Speaking Their Language: A Variety of New Technologies Are Available to Teach Language More Effectively

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TAPPING INTO TECHNOLOGY FOR foreign language learning is important, given that such learning is increasingly being seen as vital to the nation's economic and cultural well-being.

The development of technology has dovetailed nicely with a new paradigm of foreign language education, says Marty Abbott, director of education for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. Rather than having students just learn vocabulary from static textbooks and interact primarily with the teacher, foreign language teachers are attempting to make classes more communication-oriented, participatory, and connected to the real world.

"Teachers are using the new technologies to really open up the classroom for the students to connect more closely with their daily lives and to make learning more relevant," she says.

The New Language Lab

Probably the most advanced development in foreign-language instruction in the last 15 years is the multimedia-capable language-learning computer lab. This past summer, the Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School District in Rumson, N.J., unveiled a Sony Virtuoso Language Lab that allows for instructor-guided multimedia and digital student lessons using computers, special software and microphone headsets. Manufactured by the firm SANS, the system offers teachers control over each student operating a computer in the lab, says Michele Salazar-Linden, Rumson-Fair supervisor of world languages. Teachers can upload digital multimedia lessons, communicate with students via text messaging, and listen in on students as they work, interrupting them if necessary to correct them. Students' vocal input from the headset can be recorded to a computer file that the teacher or student can review later. The system, which connects to the Internet, allows teachers to provide more individualized instruction and allows more time for language practice than a traditional classroom setting. "The student can work for the whole period practicing the language with their partner, and the teacher can work with the students instead of lecturing them," Salazar-Linden says.


Northside College Preparatory High School in the Chicago Public Schools uses another high-tech language lab called reLANpro, purchased from ASC Direct, that has similar capabilities. Using reLANpro, students can review their own recordings as well as practice areas of weakness, says Janet Torres, department chair of world languages at the district. "By having the kids record their answers, they are able to [review them later and] say, this is exactly the one part that was mentioned to me by my teacher that I need to reinforce," Torres says. For Abbott, the ability to digitally record student performances represents a "radical change" in foreign language instruction, offering more opportunities for assessment and feedback for teachers than just calling on students. "That's really difficult to do in the confines of the traditional classroom, but the new technologies are really aiding the teacher and making it much more doable for teachers," she says.


At Herricks Union Free School District in New Hyde Park, N.Y., Lori Langer de Ramirez, the district's chair of ESL and world languages, is using video technology to connect students to classes abroad. Using Skype, a computer program that allows telephone calls over the Internet, and a Web camera, de Ramirez has arranged videoconferences with a class of students in Venezuela, allowing her students to experience cultural exchanges. Students were excited and asked a plethora of questions that exercised their vocabulary--for example, inquiring how many siblings a particular Venezuelan student had or asking for another student's birth-date, de Ramirez recalls.

Videoconferences are exciting and motivating for students, Abbott says. …