The TESOL President’s Blog
On 26 and 27 January, NileTESOL held its 20th annual conference at the American University in Cairo (AUC), at which I was invited to give a plenary presentation and workshop. I was able to contribute to the conference through the TESOL Association’s Affiliate Speaker Request program, which gives every one of the more than 100 affiliates of the association, twice a year, the chance to apply for financial, logistic, and other support to bring a member of TESOL’s Board of Directors to speak at their affiliate conference. Although funding is limited, the association, through the Affiliate Speaker program, has supported dozens of affiliate conferences, all over the world, in recent years.
As the largest TESOL affiliate in Africa, NileTESOL is an active association, as it says on its website, “for all those individuals who are actively involved in the development of the teaching of English and in teaching content in English in Egypt and globally,” with a TEA SIG (Testing, Evaluation, and Assessment Special Interest Group) and other SIGs planned. A good way of following the work of NileTESOL is through their online newsletter, which is freely available to everyone, whether or not they are members of NileTESOL. This is the kind of global, free, open-access language education resource that TESOL, and associations like NileTESOL, have been making more and more available in recent years.
Highlighting the challenges faced by some of our affiliates, the third issue of the NileTESOL Newsletter (February 2012) started by stating that: “2011 was a tumultuous year for NileTESOL, indeed the entire Middle East, through the advent of the Arab Spring” (p. 1). That issue of the newsletter also thanked TESOL International for its support during those especially difficult times: “In full consideration of the events that caused the cancellation of our 2011 conference, TESOL agreed to fund a plenary speaker for our 2012 ‘Language Education in the 21st Century: Challenges & Opportunities.”’ And in January 2014, TESOL held its first symposium in Africa and in Egypt, with the theme of “TESOL Unplugged: Back to Basics,” in Cairo, at AUC.
The theme for this year’s milestone conference was “Best Practices in TESOL: Communicate, Collaborate, Create,” which started with an Opening Ceremony commemorating 20 years of NileTESOL, with reflections on the past two decades, from some of the founding members of NileTESOL, which includes recent TESOL Past President Deena Boraie (2013–2014). Countries other than Egypt that were represented at the conference included Algeria, Greece, Indonesia, Mexico, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
The 2 days of talks, presentations, and other events were concluded with a colloquium on “English as a Global Language.” As the conference program book explained: “In keeping with NileTESOL’s theme of ‘Communicate, Collaborate, Create’, this interactive panel attempts to explore how all speakers of English use the language to communicate and collaborate with one another, as well as how all speakers of the language play a role in the co-creation of varieties of English” (p. 7).
The panel was made up of the plenary speakers: Gerry Gebhard, from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, USA; Nadia Touba, an education consultant in Egypt; Liying Cheng, from Queen’s University, Canada, standing in for Barry O’Sullivan, from the British Council; Heba Fathelbab, from AUC; and myself. The colloquium moderators were Elizabeth Arrigoni and Mai Magdy, and the discussant was Deena Boraie. Two of the main questions the panelists were asked to consider and respond to were: “If English no longer ‘belongs’ to the L1 speakers, why do preferences for British or American varieties still persist? And in the field of TESOL, why do preferences for ‘native speaker’ teachers still persist?” (p.7). Lots of good questions led to a lively discussion.
In between the Opening Ceremony and the Closing Panel was a wide range of diverse presentations and workshops, and a new event, called Chat Show, in which I was interviewed, and took questions from the audience, about my professional and personal experiences. Thanks to the NileTESOL 2015–2016 Organizing Committee and Board of Directors for the one full year of hard work and commitment that it takes to create a successful event like this one!