British Council, U.K.

Dr Johanna Motteram is an experienced English language teacher and an English language assessment specialist based in Singapore. She collaborates with British Council colleagues in the region to deliver evidence-based programs to support English language learning and test preparation and provides advice on assessment related problems to schools and other stakeholders. Her research interests include the assessment of writing, the impact of high-stakes English language testing and effective instruction of Halliday’s Interpersonal Metafunction.


Presentation Title:

Human Language in an Age of Disruption: Nurturing Critical Skills for a Dynamic Labour Market


When considering the disruption the 4th Industrial Revolution has brought and may bring to our work lives in the future, it is important to emphasize the fundamental qualitative difference between humans and computers. Humans can be thought of as social meaning making machines (Halliday, 1978), while computers are in essence counting machines. The ramifications of this distinction are profound, particularly for our practice as English language teachers. As we face a future where machine translation and artificial intelligence will change our contexts of language use, ensuring that we support our learners to develop human language skills has never been more important than it is now. This paper explores the essential distinction between social meaning making and counting within the context of ongoing challenges in the field of ELT. First, validity questions related to the limitations of current generation automated essay scoring systems (Deane, 2013) are discussed. These validity concerns are then recontextualized within the discussion of the importance of teaching human language skills in our ESL classrooms. Approaches to explicit instruction of skills for management of interpersonal relationships through language choice are then addressed. Throughout the paper, a framework (Poynton, 1985) for making interpersonal language choices visible for teachers and learners is introduced and developed (Motteram, 2016).

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