FC Technology: Lesson 4

Technology: Lesson 4



What’s the Difference?

One of the great benefits of technology today is the ability to expose ourselves to real foreign language. Think of how hard it was, just a generation ago, for people to actually hear a foreign language. For many learners, the only option was to listen to a teacher’s repetitions. Today, however, anyone who has access to the Internet has instant access to other languages.
Researchers in second language learning have long touted (and debated) the importance of listening in a new language. There was an initial research wave that focused on simply hearing lots of samples of a foreign language. The term “input” referred to all the exposure to foreign language that is around us. However, as years went on, researchers realized that input was not enough. If the learners were not noticing or concentrating on the incoming flow of language, comprehension would be limited. So today, researchers in second language acquisition commonly make a distinction between input and intake. Simply put, input is all the written and spoken target language that a learner encounters, whether it is fully comprehended or not. Intake is limited to the comprehended input that impacts the learner’s developing linguistic system. For our purposes, we suggest that technology provides ways to
• increase the foreign language input that learners are exposed to and
• enhances the process of how input is converted into intake.

Filtering the Input

In today’s world, a simple click on a computer sends us to online newspapers from almost any major city in the world, video clips of television commercials in hundreds of languages, radio stations that play every assortment imaginable, and books and articles of any of the world’s classic and less-known literature. Our access to information is practically instantaneous. In fact, our challenge is no longer how to access samples of a foreign language. Our challenge is more related to how to sift through it all and figure out how best to utilize what is available for our language learning purposes.
The following video clip relates to the advantages of accessing and interacting with information online. As you watch, think of how this story correlates to the idea of input in foreign language settings.


A discussion of the process of gathering information online.
Duration: 01:14

Consider the skimming and reading for information that goes on as part of the process of gathering information online. Imagine also the give and take and sharing of information that goes on among peers. This is all an interesting twist on the idea of intake because gathering information online requires users to filter through all of the input on the Internet and choose for themselves what is important. Compare this process to a simple worksheet assignment.
In this lesson we take the same concept and apply it to the use of technology in language learning. Our challenge as language educators is not simply to provide input via technology, but to teach students to filter through all of the input and help them be conscious of the foreign language exposure that they are receiving.
Enhancing Intake through Technology
The Internet provides thousands of examples of speech. How can we as educators help learners process and comprehend the resources, thereby enhancing the level of intake? Interactive forums such as blogs present opportunities for students to become conscious participants in the language learning process.


Prof. Kelm illustrates how a blog site can create activities for students to analyze language input.
Duration: 03:48

By participating in the student blog that accompanies this course (Practical Phonetics), students themselves provide hundreds of examples of speech from the various dialects of the Spanish-speaking world. The blog site provides students an array of input (in the form of text, audio, and video): class lectures, class notes, instructor comments, instructor examples, summaries of course content, recordings of Spanish, descriptions of phonetic features and other assistance to understanding phonetics and phonology, and a growing list of samples of Spanish dialects.
In addition, the site offers students various opportunities to analyze the input. Each semester students themselves write phonetic transcriptions of languages that they don’t speak, just to giving them practice in listening. So students populate the blog with transcriptions of words in Albanian, Hebrew, and Korean.
Through the blog site, students are not just exposed to the different dialects of the Spanish speaking world, but they have access to the analysis from the instructor and from other peers in the class. The class notes section exemplifies how students engage in the analysis of input. After each lecture, a group is assigned to write out the notes from the day’s class and post them on the blog.


Students post copies of the class notes on the course blog.
Duration: 00:56

The student blog takes advantage of technology by providing students with new and varied examples of Spanish. There are video clips, audio recordings, student analyses with phonetic transcriptions. There are pdf files with charts. There are electronic slide presentations that are saved as movie files. There are polls, written comments from users, class notes, links to phonetics sites, links to music lyrics. There is just a growing number of items that students have access to, all to increase the amount of language that they are exposed to and to turn it into intake for their analysis.
Think about how the various features offered on this blog site enhance language intake? What other features would you like to see on such a site to encourage students to analyze language?

Should Technology Replace the Textbook?

The previous section introduced the student blog as an opportunity for students to enhance intake. Taking it a step further, let us now discuss the use of technology as a new twist in the way that students get information in organized courses. Consider a course where technology serves as the input for foreign language and the delivery method for the learning structure. Generally on the first day of class students cheer because it is quite a savings financially; they don’t have to spend money on a textbook. However, as the semester progresses, some students miss having an actual book because they are used to having an authoritative resource. It is not as clean and structured to have to sift through all of the input to make the connections and to understand the concepts. This next video clip provides other observations on the use of technology as a replacement for the traditional textbook.


On how blogs free students from being tied to a textbook.
Duration: 00:55

As mentioned in the video clip, those who write textbooks have their own purposes in mind, which may or may not coincide with the objectives that we have for our students. As teachers we are always supplementing with our own materials. In this sense, technology frees us from the limitations of a textbook. But on the other hand, sometimes teachers and students find themselves a little lost without the comfort of a textbook.

Avoid Passive Teaching and Learning

Agreed, a good textbook is an extremely effective way to maximize time and resources. However, sometimes textbooks create passive learning. From the instructor’s end, fewer teaching decisions have to be made because supervisors have made chosen the textbook to be used and the authors of the textbook have already created the whole structure. From the student’s perspective, learning becomes passive because all the information is in the book. The evidence of passive learning is when we start hearing questions like “Do we need to know this?” or “Is this going to be on the test?” Evidence in passive teaching is when teachers start saying things like “Just read Section 3 of chapter 5 and answer questions 4, 7, and 9.”
Part of the solution, especially if we accept that students need to be consciously aware of input and take an active role in noticing, is to provide them with lots of input that the students need to sift through. It is a little messier and not so cut and dried, but in the end that is what will help students most. The use of technology and multimedia have great potential in this area.


Instructor’s Final Comments

Currently I find myself at a phase of life where I am learning to speak Mandarin Chinese. After years of studying romance languages (Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Catalan) and after dabbling a little with some German and Japanese, I now find myself immersed in a whole different type of language. Everything that we have discussed in the four lessons of this module have become part of my daily routine. I have increased time on task by listening to podcast recordings while walking on the street and while driving in my truck. I look for the context of speech to remember vocabulary words and to memorize the various tones. I meet weekly with a tutor to hear the chunks and scripts and to force the issue of increasing my intake. Every step of the way, technology has enhanced this experience.
Come back in a few years and we’ll see what kind of proficiency I have achieved. Or better yet, try to implement the concepts from this module in your teaching (and your learning) of foreign languages.




[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.