Dispatch from Poland – An absolutely fantastic conference idea

Published on 21st September, 2010 in Author Blog by Lindsay Clandfield

I was at the Poland IATEFL conference last weekend. It was a large event, well attended and with a nice programme of talks. Even though I saw a couple of good sessions, once you’ve gone to a large number of conferences the format feels very much the same. Which is why I wanted to blog about a great idea the organisers of this conference had.

In the last slot on the Saturday (at 6pm) there was a series of language classes. You could go to a Polish class, a Ukranian class, an Arabic class, a Russian class or a Spanish class (there may have been some others). There were no other kinds of workshop or talk during this time, only the language class. The idea would be that you could go to a language of your choice, to put yourselves in the shoes of a language learner again.

I can’t praise this idea highly enough. It helps teachers not only get ideas and techniques first hand but also reflect on their own way of teaching and learning. It doesn’t matter if the teacher is very good or very bad as there would always be something to gain from the experience. I would like to see this at other conferences. Speaking with a colleague of mine from Macmillan we thought you could even have variations, e.g. one year everyone has a grammar class, or pronunciation or whatever.

As for me, I went with fellow speaker Jamie Keddie to the Polish class. The topic was “How to get lost in a Polish city” and we learnt basic city words (museum, bus stop etc) and some useful phrases. Our poor teacher had a terrible cold but bravely battled on. Don’t ask me the words I learned (it was only one lesson) but I realised how important it was for me as a learner to hear and say things again and again. I also finally understood how places like Wroclaw and Lodz are correctly pronounced!

Three cheers then for this innovative conference idea. Thanks IATEFL Poland.


  • Bravo! I’ve always had the intuition that it is extremely important for a language teacher (particularly if they’re native speakers)to be able to go through the situation of learning another language from scratch. Thanks for the insights!

    CECILIA PRELLER on 21 September, 2010
  • Congratulations! I would like you share some activities with us.

    kARINA JOO on 25 September, 2010
  • Wow, what a great idea! This is what is done usually on CELTA courses as well for the same reason, but at conferences it can be taken a step further, focusing on something that is the main conference topic as well. So for example if the main topic is “Motivating learners”, say, than these different language lessons would be demonstrations of these. Then participants in mixed groups reflect on their experience. Great idea, Poland!

    Erika Osváth on 15 October, 2010
  • Great idea, but I’ve seen it before! I went to a beginner Catalan class last year at the Language Show in London. Can still remember a little bit – I think my Spanish helps with that – but I certainly learnt a bit about teaching technique and how important the location is! We had our lesson in a small cordoned off area, while the rest of the careers fair section of the Language Show went on behind us!!

    Mike Harrison on 15 October, 2010
  • Absolutely a great idea! Inspiring for me since I think the idea might fit into the format of the İSTEK conference too:-)

    Thank Lindsay and IATEFL Poland!

    Burcu Akyol on 15 October, 2010
  • Brilliant idea!

    Johanna Stirling on 15 October, 2010