Tuesday, 24 November 2009

BESIG 2009 – part 1

[Saturday 21st November] If I were a proper techie, I’d be blogging live from the BESIG conference, which I’m currently attending in Poznan, Poland. But I’m not, so I’ll write this up the old-fashioned way and post it when I get home.

Actually, that’s the most striking thing about this conference – the number of people filming, tweeting, typing and doing all those touch-screen rock-and-roll moves on their iPhones. I feel old.

Last night (Friday), at the excellent welcome event, as I was doing a bit of face-to-face networking (mainly people I’ve got to know online over the last 12 months) I got the impression I was the last, sad individual to resist the urge to tweet. But this morning I felt a bit better: in Nick Robinson’s session, he asked the audience how many of us were on twitter, in case we’d like to tweet while we listened. And no-one was on twitter! So it seems I’m not the only one.

But not for long, it seems. This afternoon I ended up sitting in while Karenne Sylvester was teaching Vicki Hollett how to tweet and how to organise her tweetdeck. I’ll confess, I was expecting the tweetdeck to be a piece of hardware … but now I know what it looks like and how it works. So I guess I’ll have to join the twitterverse …

A quick round-up of the sessions today: Vicki Hollett’s plenary presentation was very nice, focusing on the importance of politeness strategies and whimperatives in building relationships. It seems we don’t ever say “I disagree” or “I propose XYZ”, but rather use long-winded constructions to avoid being too direct. The key question is whether our students need the long-winded version or the simpler version. Corpus linguistics suggests the former. ELF (English as a Lingua Franca) might suggest the latter, but as Vicki said, even in international business communication between non-natives, relationships matter, so the long-winded versions really are important. Food for thought.

After that I went to Nick Robinson’s talk on financial English. He was promoting Cambridge’s new blended learning course, Cambridge Financial English, which looks very impressive. He was also focusing on the way ESP courses need to be not just needs-based but also means-based, i.e. the best medium of instruction will vary from student to student. That’s something I need to think about, and I’ll come back to it in this blog.

I was delighted to see Nick had borrowed one of the slides from my wish-list presentation for his presentation! The cheek of it! Well, actually, it was a nice surprise. This conference has been great for my ego. When I flicked through the EL Gazette in the conference pack last night, I was delighted to see my name on the front page (an advert for my BESIG talk!), a fragment from one of my Jargonbusters on the back page (with a not very difficult competition – you’ll find a clue to the answer by following the link to my Jargonbuster) and a great almost-centre-spread featuring a big extract from Cambridge English for the Media and a big image of the six books in my series – the first time I’ve seen them all lined up like that. Nice.

But the best thing for my ego came from Amy Krois-Lindner’s talk today. She put up a couple of quotes from ESP experts, and the third one was from me! How cool is that? (OK, maybe you're less excited about it, but I found it cool anyway!)

Amy’s talk was really interesting – she was talking about the importance of transformations in ESP. By transformations, she means, for example, listening to a university lecture and turning it into notes, or turning those notes into an email or a spoken explanation to a classmate. When you think about it, these transformations are everywhere, and we should perhaps focus more on the skills involved.

I’m getting out of sequence. Between Nick’s talk and Amy’s, I went to a presentation by Heike Philp and Holly Longstroth – two ladies I’ve met through their wonderful Virtual Round Table service. Today they were talking about their experiences with their Avalon project in Second Life. It’s looks intriguing … certainly a lot of potential, but it looks as though teaching on Second Life needs a pretty radical re-think from traditional methods. The clip Heike and Holly showed was of two ladies having a discussion about the euro. The picture was mainly static because the ladies were too busy concentrating on their English to experiment with moving their virtual hands, let alone flying around their virtual world. So my first impression was “Why bother with Second Life?”. But as I say, there is a lot of potential – but it needs a lot of thought. Maybe I’ll wait a year before I get myself an avatar and learn to fly. I'll learn to tweet first.

After Amy’s session I watched Cleve Miller’s session on English 360. I thought I knew quite a lot of it already, after my interview with Cleve, but I was still a bit blown away by it. I think it was Cleve’s enthusiasm and passion for the project that did it for me. A very funny and well-informed presentation – the best of the day for me. I was sitting next to my friend Andrew, who spent the whole presentation whispering “Oh wow!”, “Brilliant!” and “Yes, yes, yes”. I think he was impressed.

The last session of the day for me was the panel discussion for the Cambridge ESOL World of Work Forum. There were half a dozen members of the WOW forum reporting back on what they’d discussed earlier in the year in Cambridge concerning technology in teaching, learning and exams. It was very interesting … but a bit long. The half dozen presentations all merged into one for me … but perhaps that says more about my muddled brain after a very long and inspiring day. That's my excuse, anyway.

[Tuesday 24th November] That’s all I had time to write up before heading out for a very nice evening meal with the Cambridge crowd. I’ll add my thoughts on day 2 soon.

One last thing – I joined twitter last night. My user name is specificenglish (not very creative but at least I’ve got a new photo for my profile). Looking forward to learning how that works and following some of the people who follow this blog.

PS If you went to the BESIG conference too, I’d love to hear your comments below. Cheers.


  1. You are so cool for posting up your notes already! And for joining the twitterverse ;-)

  2. YAY! Welcome to the twitterverse. Would have never found this blog otherwise. It was great meeting you in person Jeremy. I should probably follow your example and blog about the conference too...

  3. Hi Jeremy,

    Great post and yes, it is perfectly alright to tweet one's own post. (if you now also follow me I can send private messages to you :-)

    I thoroughly enjoyed Anne Hodgson's presentation on agile planning methods. And agile it was. In fact it was so lively that that even on a Sat afternoon everyone was wide awake and taking notes as fast as one could. Breathtaking.

    Anybody else enjoyed a great presentation?

    Rgds Heike

  4. Oh bother. Did I say we might want students to get long winded? It wasn't what I meant at all. Ha!
    I just think we're doing a rather poor job with our concept questions with whimperatives. Or maybe I was confusing about speech acts often being accomplished over a number of turns?
    Terrific to see you at BESIG Jeremy and sorry to be chipping in as anonymous - still on the road - Vicki

  5. Karenne: You seemed to be typing the whole time- I thought you were blogging live. Glad to have beaten you to it! Note to self: learn to type.

    Holly: Great to meet you face-to-face too, and thanks for leaning on me to join twitter. I'm impressed so far, but a little intimidated by the amount of info.

    Heike: Great to meet you too - good to meet someone who enjoyed the squidgy pseudo-eclairs as much as I did. I missed Anne's presentation (but I did meet Anne) ... that's the problem with conferences - all the sessions you miss.

    Vicki: Sorry for misrepresenting you :) I wasn't keeping notes, so inevitably what we hear and what we take away from a conference is 50% our own prejudices. Maybe. Anyway, great to meet you, and thanks again for the Milky Way. It nearly saved my life, as I'll write up in Part 2 ...

  6. Hey - great that Milky Way came in handy. Next time I will try to pack you a proper three course meal.