Just like snowflakes, no two people are exactly alike, and while this has different implications in different contexts, today we’re going to talk about how this affects language learning. It comes down to paying attention–humans have a hard time staying focused on things that are not interesting to them. And it is impossible to learn a language without paying attention.When we teach languages using relevant and interesting content that is not too easy and not too hard, we are in the sweet spot of efficient language training. Our learners are likely to be motivated to pay attention and eager to engage with this content, giving them the critical practice with reading, listening, speaking, and writing that they need to improve their proficiency.Good teachers know this, and they endeavor to offer a wide variety of content to their students, but it is impossible for a single human being to adapt learning materials to meet the needs and interests of an entire class. Fortunately, the past ten years have made personalized, adaptive learning a reality. Built on the same types of algorithms that recommend songs for you on Spotify or new series for you to watch on Hulu, we have pedagogic engines that can select the language learning content that is most relevant to your learners’ interests and needs.And, taking things a step further, we can adapt the very activities that we offer to you. When you struggle with listening, we can offer more audio content to give you listening practice. When learners need to work on grammar, we can ask them to rebuild texts by choosing the right form of specific verbs. You get the idea – using technology, language learning software can track your performance and give you increasingly complex vocabulary words so that learners are working right at the edge of their abilities.When we use language learning technology that delivers just-in-time, personalized learning content we can maximize the effectiveness of teachers. Because, and this is important to emphasize, there is no replacing teachers. There is no algorithm in the world that can give the type of personalized feedback a trained teacher can offer in a video call or in-person conversation. But when we use technology to deliver the most meaningful content, we take that burden off of teachers’ plates, freeing them up to do the work that we cannot outsource to technology. We know that one-size solutions do not actually work for anyone. Personalization is the key to effective language learning, and using a combination of adaptive technology and experienced instructors is the most powerful way to make that happen.Have questions about Voxy uses personalized content to adapt to the needs of each learner? Learn more here.
Katharine Nielson, Ph.D. leads a team of curriculum specialists, data analysts, and research associates to develop test items, curate language learning content, develop curricula, and run empirical studies. She’s spent twenty years teaching languages, researching how to teach languages, and teaching people how to teach languages in various settings around the world.