In classrooms all across the country, old-fashioned textbooks and stodgy lesson plans are sucking the life out of language learning. These classes leave so many learners apathetic or frustrated as they recite scripted dialog or memorize an endless litany of verb conjugations. Who said that language learning had to be so boring?
These days, thanks to digital technology, we have the resources to resuscitate language learning and make it the adventure it should be.
There are many advantages to digital language learning over classroom instruction, including access to content at any time, in any location, and current technologies make content interactive, as opposed to stuffy foreign language textbooks.
One of the most popular computer based language learning programs is Rosetta Stone, founded in 1992. The program includes twenty-eight languages and can be purchased in CD-Rom format, downloaded, or subscribed to online. Levels 1 through 5 cost $229, including access to mobile apps for a limited time.
Rosetta Stone provides comprehensible input by putting new words and phrases in the context of multimedia elements: video, photos, audio, and text. A free demo lesson in the language of your choice is available on the Rosetta Stone website.
The Pimsleur language learning program focuses on speaking and comprehension rather than literacy in the second language, and includes courses in 44 languages. Lessons can be purchased as MP3 files, CD, or software that includes flash cards and other multimedia features. Introductory packages in the language of your choice cost $150 for the first 30 lessons in software format, $21.95 for the first 5 lessons in MP3 format, or $49.95 for the first 16 lessons in CD format. Lessons can be purchased from the website, but they can also be downloaded at audible.com.
Also from the author: 8 of the best apps and resources for English language learners
Pimsleur lessons may even be available from your public library for free, although language availability may be limited. A free lesson is available to try out on the Pimsleur website.
Another language learning publisher, Penton Overseas, is actually out of business, but their audio programs for several languages are more widely available for free through public libraries.
Duolingo is one of the best, free tools available for learning a second language. There are 20 languages to choose from, including English. Learners can access lessons on the Duolingo website or in the mobile app for iOS or Android.
Next page: Tools for making language learning more social
The downside of language instruction delivered electronically, rather than face-to-face in a classroom, is the lack of social interaction. The purpose of language is, after all, to communicate with other humans.
Language classrooms, however, rarely provide learners with the opportunity to practice their new language with native speakers. Dialogue practice is often scripted practice between two or more learners at similar levels of fluency. This may not be the most effective or relevant way to learn and practice a new language. The internet now makes it possible for people to communicate from all over the world, providing previously impossible access to native speakers.
MyLanguageExchange is a social networking website that allows language learners to connect and help one another learn their respective languages. For example, a native English speaker who wanted to learn Italian can do activities in Italian, and receive feedback from native Italian speakers who are learning English, and receiving feedback from native English speakers.
MyLanguageExchange uses the Cormier method of language exchange in which small groups work together doing activities half the time in one of the native speakers’ language, and the other half in the other native speakers’ language.
Practice groups are not formed until learners are at intermediate fluency. Before this, they can form penpal relationships, communicating in emails and text chats.
Video conferencing is another way for native speakers of different languages to connect. Skype in the Classroom allows teachers from all of the world to connect their classes, to take their students on virtual field trips, and to talk in real time to guest speakers. Google Hangouts is another video conferencing tool that can be used to connect students or guest speakers from around the world. Students can work on collaborative projects, participate in book discussions, teach one another about where they live, and practice language with native speakers their own age.
Technology has made it possible for language learning to be more interesting, motivating, exciting, and relevant than ever before. With all these resources available, there is no need for traditional, boring activities such as copying and reciting verb conjugations or reciting scripted dialog. Language is a magical thing — a key to communicating and getting to know people and allowing them to know you. It’s a shame that old-fashioned techniques killed the joy of learning a new language. Let’s do better for the next generation.