A New Job

After nearly three years with the JET Program (or JET Programme for those speaking the Queen’s English), I have taken a new position as a lecture and technology specialist at International Pacific University in Okayama, Japan. Posts will be few and brief while I get started in this new position and move to my new residence.

In other news, the cherry blossoms are out in full strength this week! A gorgeous time of year in Japan.

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New AI Feats Just Keep Coming

A novel written by artificial intelligence made it past the first round of judging in a Japanese writing contest.

One interesting thing the article says is that the AI was given words, sentences, guidelines, yet it wrote the story autonomously. That seems somewhat contradictory to me.

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Encryption Backdoors for the Good Guys? No Such Thing.

On Last Week Tonight, John Oliver covered the importance of encryption and not allowing backdoors for law enforcement.

In short, there’s no such thing as a backdoor that will only work for the ‘good guys’. If there’s a tool or backdoor put in place to allow law enforcement or other good guys to bypass security measures, then that tool can be abused and / or replicated by ‘bad guys’ to do the same thing.

You can listen to John Oliver talk more about it. Warning: NSFW.

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The ROI for Learning a Foreign Language

An interesting Freakanomics podcast about the return on investment from learning a foreign language.

Interestingly, English speakers in the U.S. learning a second language garner, on average, a 2% increase in pay (it changes based on which foreign language one speaks). But non-native English speakers learning English as a second language have up to a 20% higher salary over those who don’t speak English as a second language.

But it’s not all about money, or is it? Give the podcast a listen and decide for yourself.

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Technology in the Language Learning Classroom

I recently came across The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages’ position statement on the use of technology in the language learning classroom.

In short:

 “There is currently no definitive research to I like to indicate that students will acquire a second language effectively through technology without interaction with and guidance from a qualified language teacher. (emphasis mine)

There is no way that one can learn a language to fluency (and we can argue about the meaning of fluency endlessly) without interacting in the target language.

Anecdotally:

I lived in a small city in France for six months. My French was weak at best when I arrived. After six months, I was dreaming and thinking in French. I hadn’t hit a point where I could say I was fluent, but my French language skills were greatly improved.

Compare that to my time in Japan. I have been here two and a half years, but I live in a small town of about 15,000 people. Sparsely populated, I have no neighbors. Despite living in Japan, there’s no one for me to interact with in Japanese on a daily basis – water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink. Despite my attempts to study from a book, without daily interactions, my Japanese has gotten worse.

I was speaking with a few members of the English department at a private university in my prefecture, and they were making similar observations. They have a growing student body and they are trying to get technology into the hands of their students. But without native English speakers at their university for English language learners to interact with, the students are going to suffer (and to be clear, they mean having native English speaking students in addition to the English speaking instructors they already have).

I think there needs to be a combination of a solid, book-learning, classroom base from where students can start, and then immersive or near immersive situations for students to live in in order to cement what they have learned and solidify their skills.

One can make the argument that English is the de facto world language. EFL students will need more than a surface understanding of English in order to be successful. And that means having teachers in the classroom and immersive experiences in the target language augmented by the use of technology to improve learning – not technology to replace those pillars.

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