Drone delivery

I’m delighted to see that according to their C.E.O and founder, Jeff Bezos, Amazon is starting to experiment with drone delivery systems. Drones, in other words, which deliver your books and other goodies within half an hour of your ordering them.

No doubt the postal services of the world will be delighted. If Amazon can do it, so can the Royal Mail. You do not have to pay drones: they merely depreciate. Nor do they get bitten by dogs or require tipping at Christmas. Anything that brings us closer to the mechanoid Nirvana of total bot-delivery is clearly to be welcomed.

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English language teachers tend to think of themselves as more or less future proof. Skype, after all, is just a different sort of teacher-delivery system.

But perhaps it is not simply a question of how we distribute the English. It is entirely possible that we are already less than a generation away from in-ear simultaneous translators or something similar, but even if that is fanciful (and such thoughts usually are – including, it should be said, that of the Amazon drone) it is not inconceivable that at the very least the slightly musty and opportunistic notion of a language school might need a considerable rethink if it is to survive. It is not that everyone has learnt English, or will ever learn English, so much as that English is already learning to accommodate, so to speak, everyone.

For some years I managed a group of Moldovan software engineers, some of whose spoken or general English was rudimentary; but their technical English was better, and since most of our contact was through Skype, we developed a halting but very acceptable rhythm of communication which relied heavily on translation tools, clarification, and double-checking. They would have struggled to order a beer or talk about global warming, but they were never called on to do either.

We tend to think that there is no real substitute for being in a total English environment; but it all depends on your goals. If fluency as a goal is abandoned for different criteria of acceptability and effectiveness, if people are prepared to bolt cybernetic aids to their natural capacity and gradually adapt to an environment rather, than complete an education and then seek to apply it, then the days of the classroom-as-payload delivery system might, like the UPS van and the postal worker, be numbered.

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