The Challenge of Language Learning Pivot to Online – initial thoughts and ideas…

Language symbols
“Language symbols” by viralbus is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

I met with a couple of ALT members yesterday to chat about the challenges of pivoting online with languages. Some areas of learning are easier to move to a blended learning model than others. Language teachers face challenges as so much of it is student centred and relies on face to face contact to develop understanding and practice authentic speaking & listening skills.

Some teaching staff have initially taken their face to face model and translated wholly online to video conference – essentially trying to replicate the physical classroom in a virtual space but with poor connectivity and the challenges of virtual meetings this has had mixed success. This got me thinking about how language teaching might be best adapted to be taught in a blended way. Does everything have to be synchronous? How do you maintain student engagement? How do you manage the oral and interactive aspects of language learning?

I’ve spent a lot of time this week researching how language teaching might be best adapted to the blended learning and was relieved to discover that there’s some really good guidance and resources out there. I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here but I’ll share some of the best pointers and guidance I’ve come across.

Polish in text book
“polish” by Plastic_Bat is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Ideas for Teaching Languages in Online

Rethink instruction and interaction…

  • Rethink how you will interact. Restructure the content if possible. It doesn’t all have to be synchronous. Lower level activities of acquisition can be delivered via short videos or podcasts. Grammar activities can be done via shared writing activities in chat, discussion boards or collaborative spaces or via online quizzes.
  • If providing support online, offer ‘lessons’ assigned under one of three labels: LL – Live Lesson – reduce the length and frequency of these; students are exhausted by long online lessons, IA – Independent activity – throughout the week, SA – Support time available – Google hangout open for chats.
  • Share a Code of conduct with students for Live Lessons – show video feed at beginning of live sessions if possible to build class social interaction. Specify how you want students to interact – audio, video, text? Will sessions or parts of sessions be recorded?

Be selective with the tools…

  • Focus on pedagogical goals – don’t try and learn too many new tools. What are the pedagogical priority needs? Find the tech to match. Use what you’re familiar with. This isn’t the time to push the innovation boundaries.

Be clear…

  • Share the road map of how the learning will be delivered – explain what they are going to do each week, where the materials are, how to complete the activities and how it will contribute to their overall outcomes for the course. This could be a short weekly video or email. Online learning needs more explicit guidance.

Consult your students…

  • Survey your students at the beginning of the course to gauge how you can best meet students’ needs. Do they all have devices? Internet connectivity? Are they based in the local time zone?

Get creative…

  • To maintain engagement build in activities that use the ‘creating’ skills from Bloom’s taxonomy – i.e. project based activities in the target language such as making a vlog or blog, poster, info-graphic or short film – cooking a meal, a guided tour of the house in lockdown – all in the target language.

Help them interact and socialise…

  • For student to student engagement try breakout groups in the video conferencing technology of your choice or use collaborative writing via Google Docs (this can be either synchronous or asynchronous).
  • Consider setting up group tools in your LMS such as Blackboard Collaborate or discussion boards for small groups to facilitate independent practice in groups.

Keep it short and sweet…

  • Create a few one sentence videos and post each week. Learners access the videos containing ready-to-use sentences which work like patterns they can put straight into practice and repeat at their own pace and as often as they like. They then use in their own context. Adding subtitles to video or audio allows them to read and repeat,combining both linguistic skills.

Above ideas gathered from:

IALLT Webinar Recording – Your Burning Questions about Remote Language Teaching

Languages Today – Association for Languages Learning Issue 35 May 2020 p20 – Plan for Online Teaching

Other useful resources:

IALLT Site (International Association of Language Learning Technology)

Joe Dale’s Youtube Channel (Joe Dale is an independent languages consultant from the UK who works with a range of organisations such as Network for Languages, ALL, The British Council, the BBC, Skype, Microsoft and The Guardian.) to Teaching Language Online (TTLO) – June 22–July 20, 2020  Asynchronous 4-week intensive online course

AULC – Association for University Language Communities

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