The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Monday, January 07, 2019

2018: Themes of the year

It's that time when you find yourself looking back on the past 12 months and ahead to the coming year. To be honest, 2018 wasn't the easiest year for me workwise. Through the first half of the year, I struggled with work as my chronic pain condition went through a particularly bad patch. This led to me taking two months off through the summer to rest and recover. It really helped from a health perspective, but meant a big financial hit. Then over the last few months of the year, I had the frustration of projects being delayed and cancelled, with more lost income and my cash-flow at less than a trickle!

Those things aside, it was a good year for ideas. Two of my highlights of 2018 were conference talks which reflect two of the themes of my professional year.

IATEFL: vocabulary learning and teaching

After many years of doing talks on behalf of publishers, I decided to submit my own proposal - Wordlists: snog, marry, avoid? - for IATEFL 2018 (summary here). When you put together a talk for a publisher, it's usually based on a project you've been working on, so apart from deciding on what angle to take, the content is generally fairly straightforward. Planning my own talk was a very different proposition. I had a few ideas floating around my head about vocab-related themes I’d like to tackle, but settling on a specific topic and then deciding exactly what to include was trickier. 

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been getting more interested in the principles behind vocabulary learning and teaching, and planning my talk sent me into a new flurry of reading and thinking (often in cafes and also on a rather lovely reading retreat). Vocabulary has long been my ‘thing’ and I’ve dipped into theory and research over the years and, of course, built up lots of accumulated knowledge from experience of working with vocab day in, day out.  I always felt my wider knowledge was a bit patchy though and I didn’t want to stand up in front of a roomful of ELT experts with a load of gaping holes in my arguments!  Although I know there’s still masses out there to read and digest, I do feel like I’ve now filled a few gaps and joined up a few dots. More importantly, perhaps, I feel like I’ve got something to say in my own right, which has been a bit of a revelation.

All my mulling over of vocab-related stuff led onto another talk about the principles I try to apply when I’m writing vocab materials at the joint MaWSIG/Oxford Brookes event in June (summary here) – another great event and lovely to get such a positive response from my peers, thanks guys :)

And I’ve still got lots of vocab-related ideas whirring around, so I think there’s more to come if I can just find the right outlets …

IVACS: corpus research

This time last year, I was at a bit of a turning point in my ELT career and I decided I needed to refocus on the areas of ELT that interest me most (see posts here and here). One of those areas was corpus research and it’s something that I have managed to get more involved in over the past year or so, with corpus research work for a couple of different publishers and rather excitingly, my first talk at a corpus linguistics conference in Malta in June.

Unlike the ELT events I’m familiar with, corpus linguistics conferences tend to be much more academic affairs. So, although I felt confident that I had some interesting stuff to talk about (summary here), I wasn’t 100% certain about the reception I’d get from an audience of academics. Much to my relief, no one questioned my methodology or picked up on my lack of a reference list! In fact, many of the people I spoke to were quite excited to meet someone who actually does corpus research ‘in the real world’ and I had lots of great conversations with a wonderful range of fascinating people. It’s definitely a world I’d like to stay in touch with and with a couple of new and interesting pieces of research under my belt this year, it’s something I’d like to talk more about … if I can find a way to fund it …

The cold, hard economics of it all

Although IATEFL and IVACS were highlights of my professional year, both were largely self-funded and, together with another couple of events, ate up a lot of cash which I didn’t really have to spare given the aforementioned patchy workflow and lack of income.

So this year, I’ve had to rule out going to events unless I have a sponsor to help out with costs.  Luckily, I already have two conferences– the English UK academic conference in London on 19 Jan and TESOL Spain in Oviedo in March – lined up with backing from event organizers/publishers and maybe another one in the pipeline for the summer.  I’ve had to cross another couple that I’d hoped to speak at off my list because I couldn’t get any backing, which is sad, but hey.

Perhaps more importantly for 2019, as well as the little inspirational blips that conferences provide, I need to refocus on the day-to-day work at my desk to pay the bills. January has got off to a busy start with one project finishing up and another quickie writing job in progress, but my schedule for February onwards is looking worryingly empty. I’d really like to see all my investment in reading and thinking and talking at events translate into interesting writing projects where I can put some of those ideas into practice.

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