It was my first time in Vilnius, this beautiful city where the slow flowing Neris meets the meandering Vilnia. Lithuanian capital greeted me with plenty of sunshine, its exciting old town and lively atmosphere. However, it was not the city itself I came to see. I got to Vilnius to attend LAKMA and IATEFL TDSIG joint conference ELT in the digital age held at Filologijos Fakultetas by the Neris.

I think I was just the right person for this conference. On the one hand I am deeply interested in people and their personal development, on the other, I am fascinated by electronic wonders of the modern world but at the same time a bit scared of them because I never really took enough time to get to the bottom of the whole thing. This is why I thought ELT in the Digital Age was really what I needed. I had great expectations from this conference: meeting new people, sharing my two un-digital, uplugged workshops, with them and, above all, learning something new and overcoming my fear of digital technology.

At the opening plenary Gavin Dudeney talked about New Literacies, Teachers & Learners. He told the audience that terms digital native and digital immigrant are now being replaced by a new division, digital resident versus digital visitor. He also introduced DSL, digital as a second language. If you belong to a slightly less young generation, you could, for example, admit, “I wasn’t born speaking digital”. Among a whole bunch of exciting digital things that can be very useful in class, Gavin showed a remix of Penny Lane, a literal version on YouTube. A literal version of a song means that you watch the real video spot, the music is the same as in the original, just instead of the original lyrics the singer/s describe what’s in the picture. Later I googled literal Penny Lane again as watched literal versions of other hits on YouTube. I’ve decided to use some in class soon. Like it or not, times are changing and, to quote Gavin, “Shift happens”.

In the second plenary Duncan Foord explored the difference between a teacher and a coach. I was particularly intrigued by some of the data he produced: students need 200 hours of English if they want to master one Common European Framework step. In a week this means that if they sleep for 8 hours per night, spend 3 hours in an English class and revise at home for one hour, they still have 109 hours to spend on other activities. Asking students to revise for just one hour per week means expecting them to work on their English for less than one per cent of their time. No matter what technology teachers and students use, it’s the uptake that matters, said Duncan after he had given the audience a number of ideas how to motivate students to do English in their free time.

After the plenaries and my first workshop it was time for some practice in DSL and Sandra Jasionavičiene provided just that. In her workshop Using Technologies in the Class of Creative Writing she encouraged participants to use wikis in a creative writing class. She explained that wiki wiki means ‘quick’ in Hawaiian. It was a lively workshop and I think quite a few of us who struggled DSL worked extremely hard. When I got back home I was determined to create at least one wiki myself, which I did, when TD SIG committee was choosing suitable talks and workshops for TD SIG Programme Day at the next IATEFL Conference in Glasgow in March 2012. I think that if I should read all this a few years from now, when, I hope, I have mastered all this to at least some extent, I will probably just smile at how ignorant I was in Vilnius, but now, a few weeks after the conference, using the newly-acquired knowledge is like a tonic to me.

While waiting for the Arts and Creativity slot to begin in the afternoon, I asked my neighbour about Lithuanian surnames which have different suffixes for men and women. I was told that a man’s surname would end in –us, for example, a married woman would form her surname with suffix –iene while a single woman would use suffix -iute. My Lithuanian colleague also gave me a brief introduction into extra letters Lithuanian has in its 32-letter alphabet which I am most grateful for.

Izolda Geniene, the former LAKMA president, gave a talk on teaching language, poetry and culture using elements of the visual art. She used Pieter Brueghel’s painting Fall of Icarus to illustrate some points in her presentation and mentioned synaesthesia as an important ingredient in this approach. Her talk was a windfall for me – for the last few months I’d been looking for ways to explore that particular painting with my students. I was interested in it because it appears in the coursebook I use, but I didn’t know what exactly I could do with it. Dr. Geniene provided interesting material that I can take in class as soon as we get to the unit with this painting. Does this also happen to you – I mean, that you go to a particular talk at a conference not really understanding why you chose it but you just know you must be there and then during that talk something clicks and you see why you’re there?

Natalie Gorohova from the neighbouring Latvia focused on design thinking in classroom and showed how business English can be an unexpected source of inspiration for an English teacher. She showed that design thinking can be human centred, experimental, optimistic and collaborative. Using a set of cards the group then tried a little bit of design thinking in practice. What I am particularly grateful to Natalie for is that she mentioned Sir Ken Robinson, and gave a link to his website. This was the third time I came across his name, and I’d seen his animated presentation Changing Education Paradigms twice, but as if often happens in the post-conference rush, many exciting new ideas and pieces of information sink into oblivion, and this is what happened to Sir Ken in my head not only once but twice. Now, third time lucky, I’ve not only checked his website but I also bookmarked it and ordered his book Out of our minds: Learning to be creative. This time what he has to say won’t escape me.

After the busy first day of the conference some participants and organisers could relax at the reception, tasting Lithuanian food and wine, chatting and listening to Lithuanian national music. However, this was a very energetic kind of relaxation, as one of the musicians in the trio that came to play and sing Lithuanian songs all of sudden started dancing. How I ended up dancing with him I don’t quite remember, one minute I was sitting and talking, the next I was in the middle of a group dance, something similar to a ceilidh. It was just great.
The second day of the conference started with Annette Capel’s presentation on The English Profile, a programme that, as the author claimed, is shaping the future of language learning, teaching and assessment while Chris Moore from LanguageLab spoke about Using the power of virtual worlds for Business English learning.
Having finished my second workshop, I joined Duncan Foord in Elmyra Jurkšaitiene and Jūratė Orloviene’s workshop on CLIL. The presenters took the audience through a typical CLIL geography lesson. We learned about world’s big cities and problems that people living there face, and I think that Duncan learned his first word in Lithuanian: kanalizacija (sanitary sewer). Contrary to Duncan, I’d already known this word because it’s the same as in my mother tongue, even the spelling and pronunciation, as so are words such as in policija (police), kapela (chapel) and many others. In fact, Lithuania was one of very few countries where when arriving at my hotel, my name was pronounced correctly and with ease and I didn’t have to invent a different, more English-friendly spelling (‘moytsa’) so that people could say my first name. A small thing maybe, but it made me feel very much at home there straight away.
The conference ended with Kristina Smith’s plenary talk The danger of carts before horses: putting pedagogy before technology in which she briefly went through the new digital tools that were often mentioned during the conference, and concluded with a thought that maybe it is time to re-evaluate our pedagogical principles bearing in mind what the learners of today need.
When the time came to close the conference, Egle Petroniene, the LAKMA president and heart and soul of this event, did it with a lot of warmth and charm. Lithuanian teachers will meet again in two years’ time, and they may even organise a joint event with another IATEFL SIG then.
After the conference participants who were not from Lithuania had a chance to take a bus tour of Vilnius. It was very thorough and provided me with all sorts of information. Now I know that basketball is second religion in Lithuania and that in Vilnius there is even a monument erected to basketball. It makes sense then that European Basketball Championship, which ended just four days before the start of the conference, was held in the Lithuanian capital. It was during this informative tour around Vilnius that I also learned about the mock Republic of Užupis, the artists’ community by the Vilnia in the east of the city, which has its own constitution with 41 articles written in eight languages on metal boards fixed to a wall there. Here are some of the most interesting articles:
Everyone has the right to live by the river Vilnelė, while the River Vilnelė has the right to flow past people.
Everyone has the right to love.
Everyone has the right to idle.
Everyone has the right to be misunderstood.
Everyone has the right to understand nothing.