Recent Updates RSS Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts
New perspectives: Technology, virtual immersion and the SLA classroom
When the semester began I was unsure what to expect from this class and was actually hesitant to take it as I couldn’t see how it would be of benefit to me. I say this because I do not teach and have no plans to teach in the near future. But what I didn’t know was that this class would make me rethink how I learn languages as well as force me to take a critical look at the SLA process. At first I often found myself at odds with many of the methods proposed, and I still don’t agree with all of them, but in retrospect my perspective has changed. I now have a much clearer idea of what techniques I would use if I were to teach a second language and after discussing my reaction to the semester I will detail my plans to develop a website that would incorporate what I feel would be effective for teaching Spanish.
First off I would like to address the format of this class. Above all I enjoyed the freedom we were given not only in our blogging but also with our teaching segments. I liked being able to react to the topics of interest to me because it helped me develop a better idea of what I would like to focus on in my future studies. I also loved having the freedom to develop my own projects because it allowed my to bring use some of the skills I have developed in other areas into the SLA classroom. In doing so I got to create some things that I would never have been able to do in a traditional class, for example the illustrations for my children’s book language lesson, where we are not allowed such flexibility. I think this is something that should be encouraged more in MODL and language classes at UTA, especially at the postgrad level, because not only does it allow students to develop and sharpen other skills but it also allows them to make a much stronger connection with the concepts and material as they have a say in what they work on.
Moving on to the content, I am not a fan of LVP. All semester long I have found myself disagreeing with a large portion of what they say. I don’t necessary think that they have bad ideas, I just don’t like their approach. It’s as if they find issues with every traditional teaching methods in order to sell their method, somewhat over zealously, even though for the most part I don’t think they are really proposing anything that represents a radical change. On top of that they don’t offer any hard proof that what they propose is actually any more effective. LVP may be influential and or popular in pedagogical circles, but I am not a fan.
However, as much as I disliked LVP I was very impressed and influenced by the UT professors, from their idea’s about SLA to the way in which they present their material. I feel that much of what they are proposing, and doing, is on the cutting edge of pedagogy. For example, their use of video, the introduction of pragmatics at lower levels, increasing the importance of culture in SLA, and pushing for a more interactive and communicative classroom where student learns significantly more than grammar paradigms and vocabulary. I think I was most impressed with Dr. Orlando Kelm and his use of authentic texts to teach and I plan to use a concept he put forward, to teach a beginning language class, in my case Spanish, which only uses authentic texts and no textbook. I will expand on this later, but for now it suffices to say that I believe that the direction that UT is going is the future of SLA.
This brings me to what I feel are problems with the SLA classroom based on my experience this semester. To begin with, despite the push to change the way teachers teach I’m not sure the education establishment will be able to make this change. I fear that traditional atlas based techniques may be so entrenched that is will take years before things change. Another major problem is that we are not using the technology we have to its potential. We need to more aggressively tap into the resources that are out there. I was very surprised at our discussion a few weeks ago when it seemed that no one in class is reading or listening to their target language with regularity on the Internet. Why are professors not pushing this more? Why are students making use of these sources? I’m not sure, but it was rather surprising given their accessibility and the potential that these resources represent for SLA. And Finally I don’t understand why we don’t take advantage of video conferencing and similar technologies that have the ability to make the whole university experience easier. I don’t think many would deny that this is the future of education, yet UTA, and others I imagine, seems to be lagging behind.
