David and Me

It was autumn 2008 and I was a young, fresh faced new MATESOL student. I was working in a job that I enjoyed at a “unigwon” in Seoul. I was teaching adults and college students in an intensive English program. There were many issues with the job and the program (which have been detailed at times on this blog) but on the whole I loved the job and loved working with adults and young adults. I was attending my first K0TESOL conference in a long time. I had just accosted met Scott Thornbury. I was feeling extremely enthusiastic about the field and my place in it. Then I saw David Graddol’s plenary and suddenly I was feeling less excited. I was downright nervous. My feelings were more along the lines of “What in the hell have I gotten myself into?” In the talk there was a lot of talk about demographics and probably even demography. There were charts. Lotsa charts. There was doom and gloom and a lack of hope, from what I recall. I remember thinking, “This is a sinking ship. Why would you get an MA in a field that will evaporate before your very eyes? This is just your  first term. Maybe you can consider this a sunk cost and escape while there is still time and still hope. This whole TESOL game is rigged and the peak is coming in 2010. That is awfully soon. Abort the mission! Get out while you can!” In the aftermath of Graddol’s talk I was seriously reconsidering my choice to get more deeply involved in the industry. It was as hilarious as it was shocking to me. How did I manage to not know that the field was crumbling? How did I not do the required research before diving headfirst into this MA? I remember thinking, “Really, Mike, you didn’t think to check on this stuff?”

2008-Poster-cropped (1)

A poster from the event that served as my introduction to David Graddol.

A week or after the conference I saw a chat between Mssrs. Thornbury and Graddol in which perhaps some of my fears were allayed a bit.  Graddol said he didn’t have much fear for those just starting out. He said that English teachers have always been changing and adapting and “English teachers have to be constantly transforming themselves and  reinventing themselves.”  The whole video of this discussion/interview is less than 3 minutes and is worth a look in my humble and not so scared opinion. It’s right here. Watch it.

Even if my fears were slightly assuaged, Graddol’s talk at K0TESOL had a big impact on me. To give one example, it actually gave me a bit of a push to get into teacher training. My thinking was if jobs figure to dry up teaching English to adults there will be more jobs training teachers  of younger learners (for a time at least). Watching his talk gave me the necessary nudge to pursue something I had been thinking about for a while. Perhaps I took his exhortation to transform to heart. By spring 2009 I was working as a teacher trainer full time. I was also immersed in English Next, a (free!!) book from Graddol (commissioned by the British Council) all about the trends of English all around the world. It is from 2006 and is thus a bit out of date in such a rapidly changing area but I still think it is worth a read or at least a flip through.

I hadn’t really thought about Graddol all that much for a few years (though of course some of the ideas and stats and charts came to mind from time to time) until this year.  Suddenly, there he was back in my life and on my radar. He gave big plenary/keynote type-talks at both TESOL and IATEFL this year. There was a #KELTchat on Tuesday discussing these recent talks. The preview for the chat (which has lots of good links including links to the talks themselves) is here and a Storified collection of the 12 hour (!) chat is here. I think the chat offers a nice variety of thoughts, questions, worries, wonders, explanations, beliefs, prognostications, and links.

Though my initial encounter with Graddol was one of trepidation I have to say that now seeing his charts and his ideas are like meeting an old friend. An old friend that when I see him, memories of a different and more emotional time come flooding in. I thank you very much for reading and I hope it was as interesting for you to read as it was for me to reminisce about. For now and perhaps looking ahead maybe I *should go ahead check out his book about profiling English in China.


  1. Christopher Collins

    Nice one, Mike. I remember all of that and sharing quite a bit of your thinking. The video also left me feeling a bit better at the time, and I remember really enjoying reading English Next. I hadn’t known about his book on English in China, but given that a significant majority of my students are Chinese, I think I’ll read that soon.

    • mikecorea

      Wow, I am so late in responding! I hope all is well, Christopher.
      Haha, yes that interview helped ease my concern a bit. That was good work to get that video recorded.
      I wonder if you have started the book on China? It might be in my future but not yet from here.

      • Christopher Collins

        All is well — had coffee with Scott T. yesterday. The book on China was really short and focuses on the Pearl River Delta/Guangdong Province. Maybe he should have left ‘China’ out of the title as it’s a profile of an area that’s culturally, geographically, and linguistically specific — lots of Cantonese speakers. Most of my Chinese students are Mandarin speakers, so the profile was less relevant to what I was interested in. Still, you can read it in an afternoon or two if you are interested.

      • mikecorea

        Hi Chris! Thanks for the response and the heads up on the Graddol book. Glad to hear all is well. I am now currently wishing I were in NY or at least somewhere on the eat coast. Enjoy the summer and hopefully I will talk to you soon!

        On Wed, Jul 16, 2014 at 10:39 PM, ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections wrote:


  2. laurasoracco

    Thanks for sharing that short interview, Mike! I’ve enjoyed reading a few chapters of Graddol’s work and seeing him speak, but this interview highlighted something I had not thought about before; Graddol seems to be saying that CBI is the trend in ELT. Am I right? *It is 10pm and I have been grading for a while, commenting at this time is kind of risky 😉

    Anyway, good to know you did not run away to find a new career!

    • mikecorea

      Hello Laura,
      I am just now getting around to catching up comments. April was a long time ago.
      I am not sure I saw the interview as saying CBI is necessarily the new trend. If I recall (and I can’t really re-watch now) he was saying that (English) teachers are always adaptable and will find ways of changing themselves and the field.
      I think younger and younger learners is one example of this and CBI as well. That is maybe just how I remembered it or how I toll it though.
      I am very glad I didn’t run away to find a new career too. 🙂

  3. Rob Dickey

    (All ego aside) I’m pleased that the KOTESOL conference team that I chaired back in 2008 was able to come up with a theme that excited the speakers we invited to speak about an important topic – what I prefer to think of as “ELT-assumptions.” It’s more than the teachers and the language (native-speaker or non-, Kachru’s Inner-circle, etc.), but who the students will be dealing with through English – when a Korean speaks with a Saudi in Bangkok, why should they assume that the Americans, Brits, or Aussies have it right? I’m not endorsing English as a Lingua Franca or any other intentional “dumbing down” of English, but instead that students need to hear lots of varieties, lots of accents, diverse grammars, without judging some as better or worse or “valid” – leaving all the judgmental stuff to the side, and just dealing with what’s out there, what they need to be able to deal with on the job and in their travels. For me, future was about “after the classroom” for learners, instead of positing the “here and now” as the basis for learning.

    • mikecorea

      Thanks very much for commenting Rob and a belated pat on the back for chairing that conference.
      I like your thoughts here. I would question your term of “intentional dumbing down” as applied to EFL, though.

      Wow, here we are more than 5 years later. Is this the future? What is different? What is the same?

  4. Pingback: A few scattered moments of 2014 and one thought | ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections

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