5 Ways the Internet Has Transformed Language Education

Language education has greatly benefited from the advent of new web-based or web-connected technology in the past 10-15 years.  When I first started learning French, I had access to the Internet at school and at home, but many of the programs and websites I use today did not yet exist.  When I first started teaching four years ago, I already had the benefit of having access to a lot of the technology that I use today, and each year new programs and apps are developed.  Not only do many of these programs make language learning more hands-on and exciting, but they also enhance the learning in some way.

Technology is a somewhat controversial topic in the field of education.  There are those who believe that any project can be made better with the use of technology, those that feel technology is a hindrance and takes too much time to learn and use, and there are others who feel that technology is an incredible tool when it suits the task at hand and contributes to the fulfillment of a teacher's objectives.  I fall into that last category, as do many other teachers I interact with either in person or online.  In today's post, I'll explore five ways I feel the internet has transformed language education.  In the comments, I encourage you to share your own.

1.  Allowing Students to Practice Language in Non-Threatening Environments
Some students find the thought of speaking or writing a foreign language terrifying, especially in the beginning stages.  Programs like Audacity and apps like Sock Puppets allow students to present spoken work in the foreign language while changing their voice, which lessens the anxiety associated with speaking.  While the use of Sock Puppets and Audacity does not require an internet connection, it must be downloaded from the internet and internet is required for publishing the results.  Apps like DuoLingo and sites like Quizlet and Quia allow students to practice language with instant, anonymous feedback, and a format that is fun to use.  More and more of my students are reporting that they are practicing French outside of class with these fun tools.

2.  Bringing Realia From Around the World to Teachers' Fingertips
It's not that realia was unavailable to teachers before, it's just that now, so much more is available, and can be accessed almost instantly.  A student asks what a macaron looks like, a quick Google images search brings up hundreds of examples.  I need pictures of French speaking locales around the world, I can search Flickr for Creative Commons images I can use without infringing on copyright.  Every day, an almost uncountable number of videos are uploaded to YouTube, Vimeo, and DailyMotion, creating a world of authentic videos for classroom use at no charge.  Although there are innumerable resources floating around just waiting to be used, it can sometimes be an overwhelming task finding the right tool at the right level.  If you're looking for some ideas on where to find authentic resources, check out my blog post on it.

3.  Facilitating Global Communication
Apps like Skype have made teleconferencing with someone across the world infinitely easier.  Skype has been a boon not just to language teachers but to teachers of all content areas at just about all grade levels.  Skype is not the only tool that facilitates global communication, though.  Through ePals, I was able to connect with an English teacher in France, with whom I'm about to start a third year in our pen pal exchange.  I've seen great posts showing how students and teachers have taken to Twitter to communicate with target-language speakers (here and here).  The internet has not only facilitated global communication, it has introduced new ways altogether in which we can communicate.

4.  Giving Students a Broader Audience for Their Work
Students take more pride in their work and put more effort into it when they know other people will see it.  Now, instead of just posting their work on the walls of my classroom, I publish it to my classroom blog as well, where it is seen by parents and visitors from all over the world.

5.  Facilitating Communication Among Language Teachers Worldwide
Through other teachers' blogs, Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook, I am almost inundated on a daily basis by new ideas and resources to use in my classroom.  This may very well be the most valuable way that the internet has transformed language education, in my experience.  Every day is like a free conference!

In what ways has the internet transformed language education in your experience?  And perhaps more importantly, in what ways do you think the internet will continue to transform it in the next decade?  Please share your ideas in the comments!

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