It was an honor to represent TESOL International Association at the 47th ASOCOPI (Asociación Colombiana de Profesores de Inglés) conference in Tuluá Colombia, 11–13 October. The theme of the conference was “Encounters with Varieties of English,” a highly appropriate topic in that a few year ago, the Colombian Ministry of Education mandated that everyone in Colombia be (at least?) bilingual in Spanish and English by 2019 (with support provided by the British Council)—this in a country where bilinguals are more likely to be bilingual in Spanish and their home language and where English has had only a very limited role in commerce or everyday life. The challenges to implementing this initiative are daunting, with teachers often having only limited proficiency themselves, especially in rural areas with limited resources and exposure to global communication.
Fortunately, ASOCOPI is lead by highly competent, experienced and committed individuals. For years it has provided a strong voice for the profession, arguing for reasonable expectation about achieving English-Spanish bilingualism, supporting the instruction of locally used languages, and advocating for adequate teacher professional development. Indeed, the need to frame the government’s English initiative in ways that are sensitive, reasoned, and realistic was the organizing principle of the conference. This principle was reflected in the opening remarks of ASOCOPI President Alvaro Hernán Quintero, the mid-conference panel discussions chaired by Melba Libia Cárenas (with Jun Liu, Raúl Mora, and Carmen Helena Guerrero), and in the closing plenary by Adriana Gonzales Moncada. Dr. Gonzales Moncada took the audience through the evolution of the government’s English initiative and closed by suggesting what could be reasonably achieved in the future. It is my hope that my two sessions, a plenary titled “Putting English in its Place” and a workshop titled “Deemphasizing Varieties of English in Pronunciation Teaching” were able to make a small contribution.
It was helpful that I spent the week prior to the conference in Barranquilla, Colombia, advising on the training of a new cohort of Peace Corps TEFL Volunteers and observing current volunteers working with Colombian counterparts. Although the counterparts were committed and the working relationships I observed were positive, the students’ level of English (and probably, in general, the teachers’) suggests that most instruction does not get much beyond the level of vocabulary instruction (which makes the government’s 2019 timeline even more challenging).
I was extremely impressed by ASOCOPI. The association has advocated strongly for the profession (and their students), and it mounts excellent conferences. ASOCOPI also indexes and referees journals on TESOL and SLA, independently and in conjunction with Colombian universities. The association is to be congratulated.
Indeed, I have taken away much food for thought from the conference as well as the vitality and complexity of Colombia. The only sadness was that this conference was Julian Edge’s last one. As some of you know, Dr. Edge is a longtime member, researcher, and leader in TESOL International Association. However, although Julian is retiring from TESOL, he is starting a new career in counseling, and I am sure TESOL’s loss will be his clients’ gain.