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Creating a World Class Virtual Conference for LSL Practitioners – a Q&A with AG Bell’s Global Listening and Spoken Language Symposium Co-Chairs

With the continuing COVID-19 pandemic limiting travel, AG Bell set out to adapt its annual Global Listening and Spoken Language (LSL) Symposium as a virtual event, which was well received this past summer. Planning is well underway to provide an improved virtual symposium in 2021.
From Left to Right: Jane Madell, Elizabeth Tyszkiewicz, María Fernanda Hinojosa Valencia

Written By: Melody Bertrand

With the continuing COVID-19 pandemic limiting travel, AG Bell set out to adapt its annual Global Listening and Spoken Language (LSL) Symposium as a virtual event, which was well received this past summer. Planning is well underway to provide an improved virtual symposium in 2021. We sat down with the co-chairs of next year’s symposium—Jane Madell, Elizabeth Tyszkiewicz, and María Fernanda Hinojosa Valencia—to preview what they expect and are planning for the AG Bell 2021 Global LSL Virtual Symposium, including more global networking, the challenge of refocusing LSL practice to be more inclusive of other languages, and what audiences will be present at this year’s event.

AG Bell: What are you most looking forward to at this year’s virtual symposium?

Elizabeth: I’m looking forward to meeting an even wider range of people than you meet in a face-to-face conference. I always enjoy networking at conferences and although we can’t be face-to-face, we can connect with colleagues all over the globe in these online occasions. And for me, that is going to be a new experience that I’m really looking forward to.

Jane: I’m really looking forward to inviting more people to learn about Listening and Spoken Language and understand how to manage children with hearing loss. We have many more countries represented than we have in the past, and I also see it as a wonderful opportunity for families of children with hearing loss.

Fernanda: I’m hoping that the accessibility is the same or even better! The conference will, again, be offered in English and Spanish via oral translation and (written) captioning. It was amazing to be able to attend to the 2020 Symposium from our own homes, and also to have the extra time to view the presentations afterwards. I hope we can bring back an online Exhibition Hall this year as I enjoy having all the providers together at the same place with their new products and being able to ask them questions.

AG Bell: What do you believe are the most pressing issues facing Listening and Spoken Language practitioners today, and how will the symposium address those issues, especially on a global level?

Jane: Everything we will offer at the symposium will be applicable globally because I think developing Listening and Spoken Language is universal. Of course the languages are different, the phoneme and sentence structures are different. But I have taught courses all over the world and everybody has the same issues and asks the same questions. The work itself is the same.

Fernanda: I agree, although I would also like to have more insight from a developmental point of view. We know a lot about how to build spoken language, but we have got a lot to work on regarding pragmatic skills that need to be built or further exploring aspects of theory of mind.

Elizabeth: The two pressing issues that come to my mind are, first, making high quality training and resources available to people who want them. I think we’re kind of sometimes working at the edge of our capacity to provide training so that more practitioners can become qualified to go out and do the work. So that’s one challenge.

The second challenge is the very Anglophone focus of all this work. The fact that we are not working enough in other languages even though Listening and Spoken Language is spreading worldwide. There’s an enormous need to recruit people who can bridge that gap between the pure Anglophone world and the rest of the world that also wants the knowledge, but needs to have it in languages that are appropriate for them. And that is a challenge.

Jane: I’m sure there will be programs that talk about how to provide services remotely. I anticipate that will be a big issue. I’m also hoping that we get some submissions about understanding hearing loss and audiology, such as how to know if a child is hearing well enough, how to know what you need to do to make a child hear better, the technical aspects before the therapy and language aspects. Because that’s not something I think speech-language pathologists or teachers of the deaf learn about in enough detail.

AG Bell: Can you preview what will be new and different from the 2020 virtual symposium?

Fernanda: We are looking into bringing new speakers who conduct research that we haven’t been able to access. Current research in terms of Listening and Spoken Language coming from different parts of the world. And since we are all growing and finding out things in our own corners of the world, I think hearing from them will be very helpful.

Jane: We’re trying to be more open about the people were inviting to be keynote presenters, as they are usually people who have U.S.-based NIH grants. We’re going to have some keynote presenters from other countries who are doing important work.

Elizabeth: I hope we can improve on networking because there’s a lot of connections that can still be made. I also think that providing people with a really good program is important. The symposium will be relevant, both to practitioners starting out and to experienced practitioners. The program will be relevant to people who speak English and to people who want the information, but perhaps work in a non-English speaking place.

AG Bell: Who should consider registering for the virtual symposium?

Jane: As it becomes known that we can offer a conference like this virtually, I’m hoping that more people attend and that we have more people attend who are interested in Listening and Spoken Language or teaching children who are deaf and hard of hearing to listen and talk. I think families need to know the same things I know as a professional, because then we can work together as a team. I also think families should know that even though the symposium is a professional conference, they’re welcome to come and listen.

Elizabeth: I hope to see a wide diversity of people from different countries. With the ability to provide language support, we can connect with people from different language communities. I think anybody who is either starting out in Listening and Spoken Language practice or wants to consolidate and widen their knowledge, every single one of those people should sign up because we’re going to put together a program which will be quite unique in terms of filling the learning needs of a wide variety of demographics.

This conference is unique because the theme is Listening and Spoken Language. There aren’t that many meetings that concentrate on pulling together the different strands that make up Listening and Spoken Language practice. So if you are involved with Listening and Spoken Language for children and young people with hearing loss, then this is the meeting for you. Even if the people on your caseload have different needs, come to this conference because you won’t find this information in the same integrated form anywhere else.

Fernanda: I believe that anyone interested in supporting the young population with hearing loss will find this to be an amazing learning space. I think everyone who is working with children who are deaf and hard of hearing should attend. Even if you were coming from another perspective, it’s always enriching to hear something different. I hope to see more people register from developing countries since we are in such need for information on current evidence-based practices in this area.

AG Bell: Tell us a little more about your backgrounds

Jane: I am an audiologist, speech-language pathologist, and LSLS certified auditory-verbal therapist. My clinical and research interests include hearing in infants and children, management of severe/profound hearing loss including hearing aids, cochlear implants, and remote microphones, and auditory processing disorders. I write the Hearing and Kids section of the blog. I continue to present, virtually, nationally and internationally on topics related to hearing loss in children.

Elizabeth: After over 25 enjoyable years spent mainly in children’s cochlear implant programs, as well as experience in education and in the voluntary sector, I now work as an independent trainer and mentor in auditory-verbal therapy (AVT) in the UK and in a number of other countries. I value the highly individual coaching interactions offered by work with caregivers and within mentoring relationships with aspiring AVTs. I continue to be fascinated by many aspects of children’s thinking and communication, and by their play. I never fail to learn something new from spending time with a wide range of parents and their children in different countries and settings.

Fernanda: I’ve been working in the field of hearing loss for 25 years now and am currently founder and director of the Aurea Lab Development Center based in Mexico City, where we support families in different Spanish speaking countries who want their children who are deaf and hard of hearing to develop listening and spoken language. My long-lasting collaboration with the John Tracy Center, as well as my academic background in the fields of neurolinguistics and education, are the basis for my strong belief on the importance of family, school and other social contexts for the development of listening and spoken language. I collaborate with national and international organizations and also present nationally and internationally on topics related to this field.

Join us in creating a diverse and unique online conference. There is still time to submit a session proposal, in English or Spanish, for the 2021 AG Bell Global LSL Virtual Symposium. Visit for details on how to submit your proposal by January 8, 2021.

Registration and additional information about the educational program will be available on the symposium website in early 2021.

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