From March 26-28, I attended the annual Association for Asian Studies (AAS) conference in Chicago, made possible in part by a travel grant from the Berkeley Language Center.
This was my first AAS conference as president of the Council of Teachers of Southeast Asian Languages (COTSEAL), a position I will hold for three years. I also presented a paper on teaching political vocabulary in my Intermediate Khmer classes, as part of a panel on Language in Politics sponsored by COTSEAL.
The COTSEAL business meeting, which I was responsible for running, takes place at every AAS conference and at our annual COTSEAL conference in the summer. Attendance was disappointingly low at the AAS conference (it conflicted with the main AAS member reception, which featured free drinks, and several other Southeast Asia-related meetings). However, it seems that just the right people attended, because we managed to successfully create committees to oversee our two most important initiatives this year, our summer conference and a language lecturer training workshop (to be held at the Berkeley Language Center) including participants from around the country, to be held this September.
Attendance at my paper panel was much better than I’m used to at conferences: we had about 18 people attend our panel of three papers. My presentation was on the ways that I teach political and history-related vocabulary and grammatical structures to my Intermediate Khmer students, and in particular an application activity I use to get students to put the new vocabulary to use: class elections, including the formation of political parties, writing of campaign literature and speeches, all made in the target language, of course. The goal of the elections is for students to unseat the “evil dictator” currently running the Khmer language program (that would be me). Unfortunately, the elections activity isn’t used in my classes at UC Berkeley, due to the difficulties in getting students to engage in a long-term activity which requires meeting with other students outside of class hours, and to the fact that my three levels of Khmer classes don’t see themselves as a unified program.