Born in Hawaii and still retaining American citizenship, Kevin Mark has spent most of his life in the UK and Japan. By the time he came to England in 1960, at the age of nine, he had attended schools in the United States, Japan, Spain, and Germany.
In England he “succeeded,” in the sense of surviving a highly competitive system that took him eventually to Oxford University, where he read Modern Languages and specialised in French literature and language.
While he loved being in Oxford in the sense that it is full of interesting people, he found that the content and processes of the curriculum of studies, in spite of the widely vaunted tutorial system, could be made much more creative and stimulating. It was at Oxford that he began to think about the core question that has been at the heart of his professional thinking over that past 45 years: “How can education — including mass education — be designed so as to to nurture individuality and self-confidence in learners and teachers?”
After graduate studies in Education and Teaching English Overseas at Manchester University followed by two years of teaching French to secondary school students, he was invited in 1985 to teach in the School of Education at Okayama University, Japan. There he found himself in a situation which allowed him for the first time to both teach and research. Since 1991 he has been a tenured faculty member at Meiji University, in Tokyo, becoming a full professor there in 1999.
Working within this “mainstream” and prestigious Japanese context he has produced original and interdisciplinary academic papers — always with a broad educational angle — that are integrative of a number of sub-fields of academic language teaching and applied linguistics. These papers have called into question many of the hidden assumptions and unconscious professional practices that have encouraged over-specialisation and prevented applied linguistics from being as directly useful in the Japanese context — and no doubt others — as it could be.
As an adjunct instructor at the Tokyo campus on Columbia University’s Teachers’ College MA Program in TESOL he taught classes during the 1990s in Global Education, Learner Corpora and Autonomy before any of these had become mainstream, and always in ways that generated very lively discussion. In the field of learner corpora his approach has been unconventional: his was one of the first voices calling for the gathering and exploitation of learner corpus data, but from the outset he consistently maintained that learner corpus data needs to be built into the processes of teaching for it to be really useful. Twenty years later the need for learner corpus data to be “actionable” is now appearing as a leading edge in research.
His voice was one of the very first in academic language teaching to call for a “global education” approach in language teaching. He helped, with a co-edited special issue of The Language Teacher in 1990 — one of the very first publications on Global Education in language teaching — to bring the ideas of global issues and critical thinking into the professional discourse. He also quickly recognised a need for global education to be understood not simply as a matter of raising awareness of global issues, but as part of a broad humanistic or educational approach to language teaching. He has argued for a subtle, multidimensional approach to global education, and has been interested in showing how it is possible for the content and processes incorporated in techniques and materials to be enlivening for both learners and teachers. Language learning activities, whether at elementary levels with young learners or for professionals, can be fun as well as infused with opportunities for the development of critical thinking, learner autonomy, self-awareness and self-confidence.
Generally in his career he has learned primarily by directly addressing and thinking about problems as they appear “on the ground.” State-of-the art theory and academic authority continue to be an important resource, but can equally be an obstacle to fresh approaches to problems. He has, over the past fifteen years, developed software tools that have allowed him to create a wide range of highly innovative techniques and materials that generally minimise the need for teacher explanation and intervention while creating opportunities for learners to work at their own level and at their own pace.