At IATEFL Cardiff earlier this year, Rob Lewis of the British Council asked me about my career and my views on English language teaching, including the role technology has to play

At IATEFL Cardiff earlier this year, Rob Lewis of the British Council asked me about my career and my views on English language teaching, including the role technology has to play.


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I really enjoyed the video interview. A minor snag: I couldn't access 7 and 11, but there were plenty of others to give one food for thought.
Two questions arising from this:
1) Did you really answer these questions off the cuff, or were you prepared for what was going to be asked?
2) How far do you think that what you say applies primarily to English as the world language that almost everyone on the planet wants to learn? To put it another way - What developments do you see on the technical side which will  benefit (or otherwise) the learning of minority or even of almost obsolete languages? Will there be more or less diversity in the "other languages" people end up speaking? How will the technologies affect the incidence of bi- or trilingualism?
I realise that there might be some "political" aspects to my question, but it's something I often wonder about.

Thanks for pointing out the problems with clips 7 and 11 Diana. They should be working OK now.

Hi Gavin,
A beautifully answered question no. 9. :-) Thank you for that, I love it.
A question I would love to ask Gavin is this...
What is the biggest challenge you have experienced during your teacher training courses?
I have heard lots of comments by Gavin on the challenge on "how to motivate teachers to adopt technology". Yet 'once converted' what would be real interesting to hear is from you that during your courses (when all of the teachers are already willing and open) what hurdles there are yet to be overcome and what is still 'suprisingly difficult'.
Rgds Heike

Heike,Good to see you over here, and thanks for the comment! Well (as many would point out) there are many challenges when teacher training in the use of technologies. You have the more mundane ones of the electricity going off occasionally, and the Net connection failing too (try a satellite net connection on a cloudy, rainy day outside Moscow, as one example!) and then you have bigger challenges...In my travels I've worked with people who were already very au-fait with technologies, and with people whose nearest encounter with a computer before meeting me was a photo of one in a magazine. There are always challenges of confidence, of support - trying to convince people that really, you can't break computers and that turning them off and on again is fine. So that's one side: comfort levels with the technology itself.The biggest issues I encounter are ones of connecting the dots between pedagogy and technology, which is always a source of lively debate and much head-scratching - and of helping people past the "that's all very well for you, Gavin, but it would never work for me" phase! Then other issues of control (school principals not giving teachers leeway in what they do), teaching to exams, demonstrating that the use of technology can be educational as well as (sometimes) 'fun' , etc.But of course you're right, I'm often (though not always) preaching to the converted. And whilst they're usually converted in terms of interest and excitement, they're often caught up with some of the issues I mention here. I think my job has evolved beyond showing people HOW to do things to helping them see WHY these things might be a good idea.Of course the skills work is still there (though much less than it was years ago), but now it's more about fitting tech into people's practice in a way that they feel comfortable with, and that they feel will be of benefit to their learners.Does that sort of answer the question? Gavin

Diana,Thanks for doing the technical testing (and thanks to Rob and team for a swift resolution to the issue) and hope you've been able to see the whole thing now. Let me do the easy question first...A little before you're videoed, the nice man from the BC sends you a list of possible questions and you decide which ones interest you (I hope I'm not giving away trade secrets here). And so I did that - sent back the list marking ones I'd be happy to answer. But I didn't actually prepare any answers or even give them any more thought until we sat down to make the video. So whilst I had a vague idea of what was coming, I didn't really have answers prepared...Now, the difficult question. A couple of recent developments point the way there: the first is that the people who look after the basic structure of the Internet have recently approved domain names (like this one here - in languages other than English, which will make the Net more user-friendly for many people; the other is that I read only yesterday that within the next five years English will no longer be the dominant language in terms of content on the Net. These are small pointers as to how things are changing.I know of many interesting 'minority language' projects going on, from serious games applications being used to teach endangered North American Indian languages to young people, to people working in virtual worlds such as Second Life offering courses in Tibetan, and many, many more I could mention.Of course English is still the dominant language in many spheres, but this isn't a reflection of what technology can or can't do, really. I do believe, however, that technology has (old-style technology) played an important part in preserving endangered languages over the past few decades.As a teacher, you'll find more content, tools and software in English, of course. But this is changing slowly as more countries get connected, more people get skilled and more enter the 'knowledge economy'. I'm afraid I don't know what the current trend is in language diversity, but I don't see why technology couldn't play a useful part in widening access and learning opportunities.More young people, as they grow up more connected, are undoubtedly getting more exposure to English as they grow up, so incidental partial bilingualism may be there - though I suspect the puristss may not like the kind (or quality) of language people may be learning online!A grand question though, and food for thought - so thank you very much. I will wander off for dinner and ponder on it a bit more!Gavin

I liked the video, especially the way you answered the question 10 about a threat for ETLs to become obsolete in future. I do think computer technologies can't substitute the teacher, his personality, warmth, charisma, being encouraging and caring. But this threat isn't groundless. On the one hand, it would be unnatural to prefer machines to people. (I've just remembered The Terminator).I know some colleagues, who think that learning on-line is a sort of a Holly Grail quest, and they would rather prefer to resign, than to do that.  On the other - the number of young people spending most of their time in front of their comps is constantly growing. My colleague's son leaves his computer domain only to fetch smth. from the fridge. In real life he's absolutely helpless. He neither works nor studies. No thoughts or talks about future.So, an old generation (computer-indifferent) is passing and a new one (computer-addicted) is coming.Shall we all have to become online trainers? 

