Conference Report: BESIG 2009

Last week, the annual Teachers of Business English conference was held in Poznan, Poland. I made the trek all the way there to have a look at what’s been going on in my field of teaching English to adult learners.

Poznan is a gorgeous city and having arrived early in the morning, I got the chance to have a wander around the city and even bought myself some lovely Polish amber.

On Friday evening, there was an official reception and the opportunity to meet up with folks I’ve mostly only spoken to virtually on Twitter, Facebook and in the various yahoo!groups.

Some of my friends from ELTAS were also there so I wasn’t completely alone: Daphne Klimmek and Krystyna Key, Kenny Christian, the English Profi, and Shelly Terrell as well as Laura Hudson, busy manning the impressive Macmillan stand.

Watching Shelly Terrell and Carl Dowse compare i-phone apps probably sums up the running themes throughout this technology driven conference … oh we geeks do love our gadgets… and ha, ha! it turns out that Heike Philp and I have the same wee little blue Acer netbooks… remember that misguided poem I wrote dedicated to this no.1 love-in-my-life LOL… well, I’ll have you know he’s still the very best thing I ever bought.

It was a lovely treat to meet Barry Tomalin and Petra a.k.a @TEFLPet in person – she’s just as sweet and pretty as she is on Twitter and Barry is wonderful and warmhearted.

The Plenary

Saturday’s event kicked off early with a presentation from Vicki Hollet and it was, undoubtedly, the highlight of my journey to Poznan to meet Vicki in real life.

I’ll let you in on a secret… the first time Vicki wrote on my blog I thought one of my colleagues was playing a trick on me! However, bit by bit over these months, I’ve gotten a chance to know her better - through her blog and on various social networking sites so finally hearing her live and finding out how generous and nice she is as a person - not just as a leading author and trainer - was, well, fab!

Vicki’s plenary was called Relationships Matter and she put forth an argument about the way we teach ‘relationship’ language in Business English.

In this world of cultural differences where what we say to each other counts, she talked to us about things like how we give directives (orders, suggestions, requests) saying it’s not just about the form we use or who is saying what, but how things are actually said. She introduced us to the concept of whimperatives – the questions we ask when we’re pretending the other person has a choice.

Would you mind opening the window as opposed to Can you open the window; Would it be possible to use your phone instead of May I use your phone / Do you mind if I use your phone? When these instructions are given by a boss or a superior, we know precisely it’s an order no matter how softly or carefully given.

Oh, those are for my son’s classmates in response to My, those biscuits do look awfully delicious, helps save the face of both parties and allows the greedy one to be gracious with a How lucky.

Our students often ask what is a more formal way of saying something or how to be more polite yet it’s really not as simple as that - it depends so much on the context and culture – and this is often ambiguous. What do you think?

Ambiguity, Vicki also explained, in our communication with each other can often make a person more likeable and despite the fact that we teachers tend to think that directness and clarity is a better route in communication, and teach this, it often causes our students to come across as being impolite, stern, bossy! Tentativeness is what makes people more approachable, more likable and what causes others to contribute more, therefore making a team more effective and it’s necessary for this sort of language in contextual frameworks to appear in our teaching texts.

I’ve been thinking about her points all week and it’s already been creeping into my lessons!

This week I had to explain the difference, the subtlety in, rather than the grammatical differences of I’ve already done that, I’ve done that already and I did it already discussing potential implied tones.Tough one huh?


After Vicki’s plenary and a couple of cups of coffee and some yummy Polish biscuits I headed off to attend my first workshop. This was with Anisoara Pop from Romania who presented a case study based on her work with university students.

Anisoara wanted to find a way to narrow the gap between what students need, her schools’ requirements and to engage her students in captivating, memorable lessons. She did a thorough study on the functional language they require, became a webhead: looking for flexible asynchronous tools and thinking about things like motivating less proficient users, creating a safe environment for her learners and on how best to maximize writing and speaking skills.

She created a wiki, which is now public, where she’s able to give students instructions on things like how many articles to write, netiquette issues, copyright and also asked them to create their own blogs, 10% of whom still post!

Using Voxopop, a voice based message board, her students were also able to discuss real issues with people all over the world and linked up with another university in Spain.

By the way, the next free training session to become a webhead starts December 4th.

After this session, I trundled on over to see Heike Philp and Holly Longstroth talking about the use of 2nd Life in Business English and their Avalon project.

avalon business lesson by graham stanley
This was a pretty interesting session. I’ve visited 2nd Life a couple of times but to be honest, haven’t really explored it as an educational tool - the truth is my current students aren’t much into it - still it was very interesting to find out more what goes on there and I’m hoping to attend Language Lab’s session on the same subject in Harrogate next year.

