A review of an ELT stand-up comedy

If you asked me about my favourite workshop/presentation/plenary/keynote I’ve recently been to, I’d probably say that something that really struck a chord with me was the talk given by Péter Medgyes at the 25th P.A.R.K. Conference in Brno. There were many other great speakers at this particular event, including big names like Marjorie Rosenberg and Scott Thornbury, and they were absolutely fabulous. However, Péter Medgyes’s topic and the way he presented it resonated with me the most. Why? The answer is because it was full of humour, which, by the way, was the topic of his closing plenary.

Anyway, his morning presentation I’m referring to called Who is better: natives or nonnatives? was peppered with amusing stories and anecdotes. But why, apart from the fact that it was funny, was his talk more powerful than other speeches I’ve heard so far? The answer is – and now you have to excuse my impudence – because he is a non-NEST with a background similar to mine. What he was saying would hardly be replicable by speakers coming from different backgrounds. Also, I really liked the fact that his speech was tailor-made for a Czech audience as well as the global teaching community. His tongue-in-the-cheek remark that unlike Hungary, his native land, the Czech Republic is obviously not part of Eastern Europe – it’s actually Central Europe – really got me. This is something we Czechs are sensitive about so I really appreciated the fact that he included this into his speech. I suspect these are the little tricks with which you can easily wrap the audience around your finger. Is such a tactic artfully deceptive? Yes. Do I mind? Absolutely not!

His morning talk was, in fact, a description of a long and arduous journey of an L2 learner, which finally led to successful mastery of English. I felt that to a great extent, his experience is universal. In other words, the examples he provided were so similar to my own reality that it made me smile inwardly all along the way. Throughout his talk (as if almost inadvertently) he was constantly drawing the audience’s attention to various problematic areas we English learners grapple with, such as the tricky pronunciation of words like species or Los Angeles. What is more, all the examples he kept throwing at us were so skillfully embedded in his talk that it made me want to pay attention to every single word of his.

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I also liked his honest confession regarding his struggles with listening, particularly when interacting with native speakers. This is something we non-NESTs will never be willing to admit openly, let alone publicly. He also mentioned how disadvantaged we non-NESTs are in terms of L2 proficiency when compared to native speakers of English, especially when it comes to lexical areas such as metaphors, idioms and collocations. I believe this is something many non-NESTs avoid saying out loud too.

To conclude, this was a good, old-fashioned talk, in the best sense of the word you can imagine. It was so refreshing that I even skipped my sixth cup of coffee that afternoon. In fact, now that I think about it, it was a stand-up comedy rather than a serious talk about a burning ELT issue. Still, the impact it had on me was immediate and significant. I don’t know about the other people in the audience, but for me, the punch line was that humour is an essential part of successful instruction. Unfortunately, it’s often underestimated and even neglected – by coursebook writers as well as the teachers themselves. Most of all, this talk finally confirmed my assumption that non-NESTs can be as inspiring and influential as NESTs.



About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for almost 25 years and I still love my job. You can find out more about my passion here on my blog.
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3 Responses to A review of an ELT stand-up comedy

  1. Zhenya says:

    Hi Hana
    What a refreshing post! 100% with you on the idea that ‘non-NESTs can be as inspiring and influential as NESTs’.
    I wonder if a stand-up comedy could become a new genre of talks in ELT events? I am constantly in the search of new solutions (instead of plenaries as ‘information transfer’ kind of sessions, for example). To me, the more of the speaker him/herself there is in the talk, the more valuable the session would be. And memorable. And refreshing.
    Finally, I was thinking about the ‘artfully deceptive tactic’ of knowing something about the audience (their context and culture) would speak to my heart, too. It did actually, when Mark Andrews came to deliver a session in Lviv, Ukraine, last month and included Ivan Franko (a famous Ukrainian writer, poet, teacher, and more) into his examples and even slides. That’s what we do for students, right?

    Once again, thank you for writing about your conference reflections.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Zhenya. A stand-up comedy as a new genre of talks in ELT events? I’m in! 🙂 And by the way, Marc Andrews was at the 25th P.A.R.K. conference too (he’s a funny lad, isn’t he?).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sandy Millin says:

    Hi Hana,
    Having had about 3 hours sleep the night before due to our travels to the conference, I thought it wouldn’t matter if I fell asleep during Peter’s talk. However, as soon as it started I realised that wasn’t going to happen. His talk was entertaining, but also really made me think about just how little humour there is in a lot of the materials I use, and probably in my classroom in general. I’m not sure anything has changed yet (lack of real processing time in the interim!), but it’s certainly something I’ll think about more in the future.
    I also agree with your points about the examples he used – they were all highly relevant. This is why it’s important to have a range of speakers from a range of cultures, and not just people who have been flown in from elsewhere to impart wisdom.
    Good to see you, if only very briefly!

    Liked by 1 person

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