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Publish and perish – are scholarly articles dead to the reflective practioner? April 23, 2010

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I wonder if this story is familiar to any of you budding or experienced educators out there?

You’re planning a program for, let’s say, a four-week block of teaching. You haven’t taught the subject yet – you might have been passionate about this field when you were studying it, but for a few years you’ve been teaching other subjects, or, if you’re a pre-service teacher, researching another field entirely (as has been my case). The point is, you don’t have a ready arsenal of teaching resources in this field to draw upon.

As always, you want to make the next four weeks as rich and engaging and exciting an experience as possible for your students. You are also a convert to the new teaching paradigm of reflective practice – you learn from and reflect upon how you and others have taught before, and you seek to improve upon these performances through planning grounded in research.

So… when it comes to doing this research, when it’s time to gather the tools, ideas and inspiration you need to teach this subject…

…where do you go?

As a time-poor senior teacher do you hit the libraries and head home with an armful of trusty and dusty books filled with material already out of date by the time they hit the shelves? As a novice teacher so intent on engaging your students, building your personal teaching style and fighting your early professional insecurities, do you hit the scholarly journals with which you spent soooo much time in Uni? And what about those of you like me, the pre-service or trainee teacher, with very little frame of reference to begin with, assignments coming out of your ears, tutes and lectures to prepare for, and countless blogs to write – aaaarrrrggghhh!!! Where are we going to go to get all of this great stuff for our classes????   

Well, for my research into Web2.0 technologies and foreign language pedagogy (Yep – four weeks of Indonesian teaching fast approaching!), here’s where I went:

Day One – The well-worn out (?) path of scholarly journals
As I mentioned before, I’ve been researching in an entirely different field for the past few years, East Timorese oral traditions to be exact. I’m quite comfortable in libraries. I love the smell and feel and the spell of old books and documents – particularly those of the jaundiced, crumbling, Portuguese variety!  I’m also quite adept at searching quickly through scholarly journals online with the aid of google scholar and several trusty academic search repositories. Here, I’m unashamed to say, was my first port of call. Let’s face it – I was hardly going to find much cutting edge material on emerging Web2.0 assisted language teaching trends on the shelves of library itself. Even if there were ‘must have books available, often a quick search on the author’s name will produce more recent, related online scholarly articles with more timely content.  Famous last words.

A day later, I’m no closer to my objective. I’ve spent hours wrestling with reverse proxies, counter-intuitive academic search engines, hit-and-miss search terms and abstracts. I’m exhausted. My brain’s fried from skim reading and chasing tangential leads down scholarly bunny holes. Any creativity and imagination I might have brought to the task has dried up in the desert of language that is scholarly detached prose. I’ve achieved nothing, my deadlines are a day closer, and I wasn’t even procrastinating! 

In my next post, I’ll cover what happened when I changed tack on this research journey. I know you’re dying with anticipation to find out what happens next, but please do try to get some sleep tonight 😉

Free online language learning aids – Part Two: Gaming and Avatars April 23, 2010

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N.B. This and the previous post  are a work in progress. I’ll continue adding free language learning resources to this page as I encounter them. I’d love to hear from any readers if they know of any similar resources.  

Gaming environments 
Earlier I foreshadowed that online gaming environments were producing the latest trends in truly engaging younger language learners in online learning. Be sure to check out The Sims Teach German, which introduces a lot of great new innovative ideas for using games that were never intended to be used as language learning tools.  Take The Sims, for example. Simply by playing the game in the target language, students can learn and reinforce vocabulary, syntax, grammar and more in a rich learning environment that engages the audio-visual senses in a fun and constructive way.

Taking the program further, a group called Rooster Teeth has shown how The Sims’ and other games’ artificial intelligence can be used to create machinima , described by Wikipedia as “the use of real-time three-dimensional (3-D) graphics rendering engines to generate computer animation”. The folks at Rooster Teeth are somewhat more laid back in their description: “We just write scripts and then use videogames to act them out. It’s a new style of animation that some people call machinima. It allows to make weekly pieces of animation with a small group of people.”

There appear to be endless possibilities for practising foreign languages in this fashion appear to be be endless – the following example brings Latin to life:

Social Networking Avatars
Another way to practise languages in an online environment is to use avatars. This can range from visiting your target country in the virtual online world, ‘Second Life’, to creating a fictional profile in the target language environment of social networking sites like facebook (To be continued).

Free online language learning aids – Part One: CALL-inspired sites April 23, 2010

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N.B. This post and the next will be a work in progress. I’ll continue adding free language learning resources to this page as I encounter them. I’d love to hear from any readers if they know of any similar resources.  

Alrighty, so here’s a sample of the kinds of ideas floating about in the cost-free, online language learning world. As I said in my previous post, I’ve tried to focus on imaginative, engaging ideas and particularly those that use Web2.0 technologies (which I guess is a bit of a departure from traditional commercial Computer Assisted Language Learning [CALL] packages – more on this later).

I hope language teachers out there find this post useful. I’ll keep adding resources to it over time. Of course, if anyone out there knows of any new and exciting trends or ideas in the same genre, I’d love to hear from you!

The name says it all, doesn’t it? These guys have almost my job for me. As they say in the introductory video below, they’ve already scoured the web for free, online language teaching resources that are practical and actually work. Most of the big European and Asian languages are covered, and they’ve even got some ideas for teachers of Bahasa Indonesia!

In the must-see introductory video, they cover resources like:
– Word of the day 
Lingro.com, a vocabulary helper that assists learners read authentic texts – this would be a great resource for senior high school/college and university students.
– free online foreign language books (from Project Gutenberg and wikibooks), and
– social language learning sites (from the ‘social’ tab of the freelanguage  site).

Under the final ‘social’ category, which certainly meets my Web2.0 requirement, highlighted sites include busuu.com, babbel.com, myhappyplanet.com and palabea.net. These offer interactive forums as well as free courses, vocabulary trainers and so on. But it’s time to check out the video and have a look for yourself, you won’t be dissapointed:

Despite its obvious value as a language teacher’s online toolbox, Freelanguage.org does not necessarily meet all of my requirements for engaging new, adolescent language learners in the way that I’m seeking. Most of the the resources assume some degree of enthusiasm on the part of the learners in the first instance, and offer opportunities to take that enthusiasm as far as they want without hurting their pockets. We could perhaps call it a free, online CALL compendium, and that’s awesome, but in part Two of this blog, I’ll be looking at more innovative approaches that perhaps offer a greater chance of getting students hooked in the first instance. See you then!

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

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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


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