“Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee” (John Donne)
I had an interesting conversation yesterday on Facebook. I was talking about the importance of financial literacy and how everyone should be saving for retirement or at least for an uncertain future. Some of the answers I got were along the lines of “I can’t afford to retire, so I will just continue working indefinitely”.
We’ve talked a lot on this blog about the coming jobs apocalypse and the conversation above got me thinking about how this will apply to teaching English as a foreign language.
I believe that within a relatively short amount of time, real-time translation and interpretation will be available to almost anyone. Auto-translate on websites is now a thing and voice recognition is accelerating thanks to projects like Siri. The inexorable progress of computer speeds and storage means that it is just a matter of (rapidly shrinking) time before good enough versions of these are on every mobile device.
At that point, what happens to foreign language education?
A few people will still need to develop foreign language skills, including diplomats or people who are planning to live in a foreign country. For pretty much anyone else, cheap and reliable automatic translation will meet their needs. In that situation,
- will parents still see a need for their children to learn English?
- will school systems still insist that everyone learn English and use it to determine educational rankings?
- will companies still encourage their employees to develop their language skills?
I don’t know how long it will take society to adapt to the new technological paradigm. It could take a long time for inertia and precedent to be overcome. But I do think that in the near future the current mass-market for EFL will likely disappear.
If you are an EFL teacher and more than ten years from retirement, how do you see your career progressing? Do you have a plan B?
That I can’t really tell you about yet
But more details soon. Soon!
How to teach reading
Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it to the Seminar, but I was aware of the book from there.
The reason I ended up reading it this week is because I visited SEG last weekend, and the book came up in conversation with Akio Furukawa. On the train back to Sendai I downloaded the Kindle version and read it in spurts and starts this week.
The one-sentence summary: it describes how teachers can help learners discover the joy of reading through a combination of free reading and counselling. It’s very similar to what the teachers at SEG do, which is what led to us talking about it and me reading it.
I enjoyed the book very much. I think it will appeal to teachers who like reading, teachers that believe in guiding students rather than teaching them, and teachers that believe in learner autonomy.
Miller writes from a US language arts perspective, but similar principles can apply to ESL and EFL contexts. The book is light and easy to read, with lots of examples taken from her students and other teachers. If anything, Miller relies a bit too much on Kraschen for academic support, but it doesn’t really detract from her message.
Highly recommended. 9/10
How do you help your students with reading?
The school year starts in April in Japan, and my university classes start next week.
In the first semester I’ll be continuing with the extensive reading classes according to the ER@TU system, as well as trialing the latest version of Dan E’s discussion curriculum. We’re hoping to write a discussion manual later in the year, similar to the extensive reading one. I think the content for this next manual will be even more ground-breaking and useful for teachers.
My focus for the first semester will be to get to know my students better and provide them with more personalized support. Right now I feel my systems are good, so the classes are decent, but the next step is to try to make personal connections with students.
With over 400 students this won’t be easy, but I think it’s worth trying.
What is your goal for the new school year?