As if there weren't enough challenges facing the EFL profession - we are surely a dying breed!
More and more young people in non-English-speaking-countries seem to absorb English though a process of osmosis - although no doubt teachers from the Gymnasiums of Germany to the Kindergartens of Nepal would contend that they alone are responsible for this triumphant achievement . The global dominance of English language television programmes, the role of the internet (show me a child who needs to learn the word 'Windows') and the use of social media (to rephrase my previous question: who doesn't know the two words Face and Book?) have all meant that English is the gateway to the world. Whilst our children struggle with the abstract technicalities of German grammar - in the sure and certain knowledge that when they arrive in a Berlin nightclub, most people will be fully operational in English - children from non-English speaking countries embrace the opportunity that spoken English offers and just do it.
But now, dear Reader, yet another of our skills is under attack. Writing. It would seem that we are facing competition from robots. The Robo Writer has arrived and to be honest he (it?) makes a pretty good job of it. At present these robo-journalists are most active in two fields: sport and finance. This is because large quantities of data are involved, and algorithms plus so-called 'natural language generators' can create sentences that are indistinguishable from those written by real people. Let me give you an example from the world of finance:
Optimism surrounds Costco Wholesale, as it gets ready to report its second quarter results on Thursday, March 5, 2015. Analysts are expecting the company to book a profit of $1.18 a share, up from $1.05 a year ago.
Thursday before the markets open, Costco Wholesale Corp. will report its fiscal second-quarter earnings. Thomson Reuters has consensus estimates of $1.18 in earnings per share (EPS) and $27.7 billion in revenue.
I couldn't say which was robot generated and which was written by a dedicated journalist plying his ancient craft. OK, I agree, they both seem pretty formulaic but for your information, the first is from an article generated by the Narrative Science platform, while the second was written by a real flesh-and -blood Wall Street journalist.
If this presents a potential job-killer for the journalist the same could be said for the poor EFL teacher. We have already accepted the spell-checker but this is a wholly new dimension. This Robo Writer doesn't even make grammatical mistakes.
I ask myself if we EFL teachers are needed any longer - and now I ask you, dear Reader, if you think I wrote this myself or if - alongside lots of other blog entries written to satisfy the everlasting appetite of Google for that mysterious 'content' - this was written by a Robo Content Generator?
It's your call.