After lunch it was time for Cleve Miller and the opportunity to learn about English 360. Cleve and I have had a pretty long-standing joke… I thought his avatar looked a bit like Seth Godin back in the early Twitter days… but actually, in RL, he doesn’t!

However he is as innovative and brave and as dynamic a presenter.

To be honest, bogged down with my blended learning platform plus our supportive wiki recording emergent language - where I’ve got my students becoming co-creators of all the materials we need in true dogmesque2.0 fashion… (huge fun, an engaging learning environment but a lot of work) …after seeing what English 360’s got on offer I must confess this just might have been a much simpler option!

Cleve’s thang lies in the creation of playlists and his concept is, I’m convinced, the future of coursebooks – I love the idea of a book being broke up into parts where I’d have a say (based on my students’ interests) in what is done and when.

English 360 is an online space where TEFL teachers are able to do just that and create, share with others, discuss ideas and learn from each other. It’s an active, user-generated content platform combining your own work plus, this is the wow factor, previously published materials from Cambridge University Press - all of which can be integrated and even branded as per each teachers’ /language institute wishes!

To find out more visit the English 360 website or read the interview with Cleve Miller on Jeremy Day’s Specific English.

World of Work Panel
Then it was time to head off for the World-of-Work forum with Evan Frendo, Matt Firth, Carl Dowse, James Schofield. Due to personal reasons, Eric Baber was beamed in live from the UK.

Matt spoke to us about the impact technology has on the development of courses and their curriculum… it was a bit odd watching him do this presentation, constantly seated in front of his Mac… I kept wondering if he was filming himself as part of a webinar.

Evan chatted about how the use of technology is principally age-driven and related some of restrictive problems from the corporate perspective (not being able to access youtube or other sites) and glitches (what Thornbury calls faffing about).

And then the most shocking thing I ever did see… occurred in this room.

Well, passions were high – any discussion discussing the use of technology in the classroom is bound to raise the blood pressure…


James threw a book on the floor, stomped on it… I mean he jumped up and down on it, really, then picked it up again, waved the tome in hands and said: See, good as new, I can still teach with it. Books are permanent.

Then he turned round towards the innocently seated Carl and asked if he could have his i-phone. Good lord, I thought I’d faint. So shocked was I, that I’m not even sure if I can tell you what the rest of the session was about.

No, not really.

Carl gave us the point of view of teachers, showing us a wide range of twitter quotes he’d collected and then James, the book stomper (who is actually a very talented author - my students love his readers… surprisingly(!) they can actually use technology and read books too…;-)), gave us the author’s perspective and brought up issues like how money is going to be made in this age of free (digital books do sell) but also more importantly how to let students know what they’re doing incorrectly.

An issue I have had issues with on my Ning – 35 blog posts in one go can sometimes mean a lot of correcting: I’m trying to teach them awareness and an ability to find their own errors.

Here’s a short video from the World-of-Work forum in July explaining a bit about what they’re doing, there’ll be a virtual conference next year.

The next day

I found myself, accidentally, in one of those, oh-dear-what-was-I-thinking sessions so I won’t bother to add notes on that one… whoops… I simply left as fast as I could then met up with a publisher about a project I may well be working on soon.It was a good meeting…a very good meeting….more later.

Finally, I headed off to the last session: the closing panel which was great but again, technology related, a discussion on the future of learning.


Petra Pointer supplied us the teachers’ perspective – she works at a very well-endowed university in Germany and is a tech enthusiast herself but mainly has found out that her students don’t like using technology for technology’s sake.

Fair point, but I do remember not liking writing essays for the sake of writing essays nor memorizing random dates for the sake of memorizing dates… so not much has changed really ;-), learners want to learn stuff that’s useful and practical and all teachers should pay attention to that, innit?

Ian McMaster, Business Spotlight editor, went next updating us on the commercial point of view: that the learners are the deciders - businesses will provide whatever it is they are actually purchasing and so far, to date, at BS only about 10% are downloading their audio tracks. He also pretty much told us that we shouldn’t simply follow the latest bandwagon - while the industry does need its “visionaries” - somewhere between those that see the future and those that are the end-purchasers, the publishers will adapt and stay afloat…I hope he’s right.

Cleve restated his position on crowd-sourcing and collaborative content: the future’s in personalized materials. I feel in my bones he’s right. Shiv Rajendran, of the Language Lab, described the situation rather sensibly: learners want to learn in the way they want to learn – whatever topic, whenever – adhoc lessons on their own terms.

