Language Learning in the Digital Era

Our Language Coordinators (Jean-Michel DesJacques for French and Jose-Maria Ferreira-Cayuela for Spanish) regularly attend meetings, conferences and workshops on a wide range of topics related to new developments in the field of language teaching and learning. For Jean-Michel, the first such event of 2016 has just taken place with a trip to Southampton last week:

‘I recently attended the now yearly e-learning symposium at the University of Southampton organised by LLAS, the Centre for Languages, Linguistics & Area Studies. Definitely the place to be if you want to sample the latest innovations and trends in e-learning. As a language teacher and pedagogue, it is always very interesting to see how other practitioners deal with challenges very similar to the ones you face. But I’ll come back to this later.

This year’s central theme was ‘Humans and the machine’. Is the algorithm the answer to everything? I know what you are thinking, I wish Jules Verne had been there too to pinch some ideas about his next roman d’anticipation. (Incidentally, according to UNESCO’s own Translationum, Verne is the second most translated author behind Agatha Christie in first place and, believe it or not, ahead of Shakespeare…)

Anyway, over the two-day event, I certainly wished that speech recognition technology had been fitted to my email box. In fact, there was a paper on marking using this very technique and some impressive attempts at tweeting relying on the same principle. So it is not too far-fetched to think that sooner rather than later, the most basic queries made to you by email will be dealt with by some avatar of yours, giving you more time for 121 feedback with some of your students or perhaps a well-deserved coffee break.

I mentioned challenges earlier on… It was obvious from the various workshops offered that we, as professionals, share similar issues such as Facebook vs VLE when it is obvious which platform students prefer; how to best prepare students for their time abroad (there were some particularly interesting ideas about role plays); on-line courses and whether they represent student empowerment or an economic imperative; the use of VLE for lexical retention; and finally the use of MOOCs and the delicate balance between an altruistic ideal as the world is your classroom and a marketing tool.

In the end, the symposium was about the love of languages. It was comforting to see so many dedicated and passionate people ready to share their digital experiences with others and offer an insight into what they are trying to achieve to improve their teaching.’

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