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Reflection: 20th NELTA Conference

*Umes Shrestha

 Conferences are normally hectic, crowded and chaotic. There are too many sessions one can’t attend, there are too many people one can’t interact with and there are too many hiccoughs especially for the organizers. But, that’s the beauty of a conference and the 20thNELTA International Conference was no different. For three straight days, it looked larger than life with over 1000 people in the venue, over 200 presenters and massive queues for lunch. (I can’t really imagine how the organizers could pull it off so smoothly.)

As usual, the plenary sessions were one of the major highlights of the conference. This year the keynote speakers were ElkaTodeva from US, David Hayes from UK and the regular Z.N. Patil from India. Besides them, popular ELT figures Abhi Subedi and Sanjeev Upreti from Tribhuwan University, Ganga Ram Gautam and Laxman Gnawali from Kathmandu University, Bal Krishna Sharma from University of Hawai and Marc Helgesen from Japan were also scheduled for plenary sessions.

I really liked ElkaTodeva’s approach towards teaching English as a foreign language. I learnt some practical insights from her concepts of ‘grammaring’, ‘affordance vs. input’ and ‘ecological approach’. The next session was from David Hayes where he talked about the need for effective teacher education. Building his argument on the basis of two case studies done in Chile and Bangladesh, Hayes stated that teacher education must have two crucial elements in them: self responsibility and passion to learn.

I feel really bummed that I missed the plenary sessions of Abhi Subedi and Ganga Ram Gautam on the second day. But I found a slight relief listening to Sanjeev Upreti on the third morning. He swept a brief history of English colonial legacy, connected it with how English language was seen as a sign of prestige in his hometown of Jhapa and ended with the apparent tension between cultural nationalism and English as a global phenomenon. The next speaker was Laxman Gnawali and he presented his case against Communicative Language Teaching, which is a very popular method in ELT. It was a very interesting session as he argued that CLT talks a lot about competence but it lacks proper content. His use of ‘prakriti + purush = creation’ metaphor was a very striking case against the tradition CLT approach.The third morning ended with a session by Bal Krishna Sharma where he focused on how the concepts of education can apparently be traced back to Hinduism and eastern philosophies.

Later in the evening, Marc Helgesen from Japan delivered a session on a very fresh approach towards teaching English. He talked about ‘neuroELT’ and shared about how we (teachers) can relate to brain-science while teaching in the classroom. His session was one of the best in the entire conference because I could personally relate to what Helgesen was talking. (We happened to be reading almost same books on brain and psychology). Besides the plenary session, another highlight of the conference was the International Language Fair (ILF) where over 20 presenters showcased their papers, methods and activities related to English language teaching.

I love conference chaos because you never know who you will bump into. For instance, meeting David Hayes was very surreal because I’d only known him through his articles on teacher development. Attending his plenary session and talking with him in person was a very uplifting experience. Likewise, I crashed into other teachers who I see only once in a year. Some would say “no pachak-puchuk this time?” and some would say, “I remember you because of your daari”. Of course, I was sad that we couldn’t do our regular “pecha-kucha” session this year but I was really glad that these teachers remembered me.

One key thing I learnt from this year’s conference is the power of networking. And by networking with teachers from home and abroad, there comes the chance to enhance our knowledge, skills and beliefs. And with that we can broaden the spectrum of our personal and professional development. I am very grateful to NELTA for organizing this awesome event and for giving me a chance to present my session on “Story Writing” and for this amazing opportunity for me to grow personally and professionally.

 (*Umes Shrestha is a KU graduate and a co-founder of  #PresentationStuffs. He is a blogger of  www.latebecame.wordpress.com.)

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