Se Habla Technology: Whether in the Lab or without, Advancements Such as Laptops, MP3 Players, and Videoconferencing Are Helping Enrich Foreign Language Instruction

Article excerpt

LAKESIDE SCHOOL, a Seattle-area private school for grades 5 to 12, counts several technological pioneers among its alumni base, including Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, so it would be natural to assume that the campus resides at the cutting edge of technology. And yet it does not have a language lab. But that in itself goes to show just how cutting-edge the school is.

Instead of having a conventional lab, Lakeside makes use of its laptop program---every student from seventh grade on receives a computer--in conjunction with other technology to create a mobile language lab environment.

"Use of laptops is a much more student-centered approach," explains Lupe Fisch, head of Lakeside's Upper School languages department. "We can complete daily class research projects in native languages quickly, using foreign websites and Wikipedia in Spanish. Our advanced students review current topics from BBC Mundo, its Spanish language website, then research background during the week, and present the topic for discussion on Fridays.

"Recently," Fisch goes on, "our French IV students completed an oral history of Francophone immigrants to the Puget Sound area from North Africa, Vietnam, and France. All conversations were conducted in French. The students recorded and edited the audio and video of these interviews on their laptops."

Lakeside's language teachers have more than laptops at their disposal. They also have the benefit of using Smart Technologies' ( Smart Boards, upon which they complete web searches, annotate papers, and create lessons that bypass English entirely. "Our Smart Boards are great for kinesthetic learners because [students] can actually drag the noun under the 'Noun' rubric," Fisch says, "expending energy while remaining focused."

Lakeside's efforts demonstrate how technology tools can be used in language instruction outside a traditional lab. It's a unique approach--most schools still use language labs. But that doesn't mean there hasn't been progress. Technological advancements such as portability, wireless technology, and digital platforms are all helping enrich language studies. Instructors are using multimedia software, MP3 players, and videoconferencing software to enhance presentations and student work. Additionally, the acquisition of language lab hardware is trending up as more schools are committing to advanced language instruction, and English as a Second Language programs are increasing in many districts.

The preK-12 Bolles School in Jacksonville, FL, is one campus that has invested heavily in language lab technology. "We have a 25-booth Sanako ( lab that is occupied 90 percent of the week," says Moya Marks, the school's foreign language chair. "The lab provides a perfect tool for preparing for applied language skills, as well as for reinforcing the language skills of our students in a 1-to-1 environment. For example, a level-1A Spanish student can read a paragraph about Don Quixote orally, listen to a basic description of the character, and then discuss the content with the teacher, who is seated at the console. The teacher can introduce secondary text about Sancho Panza, refer the student to an online source, or simply assess the dialogue."

Though the upper and middle schools at Bolles have self-contained language labs, Bolles, like Lakeside, also integrates classroom technology into language instruction, using Toshiba ( tablet PCs. "Our teachers direct student attention to the corrections of a student's work, or color-code parts of speech for our first-year students," Marks explains. "They will also use the tablets within the language lab for administering assessments or supplementing an oral lesson."

Keep It Simple

One problem with language labs is that many teachers can be overwhelmed by the gadgetry available to them.

"Language lab systems have more features and capabilities than most teachers are willing to use," says Gerry Sullivan, director of marketing at Robotel (www. …