So how have my ideas changed over the course of the semester? First off I am now much more open to using a communicative method as opposed to traditional atlas like methods. While I have noted several times this semester that I don’t think the results show it to be vastly superior, I have to admit it is more fun and engaging. I base this, more or less, on the results and observations of my teaching assignments as well as my personal experience. I think the other students reacted and participated much more than if I had just stood up and barked vocabulary and grammar rules at them. Also, at the beginning of this semester if you had told me you can teach a language class without a text book I would have been skeptical, to say the least, but now I think this is great idea. I am starting to believe that the language textbook market is a racket, more concerned with making money than teaching students a language. Initially I was totally negative towards learning vocab and grammar contextually as well the idea of using literature to teach language. However, I now feel that learning vocab contextually can be effective and within the right context you can make a much bigger impact than with a list of 50 vocab items. I remain unsure about teaching grammar and think the best approach would be a combination of explicit and implicit techniques, but I would need more time in front of a class to decide. Moreover, I now think that literature in small doses and carefully selected could be effective, maybe more so for introducing interpretation skills and/or culture than teaching vocab or grammar. All in all I would have to say not only do I now have a different opinion of how a language can and should be taught, I have learned the importance of being open and flexible in the classroom.
After having spent so much time dealing with SLA concepts this semester I have a much better I idea about what I feel are key factors that will help students succeed. To develop comprehension, students must spend a lot of time listening to the target language both in class and outside of class. To speak better one has to find and speak with native and or advanced speakers. Thirdly, I think students need extensive exposure to the target culture in order to develop a strong connection to the target language, which will increase its relevance. Basically students need constant exposure to the language, which can be accomplished with currently available technology. With this concept in mind I am building a web site with the goal of creating an environment that promotes virtual immersion, which would in turn allow learners to develop the part of their personality that will de based in the target language.
The website will contain a series of videos that I am recoding as well as a collection of authentic texts on which lessons could be based. There would be no textbook. I think these authentic sources, especially the local ones, will make a larger impact because they show that the language is alive in our area. Over the last two weeks I have been going to local places and recording conversations with Spanish speakers and have others in mind: for example, a trip to a local Fiesta supermarket where we learn about shopping, a trip to the mechanic for when we have car problems, a trip to Parkland hospital to see how bilingual nurses and doctors interact with patients, etc. This is only a partial list of some of the task/situations I have in mind and I have already completed several which can be found on my website. I feel there can be no better base for learning than authentic, local, and relevant material.
Having established a focus I would then encourage students to spend time with the language outside of class, which I know can be a challenge. I would approach this by allowing the student to pick something of interest to them, a sport, fashion, movies, video games etc then choose a source to use through out the semester. Each week they would choose an item from a website and post it on the blog. Each student would give a rundown of the content of the article; what it was about, where it was from, interesting things they noticed and words they learned from it. I think that by giving them the option to choose the topics and sources I would stand a better chance at getting them to spend time with the language outside of class because it would be something of personal relevance.
As for output I believe searching out native/advanced speakers to talk to is the only way to improve. I think this could be accomplished, at least at the university level, by giving TA’s credit for having short conversations with the students throughout the semester, even at the basic level. If the school is open to technology students could be encouraged to use sites like ichati to find online partners to speak with. Another idea would be to make connections with other language programs at universities in an attempt to find native speakers of the target language with whom they could connect. Again the technological potential to connect people exists we just need to put it in practice.
Exposure to the broad spectrum of accents and cultural knowledge is always lacking in the classroom and I think I would approach this by replacing traditional lab work with something new. My idea is to supply a list, on my website, of news outlets that have streaming video/audio and then have the students use the news broadcasts as their lab listening. This would not only facilitate exposure to the many dialects of Spanish, but would supply them with important knowledge of current events as well as local cultural knowledge. Though the news they will be able to see attitude towards important issues like, the economy, human rights, social problems, etc. I think this would be much more effective than traditional lab work because it exposes the students to real linguistic variation and supplies them with real world/usable knowledge.
I don’t know how well this would go over in a traditional academic setting but I think that it incorporates all the things that I feel would be most effective when trying to learn another languages. I think that my proposal reflects the shift we have been talking this semester. If we can implement a program that allows the student to connect personally with the language and use technology to keep them in constant or near constant contact I believe we will see that a virtual immersion can be achieved. Once virtually immersed I believe student will be able to make the target language and culture a part of their lives, effective adopting it, thus increasing the possibility for successful acquisition. While I fear there would be significant resistance to some of these ideas I think they reflect the fundamental changes we will see in the classroom of the future.
