Empowering students to be motivated, confident and autonomous is the goal that educators seek to attain. Empowered students learn more, and learn better. They learn best through being engaged in authentic tasks that are relevant, interesting and have direct implications in real life. Learners’ empowerment can be greatly enhanced by the new technologies today if these technologies are used effectively. This is particular true for language learning that has taken a whole new dimension in the digital age. Innovative technologies have radically and naturally helped shift from a traditional approach of language learning, based primarily on grammar textbooks, to authentic learning, focused on effective communication in real-life contexts. More than ever before, language learners possess technological tools that can be used for the purpose of language learning, the development of international competence, and for personal and professional growth and fulfillment.
Here are 10 great ways Internet can empower language learners:
- Online access to language resources: the Internet offers a plethora of language learning resources that include dictionaries, online conjugators and hands-on activities to help develop reading, writing and oral skills. Internet increases exposure to authentic material and the target language and culture. There are many grammar tutorials and exercises that help learners self assess and monitor their own progress along the continuum of language proficiency. Internet is not only a source of information
but also an effective tool for communication, which is the ultimate aim of language learning. Because it provides the possibility of learning in an interactive and fun way, Internet helps increase learners’ motivation to become proficient in a language. And because technology fosters self-directed learning, language learners become autonomous and in charge of expanding their thematic knowledge and reinforcing their linguistic skills.
- Developing intercultural competence: Intercultural competence is a requisite skill in our interconnected, globalized context. It is a necessity today to learn how to navigate complex environments characterized by a diversity of backgrounds, experiences, ideas and worldviews. Technology can help facilitate the acquisition of intercultural competence, the ability to interact effectively and appropriately with individuals and communities from different cultural backgrounds. Online access to authentic material (news, reports, movies, documentaries) helps students understand how language is used in real-life situations, and provides insight into the practices and perspectives of target language speakers. Watching live streaming news and radio podcasts, reading newspapers and magazines written in the target language allow learners to learn a language in a meaningful way, and to choose themes and topics of interest and relevance to them. Internet provides a wealth of opportunities to develop and appreciation of cultural diversity and understanding of our role as responsible members of the local and global community.
- Creating with language. Internet helps learners not only acquire vocabulary and grammar but also, and most importantly produce and create, thus demonstrating higher order thinking skills. Blogging, for example, fosters creativity and innovation. Inspired by Coetail, I created a blog for my French students earlier this semester, and since then, their writings skills have improved tremendously due to the fact that they are writing more extensively about topics of interest to them. While editing their blogs, students have access to online resources such as dictionaries and editing tools. Most importantly, my students love the interactive nature of blogging and the fact that they
are writing for a real audience. The accessibility of their work to a wider audience entices them to produce high-quality writing. Another great way for learners to create with language is using podcasts for developing listening skills. Learners can create their own podcasts through apps such as Audacity and Garage bands, individually or collaboratively. Students can share their podcasts about a given topic that can be broadcast through iTunes, and respond to other students’ podcasts. Learners feel empowered when they can be more than mere consumers of knowledge and information. They feel empowered when they can produce, create and share.
- Connecting with communities at home and worldwide. Internet offers the possibility of combining language learning with service learning. ACTFL fifth standard “communities” refers to the ability to “Communicate and interact with cultural competence in order to participate in multilingual communities at home and around the world”. Living in a global society implies extending learning experiences from the
world language classroom to the home and multicultural community. Students can be part of community-engaged learning experiences through online service projects and virtual class exchanges. Students can access Internet to find project work in the target culture. Such an experience allows students to practice their language skills with native speakers while serving in the community. These authentic experiences enrich students’ language skills while developing their civic responsibility and personal growth.
- Building friendships: Internet can help people make more friends and socialize. Social media is a great platform that plays a big role in a teen’s friendships, making new friends and staying connected and in touch with friends at home and worldwide. “While hanging out with their friends, youth develop and discuss their taste in music, their knowledge of television and movies, and their expertise in gaming. They also engage in a variety of new media practices, such as looking around online or
playing games, when they are together with friends”- Living and Learning with New Media. In the context of language learning, language learners can find epals, speakers of the target language, with whom they can interact, chat, practice the language in an authentic way and build real friendships. Through this meaningful exchange, learners can increase their language practice and learn more about different cultural practices. They can build long-lasting friendships, which can be made possible primarily because of access to social networks.
