Most of us who were in school before the Internet was in use by educational institutions had a very traditional method for learning a foreign language. We had a textbook, a teacher, a classroom of peers, and perhaps some audiotapes that we could listen to for the sake of pronunciation. How things have changed. Today’s foreign language student has a vastly different experience, thanks to what is now known as information and communication technology (ICT).
ICT has been in use by business enterprises for several years already. Virtual meetings, for example, bring all stakeholders together where they can see one another as they participate in critical discussions. Education always seems to lag behind business use of technology, but it is finally catching up. Now, there are some ICT tools that students can access as they learn a foreign language in a real-world context. These tools have drastically changed the way foreign languages are taught and mastered.
Here are just four ways in which communication tools are impacting foreign language teaching and learning.
Increase in Motivation
Traditional foreign language instruction could be a bit boring – practicing grammar structures, taking written tests, etc., all outside of any real-world context. With the advent of ICT, students of foreign languages can access media and news in the target language; they can establish partner relationships with peers in countries of the target language who share their interests, and they can learn to converse in a natural, less formal manner. These resources serve to motivate students to want to learn the language because it is just more meaningful. Suppose a teenager in one country can pair himself with a teen in another, and they can talk about their favorite music, what they do for fun, how and where they shop, the latest fashion styles, etc. The learner wants to keep the relationship going and so finds the time to do just that.
Increase in Independent Learning
Classrooms are evolving from being teacher-centered to student-centered. This means that the teacher changes roles from being a “giver” of knowledge and skills to becoming a facilitator or a coach, pointing students in the direction of self-learning. Thus, the teacher provides resources, and the student uses those resources independently to gain the knowledge/skills he needs to master the course content. With the advent of ICT in foreign language classrooms, students can access tools and platforms on their own time, even outside the classroom, using their PCs, tablets, or phones. ICT platforms such as FluentU, Italki, The Mixxer, and HelloTalk are just a few examples, and they are all mobile-friendly (and just more fun).
Collaboration and Communication Become More Important
The concept that it is more important for students to become masterful communicators in a target language than to demonstrate mastery of grammar structures requires a huge paradigm shift for teachers of foreign languages. Many have not yet made this leap, but, over time, it will be made. When students can collaborate with language partners; when they can demonstrate their ability to understand foreign language content that is presented in the form of news, media, and informal conversations, their mastery must be validated and reflected in their course grades/scores.
This is not, of course, meant to deny that formal foreign language mastery should not be a goal of those who seek careers in the translation industry. Proper and formal grammar, niche vocabulary, and the ability to certify documents to meet international requirements are absolutely necessary, Consider, for example, a translator who wishes to work for online document translation service. These are legal documents that require perfect formal translation, technical vocabulary, and terminology. Informal, conversational language usage is not acceptable.
That said, most of students of foreign languages study those languages for other purposes, and real-world communication is truly the goal.
Mastery of Learning Objectives is Improved
When students are motivated; when they can learn independently on their own time; and when they can collaborate and communicate with others who share their interests, this fourth impact naturally unfolds.
The key to this fourth impact, however, is the ability of teachers to set learning objectives that replace the traditional ones. Strict grammar structures, homework worksheets, and paper-pencil tests need to take a back seat to the successful use of ICT tools and the mastery of real-world communication skills.
What is the Goal?
For most students of foreign languages, the goal is to become proficient enough to “navigate” in that language – to converse with others, perhaps to have international travel streamlined, or maybe to join a community as a foreign exchange student. Using ICT tools and technology serves these goals well.