“Online allows you, the learner, to have the ultimate flexibility and access”
Online language courses can be more effective than face-to-face courses. In terms of direct costs, online is much more convenient: it’s available any time, anywhere, on any device. It allows you, the learner, to have the ultimate flexibility and access. You can work around the commitments in your life. You learn at your pace, the right pace. It’s no longer a one-size-fits-all approach. Online fits with the opportunity cost of your time and effort — and that’s the number-one cost of learning a language. Self-discipline can be difficult in language learning, but today’s online courses enable you to build a personalized plan, allowing you to set targets and be realistic about your time commitments. You set your own goals.
With face-to-face learning, there is a hard cost of being locked into a geographical location. If you’re a corporation, with 20 locations around the world, it’s really expensive to have an instructor at each of those places and to bring together your employees at a specific time. With online learning, global clients can be served using an app and platform, with assessment tools and proficiency tests to show progress and to encourage and engage employees. This enables companies to expand their language-learning programme globally.
For intermediate and advanced learners, there is an opportunity to contextualize language learning. People can learn a language in the context of their work, whether it’s Spanish for healthcare or English for aeroplane mechanics, whether it’s the service industry, hospitality, finance or retail.
Traditional language learning means using a book here, some flashcards there, a class on Saturday, YouTube videos. There has been a recent rise in online language tutoring alongside established e-learning-only products. All of these approaches can be brought together using a single online platform and adaptive blended learning, with online human tutoring as part of our product. One of our recent livestreamed Spanish classes had 500 learners from around the world. I was in Seattle, talking to a tutor in Spain, with learners from Moscow, Beijing and Jakarta.
Online courses are definitely not here to eliminate the human aspect, because that’s why we learn a language, to be able to interact with other humans.
Jerry Huang is SVP of product development and innovation at Rosetta Stone.
“The richness of non-verbal communication is greatly reduced”
Language learning is different from other kinds of learning because it is closely linked to the learner’s identity and self-expression. Humanistic teaching methods take these as the starting point of language learning, to an extent that those in the profession claim that the linguistic skills that students get out of a course are only the most superficial part of what that course has meant to them.
The desire and need to communicate meaningful content is the driving force behind truly communicative language teaching, which has reappeared in recent years through such movements as Dogme, in which the interaction between the learners becomes the content of the course. What these approaches have in common is the emphasis they place on the immediacy and intensity of meaningful communication.
After teaching “unplugged” (that is, without published materials or electronic devices) for the past ten years, I am now completely plugged in again, teaching online via Zoom, Webex, learning platforms and wikis. It is my experience that classroom-style language teaching, when dependent on the use of digital tools, demands a more formalized structure of the teacher and more restrained behaviour of the learners to enable turn-taking and mutual understanding. The richness of non-verbal communication — eye contact, gestures, facial expressions — is greatly reduced. These elements of communication also play a major role in developing the positive group dynamics necessary to make language learning enjoyable and effective.
Teaching online also favours visual and auditory learning styles. In addition, online teachers and learners must be aware of data protection and digital rights. Users need to be informed of the privacy issues inherent in online interaction. More disturbingly, current research is now investigating the negative effects of digital media on academic skills such as note-taking and reading comprehension, as well as on cognitive capacity in general.
I measure the quality of language learning with standards such as learner-centeredness, engagement of the whole person, and the depth and sustainability of what is learned. Only face-to-face teaching gives me the quality of interaction with my learners that makes my teaching truly effective.
James Chamberlain is deputy director of the Language Centre at the Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences.
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