Friday, November 4, 2011

Technology and the Modern Languages Classroom

As I write this, I admit that I do not have a modern languages background. Yes, four years of German in high school has served me well, but the pedagogy of language instruction is not my area of expertise. To be honest, English gives me enough trouble most days.

However, as we move toward an educational environment where technology is like oxygen: ubiquitous, necessary, and invisible (to paraphrase Chris Lehmann), can this impact modern language instruction?   

I'll argue that it can.  In fact, of all the disciplines we teach, language is the area that might stand to gain the most from technology. It seems to me that there are more tools out there to facilitate reading, writing, speaking, and listening than we can count, and language instructors should capitalize on this for the benefit of their students. By the way, I include ESL/EFL/ELL instruction (whatever you'd like to call it) here as well. 

Some Quick Resources: 
If you get no further in this post, check out: 

  • Technology in Modern Foreign Languages: A Practitioner's Perspective. This is absolute gold, with specific tools to use in languages classes. 
  • Some Diigo links tagged "mlg" (Modern languages). I'm trying to tag tools, resources, research and opinion related to the use of web 2.0 tools in languages classes. All the resources I mention in this post will be collected there.  
  • Larry Ferlazzo's blog: A passionate advocate for ESL/EFL/ELL instruction, his blog has resources for teachers in every discipline
  • And take a look at this video. It gives a quick description of how Web 2.0 tools can be utilized in language instruction: 

It seems to be that the "big four" of language instruction are reading, writing, speaking, and listening. 

Well, the reading and writing resources available on the web are never-ending. In addition to providing students with immediate access to language-specific web sites, the web provides tools for communication and collaboration, and endless opportunities for writing and creating. For example, blogs and wikis should probably become a staple in languages classrooms,  Here are a few good ones:
  • Blogger, WordPress. There are so many blogging tools out there, but these are a couple of the big ones. 
  • Google Docs and Google Forms are exceptionally powerful tools opportunity to get students writing and collaborating.
  • Wikispaces, or Google Sites. Same deal. 
  • Twitter: You an find, follow, and interact with people from all over the world. Using students' twitter feeds, you can facilitate constantly running real-time conversations in the target language. 
  • Edmodo: Create a closed, secure social networking area for your students. If you happen to require your classes to interact on the site in a particular language, well I guess that's your prerogative!
How about speaking and listening? Actually, this is where I think technology can have the biggest impact in language instruction. 
  • Podcasting: Through iTunes or Podcast Player Pro, students can constantly be listening to up-to-the-minute broadcasts in any target language. Better yet, students can create their own podcasts. Require students to write a script beforehand, and you've got a great connection to writing. 
  • Voicethread. I love this tool. I suppose it's somewhat similar to a podcast, but you can assign all students to look at an image or series of images, listen to the teachers' comments, and then post their own comments. Again, this can be done verbally, in writing, or both.
  • This is a new one I just found. Students can listen to geolocated audioguides from just about anywhere in the world and in any language.  Better yet, they can create their own!

So, does technology have to replace what's going on in a language class? Of course not, but the opportunities for reading, writing, speaking, and listening are just too numerous to ignore!


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