States.

So, the New Orleans TESOL Convention was a pleasant eye-opener to me. Cynics might say that TESOL Conventions are like carnivals. But one thing that carnivals do is that they re-ignite our spirits. Immersing oneself in the company of literally thousands of zealous professional colleagues for three to four days is no small moral booster.

(Here is my presenation at the 45th TESOL Convention: Pronunciation Improvement as a By-product of Synthetic Phonics Instruction:

Carolyn Graham performing jazz chants and songs.

Jennifer Jenkins on ELF

Jun Liu and others performing Reader’s Theatre