In general, there is evidence that technology can provide educational opportunities to people who would otherwise not have them, which is going to have an enormous impact on the lives of millions. However, the online courses we offer still tend to be replicas of their face-to-face counterparts, and we are not nearly as innovative or disruptive as we could be when it comes to instructional design. Perhaps part of the problem is that we are not harnessing the power that technology-driven instruction can bring to learning science.
We know from copious amounts of research that instruction works best when it is personal. Yet daunted at the prospect of sorting this out, many language programs revert to the outdated approach of just assigning everyone the same thing. However, maybe incorporating individualized instruction into a group curriculum isn’t as hard as it might seem.
There are over 43 million immigrants in the U.S., and more than 20 million are adults who are what’s called “Limited English Proficient,” or LEP. This means that on top of all the struggles they face to provide for themselves and their families, they have a huge and staggering additional barrier–not understanding English. Yet our ESL programs often don’t address the multitude of needs of this population in solving the real-world problems they face in their daily lives.
Teaching a foreign language to first-time learners is hard. Students wonder how they can possibly language the language when they don’t know anything, and teachers grapple with speaking in the target language even when they know their students don’t fully understand. Ultimately, it comes down to setting expectations.
Standardized tests have been both vilified and venerated, and despite their well-documented shortcomings, they are widely used in many high-stakes circumstances. But with the introduction of other measures of proficiency, performance, and assessment, we gain a far more robust picture of a learner’s capabilities.
Are you searching for the best way to provide English instruction to employees? If so, then you’re probably considering two options: self-study online courses or teacher-led live classes. But did you consider a mixture of both?
Authentic content gives learners exposure to the kind of language that they ultimately want to understand and create for themselves. If you don’t use authentic content, and teach learners with scripted dialogs or simplified materials written by language teachers, you’re not giving them models for how to produce or understand the language they’ll encounter in the wild. Not only is this ineffective, it’s also inefficient.
We know that using authentic content is important in English language instruction, and there are dozens of ways to do it, from having students write Yelp reviews to watching YouTube videos. However, the bigger question is how to use authentic content in a way that is needs-based, personalized, and relevant.
In the U.S., we force students to sit through mind-numbing grammar lessons and stilted dialogues, leaving them unable to order coffee at a French bistro. But that doesn’t mean we should eliminate language instruction. It’s incredibly important for everyone to speak more than one language in today’s interconnected world.
While translation is a core element of language learning, translation is itself an art, not a means to an end. So where does translation fit into a language learning process which requires personalized, relevant, and meaningful instruction?