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XXXVI FAAPI CONFERENCE – TUCUMÁN – by Solange Muia

In September last year I was given the opportunity to attend the XXXVI FAAPI CONFERENCE held in Tucuman. Let me tell you this was the perfect time and place to meet each other, to share professional experiences and to reflect on the new trends of English Teaching. The Conference was fantastically organized in a stunning location surrounded by the beautiful hills of San Javier, in the district of Yerba Buena and we had the opportunity to share lectures upon the importance of Communicative Language Teaching, the use of technology and social networks in the classroom, the importance of rising cultural awareness and different tips and ideas on how to update our teaching skills and adapt them to the 21st.century.

The academic proposals lectured by distinguished presenters emphasized how different teaching and learning was thirty years ago and they highlighted some of the many reasons why we need to change into a postmodern pedagogy.

We live in an age of change. Technology and social networks are part of the new generations´ lives and this has affected the use of the language dramatically. Thirty years ago one of the tenses with higher level of frequency in its use was the past simple and the past continuous. However, today the most popular tense is the present continuous. Why? Simple, because of the use of twitter and Facebook. These virtual networks have become social environments. They answer one question, “What are you doing?” or the most recent one “What is in your mind?” to widen the concept and give way to a more academic, or intellectualized answer than a simple “combing my hair or making a cake”. Twitter and Facebook (to name the most popular micro blogging sites, of course there are many more) became a world-wide tool very fast because they mean a different, faster, easier and funnier way of communicating with people from all over the world, exchanging bits of information and sharing interests and views. During some of the presentations the participants had the opportunity of learning how to use these micro blogging tools in the classroom to help develop written and oral fluency and to encourage students to achieve common learning goals by working together in a more natural way or in a way they are more used to today.

Some of the benefits of integrating micro blogging into your teaching that were highlighted during the presentations are:

Conversations continue inside and outside the class.

It offers the opportunity to practice specific language skills.

It develops a classroom community.

It helps students get a sensed of the world.

It helps send instant feedback.

Users can choose to follow a professional/famous person.

Basically, micro blogging is all about conversation; therefore it keeps students in contact, leads to more interactive and swift discussions, emphasizes fluency in communication and focuses on conciseness and accuracy, thus being really well suited to what we are looking for today as regards language learning and teaching.

Another thing which was emphasized in several presentations was the need to make language learning more real. People need to feel that their lives are part of the process of learning. When a number of students were asked about which was their favorite part of the English class, researchers were amazed to find that most of them said: “The minutes before the class begins, when the teacher asks me “How are you?” or “What did you do last weekend?”.  This shows how important it is for us teachers to have real interaction with our students, real communication instead of only using fake activities proposed by books. Students need to feel a sense of achievement and authenticity in what they are doing. That will create a more spontaneous context as well. Some of the things we need to bear in mind when planning a speaking activity are:

Productivity

Purposefulness

Interactivity

Challenge

Authenticity

The plenaries and papers presented at the conference characterized the 21st century as an age of change, and discussed the conditions to implement transformative innovation in educational institutions. It concluded that Communicative Language Teaching constitutes a suitable framework for EFL teachers to make the most of the potential of digital technologies and to become creative professional enquirers and leaders of change.

What I am telling you about here is just a short summary of the many topics which were presented in the FAAPI Congress in Tucuman and I will be glad to give you more material and information if you are interested in going deeper into these topics.

Contact me at: teachersolange@hotmail.com

Ten things I’d like to include in my life after living in the US

After almost nine months in “the land of freedom”, I started reflecting on the things I’d like to take back home besides books, technology and clothing (yay!) I came up with a pretty long list of American features I’d like to somewhat include in my life and narrowed it to ten lessons I think are worth to learn.

