IH Young Learners Conference 2019 in Belfast

On the plane to Belfast the team sat going through the last few details of the IH Young Learners Conference 2019. We wanted to make sure everyone enjoyed the event and found it productive, useful and interesting. We had a full schedule of brilliant speakers, and our hosts IH Belfast had worked hard to get everything ready. We were hoping for a successful event…

On the first night, we had welcome drinks at IH Belfast. When we arrived, we saw a sign that said we were in the right place, but it was all very quiet. Then we noticed a wardrobe ahead of us, and like in The Chronicles of Narnia, we had to enter through its doors in order to get to the welcome party.

After pushing past the many various coats in the dark tunnel of the wardrobe, we emerged to find IH staff and friends welcoming us with big smiles and mulled wine. Paul McMullan, Director of IH Belfast, was pouring his own beer for all participants to sample. The welcome was impressive, with the team from the school going above and beyond to make everybody feel welcome. During the evening, participants really felt the warmth of the Irish welcome, with one commenting, “I loved the Narnia themed welcome drinks party. So much thought and effort had been put into it.”

Even after the first few hours, there was already a feeling of being part of a community, sharing, spending time with your peers, and understanding that struggles can be the same, no matter whether you’re in Spain, Russia or Thailand.

On the first day, Friday 22nd November, we were looking forward to welcoming all the fantastic plenary speakers: Alex Thorp, from Trinity College London; Malcolm Mann, from Macmillan Education; Kay Bentley, from Cambridge University Press; Jen Dobson, freelance author, trainer and consultant; and Nick Bilbrough, from the Hands up Project.

Friday started with Henry Tolley speaking about LanguageCert’s suite of exams for YLs, then delving into some psychology with Alex Thorp, who challenged us to think about many different theories. Kay Bentley spoke about how we can integrate CLIL and ELT; Malcolm Mann had a new take on language and metaphor; Jen Dobson talked about integrating soft skills and VYLs; and then Nick Bilbrough told us more about the inspiring Hands Up Project. It was a full day of varied topics and speakers. As one participant commented, “The sessions were excellent, and the speakers were extremely friendly.”

On Saturday, the second day of the conference, we had IH speakers from all over the world sharing best practice and ideas. There were three tracks of sessions, so participants could tailor their day by choosing the most relevant talks. Luke Meddings, co-founder with Scott Thornbury of the Dogme in ELT movement, beautifully wrapped up the whole conference by bringing all the info together in a beautiful reflection

When asked what the highlight of the conference was for them, participants responded by saying:

“As always, I enjoyed the chance to meet my colleagues from around the world and share ideas and best-practices with them. I also really enjoyed the seminars on fostering creativity with teenagers!”

“As always, the whole experience of coming together with colleagues from across the network to share ideas and communicate. Practical sessions were the ones that were particularly useful or sessions which provided practical steps to exploring ideas.”

The conference ended on Saturday evening at the Belfast Activity Centre, where there were some fun (and scary!) activities lined up. We jumped off the Vertical Challenge (10m high!) and the Leap of Faith, as well as going through their artificial cave which has three large caverns, two rivers, a waterfall and over 200m of twisting tunnels.

We couldn’t say goodbye to Belfast without experiencing some vibrant Irish music and dancing! One of the participants said, “The evening events were excellent. Very thoughtfully planned as a great chance to get to know the school and the place, as well as lots of opportunities to network and chat.”

On Sunday, IH Belfast organised a trip to the Giant’s Causeway. They say it was the stomping ground of the giant Finn MacCool, who lived in the area nearly 2,000 years ago. This spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Site is steeped in myths and legends. One of the attendees said, “For me the Sunday trip was absolutely wonderful, every part was huge fun and it was a lovely opportunity. I've been on some lovely walking tours before, but this one was the best one ever.”

Much praise came in from participants for IH Belfast, who did a superb job in hosting the conference and ensuring everyone had a good time. Glenn Standish from IH Torun said, “Dear IH Belfast, thank you so very much for all your hard work and effort in helping make this year's IH YL Conference the great success that it was. You are an amazing team! Well done!”

And, last but not least, it was lovely to receive this beautiful comment from Vicki Rabicano, Academic Manager at our recently affiliated school, IH Torquay:

“Despite being long in the tooth and having been a delegate at many tens of conferences over the years, I have to say that this was the best I have ever attended. Firstly, the atmosphere was incredibly welcoming and inclusive; everyone had a mindset for sharing ideas and being supportive of colleagues in the industry. This is particularly important to ensure that first-time attendees make the most of their experience, and also for involving practitioners from far afield, whose first language might not be English. I particularly relished the opportunity to share ideas with delegates from around the world. The organisation of the event appeared seamless as an attendee (and as someone who has been involved in organisation too, I know how challenging this can be – so thanks to the IHWO team). The sessions themselves hit that particularly-hard-to-achieve balance of practical ideas and academic underpinning, which catered for teachers at all stages of their careers. Lastly, the evening programme was also most enjoyable and flavoured with the wonderful hospitality that Ireland is famous for – there wasn’t a feeling of ‘enforced jollity’ that I have experienced at other, similar, events. Thank you for making my first IH conference such a memorable one – and I look forward to attending many others in the future!”

In true IH style, the flow of ideas which our founder John Haycraft often spoke about was precisely the spirit of this event. Ideas are shared, spread, then flourish. And now we are back in our office and looking at this video brings back some many lovely memories.

Thank you IH Belfast, thank you to all the participants and speakers who made this event a success!

A special thanks to our conference sponsors: Trinity College London, Macmillan Education, LanguageCert, Cambridge University Press, National Geographic, and guard.me for supporting learning through education.

- Giuliana Faldetta and Xana de Nagy, IHWO