Tools for Teaching ESL and Foreign Languages

By Hoffman, David | Technology & Learning, May-June 1991 | Go to article overview

Tools for Teaching ESL and Foreign Languages


Hoffman, David, Technology & Learning


Eucators are devoting much attention these days to teaching English a second language (ESL)--in part because of the astonishing increase in American schoolchildren whose native tongue is not English. Simultaneously, interest in teaching foreign languages in American schools is rising as we realize the implications of living in both a shrinking world and a global economy.

Software publishers have long been producing products for both ESL and foreign language classrooms, but until recently, forward-thinking teachers haven't been too impressed with what the mostly drill-and-practice software did for their language students. In the past year or two, though, software publishers have begun to build programs around language teaching methodologies that stress everyday communication skills over drill and practice. And perhaps more importantly, these same publishers have begun to incorporate more sophisticated technologies into their programs--technologies such as digitized speech output and input, the CD-ROM, and sometimes even interactive video--that add both speech and cultural richness to classroom activities.

Over the past month, we surveyed a large number of programs that embrace these new teaching methods and technologies. We group them for you here--first for ESL teachers adn then for foreign language teachers. Within each group, you'll find two categories: Our "courseware" category includes programs that focus on developing grammar, vocabulary, listening, reading, writing, and speaking skills. Our "writing and reference tools" category covers tool software--including word processors; automatic grammar and style checkers; and grammar, vocabulary, and usage references--targeted at students learning a second language.

We've also added a couple of boxes that both ESL and foreign language teachers will want to look at. One is on lesson-making and authoring tools, and the other is, in effect, a grab-bag of popular software products you might not have known were available in any language but English.

Courseware for ESL Teachers

* English Express, a new program from Davidson and Associates for students in grades five and up, includes eight videodiscs, software, and supporting print materials.

The foundation of the program is the "natural approach" to language acquisition--an approach that focuses on creating a need for communication and then providing the tools to make communication possible. English Express provides these tools in large part through 1,400 images contained on the videodiscs--images drawn from the well-known ESL resource The Longman Photo Dictionary. The images are organized into more than 60 "semantic categories," and enhanced by textual labels, audio pronunciations, and short dialogues that present the words in context. Illustrated "storyboard sequences" for each word category are also provided via the video screen to prompt conversation in the classroom. And of course, Davidson provides loads of suggestions for structuring lessons.

The program also includes two other important modules. Speech Master, which works with a speech input/output device and microphone, lets students record their own voices and compare their pronunciation to a digitized model. And Language Builder offers games and activities enhanced with digitized speech.

For MS-DOS computers (512K) with a hard drive, IBM Speech Adapter or Creative Labs Sound Blaster speech input/output device (not required for the Tandy 2500 series computer), microphone, headset, videodisc player with barcode reader. (Software for Macintosh and Apple IIGS is being prepared for release soon, along with CD-ROM versions for both MS-DOS and Macintosh platforms. The CD-ROM versions will incorporate the contents of the current viodeodiscs and will add greater interactivity to the English Express system.)

Pricing ranges from $7,000 to $10,000, depending on the number of student stations licensed. …

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