“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.
The topic of error correction in the second language (L2) classroom tends to spark controversy among both language teachers and L2 acquisition researchers. Teachers may have very strong views about error correction, based on their own previous L2 learning experiences, or they may be more ambivalent, particularly if they have been following the debate among L2 researchers on the topic. Depending on which journal articles a teacher reads, he or she will find error correction described on a continuum ranging from ineffective and possibly harmful (e.g., Truscott, 1999) to beneficial (e.g., Russell & Spada, 2006) and possibly even essential for some grammatical structures (White, 1991). Furthermore, teachers may be confronted with students’ opinions about error correction since students are on the receiving end and often have their own views of if and how it should happen in the classroom. Given these widely varying views, what is a teacher to do? This article will address this question by exploring some of the current thinking about error correction in the field of L2 acquisition research.
Technology has allowed the language classroom to expand in many ways. In all its forms, technology has enlarged the “learning space” for language learners, blurring the lines between classroom learning and “homework,” between learning environments at home and abroad, and significantly expanding the number of potential classmates, friends, and conversation partners available to language learners. Few would argue that one field that has been transformed by the technological revolution is distance learning. In its earliest form, distance learning was largely equated with correspondence courses where learners studied course content in a textbook, completed assignments at home, and mailed them in to professors and teachers who would grade the assignments and send them back. Today, numerous technologies are employed to expand the learning experiences of all students.
Language teachers have perhaps always known that diagnosing their students’ strengths and weaknesses early on in a foreign language course would, in principle, greatly facilitate their efforts to tailor instruction to the needs of particular students, or at least help them plan class activities appropriate for the general skill levels of the class as a whole. This, of course, is one of those many pedagogical insights that is much easier to talk about than act upon. Many of us forego diagnostics altogether and simply start teaching our class with Chapter 1 of whatever textbook we happen to be using, or perhaps by conducting some activity that has worked well for us in the past—all the while thinking that we’ll get to know the students pretty well in time.
As 2005 came to a close, so too did the Year of Languages. However, the energy, enthusiasm, and sense of purpose to expand language teaching and learning nationally that the Year of Languages sought to inspire continues to gain momentum. On January 5, 2006 the White House acknowledged the need to support and encourage a significant national commitment to fostering foreign language competence by announcing the National Security Language Initiative (NSLI). Through targeted funding opportunities, this initiative seeks to support teachers and expand instruction in foreign languages (see Table 1 for the URL and details on the NSLI’s goals). This initiative and other new and expanded programs, initiatives, and legislation, seek to address what some may call our nation’s “language crisis.” Much of the focus, of federally funded programs in particular, is on critical languages, usually less commonly taught languages (LCTLs), which are deemed critical for national and economic security. Nonetheless, regardless of the language, there is little controversy over the need for foreign language learning to begin earlier and be made available more broadly and for a longer period of time.
Motivated students are every teacher’s dream — they are willing to work hard, add their own goals to those of the classroom, focus their attention on the tasks at hand, persevere through challenges, don’t need continuous encouragement, and may even stimulate others in the classroom, promoting collaborative learning. However, we all know that the motivation behind our students’ learning varies widely, ebbs and flows over the course of the year (or even during a single classroom activity), and stems from various sources, internal to the learner, external, or both. As teachers we can generally see who is motivated and who is not, and often we may wonder how or even if we can harness the motivation of some and spread it out to others. Tapping into motivation is crucial for language teachers because we know that motivation is one of the key factors driving language learning success (Dörnyei, 2001; Ellis, 1994). In fact, teachers often see it as their job to motivate students by creating classroom tasks that are interesting and engaging and by using authentic materials to stimulate further interest in the language and the people who speak it. Over the last twenty years, research on motivation for foreign language learning has evolved considerably from focusing on describing what composes student motivation to a detailed list of suggestions that help teachers initiate, sustain, and further promote student motivation. This fall, as many of us are embarking on a new academic year with bright, shiny, motivated students, we would like to highlight learner motivation as a variable that not only students bring to the classroom, but also as one that teachers can implement, cultivate and promote throughout the year to enhance learning. I will first begin with a brief review of the concept of learner motivation. Secondly, I will discuss a select group of three different publications that deal with motivating language learners, and third, I will review some particulars that may be involved in promoting the motivation of heritage language learners and learners of less-commonly taught languages.
This is an interesting time for language teachers to be using computers. On the technology side, the continuing trend is for computers to get more powerful and cheaper, for software to do more—and do it better, and for our students to have access to more information. On the teaching side, the computer has largely ceased to be an add-on to the curriculum. It is no longer an extra that we include if time permits, or as a special treat for the students. For more and more of us, the computer is an essential part of our working day, and has become an integral part of how we teach.
In the last decade, our field has seen enthusiastic interest in the role of vocabulary in foreign language courses. This recent interest has led to research with practical classroom applications for foreign language classrooms. In order to progress in a foreign language, learners need to be able to understand what they are hearing and reading. That is, the input must be comprehensible in order for it to be useful and meaningful to the learner and help with acquisition (Krashen, 1982), but if learners do not understand a sizable portion of the vocabulary in the language that they are reading or hearing, then this language is not comprehensible and therefore cannot be useful for acquisition. Many argue that vocabulary is one of the most important—if not the most important—components in learning a foreign language, and foreign language curricula must reflect this.
Since 1996, when the Standards for Foreign Language Learning first appeared, foreign language teachers have worked to revise their teaching goals and objectives so that students might have a broader range of meaningful and authentic experiences. As a result, both curriculum and assessment have been refocused, away from learning about language and toward learning to use language in culturally appropriate ways. Learning scenarios are a direct reflection of this change in focus. These extended thematic units offer challenging, creative, and individualized opportunities for students to learn the foreign language and then demonstrate what they have learned.
In the previous issue, I discussed the necessity of creating online materials that are more than just drill-based vocabulary and grammar activities. I suggested developing more task-based lessons supported by current methodological principals of language teaching that can utilize the online format in such a way that it increases the opportunities for meaningful language learning, interaction and negotiation. Therefore, I explained briefly the notions of communication and negotiation, and the different types of tasks (i.e., instructional tasks and real world tasks; instructional, or pedagogical tasks being more similar to scaffolding tasks that would build upon each other and, if completed, would give learners practice at skills that could help them accomplish the real world task or target tasks). Now, I will look at some current methodological principals and apply a few of them to a lesson plan that utilizes the Internet and Computer Mediated Communication (CMC).