Saturday, May 24, 2008

Teaching Tech: Using The Internet In Language Learning

The internet has made it much easier for "foreign" language teachers to make their subject more relevant and interesting to their students. A few applications include 1) accessing primary resources in the target language, 2) establishing pen pal relationships with people who speak the target language, 3) practicing language using games, 4) practicing language through internet writing (discussion boards, blogs, chat rooms, etc.), and 5) using internet assessments.

One issue about using the internet in any classroom is whether a teacher should allow students to look for their own websites or whether to direct them to sites. I have seen first-hand that student-found sites are often superficial; they may be the first sites off a Google search or they may even just got straight to Wikipedia. It is important that students have the opportunity to do their own web research, however, teachers need to discuss the evaluation of websites with students. It is important to note that even sites from reputable sources may contain (or may link to) false information.

To give students structure to do internet research, I would give them several (3-4) good websites to look at on the topic of interest. In addition to the given websites, I would have students research another website on the same topic and pass in the web address along with a brief description of the site as part of their class or home work. By giving the students several examples, 1) They will have more starting points for their research, 2) They will see examples of good websites and 3) If one link doesn’t work, the whole project won’t be in danger. As students find more and more different websites about the topic, 1) the teacher will save time looking up new websites and 2) new websites will be found to replace expired ones for a project. When I monitored an AP internet class, the teachers of those classes always gave students the web addresses of sites they were to use. When they didn’t, straight to Wikipedia they went.

Of course, this implies there is some work to be done beforehand by the teacher to compile the links but once compiled, the resources will self-replace on the part of the students. I worked under a Hughes Education grant for a teacher doing this very work for about a month the summer of 2003. I imagine funding would be available for teachers wanting to undertake this sort of project, providing the work would be shared with other teachers.

In providing some web addresses for students and giving them guiding questions or an activity, teachers structure contexts for using the internet. Teachers can not send students on the internet to play a game (or do anything else) without a purpose. Internet resources, like any other instructional technique, can only be used after making assessments and constructing objectives. Making assessments and objectives would also help teachers figure out what types of web technology to use. For example, if I want to assess students’ knowledge about “Clauses with si” on sight, I would send them to play the battleship game at If I wanted students to know how to write different clauses or know the answer without a list, however, I would want to assess them in another way.

When you start collecting web addresses, the amount will become overwhelming very quickly. If I was going to organize myself for the internet for the semester or year, I would begin structuring web resources by making an outline of the topics so that websites could be organized by topic. By doing this, I would be able to see which topics are well covered by websites and which are not. I would also see when movies, simulations, video games, or other special internet resources are available for the unit. By knowing what isn’t on the internet, I know what I will have to provide for in class so students have access to the information.

The best uses of the internet for learning another language are accessing primary resources and communicating with native speakers. On the internet, students can listen to French music, read French newspapers and magazines, and watch French movies. Students could for example listen to “Cap √Čnrage” by Zachary Richard and look at the lyrics at the same time. They could then write a paragraph about what they think the song means. In addition to exposure to media, students can communicate directly with native speakers of a foreign language on the internet. Through personal communication, students get the unique opportunity to hear another voice (literally and figuratively) besides the teacher speaking the target language. If a friendship is formed, students also have new motivation to learn the language. With the internet, students can go beyond canned conversation and outdated issues discussed in textbooks. (Before I went to France, I often thought the people there lived in the 1980s based on the culture written about in the textbooks!) The internet has made language learning more exciting and more relevant than ever. The plethora of internet resources and uses makes knowledge and application of internet resources an essential part of teaching and learning in the language classroom.

It would be great if teachers would post their favorite French (or Spanish or any language that is not English) learning sites. It’s been a few years since I’ve done this so there is probably a lot out there I’m not aware of!

Nicole will post "Teaching Tech" (formerly Tech Tuesday) about internet resources for your classroom whenever she thinks of it, which is incidentally never on a Tuesday. She doesn't teach anymore but has her own personal finance blog and web communication business:

1 comment:

Jim Burke said...

Wonderful Post, Nicole. Did you get the email from Dave Perloff from Perloff Family Foundation?