Thursday, 28 February 2013

CamTESOL 2013

Last weekend (February 22nd - 24th) saw the 9th annual CamTESOL conference in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  This event drew over 1,500 participants from 33 countries who came together to talk about, and share ideas on, all that is relevant in the world of teaching English as a foreign or a second language.  The theme of the event was 'Language and Empowerment' and, unlike perhaps more high-profile or fashionable conferences in our industry, it really did feel like we were making a difference by being there and empowering our Cambodian colleagues with the knowledge we were able to share.  In return, many foreign delegates, myself included, came away having been truly inspired by the dedication and passion displayed by the Cambodian participants, many of whom teach, or are training to teach, in institutions with very limited resources.

It is a credit to the Cambodian people that they are able to stage such a successful international event so soon after emerging on to the world stage in terms of language teaching.  English wasn't even taught in Cambodia until 1991.

The venues used for CamTESOL were the plush surroundings of the Cambodiana Hotel, where we met for the presenters' cocktail party on the Friday night and the gala dinner on the Saturday, and the rather more basic National Institute of Education.  Apart from the main hall, this collection of tired, rather run-down buildings lacking in any modern conveniences did not at first sight seem conducive to ground-breaking, inspirational teaching and learning experiences.  In reality, however, they were perfect.  For those of us coming from rather more modern and well-resourced facilities abroad, the venue was a constant reminder of the normal circumstances in which Cambodian teachers work and, stripped of the technology and other 'mod-cons' we take for granted, we were forced to go back to basics and really think about the audience we were addressing and, also, listen to those who were teaching us.  The enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge shown by the Cambodian teachers and trainee teachers was infectious and made the whole conference a joyful experience, despite the lowly surroundings.

For me personally, the conference was special because, as well as giving me the opportunity to meet with previously unknown colleagues from around the world, it also brought me face-to-face, for the first time, with several members of my PLN with whom I have been collaborating online for the past couple of years.  I presented with one of them, Lesley Cioccarelli, (I will write about this in another blogpost) and really enjoyed the time I spent with her and another 'virtual' colleague, Mike Griffin.

It was also good to exchange ideas with many participants, both Vietnamese and other nationalities, who, like me, are currently working in Vietnam.  I enjoyed being able to raise the profile of my institution, Eastern International University, by showing photos and explaining what our goals are.  I was also able to seek advice from all kinds of people about how best we can achieve these aims.

The plenary speakers at the conference were Professor Paul Nation and Dr Richmond Stroupe, both of whom gave us plenty of food for thought.  Paul Nation's speech was particularly interesting - I will write it up in another post.

There were 376 presentations over the day and a half of the conference itself, with as many as 30 sessions running concurrently.  I felt that this was rather too many, particularly as I had problems deciding which sessions to go to!  The vast majority of the presentations I chose were interesting and useful and gave me ideas which I could take back and share with my teachers for immediate implementation in the classroom.  Sessions on pronunciation for Vietnamese learners given by Vietnamese teachers were particularly pertinent.  The presentation called 'A Bad Reading Lesson' given by the aforementioned Mike Griffin was a highlight of the weekend for me (I intend to write a summary of this session when time allows)!

For the vast majority of Cambodian teachers and trainee teachers in attendance, it was clear that the methodology sessions were the most popular.  They were desperate for ideas they could use straight away in their classrooms.  This observation set me thinking about what I want to present on at CamTESOL 2014 because, yes, I intend to be there!!  The date is already in my diary!!