The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Monday, April 18, 2011

IATEFL - brain full!

Over the past couple of days, I've been downloading my thoughts in the evening - dumping all the ideas stirred up by a day of sessions, discussions and conversations here before I go to bed. Today I'm posting early, because I only got as far as lunchtime before I decided my brain was full and I just couldn't maintain my concentration through another session! Over the years, I've realised that, for me, the best way to deal with big conferences is to be selective and to take plenty of breaks. 3 or 4 key sessions a day is usually enough, otherwise I just get a bit tired and overwhelmed and it all starts merging together. This year I seem to have reached my threshold relatively early. And as I've got my laptop with me and other work to get on with, I decided to spend most of the rest of my time down in Brighton "at my desk" or for the moment, out in the sun on the balcony of my apartment!!

As for this morning's sessions, I went to a fun and thought-provoking talk by Jim Scrivener about how the internet might be changing the way we read. Then continuing the trend of going to talks by people who I know are going to be good speakers (because I'm tired and no longer have the patience for poor presenters!!) I opted for a presentation by Mike McCarthy, Anne O'Keeffe and Geraldine Mark about their corpus research for English Grammar Today. They didn't really tell me anything much I didn't already know, but it was an interesting, if rather frustrating session for two reasons.

The first thing was the dynamic between the three speakers. Mike started things off and remained very much 'in charge' through the whole thing. It felt rather as if throughout the session, he would ocassionally summon his two females colleagues, almost like a teacher asking a student to stand up and say their piece! Unintentional I'm sure, but rather uncomfortable to watch once I'd picked up on it.

I also found the conclusions they drew from the learner corpus a bit shaky in places. I've been working with the same corpus (the Cambridge Learner Corpus) for the past 12 years and I know it inside out. I'm also very aware of its weaknesses. And while Mike did acknowledge that the data is skewed, to an extent, by exam tasks and questions, he still went on to make some generalisations which I'd feel very wary about making. It would've been nice to question him further about it, but I don't move in such rarefied circles! An entirely different issue that I think I'd better leave for another day!

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