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ICT – the language teacher’s secret weapon? April 22, 2010

Posted by teachandreflect in Uncategorized.
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We’re a crazy bunch, language teachers. We have to be. In Australia ours is a profession constantly scrambling for space in a crowded curriculum, battling parental and broader public opinion on the very educational value of our discipline, and struggling against physical and human resource constraints (Liddicoat et al 2007; Lo Bianco & Slaughter 2009). On top of all that, we face the challenge of inspiring our students to learn and persist with a subject that – dangerous statement approaching here – by and large, has no immediate relevance to them

Before you reach for the tar and feathers, let’s think about this for a moment from the student’s perspective. Imagine you’re a grade six or seven student in an Australian, middle-class suburban school, and there’s a white man in front of you teaching you to count for the first time in the official language of Indonesia, a country that you’ve probably never heard of before this class. If you have heard of the country, your construct of Indonesia is most likely unflattering, given the associations with terrorism, illegal immigration and so on played out consistently in our media. Unless your parents have some kind of link with the country, or are keen travellers themselves, you’re unlikely to even visit Indonesia until you reach university age (our government currently warns schools and even pre-service teachers against studying in-country). How is the language spoken in this country relevant to you? What is there motivating you to learn it? Not much.

Of course, as language teachers and learned readers, we know that learning any foreign language during adolescence offers great benefits to our students. If the subject is taught well, not only does it help develop intercultural understanding, which will be a key learning area in our new national curriculum, but studies have also indicated that second language learners enjoy enhanced literacy in their mother tongues and tend to become higher achievers academically. This is not to mention the nurturing of the humanist aspects of their personalities, nor their contribution to the broader societal wealth of intercultural understanding, networks and synergies. We know that learning another language is relevant and useful to our students. All we have to do is keep them engaged long and help them enjoy it long enough to see it. 

But learning a language well is a challenging endeavour and requires a long-term commitment. I believe it also requires some degree of effort outside of school on the part of our students. How are we really going to get our budding linguists to put away the PS3, log off Facebook and surgically remove the i-phone for their daily dose of sweet foreign language goodness?

ICT-savvy language teachers around the globe think they have the answer – and it lies in embracing these technologies rather than dragging our students away from them. The argument goes roughly that kids are going to spend time using these fandangled gadgets anyway, so why don’t we turn this to our advantage and bring language learning to the Web2.0/gaming environment? All of a sudden, learning Indonesian, or any other language for that matter, will become far more engaging and relevant to our young students. And maybe even more fun!

This will be the focus of my next four or five blogs. I’ve set myself the mountainous task of finding online language learning resources that are not only fun and engaging, but also – adopting Kathryn Moyle’s call for educators to use ubiquitous, freely available ICTs – FREE!     

I’m really hoping to pull together some exciting and innovative resources. It won’t all be fun and games, though. Along the way, I plan to address some of the important questions raised when terms like language pedagogy and ICT are bandied about together. In the meantime, to get a sense of the kind of ideas I’ll be looking for, check this out (a bit dated now, but the ideas can be applied to so many new products):

Vodpod videos no longer available.
more about “The Sims Teach German — Video Games …“, posted with vodpod

References

Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority [ACARA] Website. (Accessed 5 April 2010)

Liddicoat, A.J., Scarino, A., Curnow, T.J., Kohler, M., Scrimgeour, A., & Morgan, A. (2007). An Investigation of the State and Nature of Languages in Australian Schools.

Lo Bianco, J., & Slaughter, Y. (2009). Second Languages and Australian Schooling. Australian Education Review.

Moyle, K. (2010). Building Innovation: Learning with Technologies. Australian Council for Educational Research: Victoria, Australia

Quinn, G. (2010). Crying Wolf over Indonesia. Initially appeared in page 9 of The Canberra Times  

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