- Long distance language learning is based on the idea that everybody can learn a language from anywhere over the Internet with a tutor and students from around the world. Distance-learning technologies allow for real interaction with others, which is very important in the language learning process. The immediate multi-user interaction that can happen through Skype and other online video chat sites supports the goal of language learning. In international schools where the medium of instruction is usually English, long distance language courses can be beneficial in enhancing students’ mother tongues. In such learning environments, there is definitely an urgent need to maintain native and heritage languages and to be proficient in World Languages in order to succeed in our interconnected competitive world. Having the opportunity to preserve one’s mother tongue thanks to technology and being able to effectively use more than one language is empowering.
- Flipping the classroom: Students watch instructional videos, grammar tutorials, movies, documentaries and read articles, blogs and other online material in the target language outside of the classroom. Classroom time can be devoted to interaction and increased oral and written language practice. The flipped classroom approach allows language students to learn at their own pace, take the time they need to process the learning, and acquire vocabulary and grammatical structures needed for communication.
Since I have incorporated elements of the flipped classroom approach in my teaching practice, I have seen tangible evidence of students’ growing language proficiency as class time has been largely used to engage students in meaningful interactions, negotiation of meaning and construction of new knowledge. The flipped language classroom overcomes the constraints of class time and the biggest challenge of providing students the opportunity to speak the language. If the flipped approach is used effectively in the language classroom, it has the potential to transform the experience of language learners.
- Differentiation: Technology can motivate the unmotivated language students and help meet the needs of diverse language learners to reach them where they are. Learners vary in the way they acquire and retain information. Technology makes it possible to pace lessons according to different learning styles and levels of aptitude. Differentiated instruction allows every student to learn, improve and succeed. Googleclassroom, for example, is an efficient and powerful online tool that can be used to differentiate learning and facilitate communication between instructors and language learners. Through Googleclassroom, teachers can have instant access to student work, and provide immediate personalized feedback, which is key to successful learning and performance. Googleclassroom promotes personalized learning and provides choice to the learner as teachers can post different language resources, web links and educational videos to address learners’ interests and different levels of language proficiency. Choice is key to students’ engagement and empowerment.
- Language learning anytime-anywhere: Thanks to the availability of portable devises in pockets, especially smart phones, learners can learn anytime, anywhere, by simply accessing search engines and downloading language apps. Learners can have access to dictionaries, language games and different news apps in the target language. Mobile devices allow language learners to learn at their own convenience and acquire more vocabulary whenever they have time, whether during a ride to school or when they finish their assignments before the allotted time in class. Dualingo, is an easy and
practical self-learning tool that can be used as an additional resource for language learning. Travelers can use their mobile phones while in different countries to access dictionaries and online (reliable) translators to help them with directions and simple interactions with the local community.
- Life-long learning: Internet can support the life-long learning of a language beyond the walls of the classroom, at any age. Language learning is an activity that should be undertaken throughout life. It is not about acquisition of knowledge but the development of a set of competencies and 21-century skills. One of the goals of language formal education as stated by ACTFL, is for students to “show evidence of becoming life-long learners by using the language for personal enjoyment and enrichment”. One of our responsibilities as language educators is to model life long-learning for our students (we are all doing Coetail, here!), instill in our learners the motivation and passion for language learning and demonstrate how technology resources available today can assist them in their life-long learning journey.
Technology provides an answer to the changing goals of language education and the needs of language learners in the digital age. Internet has the potential to radically improve the learning experience of language learners. It would be a mistake to assume that people know ways in which technology can empower them in their learning experience. Therefore, it is our job as language educators to help students see connections, transfer their learning to real life contexts, and to effectively use these wonderful resources to enrich their language learning experience.
The dilemma I face as I conclude this post is related to Internet access global challenge. Knowing that Internet has the potential to benefit and empower all humankind, how do we overcome the challenge of ensuring open access for all?