This was a one of the first books I got on Portuguese and ironically I never really used it since I ended up doing one on one lessons. I had to laugh when I went through the checklist because I answered no to all but 2 of the question. Each chapter starts with a dialog, usually quite contrived and/or inane in content and then proceeds to grammar point after grammar point with examples. Every chapter has at least one very long vocabulary list and some chapters have several. The end of each chapter has activities that are straight mechanical drills, fill in the blank, and translate the sentence into Portuguese. The lessons do not encourage any sort of interpretation or analysis. I think this is pretty much the prototypical old school textbook.
However, there are authentic texts throughout the book. For example, each chapter has some really interesting imagery, woodcut, magazine covers, musical instruments, posters, statues and pictures of people, but they are never used to teach. As a matter of fact, they aren’t even labeled in the chapters! I did find them listed at the very back of the book, but with no elaboration, just the artists name. I found this totally ridiculous as they are completely disconnected from the lessons in which they appear even though they are thematically connected. Also there are several excerpts from literary works, but almost no associated questions and when there are questions they don’t allow for interpretation. For example; Where is Lisbon? What’s the capital of Brazil? Every couple of chapters has a cultural section, but again there is no activity associated and no further explanation. The texts in this textbook basically function as adornments. I found this slightly sad after having worked with so many authentic texts this semester.
On a final note, I did find one thing, I’m not joking just one, that could be considered text based learning. It was an advertisement and the authors supplied 4 or 5 vocabulary items then asked whether or not the students could read the ad and figure out what product it was for. This was the closest thing I found to text based learning in this textbook.
After our discussion in class last night I though I would post a list of some sites I use. If you have any questions let me know.
You have to set up a gmail account. Then once you log in you can add a subscription to a podcast by clicking the add a subscription button which is just below the Google reader logo in the upper left hand corner. The ones I currently listen to are:
Cosa pública- News from México mainly politics from Jalisco…
Noticias em foco – once a week hour long news show on current events/issues in Brasil
CBN esporte club – 3-4 a week – hour long show on sports/futebol
2000 ans d’histoire- 3 or 4 episodes a week
Le 6/7 Morning news everyday
La librairie francophone
but there are thousands more…you just have to search for them. Most large news sites will have a podcast section now.
http://sites.radiofrance.fr/franceinter/pod/ – all the podcast from france inter
http://www.rmc.fr/ – you can launch the player from the home page
http://www.radiobfm.com/ – you can launch the player from the home page
Has almost everything that TVE does. I usually watch España directo, it’s a kind if morning news show, much different from what you see here and sometimes Cuenta me como pasó which is a family drama set during the transition years, again quite different from family dramas here.
http://www.rtve.es/radio/ Radio – nacional de españa..the player is on the right. 5 channels to listen to.
http://www.notisistema.com/podcasts.php – all the podcast from notisitema México
http://www.globo.com/ Brasil news – more pop culture
http://www.folha.uol.com.br/ – Brasil new..more journalistic
http://cbn.globoradio.globo.com/home/HOME.htm – live radio from Brasil…the link to their stations is on the right side
http://jovempan.uol.com.br/- the link to the radio is on the left ..jp ao vivo
Last week I wrote about how technology is helping language learners learn more. However, the influence of technology is far reaching, offering teachers more options as well as changing the role of bilinguals/multilinguals. This in turn made me reflect on the technology that is pedagogy and whether or not the education establishment is open/flexible enough to adopt the communicative techniques we have been discussing this semester.
I was particularly interested in the sites that dealt with globalization and localization because the spread of technology, and business, requires people who can implement and adapt it to a target culture. I think this was terrifying illustrated by the site engrish.com and all the horrible translations, which show the difficulty involved and in many cases an obvious lack of knowledge of the target language. However, this is a field that will continue to grow for bi/multilinguals and as we become more interconnected we will need to know more about not only about the language but also the local culture to succeed. This begs the question, how well are we preparing students for this shift?
