29 March 2011

One lab, every language

What if "Language Lab" was a place where students learned any language they wanted? They could go to this Language Lab take online language classes, but could get practical advice--applicable in a variety of languages--from an experienced language instructor. Said language instructor might not even speak all of the languages offered, but could help students find resources like level-appropriate authentic texts and native speakers ready and willing to engage in conversation. She would also provide ideas for how best to engage with a given language.

I examined the effects of forcing students to take 2 years of Spanish on student attitudes when I had to conduct a study for my Bilingualism and Second Language Acquisition class this fall. Granted, I only studied the attitudes of MY students who ARE forced to take 2 years of Spanish to graduate: it was a baby experiment really, a dabble in qualitative research for the sake of the course. But the results I found (apart from making me regret asking students open-ended questions right before report cards go out) made me curious about alternative possibilities.

In short, I found it IS good to require a minimum of two years of foreign language instruction, BUT, it would be even better if they could choose the language.

Now there are a total of 8 teachers making up--not my department--but my entire school faculty. I am the sole certified language teacher. Contracting a French, German, Latin, and Japanese teacher ain't gonna happen

While I took French & German in high school myself and have toyed with the idea of brushing up enough to get certified in French, many of the students' preferred languages are not something in which I could become proficient before fall. Granted, I might be pretty good at Chuj if I get the Kenan Fellowship to Guatemala this summer, but that was not exactly on anyone's list of preferred languages.

However, North Carolina Virtual Public Schools will be offering Arabic, Russian, Japanese, Latin, French, German, and Mandarin Chinese this fall (not to mention Spanish). This would cover at least 85% of the desired languages that I'm not certified to teach--nearly 100% of what students WANT to learn!

The catch? Online classes are online.

According to my observations, online language classes tend to subscribe to textbook-like instruction. Can you blame them? Direct interaction is limited, and meaningful discussion takes days instead of minutes. There are, of course, videos on occasion (which the school tends to block, naturally), and some cool cultural links. But the quizzes and tests appear to be pretty lower-level from what I've seen.

Perhaps if the lab required at least 3 students be enrolled in the same language (not necessarily level), I could do more with authentic resources & setting up "spontaneous" conversations. I could do exercises with reading skills & interpretation, supplement authentic sources links, and require more in-depth (health science related?) presentations as well.

And who knows? Maybe I'll be qualified to teach some Russian & Mandarin by the time it's done!

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