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AILA 2011 Conference Report and World Congress 2014 Preview

Writer(s): 
Greg Rouault, Konan University, Hirao School of Management

 

The International Association of Applied Linguistics (AILA) held its 16th triennial conference in Beijing, August 23-28, 2011 <www.aila2011.org/en/>. Since its inception in 1964, this was the first visit to China. Having been hosted ten times in Europe, and around the world in Montreal, Singapore, Sydney, Madison, and in Tokyo in 1999. The host affiliate, China English Language Education Association, is one of AILA’s 32 national affiliates offering membership services and professional development resources for over 8,000 linguists, practitioners, and policy makers. 

Upon registration, in addition to the high quality conference bag and requisite promotional materials, three well-indexed documents (Conference Program, Conference Program Abstracts, and Conference Guide), each the thickness of a typical conference handbook, pointed to the scale of the event. Furthermore, different than the array of course books for students promoted in the materials exhibition at many conferences for language educators, the sponsors on display at AILA included the major academic publishing houses, with a focus on their journals and professional development titles, staffed by editors looking for proposals.

The five main days of the conference included keynote presentations from five plenary speakers covering the range of fields and sub-disciplines addressed in applied linguistics and the 2011 World Congress theme: Harmony in Diversity: Language, Culture, Society. Following opening addresses by the host organization dignitaries and Martin Bygate (President of AILA), Gu Yueguo delivered the first plenary on the study of language as lived experiences and how these experiences shape language and human agency, contrasted with Halliday’s view of language encoding experience. Barbara Seidlhofer looked at how English as a lingua franca (ELF) challenges the conventional ways of defining languages and user competence under the dominance of Anglo-American interests. Malcolm Coulthard highlighted evidence from one of the hybrid disciplines of applied linguistics, forensic linguistics. Ex-journalist and editor of the Journal of Sociolinguistics, Allan Bell, operationalized Ricoeur’s Interpretive Arc for discourse work with hermeneutics in interpreting media texts. Diane Larsen-Freeman closed the final day lobbying for a reformulation of the term second language acquisition (SLA) into the more dynamic second language development (SLD) where (a) regressing may occur, (b) there is no common endpoint, and (c) learners actively transform their linguistic world, not conform to it.

The dozen parallel sessions included symposia, individual papers, workshops, and posters in over 25 areas of concentration, as well as invited symposia and the Research Network Symposium (ReNs). These ReNs support AILA’s objectives to contribute to the development, exchange, and dissemination of scientific knowledge and practical experience in the broad subject areas of applied linguistics. For me personally, I was able to: preview a presentation by Vijay Bhatia before he arrived at JACET in Fukuoka; get advice from Ken Hyland on videotaping learner interactions with ICT applications in the in-class writing tasks my colleague and I have a research grant for; and confirm with Peter MacIntyre the feasibility of my idea to investigate Dörnyei’s ideal self in narrow context ESP users. Making the trip was worth it just to receive a list of references from Naomi Storch from her work on collaborative writing for the same ICT research grant studies. I also had a fully-equipped room to give my own presentation on learner attitudes toward using Archie Comics in EFL reading, which was as sparsely attended for obvious reasons.

Convenient accommodations and amenities were readily available and the Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU) site was very accessible with three buildings used for presentations. The 170 volunteers in orange T-shirts were especially happy to find someone to speak not only English with, but also French and Japanese. Plenary speakers, presenters, and delegates alike spent the hour-long lunch break in the cafeteria chatting. The fair weather allowed the free, outdoor evening receptions to go off without a hitch, although some falsely expected these would replace their dinner every night rather than serve as social functions. The off-site Congress Party was well attended, In fact too much so for the seats available, but when Henry Widdowson is standing in the lobby at the cocktail lounge table next to yours it is tough to pull rank. The conference schedule included one free afternoon for excursions with an agency available at the conference site. I booked online and was able to visit the Great Wall and Ming Tombs, and saw the Olympic structures from a distance. In addition, once a taxi could be negotiated, it was possible to see the evening sites downtown, which I was fortunate to do one night in a group, which included my professors from Macquarie.

Language educators and researchers may be interested to know that AILA 2014 will be held in Brisbane, Australia from August 10-15, 2014, a rather convenient time in the academic calendar in Japan. However, please note that AILA also has a very early deadline for proposal submissions. Details can be found on the AILA World Congress 2014 website< www.aila2014.com/> with specific guidelines for abstract submissions on the theme One World - Many Languages to be available at <www.aila2014.com/abstract_submission.html> from January 2013 until the deadline in April 2013. Early bird registration will close a year later in April 2014. The overview of AILA 2014 given by the conference co-chairs at the closing ceremony in Beijing along with the Australian Night reception suggested that the Land Down Under will be the place to be in August 2014 for the 17th World Congress of Applied Linguistics. 

 
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