October 7, 2010
Language learning in a connected world
How will connectedness change language teaching, language learning and the language learning industry.The talks I am giving in Portugal deal with the implications for language learning of the increasing connectedness of people, and the abundance of resources that are readily available on the web, or via devices like the iPad which are themselves market places for new ideas and resources.Yesterday I spoke to a group of language teachers at the ISCAP, the Instituto Superior de Contabilidade e Administraçao do Porto. They have 4,000 general students as well as a smaller group who are learning translating and interpreting. All students have to study languages, and English, Spanish, French, German, Russian and Greek are offered. Their facilities are spectacular and the staff comes across as highly dedicated and professional.One teacher asked, after hearing my presentation, if I did not think that teachers would become obsolete in a connected world. I don’t. I think that teachers will become more important.Here is what I think should (might) happen.Text books should become obsolete. All manner of language content and grammatical explanation and tables abound on the web.Testing should be disconnected from teaching institutions. Those learners who want to be tested should approach the test organization of their choice, or that they feel most useful for their goals.What learners will need is help, advice and guidance on how to take advantage of this some bewildering plethora of resources. Language teachers should become like general practitioners in medicine, looking after the language health of their clients.There may be a demand for specialized teachers for certain tests, or for learners with special needs. However, most learners just need to be shown how to take advantage of what is already available, and of course learners need encouragement and feedback.I see language learning and literacy learning as the same field. When over 40% of the population of rich countries, and an even higher percentage in poorer countries do not read a the level required for success in a modern society, it seems to me that there is a lot of work to do. And between countries and within countries, literacy is the best indicator of economic success.Language learning and literacy are mostly about words. The learning process is largely the same. The most effective learning tasks are listening, reading and word review, like we do at LingQ. Most people who have trouble reading, simply do no read enough. I do not believe that 40% of the population is dyslexic.The future of language specialists is great, as long as they are prepared to offer practical help and support to those in need, who are numerous. That applies to people who want to improve in their own language, or in a second language.
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