ESL (English as a Second Language) Electronic Classroom

By Kurshan, Barbara; Isler, Elizabeth et al. | Multimedia Schools, March-April 1997 | Go to article overview

ESL (English as a Second Language) Electronic Classroom

Kurshan, Barbara, Isler, Elizabeth, Blackburn, John, Multimedia Schools

The English as a Second Language (ESL) classroom is a true melting pot; students arrive from diverse cultures with unique customs and different languages. What they share is the common goal of achieving English fluency. Computer technology provides an excellent selection of learning tools that meets the special pedagogical needs of new English speakers. The marketplace is flooded with new, innovative products to help the ESL learner.


Computer-based learning enlivens the ESL experience through hands-on learning. Storybook Weaver, for example, a bilingual creative writing CD-ROM, allows students to fashion stories in English and Spanish along with sound effects and illustrations. Rather than wrestle with pencil, paper, and textbook, ESL students are able to improve their written expression and comprehension with hands-on experiences in an exciting new medium (see Figure 1).

According to Stephanie Sebolt, an ESL teacher in Roanoke County, Virginia, Storybook Weaver "helps students learn and practice English while enticing their imagination and their creativity."

Stephanie relates a recent experience using Storybook Weaver with one of her Russian students. "The student brought to class a Russian folktale, which she translated to English. She typed the story into Storybook Weaver, adding pictures and captions. Next, using a shoebox with a rectangle cut out to resemble a television, she presented the Russian folktale as a `television program,' using all the graphics, scenes, and figures from Storybook Weaver. The rest of the students really enjoyed it, and afterwards we discussed the different customs and traditions."

Multimedia enhances ESL learning through interactivity. From audio to animation to interactive composition, multimedia applications offer the ESL student and teacher new opportunities to improve and enhance language skills. Innovations like text-to-speech, advanced animation, and video capabilities not only help students maintain a high level of interest, but also provide opportunities for students to observe and to manipulate vocabulary in a variety of contexts. Programs such as language Explorer, Word Action, and Language Discovery enliven vocabulary exercises--in four languages--with visually dazzling graphics and games (see Figure 2).


Computer-based language tools are highly adaptable to the individual needs of both ESL students and teachers. Even as students work alone, they interact with what amounts to a personal tutor--the computer--while learning at their own paces. In an ESL classroom, where students often have different levels of fluency, computer-based learning can be a highly valuable asset that enables teachers to tailor lessons to the needs of individual students.

There are programs for every ESL student--from the beginner to the nearly fluent--that teach and reinforce a broad spectrum of language skills. English Tutor, for example, coaches ESL students on verb tense, parts of speech, pronunciation, and reading comprehension. English Your Way adapts to the individual with voice recognition technology that is able to point out pronunciation mistakes. English Your Way also allows students to explore branching conversations in which the outcome of each situation depends on the student's response. Consequently, students not only learn and master new vocabulary in vivid, real-life situations, but also develop decision-making skills. Similarly, MacLang 4.5 is a multilevel ESL program that offers activities ranging from vocabulary equivalency drills (in 10 languages) to cloze exercises, which teach vocabulary by having the learner fill in missing words in a sentence or paragraph. MacLang 4.5 can be customized to suit the student's particular strengths and weaknesses through its level functions. Teachers can correlate class lessons with the software exercises and activities.

For younger ESL students, Sitting on the Farm, The Cat Came Back, and Children's Classics are multilingual programs that invite users to read, write, listen, view, sing, play games, and make recordings in conjunction with stories. …

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