My First NALDIC Conference – Catherine Brennan

Even as a regular visitor from Bristol, the excitement of a trip to ‘the Big Smoke’ surprises me every time; on Saturday 18th November, there was a further feeling of anticipation as I ventured to my first ever NALDIC conference at Kings College, London.

I was not alone, however. Always keen to spend time with my younger brother, David, he was ‘encouraged’ to join NALDIC and attend this conference, the 25th, with his big sister. A teacher and middle leader with a specialism in Maths, David brought a different set of skills and expectations to this key EAL event, in contrast to mine as an experienced EAL consultant; neither of us were to be disappointed. 

From the moment we arrived in the buzzy foyer of Kings College, it was evident that this was a friendly, well-organised event – designed to maximise the potential of having more than 150 delegates, each with a specific interest in English as an Additional Language (EAL), from all over the UK, having given up their Saturday for a high-quality CPD event.

Smiles, goodie bags, friendly volunteers, fresh coffee and pastries provided a warm welcome and there was time to browse the array of exhibitors’ stands – which included Communication Across Culture’s ‘Learning Village’, Beelingual’s range of EYFS bilingual books, Hants’ EMTAS ‘Young Interpreter’s Scheme’, to name but a few – before the official start of the conference.

I liked the structure of the day – the variety of lectures and hands-on workshops as well as plenty of social opportunities over tea, coffee and a delicious lunch to greet familiar faces and to make new acquaintances, some of them previously known only as Twitter e-contacts.

Both David and I found the keynotes from two highly regarded academics in the field fascinating.

Professor Li Wei – ‘Translanguaging and co-learning: beyond empowering the learner’

Professor Fred Genesee – ‘Looking back over 25 years of research and moving forward’

Summaries of these thought-provoking lectures are helpfully available in the Spring 2018 edition of NALDIC’s high quality EAL Journal. For me, hearing such interesting keynotes from experts at an EAL conference replenishes supplies of professional energy and knowledge, and empowers us to continue our EAL work with renewed knowledge and confidence.

Similarly, the workshops I attended provided ‘EAL nourishment’. I very much enjoyed Learning 100 words in 10 minutes, an interactive workshop led by Anna Czebiolko from Leeds. Anna shared her successful approach to language learning in her Leeds secondary school, which encouraged all students to acknowledge and build on all the linguistic knowledge they already have, e.g. use of cognates, when learning a new language. Naomi Flynn from the University of Reading focussed in on a particular group of EAL learners – those from Polish backgrounds – in her informative workshop, entitled: “In school I am English and at home I am Polish”: Listening to children’s voices. I’ve always learned so much from ‘pupil voice’ (do we listen enough?) and reflections on ‘bilingual identity’. Both workshops provided valuable ideas to take forward with EAL pupils in the classroom as well as with families, beyond the classroom.

It was optional but I decided to stay on for the brief NALDIC AGM – good to put faces to NALDIC Exec names and inclusive that everyone was invited. If you’re considering it next time, be assured that it is effectively chaired to ensure that everyone can head off promptly for well-earned refreshments…

In my experience, there are times when as an EAL consultant or EAL school lead, you can feel a sense of isolation – which makes it so rewarding when collaborations lead to a shifting mindset and others join you on the EAL journey. We all need to feel part of a team, however, and the NALDIC conference provides that experience – you can feel the energy and expertise of a strong EAL community, sharing the determination to make a difference to our EAL children, young people and their families. If you’re looking for just one reason to attend a NALDIC conference, I suggest this is it!

As for the 26thNALDIC conference this November in Leeds, fortunately I have another brother there. Before long, it will be time to book my train and look forward to being refreshed and inspired once again to continue with my EAL work, my passion – invigorated by a day with those who feel the same way. Mmm, I wonder if I can persuade David to come with me…

We want to see you at NALDIC 26. Find out more and book your ticket here

Catherine Brennan

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