  • Don’t interrupt. Coming from a Latin culture where we constantly invade others’ personal space and keep touching each other while we talk, it’s quite typical that we also overlap while talking. Although, I must say I sometimes miss our proximity while talking, I also appreciate the way Americans wait until somebody finishes speaking or ask permission before starting to talk. It gives value to what each person says.
  • Be punctual. Oops! My bad! I know Argentines are not famous for our punctuality and here I’ve noticed that people tend to arrive some minutes earlier before something is scheduled, so that it actually starts on time. There is always someone arriving late, though; but it’s not so socially tolerated as at home. So, I hope I can keep on the habit once I come back.
  • Learn names. This is something I actually love. Most people I met here make a great effort not only to say your name correctly, but also to remember it. Any time you meet or are introduced to someone new, they will repeat your name, checking they’re saying it correctly and once you say goodbye, they’ll say it again. If you meet that person again, it’s almost sure that she would greet you and call you by your name.
  • Be a good host. When you’re invited to someone’s place here, it means they really want you there and they show it. Most people go out of their way to please you. Once I was invited to have dinner with a family who lives near my college. After a delicious dinner, we had tea. The next time I had dinner with them, they remembered the kind of tea I liked and that I don’t put any sugar in it. I’m still struggling how to remember names and they know how I like my tea!!!
  • Be seasonal. This observation came out while I was talking to one of my Argentine friends here in the US, Paula. We both arrived here in September and most of the shops soon started getting ready for Thanksgiving, a celebration that’s hold in November, and the fall. As soon as it passed, all the turkeys and dried leaves in the shops turned into Christmas trees and fake snow. Besides, some shops, especially coffee stores, generally offer some distinctive foods or beverages for each season. So, we were both thrilled by the fact that here people make seasons and some dates special. Of course we’re not so naïve as to not realize that there are big companies behind all the merchandise trying to make a profit out of it, but in a way, it feels good to regard some times of the year as single and unique.
  • Show it. I have heard that human beings are becoming more visual and apparently Americans have heard it, too. Staying at different hostels (God bless them! They’re one of the cheapest options when it comes to lodging) I saw plenty of signs with instructions in written and visual language. For example, in one of the kitchens there was a sign over the sink telling you that you were supposed to wash your own dishes. But they don’t use any pictures or any text. Besides reinforcing each other, images and words tend to have a funny relationship. So, that sign instead of telling you “Wash the dishes”, it said “Mom is not here, please clean the kitchen after use” and there was a picture of an angry mother.
  • Know yourself and boast about it. I know this doesn’t sound very nice, but people here know how to market themselves. One day, there was this event for women who were considered leaders in our community. All the women who attended had been nominated by another person who considered they had leading qualities. There were two workshops and a dinner. In the second workshop, we were asked why we considered ourselves leaders. I had no idea what to say. There were approximately forty women in that room and I was the third to say something. I made up some stupid sentence delivered with the slightest amount of confidence. Oh, boy! The other ladies not only replied quickly and confidently, but also almost none repeated an adjective! They knew each of us is unique and were ready to prove it.
  • Look for a different job. Something I’ve noticed here is that the society is very dynamic. People are always moving, going after new opportunities, or looking for an adventure. Probably is that dynamism that makes them always be looking for a new job. Now, I don’t think everybody is looking for a new job, but at least they keep their resumes updated and try to increase their contacts because, “you never know”. I think this is a good lesson because although you may not think of changing your job, it keeps you alert and aware of your career development.
  • If you have a problem, name it. At the beginning, I used to make fun of all the labels they have here to name everything. For example, to delay what you have to do is to “procrastinate”, or to be a bad father or mother is called “bad parenting”. However, I realized that by naming a problem, it is easier to find the solution. Once you acknowledge you have a problem and you are able to name it properly, you’ll know who your enemy is and will try to fight it with the proper weapons.
  • Be positive. Yeah, I know it’s a tough world and things are not easy, but would we make them any better by thinking this is an awful world and everybody is against me? I do really embrace the American optimism that sometimes may look naïve, but after all, they are one of the most powerful countries in the world, huh? Actually, I don’t feel they hold the kind optimism that blinds you in front of problems, but the kind that lets you see the problem and makes you believe that you can resolve it. I don’t know what you think, but it works for me.

So, these are some of the things I’d like to include in my life to some extent. What do you think? Would you like to include any of them in yours? Have you ever lived in another country and would like to share what your learnt? What things do you think someone would like to learn from Argentina? I’d love to listen from you!

A dream achieved: A Scholarship in the US

Remember when you were a kid and someone asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up? I would always reply with a verb: Travel. Now, is that a profession? Unfortunately not. Eventually, I got into high school and there would always be a class where they would ask how or where you saw yourself in 5 or 10 years. I couldn’t figure out a possible answer. I knew I wanted to travel; by that time I also knew English was going to be essential to achieve my dream but I didn’t have an idea of what I wanted to be or how to fulfill my expectations. Finally, I made up my mind and decided to get my degree in teaching English as a second language, just because I liked the language.

As time went by, I actually discovered I liked teaching but I needed something else. I don’t remember when I started looking for scholarships but I’m sure my motivation was my consuming desire for travelling. I remember coming across the Fulbright scholarship years before I decided to apply for it. In the meantime I started working and got my degree. Years went by and I was not making any progress in achieving my dream or at least I thought not. My working hours increased, I became a member of APIBB committee and attended every possible course or workshop related to my field.

When I was at FAAPI 2008, which was held in Santiago del Estero, I came across a handout inviting people to apply for the Fulbright scholarship. I remembered I had already heard about it and did some research on it. It would certainly meet all my expectations. It was great, almost too perfect. I didn’t apply. Why?? I don’t know. Lack of confidence, fear, procrastination, you name it. The clock was ticking, the age limit was 29, but apparently I felt very young at 26.

Another year went by and the organization of FAAPI’s annual conference fell into APIBB’s hands. Fortune made me the person in charge of picking up the president of Fulbright Argentina and her guest speaker for dinner. Guess who told me I had the right profile for the scholarship? Yes! The very president of Fulbright Argentina (was that a sign, or what?!) So, as soon as the congress finished, which was exhausting by the way, I filled in all the paperwork so confidently that I actually never thought a “No” could be a reply. Of course, I was so full with excitement I told everybody about it. I made it to the interview in Buenos Aires and I was so sure that spot was mine. Well, the next day I got a kind e-mail saying that I had NOT been chosen. Apparently, people can say “No” no matter how confident you are. It was disheartening. I cried the whole day. It was helpful to have  a wedding reception with an open bar that night ;)

The next year arrived, together with my last chance to apply! I must say, I wasn’t sure about doing it, I was afraid of my possible reaction if I didn’t get the scholarship. I applied anyway but with a more “I don’t care attitude”. Nobody knew this time. I got the interview, passed it, started filling out forms, took the TOEFL exam… all with my lips sealed. I was so scared of waking up from my dream. Finally, I got the e-mail confirming I was going to spend a scholar year in a college in the US.

Yesterday, after spending seven months in a college near Boston, I got my departure form and I must say it has been: AWESOME! If I have to regret something is the fact I didn’t apply when I first heard about the scholarship. I know many people say: “Things come in the right time”, but although in some cases I agree with the idea that “it’s never too late” in this case I would say that it’s never too soon.