Eight ways technology can help with teaching languages

(This post started out with “five” ways technology can help with teaching languages. We have since added a few more ways, and are now up to “eight”.)

Kids and adults are drawn to mobile apps and addicting websites. It is the type of focus that educators would be delighted if they could attract in their classrooms, students who are not just attentive but determined to master the lessons.

Unfortunately, computer technology does have limitations in education. As humans, we are faced with amazing new capabilities when new technology is invented, and we are still learning the possibilities. One risk is that students figure out a trick so they can bypass the educational part. According to Jesse Shell, a veteran in game design, making something entertaining is difficult and making something educational is difficult, but making something both entertaining and educational is even more difficult. Computer technology is a medium, like whiteboards. Even with a captivate audience the time needs to be used wisely and some things can’t be replaced, like in-person experiences and one-on-one human communication. However, there are still times when technology can offer an opportunity for teaching languages.

Here are seven ways technology can help with teaching languages:

During pauses and breaks
One of my favorite examples comes from the Thunder Valley Lakota Language program. They incorporate YouTube media in their language nest as a way to fill in some of the pauses during the day, and the stuff they have created is pretty cool.

Outside of class
In-person lessons are great, but what happens during the rest of the day? Web apps can help bridge some of the missing time. For example, Duolingo is recommended by many teachers of beginning students to improve their grammar and vocabulary knowledge in-between classroom time.

Reaching those who might have fallen through the cracks
In-person lessons and workshops can only reach those who are in the classroom. What about participants who have finished the activity and need follow-up help? Or, those who were not able to attend the activity? There are also parents and other community members. Technology may not be perfect, but it can help with educating more participants in the community.

Computers won’t get bored or impatient. Self-guided quizzes and other activities can be run as many times as a student needs.

Better quantity and diversity
With printed material, the work might take a few years of preparation before printing, and the content is fixed with each printing. For content shared over the Internet, the information can start out small. Even just one posting (on day one) and the number of postings can grow over time. Eventually, the amount of content offered through technology can outnumber the amount of printed content.

Another benefit, related to quantity, is that the same information can be prepared more than once for different audiences or different topics (no reprinting required).

Reaching wider audiences
Even after a student takes a language class, he or she will need to practice a refresher; but, traditional courses are not designed to help with follow-up services. So, one audience that many times gets overlooked are past students. Also, students who might not be eligible or ready to take class when it is offered make up a broad audience.

Increased quality
For content shared over the Internet, good information can be shared with a greater number of participants, and the quality of information can be improved over time.

Media-rich experiences
Many teachers, even those who prefer in-classroom time and immersion, are making printed materials to distribute in-class. In contrast to printed materials, teachers could use computer technology in order to incorporate video, audio, pictures, or even collect and evaluate input from the student, as part of the information they distribute.

Author: Biagio Arobba

Much of my interests in community and arts projects come from personal experiences: Native American languages (my grandparents spoke the Lakota language), star quilt making, diet and exercise, and food computers. It all fits in a practical yet holistic viewpoint of the world.

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