Computers and mobile devices play a crucial role in most of our lives. It might be in a personal situation, for business, or increasingly as a resource for online learning. Globally, it is estimated that around 90% of students have access to the internet either at home or in a classroom or working environment. As such, it is little surprise that there has been a significant shift towards the use of technology both within the classroom and for distance learning.
Many people are exploring the options of learning a new language, frequently English for use in a business or social surroundings. Of course, one of the most popular options is to learn English online, via either a virtual classroom or independent study. Technology-integrated physical classrooms are also popular with those students who prefer more structured learning in a traditional classroom.
Typical ways of using technology in an educational environment include virtual classrooms, blended learning and a wide variety of learning management systems, each of which we will explore in further detail in this article. However, what they all have in common is that they enhance the students’ learning experience and can provide some form of structure to the learning, which is often more flexible. So, what are the benefits of using technology for language learning?
1#) Remote access
Technology allows information and resources to be accessed wherever you are in the world, and this has many benefits when it comes to learning a new language. For example, students in Thailand can have access to native English speakers who may be based in Thailand or elsewhere in the world. This is particularly convenient for those living outside of major cities where native English speakers may be few in their numbers. The benefits of interacting with native speakers are immense as it allows students to immerse themselves in the language. Without technology, the options would be limited to those available in their geographical location.
2#) Increased flexibility
An increasing number of students are now opting to study a new language independently. Many may already be in full-time education, employment or have other commitments meaning that rigid classroom learning doesn’t match their needs. Online learning can be done at a time and pace that suits the student, which leads to higher levels of retention on courses. Naturally, a degree of self-discipline is required, but the rewards are endless for those who can achieve this. Without technology, this level of flexibility would be almost impossible and is very much tied in with point #1.
3#) Blended language learning courses
It should be noted that some students benefit from both online learning and in-class tuition. Blended learning classes facilitate this providing more structure and face-to-face teaching, which some pupils respond better to while also offering a level of flexibility. Both teachers and students often comment on how the two mediums complement each other. In many cases, participants will complete eLearning modules in their own time but attend classes to discuss the work and address any weaknesses. It is noted that this promotes “intuitive learning methodology” which is hugely beneficial for those studying a new language.
4#) Interactive learning
The old fashioned way of teaching languages used to be a teacher going through pages of vocabulary in front of the class with little independent input from the students. Merely reciting vocabulary with little context has been proven to be ineffective and does not promote language development. Interactive learning embraces a range of technologies and resources with the emphasis being on participation rather than prescriptive learning.
Interactive learning, when it comes to languages, allows students to access different content and enables them to communicate with other students or speakers. It also has the additional benefit for more introvert students who are often less embarrassed and more confident with the interactive intuitive model.
5#) An opportunity to experience real-life situations
Many textbooks are now outdated and often refer to artificial situations which students are unlikely to experience in real life. Keeping course content relevant is viewed as being central to students learning, and purely textbook learning is now very much out of fashion. Modern language platforms are updated frequently with huge quantities of content, much of which embraces real-life situations and uses authentic text. Cloud-based storage makes this feasible.
Interactive learning can mimic real-life situations in a way which wouldn’t be possible in a classroom. The content can be updated with recent news articles and current events. It will mean that the course content has more meaning for students which will keep them interested and help with knowledge retention. Language schools around the world use different material which is tailored for global audiences.
6#) Social media and translate options
With the advent of social media, it is common for people in different geographical locations and of different nationalities to communicate. The use of technology in this way helps students to practice their newly learned skills in a more informal way. Often the emphasis in this environment is more on fluency rather than being grammatically correct, but it has enormous advantages, including boosting confidence and using repetition in a more fun and relaxed manner. These are all things that can only enhance a student’s language skills.
There are many translate options available online, such as Google Translate. While these are not ideal, they are an excellent way of supplementing learning and giving students’ instant translations to words that they may not understand. However, as English is such a complex language, the context of the word is not taken into account, so the accuracy of translations cannot be guaranteed.
7#) Enables student collaboration
A common but misplaced criticism of online learning and the use of technology is that it reduces interaction between students. While this may have been the case a couple of decades ago, most students are now tech-savvy and use technology in their everyday lives to communicate with friends, family and other students. It is something that aids collaborative learning in a classroom environment but also enables greater interaction between students who are participating in remote learning programs. The learners retain autonomy over their learning but can easily connect with other like-minded students, thanks to technology.