JALT Special Interest Groups: An Overview

Mark Brierley, Former SIG Representative Liaison

The field of language teaching is full of TLAs (three-letter acronyms) and we have some of our very own here at JALT (the Japan Association for Language Teaching). SIG stands for “Special Interest Group”, and today JALT has 28 SIGs, reflecting the wide range of special interests of JALT members. For the past six years, I have had the privilege of serving as SRL, which is a double acronym for SIG Representative Liaison. 

The SIGs are communities that interact through publications, websites, events such as conferences or meetings, and through lively social media sites. A SIG Membership is included in a JALT membership. The wide range of SIGs is perhaps only exceeded by the range of interests among language teachers. Rather than having trouble finding a suitable SIG, JALT members often have trouble choosing just one, and many decide to pay a little extra to join other groups. Any JALT member may petition for a new SIG to be created. The process requires at least thirty signatures of JALT members as well as a draft constitution and a list of people who are planning to be officers. 

One of the first SIGs in JALT was Bilingualism, which formed in 1990, tracing its routes back to the Symposium on Bilingualism at the JALT1985 conference. The SIG continues to focus on this branch of applied linguistics that informs language policy, while guiding parents struggling to raise children bilingually in Japan. As well as regular newsletters, they publish the Japan Journal of Multilingualism and Multiculturalism 多言語・多文化研究, and have produced 18 monographs looking at specific topics. 

The first JALT SIGs were known as N-SIGs, “N” denoting national in contrast to JALT’s regional chapters. By 1997 there were 12 N-SIGs, most of which are still around. The “N” was dropped in 1999 reflecting the fact that JALT SIGs are international in their outlook as well as their appeal. 

Some of the SIGs focus on teaching contexts, from younger learners to lifelong learners. Other groups look at research in particular content areas or focus on practical teaching issues. Advocacy is also a part of several SIG missions, whether promoting teaching practices or bringing issues into language classrooms.

The PanSIG conference was first held in the spring of 2002 and has taken place every year since. Smaller than the JALT conference, PanSIG provides both a venue for more focused presentations and a welcoming, supportive atmosphere for less experienced presenters. Conference presenters are invited to contribute to an annual peer-reviewed publication, which is now called the PanSIG Journal. Most SIGs also hold their own events from annual or biennial conferences with hundreds of attendees to regular regional events.

Nothing lasts forever; a Video SIG was also one of the first SIGs, but it can no longer be seen. Although the group has gone, this special interest is still with us. In fact, looking back to 1997, their advice could still be used in class today: “Choose videos carefully to match students’ age, interests, linguistic ability, and your teaching objectives . . . develop language activities to match your teaching goals and the particular features of the video segment . . . students generally learn more from a three-minute segment played three or four times with accompanying activities than they do from an entire film . . .”

As SRL I’ve seen new SIGs arrive and some established SIGs falter and even dissolve. The key to success is usually the number and the enthusiasm of the officers that keep a group going.  JALT is a volunteer-led organisation and groups are always looking for people to volunteer as officers. Becoming an officer will not only help a SIG near you but can be an especially rewarding way to network with others who have similar interests and become more involved in JALT.

There are many ways to get involved in SIGs. If you contact one you are interested in, I am certain you will find a very grateful response and an opportunity to learn more about the inner workings of that SIG. You can find the contact details for all the SIGs below. Why not contact your SIG to see what you can do to help them out? You will not be disappointed.

For a historical look at JALT SIGs, see The Language Teacher, Issue 21.8; August 1997. https://jalt-publications.org/tlt/articles/2188-overview-jalts-national-special-interest-groups 


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