Mark is pretty much saving my life right now or, at least, helping me to follow-through on my commitment to post content every other week. So a big thanks goes out to him for another post! For the next week a book review, I swear. Apparently, it takes me much longer to get through a book than it used to because, well, the Internet.
This current post of his looks again at language learning and technology, or the lack there of . . . with the intention of adding it in but not just yet . . . but soon. How? He wonders aloud for us. See his other posts here.
“Just Do It” by Mark Garton
This old Nike slogan in today’s title has never been my favorite, I have to admit. The reason is that I’ve never been very good at sports, and Nike makes it all sound so much fun and easy. Sports are hard. When you think about it, most sports have a serious problem with them, and they can be extremely difficult to learn to play well. I’m thinking of sports like basketball (the ball’s too big), tennis (the court’s too big), and golf (the ball’s too small). “Hey, wait a minute!” I hear some of you saying, those of you who know me. “You play golf all right. I’ve seen your golf swing.” Okay, you’ve got a point. Maybe I’m tolerable at golf. But the only reason I can play at all is because my father taught me how when I was a little kid, and then I practiced for years. I just played and played, and eventually I got up to where I was respectable. Maybe you could say I “acquired” golf over a period of time. Now the ball doesn’t seem so small anymore.
Learning language – or more correctly, acquiring it – is a lot like that, and it’s important for teachers to give students opportunities to “play the game,” so to speak. That means we give them opportunities to use the language as much as possible, whether that means having conversations and reading, which are my personal favorites, or writing, or whatever is meaningful to them. My problem has always been that I’m not sure how to provide the really rich opportunities for language acquisition, the ones that involve natural interactions and preferably some cultural lessons too. It’s fine to stay in the classroom, but that has limitations; technology fits in here somewhere, but I’m not sure where. We can always have coffee hours every week like some programs have, or we can match up our students with native-speaking conversation partners, or we can even have field trips – assuming that there’s money in the budget and that the administration hasn’t cracked down on these activities because they perceive them as being irrelevant (unless they’re specifically building on material that’s covered in the textbook, and that the objectives are clearly outlined on the course syllabus and posted on the course management system, and that student achievement of these objectives will be measured somehow, and that there are no schedule conflicts with other activities that they think are more important, and that the various administrators have all signed off on them too). Come to think of it, that sounds daunting. Maybe we should bypass all of that and try something else.
So here’s my question of the day: How do we give students opportunities to interact in the language in a meaningful way, opportunities that are as good as going out in the world and learning it naturally? In other words, how can students learn language the way I learned golf – by just doing it? Like I said, technology’s got a role to play, I’m sure, but I’m not clear what it is. I tend to use CALL for things like vocabulary exercises, listening passages, and other contrived lessons. How can I get out of this box and really use technology to teach language?
But maybe the good activities aren’t sports at all. Maybe the students would learn from going to museums or a boat ride or square dancing. And I’m sure there must be other things we could do. I’ll bet less competitive sports are the way to go. Those are a big part of our culture too. I don’t doubt that I’ll think of something wrong with them all, but the students will like them fine. I’m way too negative. Let’s see. I could get a group together sometime and we could all go skiing (the snow’s too slippery), or kayaking (the water’s too slippery), or roller skating (“teacher, I think I broke my arm”) …