The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Friday, April 12, 2013

IATEFL light

I’m on a train on my way back from Liverpool, reflecting on what I think is probably my 13th IATEFL conference.  I nearly didn’t make it this year, but I’m very glad I did, even though it was a slightly different IATEFL experience from usual. I usually go for the whole week; going to talks, meeting up with folks and just generally soaking up the vibe. As a freelancer, it’s way of keeping in touch with the industry, what’s new, who’s doing what, but it’s also an invaluable source of contacts. All my work comes via contacts and many of them I meet, or reconnect with, during that one week in April each year. 

After a year spent writing for royalties though, this year the coffers were empty and, with no talk for a publisher lined up, I decided I just couldn’t afford to shell out for registration, travel and accommodation for the week. As the conference got nearer though and people kept asking me if I was going, I started to think that I couldn’t afford not to go. So this year, I did IATEFL on a budget. I booked a cheap hotel for a couple of nights (which turned out to be really central and absolutely fine) and went along to the conference without registering. That, of course, meant I couldn’t go to any of the sessions, but I was still able to schmooze around the exhibition hall and arrange to meet up for endless cups of coffee with friends, colleagues and useful contacts, both old and new. It was a bit odd not having a programme of talks to go to and I did feel a bit left out when people kept asking “Did you go to … ?”, but it was still a pretty packed and productive day and a half.

This year’s highlights, from my rather limited viewpoint, included the buzz around getting more people involved in materials writing. With the major publishers and the publishing industry generally clearly in the middle of a huge upheaval at the moment - with the spread of digital content and the challenge of how to make money out of it - it was nice amongst all the uncertainty to also get a feeling that something new, exciting and less exclusive may emerge from it all. Initiatives like ELT Teacher 2 Writer, Nick Robinson’s agency for ELT writers and the round are starting to help new writers become involved in writing good quality materials, either through the traditional publishing channels or in new ways through e-publishing, self-publishing or more local projects. And the launch of the new IATEFL Materials Writing SIG (MaWSIG) seems to signal more interest in sharing skills and best practice. I was lucky enough to be taken on fresh from my MA and trained in-house (at CUP) as a lexicographer. I actually only spent a relatively short time in-house before I went freelance, but it gave me not only a really solid grounding in lexicography and corpus research, but also an insight into how the whole publishing process works and some invaluable contacts to get me started. For new people wanting to make that shift from teaching to publishing now though, the opportunities to learn the ropes seem much more limited. With tight deadlines and even tighter budgets, publishers are often looking for experienced, reliable people (writers, editors, etc.) who can ‘hit the ground running’. So it looks like if we’re going to bring new talent through and keep standards high, then it’s perhaps going to be through sharing skills and experience. I’m definitely looking forward to being involved in some way.

The other novelty for me was meeting people face-to-face who I’ve got to know through social media. I had the odd experience of going up to people I’d never actually met before all smiles and instantly friendly chat, because they’ve become so familiar via my computer screen! I met several other freelancers who I’ve got to know through Facebook and even a fellow #EAPchat regular from Canada, which was great and lovely to put not just a face, but a voice to a name!

I’m heading home with a pile of new business cards, feeling again like I’m part of a community rather than a lone freelancer working away on my own, and also feeling pretty positive about the possibilities ahead … after that is, a well-earned holiday next week ...

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