A balanced view on technology and foreign language education


Following on from my posts on the future of EFL a few weeks ago, I came across this extremely readable and thought-provoking essay on technology and language learning. Well worth twenty minutes of your day.

30 May 2014, 8:07am
teaching technology


  • Welcome to the desert of the real

    The march of technology continues


    Microsoft announced a new product the other day: simultaneous interpretation over Skype.


    Also Google bought Word Lens last week and made all their products free. Check it out and blow your mind.

    How can this not impact language teaching and learning?


    Oh, and the Google robot cars are one step closer:


    29 Apr 2014, 12:28pm
    career technology


  • One Future of EFL?


    “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? 

    Site Problems


    Apologies if you tried to access the site over the last couple of days. One of the wordpress plugins I was using crashed the site, locking me (and you) out. It was my first web problem, and took me longer to fix than it should have (short version: should have asked web host provider for help first).

    We’ll be back to normal tomorrow!

    iPhone 5S in Japan

    iPhone 5s

    So we have a new iPhone coming out today, one that has finally achieved full market penetration -it will be available on all three major networks in Japan.

    I have owned two iPhones (a 3GS back in the day, and a 4S that I’m using at the moment). I will have paid off the 4S in a couple of months, so have been thinking about upgrading.

    I’m on Softbank, and they are running at least two special deals that may affect this decision:

    1. they will pay off any remaining payments on an iPhone 4 or 4S if you upgrade to one of the new phones
    2. they will set your monthly data charge at 4,500 yen for a year (a saving of 1000 yen or so off the standard rate for the LTE network)
    3. they will buy back your phone (I think mine is worth about 14,000 yen according to their program)


    Another factor is that I upgraded my 4S to run iOS 7 yesterday, and so far I am very happy with it. The battery seems to be holding up fine, it runs fast and does everything I want it to. I really like the new operating system, and it seems to be happy on my old phone.

    The new iPhone 5S has had some pretty good reviews, and is technologically interesting, but basically is not going to improve my life. The only thing it does that my current phone does not is provide an internet hotspot (like the iPhone 5).

    Doing some rough calculations, upgrading to a new phone is more or less cost neutral, at least for the first year or so. After that it will cost me about an extra 2000 yen a month.

    Verdict: undecided. I am going to wait a bit longer and see what the new phones are like. Quite a few people around me are planning to upgrade. I’ll also go in and talk to Softbank and get some accurate numbers off them.

    Has anyone got an iPhone 5S yet? Is it worth it?


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