ICFSLA 2019 Conference in Szczyrk

Earlier this month, I travelled to the small Polish mountain resort of Szczyrk at which the annual ICFSLA conference takes place. As usual (or so it seems!) delegates were welcomed with cold rain, which made a dramatic change from the glorious weather that the UK was enjoying.

Szczyrk – host town to the annual ICFSLA conference

The theme of this year’s conference was ‘translanguaging’, a topic which has sparked much interest and debate recently and these conversations were continued at the conference. The conference was opened by Angela Creese and Adrian Blackledge who introduced the audience to the research that they have been undertaking on translanguaging in Birmingham. We listened to speech of a member of staff serving a visitor at Birmingham Library and a mother and daughter in a home setting, which were both insightful and charming. They spoke about what can be learnt from ethnography for education and rounded up by speaking about the implications such research can have on classrooms, such as designing curriculum with changeability and unpredictability in mind, the social responsibilities of teachers and teacher development and making the school a welcoming environment.

The conference hotel

David Singleton then provided his theoretical perspective on the term and spoke about the importance of context, the purpose of the researcher and thinking about language in the broad, macro sense and also at the individual particle level. Thereafter followed a discussion between the plenary speakers of the day and it was interesting to hear the different perspectives on the topic, as it was approached from both sociolinguistic and language acquisition backgrounds. We were left with the thought that lots of interesting work is currently being undertaken but that more empirical research is needed in different contexts and settings, from traditional classrooms to endangered language settings and out in the community.

Simone E. Pfenninger opened the second day with her plenary in which she spoke about random and non-random data and complexity and presented both the appeal and criticism of the topic. She followed this by introducing us to her latest study on age and immersion in Swiss schools and the quantitative and qualitative data that she has collected and is analysing. David Lasagabaster followed up with his presentation on CLIL in the Basque Country. His discussion groups in schools revealed that teachers and senior leadership initially wished to maintain a strong ‘English only’ policy and had a negative attitude to the use of other languages in the classroom, however later on in the study they acknowledged that flexibility was important and experience led to a change in this stance. He then moved on to discuss his new research which looks at whether beliefs, attitudes and realities in universities are similar to those found in schools.

‘Translanguaging’ mindmap

The final plenary was given by Eva Vetter who started with an interactional activity during which we completed a survey on our phones and the results were posted live onto the screen. It was the first time that I had witnessed this use of technology and I found it to be an excellent way to engage and involve the audience. In the final question we were asked which words come to mind when we think of translanguaging and our input was summarised on the screen in the form of a word cloud, with the words multilingualism and communication being the biggest features.

And then, finally, before it was time to go home, the sun came out and we enjoyed a gloriously sunny end to the conference. I even had the opportunity to go up the mountain in the famous cable car, something that has become a bit of an office myth as we have never had weather good enough on previous conference trips! 

Laura

English-Medium Instruction at Universities

Having just published English-Medium Instruction at Universities edited by Aintzane Doiz, David Lasagabaster and Juan Manuel Sierra we asked the authors to tell us a bit more about English-medium instruction and the challenges it poses.

One of the more tangible outcomes of internationalisation is the implementation of foreign language study programmes at universities to promote multilingualism and language diversity. Yet, reality indicates that English is preeminent and has become the main foreign language used as means of instruction at world-wide universities.

The aim of this book is to provide critical insights on the English-medium instruction experiences which have been implemented in a number of universities in countries such as Finland, Israel, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, South Africa, Spain and the USA, characterized by differing political, cultural and sociolinguistic situations. This diversity, however, does not prevent the emergence of many commonalities between the different case studies presented. In particular, the volume reflects on the consequences of English-medium instruction as an attempt to boost multilingualism, to attract students, and as a strategy in response to the need to gain competitiveness in both national and international markets. The challenges specific to each setting are also analysed, and the pedagogical issues and methodological implications that arise from the implementation of these programmes are widely discussed.

One of the most demanding challenges has to do with the ways in which the academic communities come to terms with the introduction of English: the effects of EMI on multilingualism, language policy planning and the university community. This book aims to give answers to the following highly topical issues: What is the role of EMI in the internationalisation process? Are university students proficient enough in English to cope with EMI? Can both language and content be integrated successfully at university level? What successful practices are there? The panel of experts gathered in this volume will help the reader to find enriching data, implementation examples and successful practices, as well as drawbacks and pitfalls that need to be addressed.