How AI is Transforming the ESL Industry

The future isn’t quite as Marty imagined. There are no flying cars, hoverboards haven’t quite taken off, and we still don’t have self-drying jackets or sound-effect programmable vests!

I remember a scene from Friends where Pete told Monica how the robots of the future will be able to understand commands like, “Wash my car” or “Clean my room”, and although they might not be able to physically perform the task (yet?), they would still understand it. While we might have fallen short of Back to the Future’s predictions, we’ve certainly surpassed Pete Becker’s expectations of what the robots of the future will be able to do!

In the past few weeks, we’ve seen a MAJOR boom in AI technology in ALL industries, including online education and ESL. We’ve seen artificial intelligence put to the test to create lessons, write essays, blogs and books, and even generate marketing content and HTML code! The past few months have been just a taste of what the future of AI holds, leading us to the question, “How does AI affect the future of an ESL teacher?”

Before we delve into the many ways AI is making waves in the ESL industry, let’s define what exactly these language-modeling robots are that’s got everyone talking!

And who better to answer that question than an AI program itself? I asked ChatGPT how it would describe itself, and here’s what it replied (within five seconds!):

So, there you have it in the words of a robot itself! Unlike the chatbots we’ve come to know and depend on to offer solutions to basic FAQs and customer support, language-modeling tools, like ChatGPT, can perform a host of tasks and simulate human-like conversation through its ability to layer and learn from your prompts. New language-modeling AI tools can perform tasks as varied as making lists to generating SEO copy and even computer code!

I see you sitting there, modestly impressed and wondering, “What’s in it for me?” Well, let’s get into it then and explore the many ways you can make friends with the future and harness the power of AI in your ESL business!

The Future is Here!

The emergence of AI is rapidly changing the landscape of education, and online teaching is no exception. Both teachers and their students can benefit from the use of AI to become better teachers and more informed learners.

Freelance teachers can utilise AI tools, like ChatGPT and Canva’s Magic Write, in their teaching business, to create social media content and captions and write newsletters and blogs. Handing over tasks like this to AI is a useful way to reduce outsourcing and save you time performing them yourself. ChatGPT can even translate your content into the language of your dream student demographic for marketing material!

AI can augment your work performance by automating tedious, time-consuming tasks, allowing you to focus on the more meaningful and creative tasks of your ESL business. Language-modeling AI tools can help you create supplementary materials for your lessons by generating discussion and essay topics, creating dialogues, grading homework, checking for accuracy, and adapting written materials to suit your students’ abilities.

AI-based tutoring systems, like Twee and Chinatefler’s Lesson Generator, can be used to generate customised homework assignments and quizzes based on a student’s current level of understanding. Twee can even create questions based on YouTube videos!

Alexa, play ‘Don’t Stop Me Now!’

It’s not only teachers who stand to benefit from using artificial intelligence, but your students too! ESL and EFL students can use AI to support their language-learning journey by summarising or translating texts and checking their own written work for grammar and spelling errors. AI is a handy tool for ESL students to get immediate feedback rather than spending time trolling the internet for answers. And let’s be honest; the internet is full of misinformation, which can be an overwhelming experience to sift through, even in your native language. ESL learners can even use ChatGPT as a conversation partner or to generate prompts and topics for writing and reading tasks.

This all sounds AI-mazing, right?

As useful as AI can be, it’s not a perfect solution, and you’ll still be required to proofread and fact-check the content it generates. It may also take more than one prompt to get the answer you’re looking for, and knowing what to ask and how to ask it is a key factor to harnessing AI in your freelance ESL teaching business.

From my experience with using AI, it’s great for teachers operating on a larger scale and generating supplementary material for more advanced learners. Students preparing for IELTS exams will benefit from using tools like ChatGPT, but younger learners may not find any benefit at all. Like most things in life, these AI tools come with a price tag, so you’ll need to weigh the benefits versus the cost, especially if you’re running a smaller ESL business.

Is a Robot Going to Take My Job?

Some may already feel that AI poses a threat to their jobs, and while AI isn’t going anywhere, neither is the need for real human communication, connection, and creative thought. Some companies, like JPMorgan and Amazon, have already started to restrict or ban the use of AI technology in the workplace in fear of data privacy and security breaches. Will schools be joining these corporations and restricting the use of AI for their students? Only time will tell.

As AI continues to develop, its impact on teaching will only grow, and teachers will have to stay ahead of the curve if they want to remain competitive in the ever-evolving world of education. If used with discernment, AI can help teachers become better educators and improve their work performance rather than take away from it.

If a robot can perform our menial, time-consuming tasks, could this not pave the way to more ethical working conditions, allowing employees and business owners more work-life balance? If AI can allow you to spend more time doing the tasks you enjoy in your business AND more time doing the things you love outside of work, is this not a future you’d like to be a part of?

Teaching is an occupation that requires more than just grading and grammar. It requires human connection- and passion! Even though AI might be able to write your student a happy birthday message in their native language, only you will know how to wish them a “Happy birthday” in the most personal way.

It’s highly unlikely that artificial intelligence will replace teachers in this lifetime – or next- and while we may be living in a future where populating Mars is becoming an ever-more-possible reality, that future is still as far away as the satellites in the sky. If it wasn’t for technology, online teaching wouldn’t even be a reality!

Have you used AI in your ESL teaching business yet? How do you think artificial intelligence will shape the ESL landscape? Leave us a comment with your experiences and thoughts about AI in the ESL industry, or join in on the discussion on Facebook!

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