Language teaching is a profession that requires increasingly in-depth digital literacy skills. Educational technology (EdTech), cloud-based software, VR, AR, gamification, etc., are just some of the instruments that are likely to influence how we learn and teach foreign languages soon. In this article, we would like to offer a simple guide on strategies to ensure a substantial synergy between technology and language teaching.
Step one: assessing stakeholders needs
Introducing technology as an integral support to one’s teaching is not always a straightforward process.
It is not enough to suggest that learners download an app to practice their pronunciation and listening skills and think that using the app for a few minutes a day alone will improve students’ language abilities. For example, choosing a language app because it is popular may arouse students’ enthusiasm at first but is unlikely to bring long-term benefits.
So, what might be the right way to approach the introduction of technology tools? One approach that seems to us to be particularly reasoned is the one adopted by teacher Janie Tankard Cook, who turned to Edtech products to integrate students who didn’t speak English into her classroom. As she told New America, her first impression of approaching the world of Edtech (short for Educational technology) was one of being overwhelmed.
Choosing the right product is, of course, what will determine the success of a technology-integrated language course. But be aware that you will not select the right Edtech solution if you have not first examined your students’ preparation, their learning gaps, and their different ways of learning.
In other words, the first step is to assess your students’ learning need needs.
To do so, there are specific key questions that should be answered:
- What are the students’ educational gaps? Try to understand whether students have difficulties with grammar or with vocabulary acquisition. Maybe they have developed good passive language comprehension well but still struggle with active production.
- What are the students’ digital competencies? Consider whether they will benefit from using complex software or if it would be the case to start with more familiar tools, such as simple mobile apps. It is essential not to take students’ digital literacy skills for granted.
- What content stimulates the students the most? In this case, you need to involve your students directly to understand what properties they look for in an Edtech product. Finding out whether they appreciate films, written texts, or simulations of real-life situations will help to adopt the most suitable technology instrument.
Step two: understanding the product
Each Edtech product has its characteristics and specificities. Recurring features of the latest generation of Edtech solutions include:
- bilingual and bilateral programs
- blended learning
- personalized learning
- possibility of using technological applications at any time and anywhere
The use of technology must aim at achieving the learning objectives you have set for your students.
The use of technology in lessons should not be the main focus. If it were, it would be an end in itself and would not significantly impact your students’ results.
In our opinion, three questions should be decisive in guiding the adoption of any Edtech product:
1. Is the language software accessible?
Software is accessible when it can run on all operating systems, on different devices, and it follows the global Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Students should be able to use it both at school and home, regardless of the type of device.
Considering software accessibility is a sensitive and crucial aspect of integrating Edtech tools into the classroom. As the massive use of distance learning has shown, students’ digital divide is a significant problem. Not taking it into account can have long-term negative consequences on students’ educational path, especially the most disadvantaged.
2. Does the language software allow for using multimedia content?
Multimedia resources and interactivity are elements that can play an essential role in enhancing specific language skills such as listening and speaking. Language software that includes a wide range of communication channels will be more fun for the students to use and give the teacher more scope to vary the teaching activities, choosing the media best suited to developing the different language skills.
3. Does the language software include assessment and reporting instruments?
Monitoring students’ progress is an essential component of any educational process. Therefore, effective language software should allow the teacher to monitor student performance: not just on individual exercises but also throughout the whole course. At Sanako, we understand that, and this is why our products include features that make assessment tasks much more manageable.
How to use technology in language classrooms: practical examples
One of the strengths of Edtech is that it allows for diversified and interactive activities so that teachers will be able to explore and diversify their teaching activities as many times as they want.
Let’s have a look at what kind of innovative learning activities can be implemented through Edtech instruments.
1. Training programs with variations:
some language software allows for developing a varied study plan, focusing on different language study aspects (vocabulary, listening, writing, speaking activities). Alternating different types of activities will help students to stay focused and not get bored. We believe that variety is the key to language learning, and we have embodied this principle in Connect and Reactored. These programs allow daily variations in the learners’ training schedule.
Through Connect, for example, teachers can experiment with numerous approaches to language teaching. Connect can create teaching programs based on Content and Integrated Language Learning (CLIL), Task-based language learning, and Project-based language learning.
2. Daily Inclusion of speaking-based activities:
as we have seen in a previous post, the practice of speaking skills is often sacrificed within the school curriculum. Yet speaking is necessary to master a language. The advantage of using language learning software is that they provide students with a kind of laboratory to practice pronunciation and conversation even in homework activities.
Some of the core Connect features have been specifically developed to build learners’ speaking skills. Thanks to the recording function, students can practice their speech, either individually or in groups, and then listen to the recording again to see what they can improve. The teacher can listen in or take part in the conversation. Audio tracks can be easily downloaded for later review.
3. Content creation:
students should be allowed to unleash their creativity. Applying technology to enable learners to develop their toolbox for language study. Working on glossaries, presentations, and videos will be an engaging way to practice writing and public speaking skills in the targeted foreign language. Learners could develop digital portfolios, strengthening their content creation ability while building up a repository of language-focused resources that will come in handy during the language course.