It’s not every day that you have hundreds of eyes on you as you’re about to speak. Particularly when those eyes belong to people who actually (no, really) want to hear what you have to say. Not for me anyway, the ever-reluctant public speaker. You may well ask how I got myself into this situation. The answer is six words long. Or, given we’re in the acronym-tastic realm of ELT, six letters. I was here for IATEFL.
IATEFL’s latest outing took place last month in sunny Wroclaw in Poland, both a city and a country that neither myself nor my colleague and co-presenter Zoe had ever visited before. The vibe was friendly and engaged, as you’d expect from a group of ELT professionals keen to pick up some intel to take back to their classroom, their company, or their publishing house. Zoe and I, however, were nervous.
With our wider team, we’d spent the last 4 months researching, licensing, scripting, and editing dozens of videos for DLA’s new authentic video series, Ready to Run. Finally, today was the day that we announced it to the (ELT) world. No pressure, then.
We were billed to present a workshop called A Sneak Peek: The New Generation of Authentic ELT Video, in Room 113. It seated 60, and we optimistically imagined we’d maybe fill half the space. That… wasn’t quite how it played out:
What had happened? Had everyone somehow ended up in the wrong room? Did they maybe think this was where the free biscuits were given out? Amazingly enough, it wasn’t a mistake. This many people genuinely wanted to know what the youngest presenting duo on site had to say about authentic video.
After some pretty impressive human Tetris in the room, the little festival we’d created was moved to a lecture theatre, where we much more comfortably ran our workshop with some truly brilliant contributions from the participants.
We shared with our participants why we created the series, and what we were hoping to achieve. We shared our thinking, our process (a tricky one), and our challenges. And we shared our results, screening three videos and offering sample learning materials for those who wanted to try them out in their classrooms. And, most importantly, we shared how we all define ‘authentic’ and why it’s valuable, however we decide to do so.
What we realised, however, as the talk ended and Zoe and I were each overwhelmed with excited teachers wanting to speak to us, is that there had been a mistake after all. It was ours.
We’d dramatically underestimated the interest in and demand for authentic materials. We knew there was appetite, of course. That’s why we made the series. But we were astonished and delighted to witness just how many people were ready and willing to bring authentic into their world. We fielded questions from teachers of small classrooms and of summer schools, from directors of studies, from authors, materials writers, from parents, all wanting to know how they could access Ready to Run and when they could start using it. We were repeatedly stopped in the hallways and asked about the series, and were even invited to present the same material in other countries. Sure, we’ve given talks and workshops on authentic video before, it’s what we do. It’s our schtick, if you will. But we’ve never quite received this amount of attention for it before. And we don’t think it’s a coincidence.
More and more language teachers and students are tiring of using materials that feel unnatural, obviously scripted, clearly acted. If the materials being used are not truly representative of the language, how can a teacher confidently say they’re preparing students adequately for real-world scenarios we presume they’re training to one day enter?
Why should we accept that students are only ever shown glossy, perfect characters? Why should we accept that students are only ever going to see predictable stories with perfect conclusions? Why should we accept that students will only ever be exposed to unbroken, perfect English? We don’t accept that, and nor should you. In Poland we shared examples of material that proves we no longer have to and, it seems, we were heard.