Monday, 5 September 2011

Functional obsolescence

One of the great advantages of selling food is that it has built-in functional obsolescence.

Once the customer has bought their Extra-Large Tesco-Value Eight-Pack of Meringue Nests, they eat them, and then they need to buy some more.

It's a quite brilliant ruse.

Most technology companies do something similar, compelling tardy users to substitute their old kit for the next model.

This upgrade treadmill is a quite wonderful idea for businesses, but I wonder if the business of English language teaching doesn't operate in the reverse direction.

Is it possible, in other words, that BE has built-in functional permanence?

Of course, there is an upgrade treadmill in English too, moving from Beginner to Elementary to Pre-Intermediate, and so on.

Like the upgrades to your Windows operating system, there is a satisfying if illusory sense of progress with these upgrades, unless you bought Vista.

Students rarely seem happier than when they are told they have completed one level and are advancing to the next.

There is perhaps a ludic compulsion at work here, as if learning a language is like completing Angry Birds - something to be accomplished in incremental steps that get progressively more difficult.

However, while repeating the levels of Angry Birds is faintly pointless, this is not the case with English.

Indeed, English is practically unique in terms of products and services.

What I mean by this is that you can't wear English out by using it.

Quite the reverse, in fact.

English only needs upgrading if you don't use it.

It represents, therefore, exceptional value for our learners, and it would be cheap at twice the price they currently pay for it, whatever that is.

Certainly, if I could buy a never-ending meringue nest, I would happily cough up double the £1.24 Tesco are currently asking for their delicious egg-white delights.

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