1 Nov 2013, 8:22am
conference Review


JALT National Conference 2013

I was lucky enough to be able to attend the JALT National conference last week, held in Kobe.


I think this was my third JALT national conference, and strangely I think it was also the one I liked the most.

I say strangely because I actually came down with a bad cold on Thursday night, and spent much of my time in Kobe feeling hungover -despite not drinking a drop for the last couple of weeks! It was probably the least social conference performance I have put on for a while, only managing to speak to a few people and skipping all the social events.

The thing about JALT national is that it is so big that there is the potential to have all sorts of different experiences, depending on what you do and which sessions you go to. In the past I have felt the average quality of presentations at the national conference was not as high as the ones at smaller, more specialized conferences (like the Pan-SIG or the ER Seminar). There are also so many things going on (well over 20 simultaneous workshops in most time slots) that paralysis through too much choice is actually a real danger 🙂

So to sum up my experience of this year’s JALT national:

The Good

  • Kobe was great. An attractive, convenient, interesting city.
  • The venue was great too. Easy to get to and suited to purpose.
  • The keynote speeches were great this year. I saw three of them. Interesting and thought-provoking.
  • The cafe at the back of the EME was pretty good, fast and tasty (good iced coffee too).
  • Keith Folse was fantastic. Great speaker, and I’m really glad to have found his textbooks (we’re talking about introducing a writing course at TU). Here’s a video of his keynote in Korea in 2011.
  • The sessions I went to were almost all good.
  • I did manage to meet some new people and talk to some people I hadn’t spoken to for a while.

The Bad

  • Having a bad cold was not fun.
  • My hotel, due to lack of planning on my part, was on a different island to the venue, resulting in a 40-minute, three-train commute each morning. Oops.
  • The venue, while great, consisted of three buildings and it took me until the morning of the second day to get it straight in my head. Memo to self: go in on the Friday evening and figure out the venue.
  • I don’t like paying 2000 yen to rent a projector for my presentation, especially when they belong to JALT and were bought with donations from the SIGs… on top of the not cheap fee to attend the confenrence seems a bit much.
  • I missed a lot of people I had been wanting to talk to.

Things I learned

  • Lots of assumptions I had about bilingualism might not be true. Need to do a lot of reading.
  • Xreading has incredible potential. If they are able to do half of the things they are planning to, we might end up adopting their extensive reading system.
  • The Great Writing series looks incredibly interesting.
  • Communicating with parents may well be the key to a successful English school. Lots to work on.
  • Cambridge English might be okay as private language schools go (I have doubts sometimes) 🙂


Despite worries about the typhoon and how it would affect flights, etc. and that damn cold, this was a very smooth and enjoyable conference. I had a great audience at my workshop and ended up learning several new, pertinent things over the three days of the conference. The organizers and volunteers should all feel very satisfied and proud of themselves.

Anyone else make it to JALT National this year? What good things did I miss?

You missed the opening party! Was good fun and caught up with a load of people there.
I only got to one presentation. I wanted to go to more, but the EME was so far from the conference building I couldn’t pop back and forth.
Oh and you also missed Grant’s cockroach story. One of his best.

Hi Richie

Yes, I was in bed before the end of the opening party 😉

At least you had four hundred of your colleagues to keep you company in the EME!

Hopefully we can get Grant to tell his cockroach story in Tokyo later this month…

I unfortunately couldn’t make it this year. I have two quick questions for you though:
1) What assumptions about bilingualism do you feel are being challenged? Opening a bilingual kindergarten in April, so quite curious.
2) Where did you statement on communicating with parents originate from? We’re coming to the same conclusion and looking at online solutions that would make such communication easier.

Take care!

Hey Ryan

Might be seeing you on Sunday! The main bilingual assumption I had was that it was important to have certain environments/people defined as the minority language (for example, I only speak English to my granddaughter) but according to one of the speakers at JALT codeswitching between languages is fine. I’m not convinced and need more proof as my own experience growing up bilingual was an English-language home. It’s tough as the stakes are so high 🙂

The communicating with parents thing was from a JALT Junior workshop -all the examples seemed to be things that we aren’t doing very well at the moment!

I am sure it was lots of fun for everyone there but JALT needs to seriously think about what they offer to people NOT there. I like to attend conferences from under my stairs in Dublin. Why won’t JALT get round to streaming talks and interviews like IATEFL do? There were about 40 tweets from the entire conference hashtag. I think that they are really missing an opportunity to spread their wings. Big bad. I see next year’s conference theme is Conversations Across Borders. Hope they got it together for that. Just about to watch you talk on YouTube now though which I presume you recorded and put on line yourself.

Hi Patrick

Yep, recorded and uploaded myself. Took about ten minutes work.

I’ve brought this up time and time again at events I have been involved in: it is so easy to record and upload videos that I really don’t understand why the conferences don’t at least try to do so. The main objection seems to be that to do it properly would take several cameras and some editing… but surely it’s better to have the content available, even if the camerawork isn’t perfect?

I doubt we’ll see much from the JALT conference next year either, but hope to be pleasantly surprised 😉

We had some meetings with our students/parents earlier this year and pretty much heard the same thing–parents really want to know what’s happening in the classroom. Essentially, most of them don’t know what separates a good school from a bad school, so if you’re not communicating with them the good work you’re doing with their kids can be completely missed.

I’m starting to realize how important this is, and how bad we are at it 🙂


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