By the time most language teachers see them, students have spent many years in the classroom and have developed habits and strategies that work for them. What students don’t always seem to realize is that the strategies that they use to learn, say, biology, are not necessarily the same as those they should use to learn a foreign language. Just think of the number of times you have watched students cram for an exam, as though the past participle can be grasped by reading flash cards five minutes before a test.
In 2006 CLEAR began an initiative called Rich Internet Applications. The resulting suite of online tools for language teachers has become CLEAR’s most accessed and talked-about set of products. We thought you might be interested in a few statistics about the RIAs. Of the 42,428 language educators registered to use RIAs, 78% report being in the US. Figure 1 below shows the distribution of US users, an indication that CLEAR truly serves as a national language resource center.
CLEAR has just begun the second year of a new funding cycle, and we are excited about some of the projects and products begun during the past year. We had our most-attended set of summer professional development workshops ever in July, and look forward to continuing to offer these opportunities and our products to language educators nationwide.
The conventional classroom is not an ideal environment for second language acquisition. There are too many students per class, and never enough time in the day. Under pressure to keep the class progressing according to schedule, students’ individual needs and questions can be neglected. Thus, the learning gap between high achievers and low achievers can widen as the course progresses, and at the higher levels, achievement gaps can lead to proficiency gaps. There is no single solution to this problem, but technology offers a way to address some of the inherent weaknesses of the classroom language teaching format. In 2006, CLEAR launched its “Rich Internet Applications for Language Learning” initiative. Web-based tools were designed to offer functionality that is beneficial to language learning, while exploring how technology can enhance language teaching. This article discusses the design principles behind the RIA initiative, explains how the tools are intended to be used, and shares some examples of classroom use.
In this look at some trends in teaching pronunciation, I start with the issue of what to teach, and not why teach it. Although the field of second/foreign language (L2) teaching has generally accepted some pronunciation instruction in the communicative classroom, we still grapple with the issue of exactly what to teach. Should the focus be segmental (i.e., individual sounds) or suprasegmental (i.e., prosodic features such as stress, rhythm and intonation)? As some studies have demonstrated, a combination of both approaches has merits (e.g., Derwing, Munro, & Wiebe, 1998).
We all love it when our students have those "aha" moments - finally nailing the subjunctive, mastering a rolled r, or producing a perfectly formed kanji. As teachers, we are constantly seeking ways to keep those moments alive not only in the classroom but also in our students' daily lives. How can we maintain that "aha" enthusiasm for language learning, linking it to students' larger dreams and professional goals? One way is to organize extracurricular events such as international movie nights, foreign language speech competitions, or global food fairs. While any event like this takes time and renewed energy, teachers reap the benefits when their students return to the classroom with renewed interest. At Michigan State University (MSU), and at a number of other institutions nationwide (see sidebar, p. 5), an event called World Languages Day (WLD) is held each spring. In this article I will share from our experience in organizing WLD and present a few ideas to get you started on planning a similar event at your own institution.
In recent years, there has been heightened awareness of the critical role of vocabulary in second language (L2) learning and teaching. Within this broad area of academic inquiry, there is also general consensus that the vocabulary of a given language is much more than a list of individual words. A speaker’s mental dictionary (or lexicon) also contains a wide range of multiword units such as phrasal verbs (“put up with”), social routines (“take care”), collocations (“plastic surgery”), and idioms (“bite the bullet”). There is good reason for focusing on multiword units: research suggests that a large proportion of language—perhaps as high as 50 percent—is composed of such sequences (cf. Erman and Warren, 2000). Many of these multiword units contain one or more figurative elements, such that the meaning of the entire phrase is not easily predicable.
When preparing for a language teaching career, very few of us thought that advocacy for language programs would be a critical part of our job. However, as we moved into our first year of teaching, our role as language teachers has invariably required us to quickly become articulate spokespeople for our field and to learn to speak up for language education. So critical is this for all language teachers that the accreditation process used by well over half of the teacher education programs in the United States, published by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), includes a standard on professionalism, as outlined by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). This standard requires new teachers to demonstrate knowledge and active involvement in the language teaching profession, including the ability to advocate for language programs. Likewise, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) requires that candidates for certification as accomplished teachers demonstrate that they possess the knowledge and skills to be effective advocates for language programs.
Despite the ungrammaticality of many translated sentences, students will continue to succumb to the temptation of using translators, and banning them from language classes is probably futile. Instead, mistranslations can serve as beneficial teaching opportunities. Several years ago, my then ninth grade daughter asked me to check her French essay. I laughed when I read the sentence, J’aime courir transnational. I explained what happened when she entered I like to run cross-country into the translator. We then checked two other online translators. The first produced, not surprisingly, J’aime courir le pays en travers, but the second result caused me to pause and try to recall my rusty French. The sentence was J’aime diriger le pays fâché, which means I like to manage (run) the angry (cross) country. I will now always remember the words for to manage and angry. Bringing humorous results to the attention of your students as they arise should certainly make students wary of translators, while also serving as grammar and vocabulary mini-lessons, particularly to help them understand parts of speech and the lack of one-to-one correspondence across languages. Nevertheless, a series of systematic lessons can be even more beneficial. After an introductory lesson on the dangers of translators, lessons on how to use translators to check grammar and vocabulary can be conducted, as well as lessons on using translators to revise essays and to investigate pragmatics.
“Email is for old people.” This is the conventional wisdom among students at my university. Many of us “old people,” who remember inter-office memos reproduced on a hand-cranked machine and printed in purple ink, receive that statement with some amusement that a technology as “new” as email would be considered obsolete. Others, perhaps having just mastered email, are dismayed that our students are turning up their noses at what we consider to be the state of the art in communication. Some might also be discouraged, conclude that their efforts to stay current with technology are futile, and might be tempted to throw up their hands and say, “what’s the use?” However, if we understand what technology students are using—and how they are using it—some interesting implications for language teaching emerge.