With the advent of multiple modes of language learning, where is the future for the traditional language class? Today, we have online platforms like Duolingo to help us learn a language whenever we want, wherever we want and however we want. This suits our busy schedules better than the traditional classroom with hard rules, a set timing and little leeway. So is the future of teaching language in the virtual world?
When it comes to teaching a language, the age-old method of focusing on the nitty-gritty aspects of linguistics continues to dominate. Even when we teach the English language in schools, we focus on grammar exercises and sentence structure. This is not to say that these aspects are unimportant, but if we condition our youths to think that learning a language is painstakingly tedious and dry, how can we expect them to place importance in it?
In Singapore, students often don’t understand or appreciate the benefits of learning a mother tongue or foreign language. This is surprising considering the emphasis the government and education syllabus places on students to encourage them to learn new languages. Perhaps one reason for this is the way it is taught in schools. One approach is used for the multitudes of students, all of whom learn in different ways. If learning one language becomes that difficult for a child, what’s the point of learning another? Another cause of this gap could be due to the ‘Asian mentality’, which places more emphasis on subjects such as maths and science, and relegates language to the backseat.
At the age of 9, Eitan used YouTube videos to teach himself different languages. He could read simple text, speak and write in 14 different languages. At Agape, Eitan gained the help he needed to go further in his language goals.
So perhaps the way forward is to emphasise teaching of the culture of the language. This is where the aspect of human interaction comes into play. Where virtual programmes have difficulty corresponding the nuances of culture, a teacher can excel. Of course, this change in teaching syllabus or style cannot happen overnight. It is important for schools to adapt and innovate according to the times. But does this mean we should embrace the idea of the virtual classroom, such as those on coursera or those conducted over Skype?
In theory, this is a good idea, but in practice, it runs into many problems. What is the one thing we depend on when learning a new language? Communication. Language is learnt for the whole purpose of communication, therefore when we take that out of the mix, the crux of learning a new language is lost. While courses conducted live over the internet do have an aspect of direct communication, it is usually very limited as these teachers often teach numerous students at the same time. Not to mention the issues related with breakdowns in technology. Small class sizes are crucial to learning a new language because it gives the teacher and the student quality interaction time. Learning a language in a class is also beneficial because students get the opportunity to test their theoretical knowledge in real time and can learn off one another. Another plus point is that their fellow students will be able to communicate at the same level of complexity.
Perhaps the final plus point of the traditional language class is the fact that it is a responsibility. Often, it is easy to forget or postpone an online class simply because you can determine when you want to do it. For many of us, this is a slippery slope to picking up that app or reviewing that course material once every six months. When progress is slow and irregular, it is easy to lose interest and give up. The traditional class, however, presents as a necessary appointment. It reflects the responsibility to yourself to complete what you have started.
Our Japanese teacher, Yuko, is well-known for inventing, and applying diversified approaches and pedagogy in her classrooms.
Therefore, although we can agree that teaching approaches must change and adapt to the times, the traditional classroom is not in danger of being overshadowed by the virtual domain. Rather, the virtual domain is a good supplementary resource to the traditional classroom method, being under the circumstance of ‘Blending Learning’ method. Blending learning is an education program that combines online digital media with traditional classroom methods. It requires the physical presence of both teacher and student, with some element of student control over time, place, path, or pace. While students still attend “brick-and-mortar” schools with a teacher present, face-to-face classroom practices are combined with computer-mediated activities regarding content and delivery.
As the rise of digital blending learning has grown so rapidly, we Agape School of Education have been trying to adopt it to our school program to allow students to maximize their learning efficiency. It will give students the opportunity to practice their skills, outside of the classroom, on their own time, at their own pace and in their own space. When properly implemented, blending learning can result in improved student’s success, satisfaction, and retention.
We are sure blending learning using technology in and beyond the language classroom can become a powerful force for you. If you want to enhance your learning strategy and ability, please contact us today to find out how we can help you reach your language goals. Learning a new language doesn’t have to be boring or tedious, let us show you how it can be fun and fulfilling!