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The Uni-Files

A candid look at EFL life and lessons from a university teacher's perspective.

September 30, 2009

More on conferences and presentations

Last post I offered some candid comments regarding a few of the ELT conferences I attend or present at regularly. I'll continue today by talking a bit about the 'Asia circuit'. and getting a presentation accepted at these conferences. By the way, please don't think of this as a comprehensive step-by-step guide but rather as a collection of off-the-wall observations.

The Asia Circuit-
A buddy of mine noted how you get a conference bag each time you attend or present and remarked that you could talk about conferences the way international soccer players talk about caps. "I've been 'bagged' 16 times. Yup, 16 international bags, I have".

In the past few years I've been 'internationally bagged' at ThaiTESOL, ETA-ROC (Taiwan), TESOL Arabia, AsiaTEFL (in Beijing), KOTESOL (S. Korea), MELTA (Malaysia), FEELTA (Russia-Far East) and PALT (The Philippines). Except for ArabiaTESOL this may look like the Asian Golf Tour schedule- and it has something of that feel about it. Several familiar Japan-based names seem to pop up at a number of these.

Let's start with PALT (I'm not going to link these, assuming that you can Google the relevant terms for yourself if you want to know more). This year PALT is the host organization for the PAC, meaning Pan-Asian Conference. The PAC has a rotating host organization which usually combines this big event with their own domestic national conference (that would be JALT in Japan, who have hosted PAC before). The PAC is the biggest conference of its type in Asia and, as you'd expect, attracts participants from across the continent (actually from all over the world).

I attended PALT in 2007, but didn't apply for this year's PAC-PALT- Dec. 3-5 (somewhat to my regret as the time approaches). I do remember the highly formal setting of The Manila Hotel. My presentation was made in an enormous ballroom where the waiting staff was still clearing lunch when I started speaking, which is obviously a bit disconcerting. I also remember a gruff character coming forward durting the follow up Q and A and saying that he "objected" to what I had presented- the first time someone has had an 'objection' to my 'plea' in an ELT presentation. I also remember the discomfort I felt at how obsequious the hotel staff was, including flushing my urinal for me and proffering hand towels to me immediately after performing my bodily functions. But I don't need to tell you that my Filipino counterparts were incredibly friendly, welcoming, and helpful because if you know anything about The Philippines you probably know that.

ETA-ROC doesn't seem to operating this year. This Taipei combination of language teaching conference and book fair was always haphazard, and organizationally a bit sloppy, but had the most enthusiastic participants in Asia. A lot of younger Taiwanese teachers attended these presentations and their enthusiasm more than made up for the lack of physical space and confusion. In short, ETA-ROC is a microcosm of Taipei's traffic system and busy but energetic populace. The food here was always first-rate too. I hope this one retuns to the circuit.

One thing that I've always found odd about ETA-ROC- most of the attendees are young, new teachers who seem to be looking for basic guidance and/or recipes but an inordinate number of speakers are academics who present on very narrow academic topics. I'm not sure how or why that incongruity exists.

Like PAC, the Asia-TEFL conference rotates through a different country each year. Next year it's in Hanoi- and yes, I'll be there. Not surprisingly, the Bali-located conference last year drew a huge number of applicants although yours truly was rejected. Asia-TEFL is more or less the highbrow academic conference on the circuit and I can't help but think that I should have upped the academic lingo in my proposal last time (I went too much for a rather forced and obvious Inter-Asia commonality theme).

ThaiTESOL would probably win most popularity polls among Japan-based uni-types. Let's face it- doing ANYTHING in Thailand feels like a holiday and this is THE best conference for going out on the town period. Full stop. I don't consider myself to be among the great expat boozehounds but this is a great locale for the post-presentation drink or five.
The ThaiTESOL conference is usually held in January but because Bangkok hosted the Asia-TEFL this year there is no conference in Jan. 2010. sniff.

Anyway, here's a personal sidebar- I can't help but wonder if I'm on a ThaiTESOL conference blacklist because I was accepted for five years straight and then rejected for two consecutive years thereafter (despite having upped my public and academic standing- not to mention my proposal writing skills). The last one I attended had a quasi-political theme which I thought was nonsense and proceeded to criticize the 'accepted' view in my presentation (I had prepared a thorough critique of some politico-linguistic academia and pedagogy for this presentation). Anyway, one of the conferences organizers happened to attend my spiel and seemed to mistake some of my examples and references to the dangers of ethnic reductionism and racism in reading politics into language as being my own view, and told me afterwards that she thought my (throughly anti-racist) presentation was "full of racial prejudice".