Many of the other sites I looked at show the potential that exist in online repositories and communities. Teachers are no longer limited to the occasional conference and can use such sites, for example, the French site that had an idea of the month and project of the month and UT’s Tá Falado, to find new things to try in the classroom. Another online community that I feel has a lot of potential is italki, where you can chat online with people who speak the language you are learning and who want to learn the language you speak. It is exciting to see people, who may never have come into contact with each other, using the Internet to connect and learn about language/culture. I think online communities represent a largely untapped resource for the SLA classroom.
But technology can mean many things and I am starting to see pedagogy as a type of technology in and of itself. I think that many of the concepts we have talked about this semester represent an advance in the technology of teaching. In moving away from just drilling on vocabulary and grammar and actually teaching them to interpret, analyze, and think we will better prepare student for the real word by providing them with skills that transcend SLA.
Yet I think there are some challenges to implementing this new pedagogical technology. First off I’m not sure there is sufficient evidence, yet, to show that this new way of teaching is vastly superior. While this would not hinder me, I think it may be difficult to convince traditional academics, not to mention the public, that a communicative method is better. I feel that by using authentic texts and encouraging communication the student stands to gain more, not to mention useful, knowledge and skills than they would in a tradition grammer/vocab driven curriculum. The problem lies in convincing people that this change is necessary and that it will yield results.
This leads me to the question of how much of a leader is UTA in the field of technological learning? This is the first class where I have been encouraged to use authentic texts and new formats like blogs. Also, despite the capacity for video teleconferencing the MODL department doesn’t offer any classes in this format, unlike UT Austin. I really loved the idea from one of the blogs of meeting locally with student that live near you, then later submitting/presenting you work to the larger group. But maybe this is changing. I know that next semester Professor Semenet class is going to make use of Blackboard instead of meeting for some classes. I believe this is the future of learning and yet I feel UTA is reluctant to accept teleconferencing, or for that matter anything but the traditional classroom. I don’t know why, but if we have the technology to do it ,why aren’t we using it?
Technology will have a profound affect on SLA by offering tons of authentic material and access to native speakers at the push of a button. It is also helping by providing a space for the development of online communities to allow for in exchange of ideas and intercultural contact. However, this works both ways and technology will increasingly demand people who are not only fluent in languages but also in cultures. I feel language programs need to recognize the shift and offer more option to the SLA student not only by implementing curriculum that encourage analytic thinking and that take advantage of the technology we have.
This is a topic that is very important for me, not only because I work for a high tech company that facilitates the use of new technologies, but also because I credit having access to the internet as being one of the biggest factors in my language learning success. But things continue to evolve (rapidly) and the technology that permeates our culture and lives will affect not only our classroom experience but also, I feel, the education establishment as we know it.
I believe I may never have learned Spanish without having had access to the Internet and an Ipod. As I have previously mentioned, I spend hours every day listening to live news from France, Brasil, and all over the Hispanic world, something that was impossible 10 years ago. Even 5 years ago I was limited to certain podcasts and feeds from the more developed countries like Spain. But with the explosion of access in Latin America I now have a massive selection of live feeds to choose from. I am truly amazed at how technology continues to develop in ways that help me learn more, mainly by increasing the amount of time I can be in contact with the target language and the new generation of smartphones are a perfect example. I no longer need an Ipod because I now use my phone to get live feeds. Moreover, I now access the podcasts I listen to, fewer all the time as I opt for live feeds, with my phone via Google Listen. These faster devices combined with faster networks are giving language learners constant access to more authentic material than we have ever had before.
