Then, now...and next?
Today I'd like to share with you a blog from Hamish, a former BBC Learning English producer, who founded the BBC Learning English website back in 1996. This week, as we celebrate 80 years of the World Service (you can read more here), Hamish thinks about the past and wonders about the future.
Carrie asked me to look back at my 30 years in English teaching at the BBC. I'll start before that, with my first lesson as an English teacher. In Burundi, Central Africa, in September 1969. The classroom had 40 desks, open windows, an iron roof, and a shiny, uneven blackboard. And chalk - though this ran out from time to time. The pupils were keen, learned fast, and could mimic me brilliantly. You don't need technology to teach. But students need to enjoy learning.
When I joined BBC English by Radio and Television (as BBC Learning English was then called) I found a vast range of modern teaching tools to use - at least, modern in the 1970's. Short Wave radio. Stencil and spirit copying machines for scripts. (No photocopiers of course - they came later.) And 8mm films of the department's television programmes - black and white and - wow! - colour. Moving pictures plus sound - a great resource, as I tried to demonstrate to groups of teachers. The trouble with film was that if you tried to freeze-frame for too long, the projector caught fire!
Then, along came video - despite assurances from experts that this new technology would never be used in classrooms. Philips 1500, V2000, Betamax - and eventually the standard format, VHS. The BBC series Follow Me combined TV, radio books, audio and video cassettes. Most importantly, underlying the project was the recent Council of Europe language framework, Threshold Level. This analysed language in new ways, looking at functions - what the language was doing - and not just its structure.
Around 1992, a cousin of mine came over from the USA and introduced me to the internet by plugging a small computer into my aunt's phone socket. (Much to her surprise.) You could communicate with people anywhere, and read pages of grey text on a grey background. There wasn't much chance of ever getting sound or video on the internet - but, like film, it seemed to have great possibilities for teaching. And, in March 1996, we launched the BBC's first English language teaching website. Four months later, during the BBC English Language Summer School, we made one audio file available, and soon afterwards started an email discussion group. And then learned how to put video on the web. And, a few years later, tried mobile phones.
Next year, BBC Learning English will celebrate its 70th birthday - the first BBC English language teaching broadcast was on 4th July 1943. Let's look a bit ahead. How do you think people will want to learn English by the year 2050? What type of English? And, most importantly, is there anything around now - in technology, linguistics, psychology and so on - that might grow in importance by then?
Mimic - imitate (here, for amusement: I had a habit of saying "Right...ummm....errrr...now..." and the pupils had great fun copying me)
Spirit copying machine - a machine for producing a limited number of copies of a typed or hand drawn document. Also known as Banda machines. The spirit is the alcohol based ink used.
Freeze-frame - to pause a film or video on one frame or individual image
Function / structure - A language function is what you do with language - for instance, "Requesting someone to close the window". The different structures used to do this may include: "Is that window open?" (Question), "Shut the window" (Command) and "That window is letting a lot of cold air into the room" (Statement)
Background - in the early 1990's many web pages had no colour, just different shades of grey
Email discussion group - the bbc-elt discussion group, launched in January 1997, used email to allow learners to discuss topics with the help of a moderator