Eric interrupted from the Skype beam (he was very much in the room with us, I tell ya) with a Henry Ford quote “If I’d have asked the customer what he wanted, he would have said a faster horse” which made us all laugh -Pete Sharma then made an equally witty retort, something to do with apples and oranges but unfortunately I didn’t type it up… so I can’t tell you exactly what he said!

Bryon Russell believes there will always be a call for Publishers, for Editors: his point being that teacher generated materials can sometimes be unprofessional in appearance. And he’s right in part but in part, c'mon, the last time you made a game which wasn’t all cool-bananas, it worked didn’t it? Target language practiced?

Perhaps learning and teaching isn’t really about perfection and shiny covers.

Vicki chipped in with the fact that although we’re all using the internet and it’s great for supplementing our lessons, our students mainly want to speak: they want to talk , to commune-icate and often, pretty much… about themselves.

As this is my no. 1 mantra, the theme if you like of my blog, it was good to hear it from someone I respect so highly - it truly amazes me how many publishers and teachers miss out on taking advantage of the narcissism (not sure that's the right word) driving language acquisition.


Then the discussion raged: teachers asking about the time to learn all these tools, are we losing focus, what’s the pedagogy behind the use of technology – and I thought to myself was it like this when we switched from chalk to whiteboards? Why do we keep blaming the tools, why would the pedagogy all of a sudden go out the window - because we’re sexing-up the lessons? Odd. Na ja, I expect that discussion isn't going to go away soon.

And then but, where’s the money, is there any money, are teachers going to be paid more? Yes, I piped up rather too directly (did I learn nothing from Vicki’s plenary) there is…

So many students don’t want to learn with technology - they’re tired of looking at computers after a hard day’s work – they said. Haven’t noticed this myself and again thought, did we complain about using textbooks and notebooks and pens when students were spending all day dictating letters to their secretaries?

One member of the audience added that she serves up her Business English classes at the kitchen table with lovely cups of tea as they go through projects and proposals and powerpoint slides and noddingly, understandingly, we celebrated the diversity which exists in all of our approaches, the variety of subcultures present within each of our different classrooms’ contexts and the BESIG conference came to its end.

See you next year!
Best, Karenne

To reuse any of the photographs in this posting for your own teaching associations' articles, websites or blog postings, visit the set on Flickr where they are creative commons licensed.

19 Responses to “Conference Report: BESIG 2009”

  • Janet Bianchini says:
    November 30, 2009

    Wow Karenne! You have done a fabulous job of describing all the sessions you attended. In fact, I feel as if I was there too!

    I'd love to have been at "The Book Stomping" incident- very dramatic, but true. Books are almost indestructible (within reason!) and I agree,here for life. As for technology, are these new e-tools a passing fad? Will they stand the test of time?

    Lots of interesting facts to digest here.

    Thank you!

  • Jeremy Day says:
    November 30, 2009

    Very impressive round-up, Karenne. you took your time, but it was well worth it. And great photos too.

    Glad to hear the meeting with the publisher went well - you'll be the new John 'n' Liz before we know it. Just remember - your publisher might not be too impressed if you blog about it before the you-know-what's even started. Publishing's a very secretive business.

    Of course we'd love to hear more ... promise not to tell anyone.

    November 30, 2009

    Hi Janet,

    Am so glad you enjoyed it - I was very much aiming for a "come and walk down these hallways with me" type of feel to this piece (to keep you reading all this text, LOL).

    And... Book Stomping was most excellent.

    JS normally comes across as a rather mild-mannered, stiff-upper-lip-and-all-that Brit but he showed some spunk in that room... even told me off for rolling my eyes at something he said at one point - oops!

    Jeremy, Jeremy.. publisher... what publisher..? surely you know by now that I'm all about the dogme. ;)

    BTW, I read Cleve's report of your session on Nursing and absolutely had an aha moment re your 'the most important person in the room is the person is not actually in the room' - kudos, my head is spinning while that one sinks in a bit...


  • Anonymous says:
    November 30, 2009

    sounds like you had agood time Karin, but what did you wear??? ;)

    November 30, 2009

    You know I know who you are, with a comment like that... the shoes my dear, the very special shoes...


  • Alex Case says:
    November 30, 2009

    Great summary- if it'd been me I would've spent most of the time on the one I hated!

    For me, a good presentation/ workshop would include technology, not be about it, e.g. "If you want to do..., here are some ways you can do it with varying levels and types of technology", which I think is the position most of us are in as teachers. It would be nice if the blogging conversation got to that point too, but although some articles attempting to do it I must say I do find an anti-tech rant much more fun to write, readable and likely to get comments, so I'm guilty too!

