Resources, Research and Results!

As a languages teacher I have found myself recommending a variety of online resources over the years, both to students and parents. Partly to give the keen beans a better opportunity to steer their own learning and consolidate what we’ve learnt, partly to engage some of the less eager linguists through something more interactive, and sometimes admittedly as straightforward step to improve at parents’ evenings! My colleague and I would often joke about ‘What website are we advertising this time?!’

Rosetta Stone, Languages Online, Duolingo, Linguascope, Quizlet, Thisislanguage, thelanguagegym… We’ve done a lot of promotion over the years!

Over the last few months I have been writing my dissertation with a specific focus on the use of technology in languages lessons. What has been a particular struggle (amongst other things, see below!) is finding good quality research on the effectiveness of technology in MFL teaching. There are a lot of claims, and indeed research has shown a great deal of impact on motivated adult learners. Emphasis on the motivated.

There is a lot you can do, if you want to go out and learn a language… I recently decided that I wanted to learn Spanish, and I’ve tried out a fair few of these apps with varying degrees of success. I eventually settled on Mosalingua, after getting a bit frustrated with some of the nonsensical language I was picking up through Duolingo: ‘los elefantes beben la leche’ (the elephants are drinking the milk!). Useful. Mosalingua has the advantage of being able to focus on the language you want to learn, but also has a ‘spaced repetition system’. I find really effective. Just because I committed a word to my short term memory does not mean it’s staying there, so it regularly repeats vocabulary until you really know it. The geek in me really enjoys my progress graphs too!

However, this is written by a keen linguist, who had a particular interest in learning Spanish (not least a holiday in Barcelona). In short, I was motivated by the opportunity to apply what I was learning.

In reality we all know that our students need a bit more of a push than that. You can leave the brightest and most committed to their own devices, but we all know that most students need a bit more. They need a reason to want to do it, they need something that is structured, building on what they know and they need some real interaction to keep them on their toes. Put them in a situation where they have to use the language and will get a response from someone their own age. Now they have a real reason to learn the language and the motivation will build…! ( If you’re not seeing where I’m going with this, have a look at www.bili.uk.com)

Over the last few weeks with A-level and GCSE results, it has been incredibly disappointing seeing yet again the numbers choosing languages drop further, and another downturn in results. As we move towards the new curriculum, with a shift away from the pre-rehearsed language common in controlled assessments I can’t help feeling we are going to see this trend accelerate, without a drastic change in approach.

It is not enough to teach kids to pass exams, let’s get them loving languages and really communicating!