A letter in last week’s Economist raises some interesting questions. Written by Arnold Packer, an ex-assistant secretary of labour in the US, it begins with an attack on Economist William Baumol’s often quoted: “Performing a Mozart quartet takes just as long in 2012 as it did in the late 18th century.” I can see a whole range of similar comparisons within language teaching. It possibly takes as long to learn a language nowadays as it always has despite all our new methodologies and even technologies. Or does it?

Packer says the Mozart example is over simplistic in that in the 18th century the quartet would have been performed to a small group in a drawing room wherease, more likely, in the twenty first century it will be performed in front of a large,paying audience, perhaps recorded and broadcast on the internet and probably extremely expensive to organise.

In terms of language teaching a lot has also changed, not least the nature of the language we may be teaching or that students may need to learn. Moreover, the present perfect may not have changed drastically in the past two centuries but in fact, from concordencing, our actual knowledge of how and where it is used has changed and our teaching and examples can be more informed and realistic.

The author’s main point is that even if we think not, “Technology improves outcomes, even though it may take as much time to amputate a leg or deliver a baby today as it did in the time before anaesthetics and antiseptics.”

I wonder if the above is completely true for language teaching. Does a youtube video or an IWB make teaching the present perfect less painless and infection free?


One Response to Infectious

  1. […] Enda Byrne asks how much effect technological advances and corpus data have had on language learning…. […]

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