I believe that as this technology becomes more available we will see a fundamental change in the classroom. First of all, as touched on in the UT module, I think the language textbook is quickly becoming obsolete and could soon disappear, to be replaced by tablets and laptops as they become more affordable. These devices combined with the wealth of sources on the Internet will offer a depth, breadth, and authenticity that are impossible to achieve with a traditional textbook. This will be exacerbated by the fact that each subsequent generation of students will be more and more integrated/comfortable with these technologies. I think the classroom will become a highly interactive environment where we will connect directly to our target languages/cultures. Just imagine group work where you videoconference with students in Mexico City, Paris, or Mumbai. In the long this technology has the capacity to do away with the campus and classroom all together as we may all end up attending class from our homes via the web. It is only a matter of time.
This poses a fundamental question. If the classroom is to change what will happen to the education establishment? I think many of the things I read this week, in particular the OpenPHD blog, reflect a frustration with the traditional education establishment. To a certain degree this is a monetary issue as higher education continues to cost more while offering less in return. People are realizing that the academic system controls access to accreditation and not necessarily access to knowledge. You can learn without going to school and new technology only furthers this possibility. You can find information from every field of study online and if you combine this with online communities, forums and blogs it stands to reason you can learn just as much outside of the traditional academic circles. The industry I work in represents a field that highlights this shift, where real world experience and working knowledge are much more important than a degree. This is partly due to the fact that the technology evolves so rapidly that a degree earned now would have been based largely on obsolete technology. I have seen applicants with computer science degrees interview and many don’t have the slightest idea how things works in a real world environment. If this can happen in the high tech telcom industry, I think it can happen in other fields, essentially removing the higher education establishment from the equation.
It is inevitable that technology will become more and more prevalent in our classrooms, eventually changing the way we learn. Technology has already has a huge impact on my learning experience as I credit it as being a major factor in learning Spanish and Portuguese. Where will it take us in the future? I don’t know, but I think we are in for some massive changes to both the classroom and the education establishment as we incorporate these new technologies.
This is an interesting article I came across this week that talks about the state of public education in Mexico.
There is no better way to learn about culture then by talking to people. On the other hand speaking can be a problematic source of anxiety for many and often culture gets pushed way down the list of priorities, especially in the classroom. But what is the point of learning another language if you are not going to talk to people? Speaking facilitates direct access to the culture and in talking to and interacting with native speakers you can learn more about the culture than you will ever learn in a class.
In order to use the language to learn culture one first has to overcome the fear of speaking and I feel the best way to do this is by simply forcing yourself to talk. This problem is compounded by the fact that you can never get enough practice speaking in the classroom. To get this practice, especially when I first started learning, I would speak Spanish with anyone anywhere, on the DART, to the cleaning lady in our office, to the guy at the park speaking Spanish to his kids. In doing so I lost my fear of speaking. The way I saw it was, I would prefer to start a conversation and make errors than not speak at all, which is a bigger mistake because it represents a missed opportunity. I quickly realized that any anxiety, nervousness, or embarrassment I might feel was well worth the reward. But it wasn’t always easy, I can remember a time when I could speak better than I could understand and I would constantly take over conversations because if I could control where the conversation was going I was much more likely to be able to communicate. Speaking is rewarding as it not only allows you the freedom to express yourself but also allows you to take an active role in learning culture because you can go straight to the source, native speakers. The challenge lies in finding a way to overcome the initial fear.
So if speaking opens the doors to culture how does one become culturally fluent? In the UT video the word vicariously was used to describe how a student should approach the target language, but I would go one step further and say you have to develop a personality in that target culture. I feel this can be done by integrating aspects of the culture into your life. For example I watch TV in Spanish, I play on soccer teams with Spanish speakers, we have Spanish speaking friends over, we take my daughter to Spanish class once a week and Spanish is now a part of our lives. Second, I stay in constant contact with the language through a sort of artificial immersion facilitated by the Internet. I listen to podcasts in the target language in the car, talk to people in Spanish at every opportunity, read and listen to news on the Internet every day, just to name a few. If you cannot live in the target culture you have to create an environment of artificial immersion, which I feel can have a similar effect as total immersion.
