[Report TESOL Talks 2]’The Secret History of Methods’ and ‘Discourse Analysis’

TESOL Talks (a quarterly ELT talk in Ho Chi Minh – a joined effort by RMIT University, ACET and TESOL Ho Chi Minh Association) have started to exert their impact in the community after the second show. In fact, having a prominent book author and ELT pacesetter like Scott Thornburry as the main speaker is no small deal at all.

Fiona (Coordinator Proffessional Learning at RMIT) hooked the audience by an engaging story, narrating the two-year effort to invite Scott Thornburry, who she addressed as a ‘TESOL hero’, to Vietnam back to the days of KOTESOL in 2012 while the experience being described as ‘the amazing race’.

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Prior to this, our MC, Heather (English Language Educator, RMIT Vietnam with her really attractive signature laugh) reminded us the focus of our teaching career and passion, with reference to the students as the center of all of these efforts. I really appreciate how visions of TESOL Talks are shaped: everything they do, they do it for students’ benefits! This should be the way that TESOL Talks carry on to the future.

Then the big names of TESOL Talks committee were mentioned. There we had Paul (English Language Educator, RMIT Vietnam, also Chairman of the Committe). We had Ms. Kim Le, vice-president of TESOL Ho Chi Minh. We had Jason, Director of Studies at ACET. While it is expected that TESOL talks will try to engage all teachers of English in Ho Chi Minh City, there is uncertainty regarding its format, time, and venue. TESOL Talks are still trying to find its core identities and representations.

Next, our distinguished guest, Scott, commenced his first talk in the ‘The Secret History of Methods’. I can see his humility since he admitted right from the start that what he was saying would just make a‘humble contribution’; that he hadn’t learned much about the ‘contexts’ of TESOL in Vietnam and all of us should adapt his instructions. Fair and square!

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His method of researching content for this talk is quite simple: he would scavenge all the dusty old bookstores, scanning for forgotten ELT books, picking out the relevant bits and pieces and making comparisons with state-of-the-art methods and approaches.

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This is how he engaged participants in his presentation: He got some short extracts from books, gave them to some audience to read aloud and told the audience to respond with “Yay” if they agreed with the statement and “Nay” if they didn’t. I didn’t anticipate academic presentations could be this fun and motivating!

Yay!!!
Yay!!!

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“Nay”

From such evidence backed up with audience’s choral responses, he drew out the dimensions of methodology:

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The audience quickly noticed the left side indicated Grammar Translation Method while the right side referred to Communicative Language Teaching or Task-based Learning.

Then he introduced DOGME, quoting the definition from his own book “Teaching Unplugged” (The one that won the ELTON Award a few years ago. Worth reading huh 🙂

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“Materials-light” and “Conversation-driven” might be two important features in ESL or ENL contexts (where conversations in English can be heard on the street, in the coffee shop or schools). Right here in Ho Chi Minh City, as Non-native English Speakers Teaching English in a pure EFL context (well, I’m not sure if RMIT maintains an strict English only policy), it surely looks challenging to adopt DOGME. We must carefully select the right site (western quarter in District 1- Pham Ngu Lao Street for example) and craft the right language use to adhere to the authenticity of the situation.

In other words, while the effects of DOGME on learners and teachers elsewhere might be overwhelming, the real implementation of this should be at the level of extension to or supplementary of the main curriculum, whether they are textbook-driven or a common framework-driven.

[Break Time]

We had informal dialogues (also a wonderful time for networking!) which were hosted by volunteers chatting about different topics such as Task-based Learning, Blended Learning, Eclectic Approach,etc. IMG_20141011_105506Part 2 of the event was Scott’s talk on discourse analysis (titled ‘Is there discourse on this course?’), which could have vast applications in exploiting text types to figure out features of texts before producing a similar genre. Say, ‘traumarama’ for teen girls (from Seventeen magazine)IMG_20141011_120848

This part of the event showed Scott’s charisma and wit as a professional speaker by academically entertaining the audience at 12PM (an inconvenient time for most Vietnamese: this should be when we have meals or nap 🙂

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Anyway we did not notice the time at all owing his humorous and insightful analysis of the underlying structures of a specific genre:

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He emphasized the importance of corpus analysis and how it can be done using online resources. A useful advice for practicing teachers to have a sense of material writing or getting into the mind of material writers. Finally, implications were presented:IMG_20141011_123843

At the end of the talk, the closing etiquette was also unexpected: the organizers persuaded the participants to return the badges, putting them in a paper bag for a lucky draw of a chocolate prize. What can be a better parting gift? A brilliant idea!

Key takeaways from TESOL Talks 2:

1. In ELT, reinventing the wheel still holds some values.

2.DOGME , teaching unplugged, emerges as a valid ELT approach.

3. Academic presentation does not have to be plain and boring: use ‘Yay’ and ‘Nay’ activity.

4. Integrate discourse into the curriculum by collecting authentic texts in its context uses.

All of teachers at my school agreed that TESOL Talks was a huge success; however, there can be still room for improvement for future TESOL Talks

1. Approaching the event, my colleagues asked me about the confirmation letter after completing the online registration since they did not receive any thing. There should be such a letter and also a thank you letter for their participation?

2. Bottles of water can be in a smaller size to cut down costs 🙂

3. Should there be certificates of participation for teachers who attend all TESOL Talks in 2014?

4. I believe that if the timing for the talk shifted to the afternoon, more teachers would attend. As usual, many have classes on Saturday morning at language centers where they couldn’t change their working schedule.

Thank you RMIT University, ACET Vietnam and TESOL Ho Chi Minh for this precious meet-up.

See you soon!