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3.3: Technically Speaking - Language Learning and Technology

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    Today online resources have become invaluable for all language learners. Language learners may be using online resources in conjunction with instructed language learning in a formal school setting, or they may be independently learning or maintaining a second language. For the latter, there are a variety of options available. There are online language learning services online such is DuoLingo or Mango Languages. These typically provide instruction in multiple languages and, in addition to basic language instruction, also offer access to other learners and/or native speakers. These are typically commercial services, which usually offer a free trial. They vary considerably in scope and effectiveness. A free alternative is to connect online with other language learners through a site such as the Mixxer. One of the methods that has been popular in recent years is tandem learning, in which two learners of each other's language serve as conversation partners and native informants, sharing equally in time spent practicing with each language (Brammerts, 1996).

    Informal language learning through the Internet has become increasingly popular, as it offers just-in-time learning, anytime access, and low cost. Depending on the tool or service used, it also offers the possibility of creating relationships with other learners or native speakers. This can provide valuable venues for real language use. Often classroom language learning is preparation or practice for actual communication, but the Internet provides opportunities for authentic communication. It supplies both opportunities for language use in real contexts and the opportunity for cultural learning. Having real conversations with real people (face-to-face or online) can be a powerful learning motivator. Using and learning languages online has the potential to expose learners to both high volumes and diverse ranges of language. This is an ideal environment for language learning.

    The current view of language has been shaped by research based on corpus linguistics, discourse analysis, and related fields, which see language above all as a set of patterns and conventional word groupings (Godwin-Jones, 2017b). Studies examining real language exchanges show that language use is characterized by repetition, reuse, and re-purposing of chunks of language (Ellis, 2017). This construction-based view of language means that it is essential for the learner to have access to a sufficient volume of language in different contexts to be able to identify patterns, as well as to gain insight into how usage can vary accord-ing to formality or other contexts. The need is for exposure to real language in real and meaningful contexts. That, in fact, is the big advantage of informal language learning online: being able to engage in substantial communicative activities in authentic and meaningful contexts, supplying both more volume and more variety than is the case in instructed language learning. In this way, language is learned through meaningful experiences, and language structures emerge from repeated use (Godwin-Jones, 2018).

    How one might use technology for language learning depends to a large extent on one's level of proficiency, time available, and the purpose for wanting to learn the language. For tourists, there are phrase books, virtual guided tours, and other language and cultural resources in electronic form. These are typically available as apps for mobile access (Godwin-Jones, 2017d). Also popular are flashcard programs for vocabulary learning as well as basic grammar tutorials. For those focused on learning to read in another language, dual-language and annotated texts are available, depending upon the L1 and L2 combination. Also possible are four-skill online courses or software programs for many languages. These include freely available Internet courses such as MOOCs or (paid) for-credit university classes.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Ad for Rosetta Stones promising social benefits

    Among the self-directed language learning software packages, one of the better-known products is Rosetta Stone. It features a sequenced presentation of the target language, initially in phrases and short sentences, and then moving on gradually to larger language chunks. It incorporates listening practice as well as speaking, providing feedback through automatic speech recognition. Rosetta Stone has been criticized for not incorporating a cultural component: the same generic sentences and stock illustrations are used for all languages. Moreover, it shares with other dedicated language learning software the disadvantage of not supplying opportunities for language use beyond simple phrases and sentences. One recent study of the use of Rosetta Stone in elementary Spanish found that students had gained considerable knowledge in the areas of vocabulary and grammar (Lord, 2015). However, they had considerable difficulty in conducting even a basic conversation in Spanish. They lacked strategic competence, the ability to negotiate conversations through rephrasing or asking for explanations or repetitions.

    3.3: Technically Speaking - Language Learning and Technology is shared under a CC BY-NC license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Robert Godwin-Jones.

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