  • Unknown says:
    December 01, 2009

    I saw the shoes, both pairs! Pazazzzz!

    This is a great summary of events Karenne. It was fun, rewarding but a shame we have to drive 900km to have coffee together.

    We should have a Christmas market meet up with Gluewine, more Gluewine and those fab chrome heels!

  • D says:
    December 01, 2009

    Thanks for bringing it all back to life Karenne! It was my first conference and I learnt so much from it! Great to see your pictures too and the shoes were amazing!!!

    I like the idea of technology in the classroom but really don't know where to start. One of these days...

    December 01, 2009

    Hi Daphne and Kenny, glad that you guys are making my chrome heel-less shoes famous... LOL -it was a brilliant conference.

    Re tech in the classroom, ELTAS is planning on hosting a big techtools day in July next year, keep your ears peeled for more information! We'll be renting a large computer room and will do step-by-step tutorials ;-).

    Hey Alex,
    Glad you liked the wrap up... I agree with you entirely, am thinking about how to add more articles on the ways I've been using technology - there are quite a few above (menu bar Tech4Teachers) but I feel a new series starting off... yes... next week, I'll kick this off with one of the most basic of tools.

    Keep you posted.


  • Clare says:
    December 01, 2009

    Re the quote on students not wanting to use a pc at the end of the day, I've found that students don't always want to look at a book either!

    December 01, 2009

    Spot on. ;-)

  • Anne Hodgson says:
    December 02, 2009

    Hi Karenne,

    Thanks for your summary. Nice pictures, too!

    Those technologies and apps are simply tools to different ends in a manifold teaching and learning portfolio, so I was kind of fed up with the few techy events I went to. It would be nice if coming events refocussed on methodologies. There were workshops on things like peer feedback and monitoring progress, and how to get students rethinking on new levels, and those wewre very nice and will never go out of style and are the things we struggle with on a day to day basis. I'm thinking of the issue of handling all of those corrections, which I know too well from college. I feel that's what we need more of, particularly as we progress as business trainers to teach more integrated, more sophisticated skills. Brandishing gadgets and shoes may be good fun, but...

    ...I'm sure your student Ning is more important. Good luck!


    December 02, 2009

    I agree... there's a big discussion going on in the BESIG yahoo group at the moment, personally I think a day and a half is really not much time (especially at that price) so one's not able to get to enough workshops, really.

    And as you'll (everyone does it, every year) end up in the "OMG????" sessions, and often the best sessions clash against each other, I do wish it was longer - more along the lines of TESOL France (saw their schedule, which looked more doable and their quality level of sessions on things like methodologies impressed me more).


  • Anne Hodgson says:
    December 02, 2009

    I know, that discussion is piling up in my in-box, in between work-related emails ;)

  • Helen Strong says:
    December 03, 2009

    Hi Karenne, you've done a great job again! Your energy is boundless :-)

    Just one additional point I'd like to mention: The apples and oranges analogy that Pete Sharma made was rather apt in my opinion. I think what he was saying was that comparing f2f to online teaching and learning is like comparing apples to oranges. At one point in that plenary I did get the impression that we were sitting examining a bowl of apples and bowl of oranges and discussing which was better! Surely it's a matter of personal taste, situation, mood, even association (e.g. you prefer oranges because you once had a very pleasurable experience with one!), so that it's impossible to say one fruit fits all. Some prefer one, some the other, which is not to say one is better. And many people, as we can see these days, prefer a few slices of apple and a few pieces of orange on the same plate. That's fine, each to their own, but how did it develop into this "apples good, oranges bad" feud? I feel I'm trapped in a George Orwell novel!

    Hope that makes sense and that I didn't overdo the fruit metaphor.

    All the best,


    December 03, 2009

    That's absolutely perfect, Helen - thanks so much!!!

    I was crossing my fingers that someone would be able to update us on what Pete Sharma had said: I knew it was important but I think I got so caught up in what followed next that I didn't turn to the computer and type it up!

    Oops, technology ... or...

    Anyway, I love your continuation of the analogy and agree 100% -which is why I ended the post referencing Liz's tea drinking lessons, something that surprised me initially to hear about but on further thought really made me take stock.

    I tend to harp on a bit about the individuality of students but then mass them together in the global wave of of the use of technology in Business - but this is due to the fact my own students are mainly in IT and therefore a big part of that wave!

    Life is not moving at the same pace for all parties...

    So anyhoo, thanks again so much for popping by and contributing!


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    December 03, 2009

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    December 05, 2009

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  • vicki says:
    December 10, 2009

    Terrific summary - thank you!
    Would love to have seen James jumping on that book.


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