This leads me to LVP this week and while I continue to have issues with them I do like the idea of task oriented learning because I think it could be a useful and fun way to learn language and culture. I wish I had gone through the process of renting a car in Spain or knew what it is like going to the Dr’s office in Mexico before I had to figure it out on the fly. That being said I think that at a certain level of proficiency you will be able to figure this out on our own. I also think LVP may be overestimating the sticking power of these activities, because despite having performed these tasks in class there is no guarantee there will be easy recall when you encounter a similar situation. All in all I don’t think LVP are suggesting anything radical here, I think that most chapters in most textbooks would suggest similar activities, however I don’t think they often get implemented.
While learning language along with culture would seem a no brainer there is often a disconnect between the two. But by seeking out native speakers and actually talking to them one can gain invaluable cultural knowledge that that one would never learn in the classroom. Also if one cannot live in the culture I think that by adopting aspects of the culture and creating a simulated environment of immersion on can development a personality in and therefore essentially adopt the target culture.
Learning grammar is difficult, there is no denying that. But it is the underpinning of a language and if you don’t follow the rules it is highly unlikely that you will be understood. For this reason I found myself disagreeing with many points from LVP. Grammar rules are the foundation that communication is built on and they are so important, even at the basic level, that I feel it is better to be explicit with them instead of having students try to guess them.
While I like some of the ideas proposed from the UT modules I also had some concerns. I think the inductive approach could be slightly less intimidating than the deductive approach, and maybe more fun, but I feel it could be rather inefficient. For example they propose giving the students a text and then let them develop and test a hypothesis about what the grammar rule might be. So lets say you give them 20 minutes to do this and they don’t figure it out, you just wasted 20 minutes by letting them run with an erroneous hypothesis. I think it would be better to introduce the rule first to get them on the right track, then give them a text to look at that illustrates the rule but also offers a variation of that rule and see if they can figure out the pattern in the variation. Maybe it’s just me but it seems like a good idea to go over the rules before you start playing the game or else you just end up running in circles.
Moving on to LVP, I don’t even know where to begin. I found myself disagreeing with about 80 % of what they put forth. I do agree that I did not become an advanced speaker just from the repetition and drills done at the basic level but I think completely discounting any positive effect related to traditional exposure to grammar, as LVP suggest, seems ridiculous. I found it ironic that LVP would like to discount traditional grammar teaching methods by saying, “well people learned languages before the advent of traditional methods” because while people have learned without them they obviously have been learning with them as well. I also found it humorous that that dedicate roughly 16 pages to why traditional grammar teaching is bad/ineffective and 4 paragraphs as to why it may be superior. I feel knowing the basic rules builds confidence. Also, in understanding the underlying structure do you not gain a greater understanding of the language over all? I think you can offer structured input as well as explicit explanation. I don’t think it has to be one way or the other.
Moving on to LVP’s treatment of paradigms when I read the follow “if they believe a good grade depends on success of conjugating verbs and displaying knowledge of rules they will use the paradigm” I was speechless. What do they think students are graded on? You have to follow the rules of grammar, consciously or unconsciously, to speak comprehensible and if you didn’t learn them implicitly as a child you will probably need things like paradigms to be able to master the forms as an adult. I think they can also be reassuring to the student, which in turn can help reduce anxiety. I know you can learn a language without paradigms and metalinguistic knowledge but is that really better?
On a different note I found the Kern’s article interesting, in particular the idea of the pen pal. In this way they are getting input from real people and are learning about the reality of France. They are making personal connections and corresponding with someone who lives in the target culture, which will make a lasting impression whereas seeing a photo of a person in a textbook will not. In this way the language is alive, real, and useful and not some sterile, lifeless representation in a language textbook.
Grammar is hard to learn but essential and while there may be may many ways to learn it I feel that LVP total rejection of traditional methods and paradigms is somewhat extreme. I don’t feel they offer any real proof that the methods they propose are more effective. Moreover they make some statements that I found almost ridiculous. While I don’t agree with a lot of what they propose I do feel that modifying traditional methods to include more communicative exercises could be an effective tool to help teach grammatical structures.