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Technology’s role in foreign language learning


Technology–blended learning, in particular–can have a positive impact on foreign language learning.

Although educators and policy makers emphasize skills in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) courses, today’s students are competing in a global society–and foreign language skills can help students gain an edge when it comes to college acceptance and workforce success.

Boosting foreign language learning in schools is a global discussion, and when it comes to global competition, some experts worry that the U.S. is losing out on a key opportunity to marry technology and foreign languages.

Blended learning offers a perfect solution to this conundrum, because it combines self-paced study, scalable resources, an immersion environment, increased student engagement, practice with other speakers, and extended learning time, said Gail Palumbo, former director of curriculum and technology in New Jersey’s Montgomery Township Schools Palumbo is now the Lead Faculty – Area Chair for Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Phoenix Online.

(Next page: How blended learning can help)Blended learning can help, Palumbo said during an edWeb webinar, because U.S. schools have limited resources, including little time during the school day, finite teacher resources, and, perhaps most notably, declining budgets. Teachers can reach more students, and students can access important resources outside of the normal school day, through blended learning, she said.

Students can access a number of online resources to help boost their comprehension. Websites such as Duolingo, Imendi, Lingt Classroom, Lyrics Gap, Memrise, Nabber, Nulu Languages, and Word Steps all offer technology-based help for foreign language learning.

“We need to prepare students for a global economy,” Palumbo said. “Borders between nations and economy are disappearing. There is an increased need for multi-lingual talent.”

Many foreign language learning classes in today’s schools focus on grammar and translation, and hold students to low standards, but Palumbo said students should leave a series of foreign language classes having received specific language instruction focused on travel and survival skills in a native-speaking country.

Some U.S. districts and other nations are placing a renewed emphasis on foreign language learning and global competition:

  • Jefferson Elementary School in California’s Carlsbad Unified School District received a $16,000 donation to cover a $13,000 Rosetta Stone foreign language learning program, along with $3,000 in headsets. Students use the program during the school day, and at home if they have a computer, headset, and internet connection. A native speaker—usually a community member or parent—comes into language classes and works with students.
  • Teachers and administrators at Gulf Shores High School in Alabama’s Baldwin County are using district funds to make sure that all educators learn how to use Rosetta Stone, and if the $30-per-student pilot—a cost that is comparable to a traditional textbook–is successful, the program will be rolled out in every county school.
  • Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles uses technology to boost student participation and achievement in foreign language learning. Students use blogs to answer literary questions, record and edit videos in the target language using digital storytelling programs, use Google Apps for shared vocabulary lists and collaborative projects, and even extend their conversations via Twitter.
  • Australia’s national curriculum focuses on Asian engagement in all subjects because of the nation’s commerce with China and India, and education officials believe that foreign language learning should be promoted for global citizenship and global competition.
  • A Scottish inquiry into foreign language learning in elementary schools suggests that Scottish students lag behind students in other countries when it comes to linguistic skills, and education officials have proposed that students begin learning a foreign language in Primary 1 instead of the current Primary 6.

(Next page: What research says about foreign language learning)

Palumbo said research indicates that foreign language learning influences:

  1. Cognitive ability: A positive relationship between early second language learning and improved mental processes, including conceptual learning
  2. Achievement gains: Those studying foreign languages performed better on state assessments than those who did not; learning a second language is especially beneficial to the academic achievement of minority and low-income families
  3. The wise use of technology: The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, in its 2012 report, states that computer-based programs are increasingly used by qualified teachers to supplement and/or differentiate instruction, boost access to native speakers, and provide practice

“We need to take a look at the power that a world language education or program can give our students,” she said.

Follow Managing Editor Laura Devaney on Twitter @eSN_Laura.

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