“Oh, it must be wonderful to be educated. What does it feel like?”

“It’s like having an operation,”  said Treece. “You don’t know you’ve had it until long after it’s over”

(Eating People is Wrong – Malcom Bradbury)

Isn’t that true? Aren’t the best learning experiences the ones which you have time to absorb, reflect upon, digest? Perhaps the ones which click into place a year later, ten years later? What worries me is that we no longer have time to reflect. If an afternoon with a good book is a long look in a full-length mirror, is the internet a glimpse caught in a shop window on a pell-mell dash through a shopping mall? Maybe I strangled that metaphor…..

But it seems to be something of a ‘meme’ in the twitterverse / blogosphere at the moment. I’ve been thinking about this post for a while, but noticed others pop up with the same message over the last week or two. Maybe a lot of people are reaching the same point at the same time. There’s a very nice little graphic (and post) from Jeff Utecht which shows the stages of Personal Learning Network adoption.

Cresting that wave now, I think.

Alex Case asked me a couple of questions in his recent interview which I think are pertinent. The first was (a tongue in cheek) query as to whether I wanted to become the next Scott Thornbury. Well, the reason someone like Scott Thornbury becomes an ELT superstar (stop sniggering at the back) is through quality work over many years. His online presence is another outlet for that. Alex then asked “Do you think it is still worth getting published on paper?” The phrasing itself gives away his feeling, perhaps. But I absolutely think it is… and I worry that the amount of time I spend online is detracting from “real” research, “real” reading and “real” writing.

Bear in mind that I am blogging this, and I will tweet my new blog post, and I understand the irony in that. I have commented on several other blogs today, and got a great deal out of reading them. But I’ll just finish with this second quote from a book I am reading and enjoying at the moment…

“Well, that’s the lot of people like us. We abstract ourselves from the sphere of national effectiveness. We’re too busy taking notes to do anything… and the fault lies precisely in the things we value most”

So, are we all wasting our time? Deposit kickings in the comments box below and regular, classroom based discussion will resume soon.

I wrote this for my first year university students, who are taking their final classes with me this week. But it struck me that it fits very well with the reflective / anticipatory turn-of-the-decade feeling in the ELT blogosphere at the moment, so I thought I’d post it. There are some exercises at the end, and if you would like to answer the questions for us, or share your message to your future self, I might do the same….

1. Spring, 2. Summer, 3. Autumn, 4. Winter

What happens in one year?

In one year, the earth will make one revolution of the sun. It is long enough to create and gestate a human being. There are three hundred and sixty five days in a year, in which time you will blink about eight million times. They say that you eat eight spiders in your sleep in the course of a year, but I think that’s just an urban myth. However, I also heard that about 230,000 tons of natto are eaten in Japan in one year, and I do believe that.

The average Japanese employee will work one thousand eight hundred and twenty eight hours between now and next January. Shockingly, nearly one million people in this country are killed or injured in road accidents every year – something to think about if your cellphone rings while you are driving or riding a bike.

Of course Japan, like many other countries, will go through four seasons. The icy chill of winter, the life-giving spring rains, the sweltering heat of the summer and the crunch of dry leaves in autumn. Depending on where you are, you will receive between one and two thousand millimetres of rainfall in a year. You will also experience about one and a half thousand earthquakes, although you won’t notice most of them.

What I am trying to express is that a lot of things happen in a year. When you were a child,  a year was an unimaginable period of time. Some years may be uneventful, some may be thrilling, some tragic. But they will all, in real terms, be about the same length. You are just finishing your first year at university. What kind of year has it been?

What were the best and worst years in your life so far? Which was the most eventful year?

Which day in the last year stands out for you?

How did you feel in January last year? What were you doing?

What are your predictions, hopes  and goals for the coming year?

Write an email to your future self. Maybe you want to explain your feelings now, offer some encouragement, scold yourself, or just say ‘Hi!’. Then go to this website  and send the email,  to be delivered one year from today.

Some eye-openers….

In 2003 an estimated 1500 Master’s programmes were offered in English in countries where English is not the first language.

In 2005 about 20,000 American schoolchildren were receiving e-tutoring support from India.

More than 60% of transnational companies see China as the most attractive location for R&D

A study in 2000 found that over 300 languages were being spoken in the schools of London.

74% of interactions in English do not involve a native speaker of English.

More of a report than a book, Graddol manages to cover an incredible breadth and scope of  research and uses it to provide pithy and well-considered analysis. If only more academics could be so concise….

The mobility of people, money and information has been increasing since the nineteenth century. Are we reaching a point at which English becomes ubiquitous, and it’s teaching unnecessary?

Several basic assumptions are challenged as Graddol tries to make sense of the state of the world now and in the past, in order to posit his predictions. One is the accepted history of English as a hero, battling the French and coming out triumphant (history filtered through the lens of the nineteenth century empire builders). Another is the modernist idea of history as constant change – he suggests that we are in a transitional period, a shift, which started with the industrial revolution and is still underway. These ways of looking at globalisation, as both a cause and effect of international English, help us to see where we are going. This is a debate which needs the heat slapped out of it with the cold hand of reason.

In the next section, Graddol focuses on the past and present of English teaching. The EFL tradition, he informs us, is designed to produce failure; pedagogically in it’s unrealistic aims of native-like pronunciation and grammatical accuracy, and socially and politically as a gate-keeping device to keep people ‘outside’. ESL, ESOL, CLIL, and especially ELF, all get more favourable feedback in the acronym soup race.

For teachers, Graddol’s policy implications are sobering, terrifying, exciting and / or liberating. But they are perfectly believable. Native speakers are a hindrance to the growth of English. By 2050 there may be very few English learners at all, besides the very young or those with special needs. Bilinguals will not be at an advantage; Rather, monolinguals of ANY language will pay the penalty.

The conclusion is this – this is a time of great opportunity, which could just as easily be buggered up by those shaping decisions. The time is certainly done for old fashioned quibbles about which variety of English we should be teaching. That ship has sailed, mate!

Don’t take my word for it. Two great things this book has going for it before you crack it’s metaphorical spine. First off, it’s short. But better than that, it’s free to download. Go and read it now and come back and comment when you are done.

(Update – 26/4/2010: Comments disabled due to huge spammage! Please email darrenrelliott@gmail.com if you have anything to add!)