Obituary - Graham Davies - 1942-2012

13th July 2012 at 01:00

To TES forum users, he was GroovyGuzi, font of modern- language knowledge. But, alongside his prolifically generous online presence, Graham Davies was also a pioneer in the field of computer-assisted language learning.

Professor Davies was born in Kent in June 1942. He attended Maidstone Grammar, a traditional boys' school, where he demonstrated a facility for Latin grammar. He understood how languages worked, ancient or modern. In 1961, he began studying German and French at Queen Mary, University of London. He followed this with a teaching qualification and a PhD on the heraldic terminology of medieval German.

During this time, he met Sally Campbell at a party. He pursued her doggedly; she eventually succumbed, and they married in 1968, the same year he completed his PhD.

His first job was German and French teacher at Tiverton Grammar in Devon. Constrained by the demands of the curriculum, however, he moved to Ealing College (later Thames Valley University) in 1971. The college was at the forefront of research into language learning and he began looking into the role that new technologies could play. Colleagues described him as the "forefather" and "godfather" of language-learning technology.

In 1982, he set up his own software publishing and consultancy company, Camsoft. Seven years later, he was named professor of computer-assisted language learning and director of his university's language centre.

Professor Davies could embrace new technology with alacrity and ease. However, he did not embrace it purely because it was new. He approached everything with a meticulous logic: would it offer anything that previous technology had not?

This was his approach to everything; he did not base his conclusions on hunches, but on evidence and research. He applied the same technique to people. He did not judge others on hearsay, but took the time to make up his own mind.

Professor Davies retired in 1993 and immediately set up Eurocall, working internationally in language technology. He spoke seven or eight languages fluently and was always looking for opportunities to pick up new ones. Together with his daughters, Sian and Fran, he would take annual six-week camping trips across Europe. This provided an excuse to demonstrate his linguistic dexterity, although he was unexpectedly stymied by the impenetrability of Serbo-Croat.

He also developed a second internet life, contributing regularly and copiously to discussion forums such as Linguanet and the TES forums. Various online contacts considered him a close friend, although he was not averse to telling them to switch off their computers and go out and enjoy real life.

One of his internet handles was GroovyGuzi. This was originally the name of one of his five pet greyhounds, adopted over the years after their racing careers were finished.

He was diagnosed with a rare form of abdominal cancer in 2005, after which he found solace in a Facebook community of others who had the illness. Graham Davies died on 20 June.

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