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Brexit, school trips and AI in focus at ELT forum

Former Labour Party spokesperson Alastair Campbell has criticised Brexit for its impact on student exchanges and school trips to the UK. 

Former Labour Party spokesperson Alastair Campbell spoke at the International House Director’s Conference. Photo: The PIE.

The most useful languages to learn now could include Mandarin, Spanish and Arabic

Speaking at the International House Director’s Conference on May 9, the British podcaster said one of the “many” reasons he ‘loathed’ Brexit is the subsequent decline in the number of school and college exchanges. 

He also referenced recent ‘scandalous’ incidents of students on school trips whose visa applications were rejected by UK immigration as they do not hold EU passports, despite studying at French schools. 

It comes as youth travel groups launch a joint campaign appealing to the government to allow student groups to visit the UK on a single travel document.

Campbell spoke about the importance of language learning at the London event, discussing his own school trips to Belgium and Germany.

“I wasn’t fluent, far from it, but I got such a buzz from being able to understand the street signs, headlines in news magazines, menus, and to also hold basic conversations,” he said. 

He added that he regretted downgrading language teaching during New Labour’s time in office, saying the decision may have been ‘subconsciously’ rooted in “that very British arrogance which makes us think English is the global language and always will be the main language of business, trade, travel and diplomacy”. 

He said that the rise of China and relative decline of US and British power could change this, predicting that the most useful languages to learn now could include Mandarin, Spanish and Arabic.

The conference, which took place in London, also heard how AI technology and ChatGPT could change language learning, reflecting on Duolingo’s move to incorporate GPT-4 into its lessons, including creating chatbots that learners can ask questions to and receive instant answers.

“It won’t replace the teacher but would augment or support the teacher”

Discussing how schools can compete with a 24/7, low-cost ‘virtual teacher’, a panel talked about giving students immersive cultural experiences in-country and targeting younger students who need supervision. 

“It won’t replace the teacher but would augment or support the teacher,” predicted Jo Sayers, director at LearnJam. 

Reflecting on the conference, Emma Hoyle, managing director of IWHO, said, “Our network is made up of wonderfully talented individuals and it’s been wonderful to spend time with them all over the past few days, looking at different themes and feeling energised by ideas for our future.”

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