Tuesday, February 19, 2019

26th TESOL Macedonia Thrace Northern Greece Annual International Conference - An interview with Dr Nicos Sifakis

Our second plenary speaker, Dr Nicos Sifakis, is an academic whose research has put Greece on the global academic map. Dr Sifakis is an associate professor at the Hellenic Open University and director of its M.Ed. in TESOL programme. He has published extensively in various international refereed journals and is co-editor of ELF for EFL Contexts (Multilingual Matters, 2019), Using English as a Lingua Franca in Education in Europe (de Gruyter, 2018) and English Language Education Policies and Practices in the Mediterranean Countries (Peter Lang, 2017).

1. Your plenary session will focus on ELF-awareness as a framework for integrating research in EFL. What are the key areas that the suggested framework places emphasis on?
As a term, "ELF-awareness" is a lot more than simply an awareness of ELF (or English as a Lingua Franca). It certainly incorporates this awareness, in the sense that we, as teachers, learners, policy makers and courseware designers, need to be aware of what happens when we use English to communicate with people for whom English is not their "mother" tongue, in what ways the discourse and the interactional strategies are unique or different to those typically employed in interactions with the so-called "native speakers" of English. ELF-awareness incorporates three distinct, but also interlinked, areas: awareness of the language (which refers to the aspects that I just mentioned), awareness of instruction (which refers to teachers' becoming fully aware of their teaching context and also their own perspectives and deeper convictions about how English should be taught, (whether and to what extent they correct learner errors, and so on), and awareness of learning (which refers to the understanding and acceptance of the fact that out-of-class use of ELF should inform, to a lesser or greater extent, what goes on inside the EFL classroom). In this sense, EFL teachers who are "ELF-aware" understand the ramifications of the complex nexus of English language communication in the 21st century for their class and are able to hone their teaching skills and syllabus (to the extent that they are allowed to do so) so that their learners become confident and successful users of English.

2. In your follow-up session, you will be presenting ENRICH, a project aiming at providing teachers with the competencies required to meet the needs of multilingual classes. Which are the main competencies teachers should be equipped with?

UNESCO has defined the so-called "transversal skills", i.e. the skills considered not related to a specific job, task, academic discipline or area of knowledge but can be used in a wide variety of situations and work settings. These are skills that help learners adapt to changes and to lead meaningful and productive lives, and are exactly what we aim for in the case of multilingual classes, namely:
- Critical and innovative thinking
- Inter-personal skills (e.g. presentation and communication skills, organizational skills, teamwork, etc.)
- Intra-personal skills (e.g. self-discipline, enthusiasm, perseverance, self-motivation, etc.)
- Global citizenship (e.g. tolerance, openness, respect for diversity, intercultural understanding, etc.)
- Media and information literacy such as the ability to locate and access information, as well as to analyse and evaluate media content.
Interestingly, these skills can be, and should be, part of every English language teaching curriculum, and I'm going to be explaining why and how this can be done in my workshop.
3. Based on your extensive experience as a University professor, which do you feel should be the key priorities of an EFL/ESL teacher?

First, reflectivity, looking outward and trying to find out as much as possible about our teaching context, our learners, the courseware, the target situation; finding out what works and what needs to be changed or adapted. Then, reflexivity, looking inward and critically thinking about our own perceptions and convictions about our decisions and actions inside and outside the language classroom. There are many more and more subtle priorities, but one I always point at is the need to learn about not just the subject matter (English) and pedagogy (teaching English), but also managing classrooms, leading people (our learners) and helping them be their best selves as learners -- this is the remit of educational psychology.

4. Our 26th Convention focuses on practical suggestions to solving classroom issues . Which areas of ELT do you feel could benefit the most of a more hands-on approach?

Definitely, handling groupwork. Also, focusing on the underlying, hidden agenda that always lies behind every single activity we carry out. Understanding that tasks and activities always have an openly known and stated agenda, e.g. to practise speaking or carry out a drill, but also train our learners to do other things as well, e.g., work (or not work) with their fellow learners, think (or not think) about the content of a particular text during a multiple matching exercise. In this sense, we have to answer the following question every time we ask our learners to carry out any task: What is the real learning potential of this task? What will these particular learners learn from carrying it out?

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