Developing the Conference Theme and Tracks

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AS A MEMBER OF THE PROGRAM COMMITTEE, I want to review the conference from the point of view of the organizers. Anyone who has ever been involved with organizing an event like this knows that certain organizational matters are inseparable from the actual academic content. First we had to develop a theme, and then we had to name the tracks for which papers were invited. I'll review both of these activities.

Theme: "Business through Language and Communication"

We wanted the theme of the conference to focus on the vital role of communication in the process of doing business. The wording, however, separates "language" from "communication." That is not to say that language is actually separable from communication--indeed, it most certainly is not; rather, the wording emphasizes that language is so significant that it should be studied in its own right and as a roleplayer in communication.

In multilingual Europe we are painfully aware of the importance of language--in fact, I should say languages--for communication. For anyone doing international business, foreign languages are crucial. This means that the teaching of foreign languages for international business is in the forefront of European business communication training and research. It thus befits the first ABC European Convention to have attracted papers focusing on the teaching of foreign languages for business communication. We wanted to encourage the participation of teachers of business English (i.e. English as a foreign language), business German, business French, business Swedish, business Russian. . . . We got these papers--and we are happy about it.

Another benefit that we are happy about is that we managed to bring together teachers and trainers of foreign languages with teachers and trainers of native speakers. We feel that by sharing their experiences and expertise, these two groups can learn from each other: "mainstream" business communication teachers and trainers benefit from being privy to the problems that non-native speakers have, as well as the influence of various mother tongues on international business communication; likewise, non-native speakers benefit from learning about research on the nature of various genres as used by native speakers.

Foreign language teachers and trainers still sometimes feel that learners cannot start using their newly acquired (though still deficient) language skills for any real business communication purposes until they have reached a certain level of "system knowledge" of the foreign language they want to operate in; that communication problems in international business are due to insufficient language skills of the non-native speaker; and that learning the language system--mainly grammar and vocabulary--underpins the communication process. Of course, it is true that if one communicator lacks even rudimentary grammar and vocabulary in the language (s)he is attempting to use, communication can, to say the least, be laborious. However, as we know, there is more to communication than grammar and vocabulary, and this awareness was forcibly brought to the forefront in many paper sessions.

Particularly interesting in this respect were the papers dealing with error interference. …