The AILA 2021 World Congress report

AILA2021--the 19th World Congress of Applied Linguistics--took place virtually from August 15 to August 20, 2021. It was organized under the auspices of ANéLA, the Dutch applied linguistics affiliation, by a team of Groningen applied linguists, each with their respecitve roles: Prof. Em. Marjolijn Verspoor (Chair); Prof. Dr. Marije Michel (co-chair); Prof. Dr. Wander Lowie (Scientific Chair), Prof. Em. Kees de Bot (Plenary programming); Prof. Dr. Merel de Keijzer (Volunteers); Dr. Sake Jager assisted by May Wu (ICT); Dr. Rasmus Steinkrauss (Finances) and Dr. Audrey Rousse-Malpat (Social Program).

Originally the conference was to be held in 2020 as a live event, but because of the pandemic it was postponed to 2021. Early in 2021 it became apparent that a live or even a hybrid event was not feasible, and the decision was made to go all virtual, with only the Groningen team and volunteers present on site. However, several videos were made to welcome the delegates to virtual Groningen and the conference. Several of these can be seen on the AILA 2021 website (e.g., under the tab ‘Groningen’).

Despite (or because of) the fact that the conference was virtual, the number of attendees exceeded our expectation. There were 2180 registered attendees, signed up from 80 different countries and all continents: Europe 1180, Asia 396, North America 320, Oceania 64, and Africa 19. Most attendees indicated that their interests lay in investigating the learning and teaching of second, foreign or multiple languages. In addition, attendees were interested in psycholinguistics and social issues in languages, including the role of English in the world.

The AILA World Congress had traditionally consisted of mostly separate presentations, but to create more coherence, the Groningen team proposed to organize the congress in symposia in which ca. 250 organizers were responsible for their Call for Papers, vetting, programming and chairing. As the evaluations showed, the new symposia format was appreciated very much.

The change of the conference to a virtual environment was a great deal of work. All data had to be transferred to the Dryfta system, which needed to be adapted based on our needs and wishes. With 25 parallel symposia in the morning and afternoon for five days, it was difficult to keep it simple and make sure there were no time conflicts. The social program including yoga, a pubquiz and a virtual citywalk was, with support by Groningen University, hosted in Gathertown.

 In organizing this large event, professional help was essential. Because of the pandemic, Groninger Congress Bureau experienced difficult times financially and almost went bankrupt. Fortunately, GCB was taken over by a similar organization, Conference by Design, and until the end we had wonderful support.

The conference was evaluated thoroughly with a high response rate (570). On the whole the conference was evaluated very positively, including the choice of plenary speakers (watch the recordings of their talks here), the symposium format, the virtual environment, and the ability to interact through this medium. However, when asked what the preference would be for future AILA conferences, the overwhelming majority wants to attend live in a fully intertwined hybrid event. Moreover, the vast majority said they would actually attend the AILA 2023 conference in Lyon.

The AILA2021 team wants to thank its sponsors (including the CLCG), our amazing volunteers (most of which students and phd candidates at our faculty) and especially the Faculty of Arts, who supported the Groningen team as much as they could.