One of the most common questions I hear at teaching conferences these days, and one that attracts more interest than any other, is “What will AI mean for us as English teachers?”
Although the general mood I note among English teachers is as resilient and positive as ever - teachers are made of stern stuff, after all - there does also seem to be a general response of “Who knows?“ when the question is raised in a talk or session. Along with the natural fear that we all feel when it comes to the unknown, there is also great interest in any thoughtful response to the question, and I have found myself engrossed in many a fruitful debate on the subject over the past twelve months. So now I feel it’s time to add my own grain of sand to the debate...
To my mind, many facets of language teaching will be replaced by AI and robots in the coming years, but that is not something to fear. The more mechanical and technical side of teaching will necessarily be taken over by machines, since they will be able to do certain tasks faster and better, and therefore more efficiently, than we can as humans. This includes aspects such as lesson planning, materials design and creation and organizing tasks, among others.
So the important question has to be: what advantage do we have over machines? And the answer is simple. As humans, we are able to relate to other humans. And that is why, in my opinion: a) teachers will never be replaced by machines; and b) the future of language teaching lies in language coaching, as teachers gradually incorporate coaching skills into their skillset to provide learners with more personalised learning pathways. And further good news is that, as a result of machines taking over the more technical and technological tasks, we will have more time to develop and implement these vital skills.
Which skills am I referring to? Ones that many teachers already possess, even though they will most likely need to become more aware of them and hone them in order to have their learners benefit fully from them. They include: compassion, tact, empathy, active listening, asking powerful questions… the list goes on and on.
In summary, then, I see a bright future for language teachers with AI, since we will be able to use it as an ally in providing our learners with a more personalised, efficient and effective means of learning a language. We just need to be ready to adapt from traditional language teaching to the future of our profession: language coaching.