Wednesday, April 1, 2009

DAY 1: April Fool's Day and a Plenary

I decided to go to the plenary with Marc Prensky. The venue was fantastic--an ornate hall with carved and painted ceiling, and a Welsh harpist playing as we poured in through the doors. I'd walked there with a Japanese Ph.D. student from Austrailia that I had met in my hotel (those conference bags are a give-away). She told me she was going to do a lot of shopping in Cardiff as the shopping was much better there than in Sydney.

The plenary opened with a surprise. The incoming president of IATEFL got up and started speaking in Welsh--someone else translated for him. When the greetings were over, he announced that there was a major change to the program--all the sessions were to be delivered in Welsh! There was a stunned silence, and then a smiley face was projected onto the screen and the words "April Fool"!

I'm known for avoiding plenaries like the plague, but this one turned out to be interesting. He was expanding on the idea he had presented in 2001 in his book about the dichotomy between "digital natives" and "digital immigrants." He contends that anyone born after 1980 is a digital immigrant and, as such, has a "digital accent." It's an interesting concept, especially when there is that easy analogy for language teachers. I'm not sure if his cut-off date is that useful. While I'm perfectly prepared to admit that I'm a digital immigrant, and I have a definite digitial accent, in later discussions many people preferred to think of it more as a state of mind. In reality, I think it's more of a continuum--there are people with varying degrees of "fluency" and some with "near-native" abilities.
The importance of this concept for language teachers is that many of our students are digital immigrants--either because of age or previous access to the technology--yet others are far more fluent than us.

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