Technology: Lesson 2
Context in Language Learning
To introduce the topic of context in language learning, let us look at this list of Portuguese words. Take a moment to try to memorize the words.
1. caçula (“youngest child in a family”)
2. cachaça (“distilled liquor made from sugar cane”)
3. petiscar (“to eat a little bit”)
4. xuxu (“chayote squash”)
5. caetanear (“to sing like Caetano Veloso”)
Even if you succeed in memorizing these five words today, chances are pretty good that you will not remember any of them tomorrow. It is hard to retain a list of vocabulary words that have no association with anything real. However, when we link language to an experience, then we have a better chance of remembering it. Many of us can recall the specific moment when we learned a certain word or phrase in another language. (In my case, for example, I recall the exact moment when on a bus in Brazil I heard a mother yell at her young son, “Não faça isso, filho!” or “Don’t do that, son!” Forevermore, that command form became part of me because of the association made with the moment I heard it.)
Technology Provides Context
One of the positive aspects of today’s technologies is the potential to provide learners with a context for their language study. Part of this is because technology can help imitate and create the associations, the social settings, the events, the sounds, the sights, etc. Through video we see things in context. Through audio we make associations from the sounds we hear. Through online social programs we exchange real information with real people who understand what we communicate.
Contextualizing Language with Multimedia
As an introduction to how technology can provide context for language learning, let’s look at a podcast series entitled Tá Falado. The series was created for learners of Portuguese who already speak or who have studied Spanish. Given the two languages’ historical Latin roots and the similarities in grammar and vocabulary, the Spanish language provides an excellent context for the learning of Portuguese. The greatest challenge for students is to learn about the differences in pronunciation. The second challenge is to discover which grammar issues are different. As you listen to the video description, focus on the ways in which Tá Falado provides context for the language learner.
Demonstration of the Tá Falado web site.
The multimedia makeup of Tá Falado exemplifies “context” in two related, but distinct, ways. First, learners use their knowledge of Spanish vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation to contextualize Portuguese. This type of context allows them to make inferences about the Portuguese language. Let’s call this “contextualized language samples.” Second, the multimedia combines audio, video, pictures, and text in new ways that help to create a unique rich learning environment. This type of context allows students to make new combinations for enhanced learning. We can call this a “contextualized learning environment.” Continue on to see examples of each kind of contextualizing.
Two Ways to Contextualize
Let’s look at examples of two different ways multimedia can provide context.
Contextualized Language Samples
First, let’s try an experiment. (This can work even if you are not a Spanish speaker.) The clip in the Tá Falado lesson that you watched introduced the idea that Portuguese speakers add extra vowel sounds to the end of many syllables that end in consonants: ping-i pong-i, King-i Kong-i, piquenique. Now, when Brazilians talk of Hollywood’s old cowboy and western movies, they call this bang bang. How do you think that a Brazilian would pronounce the word bang bang? Correct! Bang-i bang-i.
If you got the answer right, it was because the brief exposure to the Tá Falado lesson provided you with enough context to make the association (and perhaps knowing some Spanish also helped). The bottom line is that you were able to predict the Portuguese pronunciation and create new examples. This shows one of the positive ways that technology can be used in language instruction—contextualizing the language sample.
Contextualized Learning Environment
A discussion blog allows students to create the context for discussion and is a great example of a contextualized learning environment. The discussion blog that accompanies each podcast lesson of Tá Falado gives students a forum to share their experiences with and questions about the material. Future users can take advantage of the answers to questions. Additionally, it can be the learners themselves who provide the answers, and not just the teachers.
Let’s look at one of the discussion blog comments that accompanies the Tá Falado lesson on the verb ficar (“to be located, to stay, to become”). This comment was written by a listener named Marcus.
“We got to Rio yesterday. This week I did a Tá Falado crash course … this lesson in particular really helped! Specifically, we were in the Botanical Gardens while a lady helped our 5-year-old son Max feed the monkeys—she kept using the verb ficar to tell him to stand still while they took the food from his hand. Thanks to this episode I didn’t search my Spanish vocabulary in vain for the meaning. In general, Tá Falado has really helped me feel confident in understanding not only the language, but the culture.”
Marcus’ comment illustrates a nice example of contextualizing the learning environment. He was, in essence, primed for the moment when the verb ficar was used while his son was feeding the monkeys. No doubt, Marcus will remember this moment and make the association with the verb ficar. By sharing his experience in the blog, he is providing context for others to learn the verb.
Assign students to listen to the podcast lessons as homework, but ask them to write their questions and observations down in the discussion blog. Prior to class, look at the student comments and prepare your in-class discussion and follow up based on the student comments in the discussion blog. That way you know that you are focusing your attention on the areas that students are wondering about.
Learning by Doing
As language instructors, everything we do on a daily basis has the potential of becoming a teaching tool. For example, when we hear a song, we think of how we can use the lyrics for language teaching. When we prepare foods, we think of teaching foreign language command forms to our students. Everything around us provides a context for a language learning opportunity. The same thing applies to our use of technology. Whenever we use technology in its various forms (emails, essay writing, podcast listening, chats, social interaction, spreadsheets, etc.) there is almost always a potential application to our language teaching. This, again, is a type of “context” for language teaching because we are taking the environment around us and using that to help students make associations and links.
The following video provides an example of a way to use a DocCam in language teaching, but the idea only came while using the item in class. As you watch the video, think of similar experiences that you might have had.
Dr. Kelm describes how he got a new idea for the use of a DocCam in class.
It is in the using of technology that we get new ideas on how to create teaching opportunities. That is to say, we are looking at our teaching in the context of the environment that surrounds us.
In the following video Vince shares his experience of using Google Docs to help his students work together on a joint writing project. Notice that he did not begin the activity with the idea, but he saw the students struggling with group dynamics and divided responsibilities. His awareness of Google Docs provided him with a new way to help the students organize their task and share responsibilities.
Vince shares how he got the idea of how to use Google Docs in a class on literary analysis.
Access to Technology
In this next video clip a student laments that the access to these types of computers and online materials is limited to institutions (like the University of Texas) that have the resources available.
don’t have access to a certain type of technology.
This is an excellent observation and question. Recently a graduate student from U.T.’s MA program in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese returned to Brazil to teach high school students in rural areas. Those students don’t even have books, let alone high speed internet access. What do we do in these situations?
In these situations, teachers must see how technology is used in the society and mirror that for teaching purposes. Perhaps, as suggested in the previous video clip, applications like blogs could be an extension of the course, but couldn’t be part of the in-class activities.
[Module Instructor Orlando R. Kelm. ] 2010. [Technology]. In Foreign Language Teaching Methods. Carl Blyth, Editor. Texas Language Technology Center, University of Texas at Austin. http://coerll.utexas.edu
The material is provided free of charge for those that wish to study it.
How ever a no obligation exam is available at the end of this module.