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 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 lots of 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?”

A week or after the conference I saw an interview/discussion 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 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 hearing 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. It has been interesting for me to think back to that time and I thank you for reading. For now and perhaps looking ahead maybe I *should go ahead check out his book about profiling English in China.

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