The Future of Language Learning

This day and age it’s all about technology (obviously), but I recently had an epiphany about getting students more engaged and utilizing technology for beneficial purposes in the classroom. I actually got excited thinking about all the cool tools that exist online to help students learn. In reality, I know that they won’t be as excited as I am, but I do think that just using some of the tools will expose students to what’s out there and better prepare them for using technology in their everyday lives.

Specifically, I was thinking the other day about how as a language teacher I can utilize technology to connect my students to the world and expose them to foreign languages and cultures outside of the classroom. I wanted to integrate this as part of participating in class, because there is of course no way I can teach all that I want in the short allotted time I get with the students at school. Instead of boring worksheets and more drills, I just want the students to interact with the languages and cultures they’re learning, which thankfully is very easy to do with the internet. I remember as a high schooler I never got the opportunity to learn authentic language and I had a rude awakening when I first traveled abroad and realized how much learning a language is more about learning the culture and lifestyle of the people who speak that language. This is what I want my students to understand.

So, I had some ideas to (hopefully) engage students in a more creative way than reading out of a textbook and doing worksheets at home.

1.) Twitter – students can use twitter to follow people who speak foreign language or even foreign language learning groups. They can then retweet and reply to you so that you can see them interacting with the language outside of class. You can also hashtag simple questions or discussions to get students thinking when they’re not in your class. The best part is students can follow their interest and learn words related to that.

2.) Duolingo.com – this is an amazing new website where one can learn a language simply by translating what is already published on the web. It’s free and easy to use, plus it’s motivational because you can follow friends and track your progress. I have already learned a lot on my own and for those students who really want to learn language and don’t feel satisfied with the pace of your class they can learn on their own.

3.) Smart phone apps – students can download the quizlet app and study when they’re not in your class. Even as a simple review it’s so much easier and they don’t need to bring anything with them. There are also handy translator and dictionary apps that make it easy for students to find the right word without flipping through the antiquated paper versions.

4.) Translating extension for your web browser – all web browsers have cool translating tools that you can download as extensions. Then, you simply right click a word and it will give you a definition or you can translate a whole page. This means students at lower levels can read news articles or short stories while still being able to learn a few words.

5.) Web 2.0 – blogs, wikis, podcasts and many other useful tools on the computer are really quite easy to use in class and give the same tired projects (who wants to buy more posterboard?) an exciting new spin. For example, what used to be a city project map on a large sheet of posterboard that students presented to class can now be an animated presentation with student recorded audio directions. Students enjoy blogging their writes for a quick write or recording audio on the computer in order to practice and submit oral assessments.

6.) Skype – What better way to hold a conversation with someone anywhere in the world? I haven’t used this yet in my class, but I’m hoping to skype with friends of mine from study abroad just so students can hear a native speaker. There are also websites where classrooms around the world want to connect with English speaking classrooms to practice their skills and in turn your students can talk to them in their language.

I wrote up a document to make this a participation grade of some sort, but again the idea is just to promote students’ own curiosity and interest in learning about the world. I’m not sure how to implement this yet but little by little I’m using these tools to excite students about language learning. I hope this will be successful!

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