KOTESOL is very much Korea's JALT counterpart. If you think a lot of modern Korea emulates Japan, at least on the surface, this is a logical extension of that in almost every aspect. A lot of university teachers, mostly Westerners, present here and have many of the same themes and concerns as JALT. It's quite sober, like JALT on a smaller scale, but it does seem easier to make Korean teaching contacts from KOTESOL than it does to make Japanese contacts from JALT.

FEELTA, I've presented at once- in Vladivostok. The jarring effect of flying less than 2 hours from Japan (Niigata) and landing in a land of European faces and architecture, and especially the 6 foot tall ladies, overrides my memories of the conference itself. But once again a rule sems to persist: the more haphazard the organization (the legacy of the old Soviet bureaucracy and lack of public information remains) the more engaging and welcoming the people involved are.

TESOL Arabia (Dubai) is quite large and elaborate. They do take themselves very seriously, being the main conference in that part of the world. There is an extremely wide range of presenters here- every continent is represented...and then some. I found it disconcerting to present in a small room where, among my audience of 14 people, 4 were Muslim ladies wearing the full regalia (all but eyes revealed). Since I like to read audience expressions and make eye contact this was a new situation for me. By the way, TESOL Arabia and KOTESOL both require that you be members of their respective organizations before you are allowed to present, upping the costs and the paperwork.

Considerations regarding presenting:

Fees- Here's one of my beefs. OK, with a strong Yen and generally wealthy populace, Japan is a good base from which to attend other Asian conferences (Arabia excepted). Unfortunately though, some of these conferences require bank transfers for fee payments (no credit card payment online etc.) and, given the costs added to do so with Japanese banks, and the ridiculous amount of paperwork involved in what should be a minor transaction, this can often end up as an extra unforeseen hassle. Those conferences to which I can Paypal or pay by credit card are so much more relaxing.

Some conferences are very organized and prompt in their email exchanges. These conferences also tend to supply timely and comprehensive information. JALT is probably the best in Asia in this regard. With others it can seem like no one has acknowledged your submission, little (or broken) information is forthcoming, it can be hard to find the appropriate contact person, or the links you need to follow on the website are not working. With some, you arrive at the venue and there are greeters and enormous signs everywhere- it is a big hoodad. At others, you show up and all there is is a low key, relatively unmarked reception table in a dank university building basement and you wonder if, by mistake, you've actually gone to last year's venue.

Finally, some quick advice about submissions. One- follow the rules and guidelines, even if they are labyrinthine. Sometimes elaborate registration and application forms are made, just to see who is serious and who isn't. Check things like grammar and spelling very carefully- the whole proposal, no matter how great the research, can just reek if you have mindlessly misplaced a 'your' with a 'you're'.

Conference themes used to be relatively unimportant but they seem to be more relevant these days in terms of the selection process. In the recent past, you'd have themes like "ESL- Making the most of our opportunities" which pretty much allows for ANYTHING. But now I see more and more themes like, "Incorporating the Humanities into Second Language Learning" in which the selection committee is ruling out immediately those submissions which do not address the theme adequately.

In some larger conferences, variety is important so there can be some prejudice in wanting to accept left-fieldish presentations or those that address very narrow or hitherto neglected areas. "Twittering as classroom discourse" has an up-to-date air about it, with the tempting waft of new technology. "Post-feminist language domains in spoken text" will get support for its apparent 'progressive' content. Something that sounds statistically objective, "A reappraisal of the X medical corpus- based on a five year study", should tickle enough members on the selection committee. So might the exotica and charity of "An educational outreach program to the children of Dagestan- a field report".

Good luck if you apply. And your comments regarding your own experiences and further advice for readers is very welcome here.

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You might be accepted to more conferences if you spell check your articles a bit better...

Point taken.

It's true that I sometimes become blind to my own typos and errors when checking what I write. I am impatient and tend to rush as well. This habit seems to be getting worse as I get older (shades of the old 'Paris in the the spring' triangle, if you know what I mean). It's frustrating just not seeing those typos until they are up and on the page.

But had you checked more carefully we would have been denied the intriguing image of 'four Muslim ladies, all but eyes revealed'. TESOL Arabia certainly sounds more entertaining than JALT!

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