Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Making a Second Language Real

On her Education World blog, columnist Brenda Dyck reports on the explosion of web-based tools for learning and practicing a foreign or second language. These tools increase the ability to use a language and learn vocabulary by offering "more authentic environments" for language practice.

Not all the tools are new. Many Web 2.0 tools are perfect for this kind of learning. Students can connect with native speakers through ePals, international pen pal sites or collaboration on blogs and wikis. Skype and other interactive videoconferencing tools can create more opportunities for conversation and vocabulary acquisition. According to research Dyck quotes, videoconferencing "gives not only immediacy when communicating with a real person but also visual cues, such as facial expressions, making such communication more authentic." Just as when they are used in other disciplines like social studies or language arts, Web 2.0 tools give students a wider audience than the teacher and offers great incentives to learn and perform at a high level. As long as these tools are used for creation, such as making videos or even just writing emails, the learning is enhanced far beyond the old drill-and-repeat method.

Dyck lists programs and tools for particular uses and needs, some already familiar from other discussions of Web 2.0 tools, others which are new or open source:
  • Blogger, Google Docs, Zoho or any word processing program can be a first step to allow students to "communicate, collaborate and create" in the foreign/second-language classroom.
  • Gliffy, Mindmeister and Mindomo offer mapping tools to aid "grammatical competence."
  • Voice communication through Google, ePals, Skype, Friendship through Education, or any program or tool that allows synchronous or asynchronous talk helps hone conversation skills and comprehension.
  • G-Cast, Podomatic and Odeo are podcasting tools; podcasts are another way for students to converse and collaborate asynchronously in a particular language.
  • Audio available online can help with pronunciation, mostly by providing proper models. Dyck mentions Mango, SpeakShop, and SpanishPod.
  • Tandem and BookBox allow collaboration via telephone, email or other means. (The Tandem link in Dyck's post appears to be broken.)
  • Tools like VoiceThread, Sketchcast and StoryTools allow for participation in a Reader's Theatre or creation of an ad. These can help model correct pronunciation, too.
  • Natural Reader is a text-to-speech tool.
  • Presentation tools such as SlideShare can also be useful.
  • Videos can be found at YouTube and TeacherTube. Videos can be annotated with BubblePly in whatever language you're studying.
Many resources listed focus on Spanish, but others can be found. The best tools are those that get students to use and practice the language being taught.

How do you use the Internet or Web 2.0 tools in your language lasses? Are any of the tools listed above big hits with your middle school students? What tools are your favorites?

SOURCE: "Using Technology to Bridge Understanding For Foreign- and Second-Language Learners" 4/11/08
photo courtesy of sanbeiji, used under this Creative Commons license

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