How can we use technology to teach languages online?

teach; learn; languages

The transformations we have made with respect to how we learn and teach in Higher Education has brought both challenges and opportunities. The speed in which we have had to adapt to these changes has been extraordinary. Professionals have needed to modify their teaching practices, assessments,  lectures, seminars and study materials to accommodate the online environment whilst simultaneously delivering high quality teaching to students. For our language teachers, they have needed to utilise all resources, from Collaborate, to Google Drive; Moodle activities through to scanning apps for  handwritten translations. Whilst this might sound overwhelming, it has given us the opportunity to be creative and innovative in how we teach languages in both the short and long-term. 

How can we learn and teach languages online effectively? 

1. The Quiz activity can help you create mini-assessments, including multiple choice questions, short essay responses as well as recording audio and video files. The teacher can also use the Quiz activity to record an audio file as part of a formative or summative assessment or even  just to give students an example of the correct pronunciation of words or sentences. 

2. A Panopto Assignment Folder can be set-up to allow students to upload audio and video presentations, for formative or summative assessment or even just to practice their  pronunciation. 

3. A Google Document can be created and shared with teachers and students to create e portfolios; alternatively, a Google Folder for everyone to upload files, readings or support materials to encourage group collaboration. 

4. Collaborate and Zoom can be used for tailored support calls, such as 1-1’s between teachers and students to ask questions about the course, discuss progress and set new objectives.

5. The Forum can help you start a new discussion at any time, attach files and converse with  others. 

6. The Glossary activity acts as a mini-dictionary where students can add new words they discover perhaps through literature or watching a film; you can also provide a definition of a  word you’ve found and share this with others. 

7. The Wiki activity can be used to motivate students to collaborate or work individually on tasks including translation exercises as well as group projects. 

8. Platforms such as Miro (online collaborative whiteboard) can be used to bring people together to present and share work. 

9. The Moodle Assignment Activity allows students to submit multiple files of handwritten prose, perhaps presented as a weekly journal. 

10. Create your own online community of learners; this can include teachers and students in your department or centre, including peers from across the School who may be native speakers. 

By involving students in the learning process, we can encourage them to evaluate the methods and approaches we currently use in order to make improvements or modifications to how we teach languages; after all, how people learn should feed into how we teach. By reflecting on our practice, what works and what doesn’t, we can create a community of learners with both a shared ethos to language learning and an understanding of how we might support different learning styles. 

We are in a fortunate position where we can shape technology to support our teaching practices; the challenges created by moving online has allowed us to be creative and innovative. However, teaching  languages specifically has needed to adapt with the technology to create a sustainable online learning environment and support the pedagogy which underpins it. Technology enables students to interact  with others wherever they are, empowering them to be an active participant in their learning process. Alongside this, we have experienced the benefits of a more rounded approach to teaching,  using different tools, resources and methods, which will serve us well in the long-term. 

Dr. Stephanie Conway is a learning technologist at SOAS.

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