“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?