Friday, 27 November 2009

BESIG 2009 - part 2

Day 2 of the BESIG conference started very badly …

I’d been very sensible. Only one beer at the Cambridge meal the night before. Resisted the temptation and persistent persuasion to go dancing with the king and queen of legal English, Amy Krois-Lindner and Matt Firth. Sensible early night because I had my big presentation at 9.45. Alarm set for 7.

I woke up at 8.45, looked at the clock and felt that churning-stomach feeling that it’s all about to go horribly wrong. I knew I had to choose between breakfast, preparing for my talk and showering. I chose the shower. Then I pulled on my suit, packed my suitcase and dashed to the conference venue with a luxurious 7 minutes to spare.

Actually my talk went pretty well. I was talking about English for Nursing (not coincidentally, the latest addition to my series, Cambridge English for Nursing Pre-Intermediate, is coming out in early 2010).

Unfortunately no-one in the audience taught nurses, so it was all a bit hypothetical. I wanted to relate what I was saying to ESP in general – the presentation was called Results-Focused ESP – and I think I got away with it. The audience were very responsive and got involved with plenty of great ideas, which was exactly what I was hoping for.

By the way, I’ll explain my talk in a later post.

Straight after my talk, I had an interview with Carl Dowse. He wanted a film of me giving advice for new ESP teachers. I was surprised how easy that was … probably because I’d already had a chance to think everything through by writing this blog. You see, that’s another nice thing about blogging – it’s great for getting your thoughts straight.

From the interview, I sneaked into Mark Ibbotson’s session on English for Engineering, only a few minutes late. Mark’s session was excellent – he really does know his stuff, and, more importantly, made it all sound really easy and really interesting. At one stage he was talking about the technical vocabulary connected with racing cars, and just kept going deeper and deeper into the vocab. The point he was building up to was that engineering vocabulary is huge and extremely specialised. But … much of it is also generic. The same ideas keep popping up in diverse fields. So instead of despairing at the sheer volume of words, we need to prioritise the vocab we teach.

After Mark’s session, I grabbed a handful of biscuits … a late and not especially fulfilling breakfast. And headed for the last session, the panel discussion on the future of teaching and learning. It was a bit similar to the WOW panel discussion from the first day, but different enough to keep it interesting.

After lots of going round and round with panellists and audience members saying method X is better than method Y, the comment was made (Pete Sharma, I seem to remember) that we’re comparing apples with oranges. Sometimes one’s better, sometimes the other, but it doesn’t make any sense to make absolute comparisons. Eric Baber also made a crucial point: the kind of teaching most of us are involved in is not typical of the majority of language teaching and learning that goes on around the world. Sure, it’s great to have a long chatty one-to-one lesson with a subject specialist, but for most learners that’s simply not an option. The choice for most learners isn’t between face-to-face and computer-based learning. It’s between computer-based and nothing.

[Sorry, Eric and Pete if I’ve misrepresented you – this was the message I took away from the session, and may not have been exactly what you were trying to communicate.]

And that was it … the conference then kind of stopped. It would have been nice to have a closing ceremony, even a closing plenary, a chance for us to thank the organisers with a standing ovation and say good-bye until next year. Apart from that, it was a perfect conference – great sessions, great food and great networking. BESIG is the best conference of the year, and I’m looking forward to the next one.


I had a couple of hours before my train back to Warsaw, so I agreed to go with my friends from Cambridge for a bit of lunch. I was pretty hungry, so it seemed like a good idea at the time …

But by the time we’d ambled down to the city centre, found a nice place to eat and ordered our food, I realised I was cutting it incredibly fine with my train – which was at 3.30. It was already after 2.30. I calculated that I’d need to leave at 3pm at the very latest to have a chance of catching the train. The food finally arrived at five past. I bolted a few mouthfuls, grabbed my coat and suitcase and started running.

OK, so it was only 1.7km (about a mile?), which a top athlete could do in 4 minutes. But top athletes don’t do it on a full stomach, wearing a thick winter coat and dragging a suitcase across cobbles. I had 20 minutes … 16 … 12 … OMG I feel awful …7 … I feel sick … 3 … gotta keep going … 2 … there’s the station … 1 … there’s my train …

Well, somehow I made it. I spent the next hour sweating, panting, groaning. Fortunately I found a Milky Way in my bag, a gift from Vicki Hollett, brought all the way from ‘merica. Best Milky Way I’ve ever had.

So a bad start and a bad finish, but overall a great day and a great weekend. The worst thing was getting home exhausted and realising that it was Monday tomorrow …


  1. ;-) you got in no.2 before I've even started on my wrap-up... so no, I wasn't live blogging... that's too scary for me: I'm a all consideration, reading through my notes kind of gal... what fun to read these posts, see you a huffing and a puffing, you seemed so calm in RL!

  2. Ah ... but at least you made notes. I'll have to try that next time.
    RL? Real life? Yes, I was surprisingly calm about the presentation. I've done about 20 this year so far, so my days of getting stage fright are over, I hope.