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Tech bringing MFL to life?

I was prompted to write this by a tweet I read just now. It was asking for any ways the iPad could be used to bring language lessons to life.

Now, as it happens, I am an iPad addict and I'm not against technology, but there are a number of quite evangelical apologists for what is now often called "tech" here on the internet. Not surprising, I hear you say, that's where you'll find them. But in actual fact, the large majority of language teachers do not tweet, do not read blogs, make little effort to seek out new technology, but just use their computer suites and interactive boards judiciously, or not at all. They teach very good lessons and their students are motivated. They they are good communicators, have a sound basis in methodology and know how to keep kids on task.

They have good reasons for not seeing technology as a panacea. Their lessons are not dead, moribund or dull. They talk a lot, they do lots of listening, they do pair and group work, they use information gaps, they play games, they explain grammar, they do useful drills, they crack jokes with their classes, they and their pupils take amusement from error and so on. These teachers, either implicitly or explicitly, realise that language learning is primarily about face to face communication, as it is for the young first language learner.

Yes, there are other forms of communication; social networks could be exploited further, new technology can spice things up and make lessons more varied, but it is not a sine qua non of good language teaching. In addition, it carries with it a heavy carbon footprint (something I never hear mentioned) and not all pupils by any means enjoy using technical interfaces.

There is much research to be done on this, but I have found interesting a study in child language acquisition which clearly shows that babies acquire phonological patterns more quickly when humans talk to them, rather than when they hear sounds and watch images from a screen. Is that at all surprising? I wonder whether second language acquisition also works better without an intervening medium.

Anyway, maybe in a very few years we language teachers will become less useful, as people use their phones and tablets to instantly translate and speak electronically with the aid of ultra sophisticated translation and text-to-speech technology.

Are we already there?


  1. I couldn't agree more with Steve Smith and the subtext of his penultimate paragraph begs the question 'where to now?' Many of the good language teachers in this country are technophiles and we are well up in the play with both the hardware and social networking sites, and we use them in our teaching. But they are just extra tools in the box of language acquisition and present dangers if used incorrectly. We have noticed a marked increase in the use of translators when preparing written work, especially when a student is under pressure to meet deadlines. This usually leads to disaster and we are fighting a constant battle to educate them out of this habit, or at least teach them how to use an online translator intelligently.

    The key s getting them to engage in the language and what better way than face-to-face as Steve says. Communication would be somewhat stilted though the medium of an iPad if one were, say, shopping in France.


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