Lenusia,Welcome - and thanks for taking the time to watch the interview. I think many teachers feel threatened by technologies, and often for good reason: they see their traditional boards being replaced by interactive whiteboards (with little warning and no training), they see their hours cut as institutions turn to blended modes of delivery, etc. This is happening all over the world.Recently my colleague Nicky and I were approached by a reputable university with the following query: we want to reduce our contact hours in English by 50% and still have the same exit levels - how do we do it? And the answer is that probably you don't - or it's with great difficulty. Cutting people's hours by 50% and sticking them in front of a computer for the other 50% is not an answer. You'll usually hear me talking about teachers working with technologies with their learners, rather than learners interacting with dumb terminals in computer rooms.I think Net access, as an example, can really enhance classroom activities - when used properly by an experienced and creative teacher. I also think that *some* work can be done on computers outside class time, but I seriously doubt that you'll get the results that particular university wanted!However, those people who control budgets often look on technology as a cheap option, and it is, if you do it badly. To do it properly takes a lot of money, a lot of time, and trained professionals.As for your colleague's son, well, I also have opinions (you'll not be surprised to hear, I guess!) on that. And my opinion is that his parents should ensure that he has more of a balance in his life. Kids need to acquire these computer skills, for sure, in order to enter what is fast becoming a more knowledge-based society - but they also need to run around outside and get exercise, meet up with friends, watch a bit of television, eat good food (and the occasional piece of junk), socialise, read.... Really, that kid needs some balance in his life. I'd put a lock on the fridge door and encourage him to get a part-time job to buy his own food occasionally, and I'd kick him outside into the sunshine to play football or something. Even with his computer skills, if he does no work and no study, he doesn't have much of a future to think or talk about!Gavin

Dear Gavin, Well, in a way I was relieved to read that the questions were not completely sprung at you! It makes you just a little bit more human when I hear that you did at least choose those topics you could relate to before coming up with all those brilliant answers. I really mean it! Your answer to my query as to how modern technology might affect learning or even speaking languages other than English in a global context was also very interesting. It has made me reflect further : On things like "Facebook" a lot of posters tend to switch around in various languages according to which friend they are chatting with at that moment, often using vague approximations of "correctness". Does this mean that the new generation is getting used to writing a second or further language (but imperfectly) to a greater extent than was the case say,  20 years ago? Diana

Diana,Technology may be incidental in all this. I live in Barcelona, where most people grow up speaking both Spanish and Catalan. I also have a lot of friends who speak English. At dinner parties and social events it's not unusual to hear all three languages being used interchangeably amongst guests, and occasionally a fourth one thrown in for good measure (French, perhaps...). This is quite normal to me and my social group, and has very little to do with technology.At the same time, it would be difficult for me to replicate in real life some things that technology affords - a good everyday example for me would be the ability to meet up with a group of people from around the world, speak the languages I know, listen to others I have a vague idea about, and not worry about the other ones floating around me. This happens to me in Second Life quite a lot, and these encounters have had a positive effect on my (almost dead, at the time) Portuguese.So I switch between languages, often choosing the wrong one due to my assumptions. I once interviewed a man called Xavi for a job, and I did so in Catalan (since Xavi is the Catalan version of the Spanish Javier). The same day I interviewed a guy called Antonio (and I did that interview in Spanish, thinking that if he was a Catalan speaker he'd be an Antoni, or a Toni. I guessed wrong both times, but the people were polite enough to play along with me and only tell me later, after I'd hired them and continued to use the wrong language with each of them.For me, then, it's not unusual to see and hear this language switching all the time. That more and more people are in a position to do this using tools such as Facebook strikes me as a very good thing indeed. As to the fluency or accuracy of the people you're referring to, it probably only matters to language teachers - they probably find they can communicate relatively well with their limited knowledge and don't worry about the kind of things we worry about.Every time I hear people talking about writing or speaking 'imperfectly' I'm reminded of a close family member of mine (herself a gifted linguist, indistinguishable from the real thing in French, and almost the same in German) who took a few Spanish lessons and then launched into conversations every time she came to visit. I used to help out at the start, but I've seen her have very complex conversations with a pretty poor grasp of grammar and a fairly small vocabulary through the usual combination of a few laughs, a desire to communicate and helpful people to talk to. I think, really, we're the only ones who are hung up on the 'finer points' - I'm sure millions of people communicate imprefectly via technologies every day and have a very fine time doing it!Gavin

Accuracy or correctness is a fine goal when teaching and learning in anything like an academic context, but it can end up being a means until itself - or (at worst) a handy way of scoring and evaluating people in exams.
I really admire people who refuse to be hung up about all this and just start communicating, whether orally or in writing. As a language teacher, I just can't - or rather I did manage to only once, when I found myself in a Hungarian hospital with a burst appendix and ended up "talking" to fellow patients and doctors in a language I didn't think I knew...
The funny thing is, if you really HAVE to (or really want to) communicate, it's surprising how far the absolute basics of the local lingo can get you.
 Exactly my point re. Facebook and co.
I'll sign off now to give other users a look-in !


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