Long gone are the days in which students learning English simply memorize and repeat what their textbooks and teachers tell them. English learners around the world of all ages are tapping into and embracing the power of technology in countless ways to enhance and support their language-learning experience. Technology in the English language acquisition classroom is critical to helping students not only learn English but also to be able to succeed academically in main content areas.
One of the most widely-used methods of teaching English using technology is the use of video. Students can watch short clips that are relevant to a particular grammatical point they’re learning, vocabulary content they’re studying, or to practice social pragmatic skills by watching a roleplay of how language is used in certain social situations, for example.
As a self-study tool, video empowers students to practice listening and to learn new vocabulary by watching YouTube videos, television shows, movies, documentaries, and more in English. With the subtitles turned on and then off, students can pick up more of what characters are saying and master more of the language on their own.
Video can also be used as a tool to demonstrate understanding of a particular topic and to practice all four domains of learning a language: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Students can write a script, act it out, read it on camera, and listen to themselves with school headphones as they edit and re-shoot video of they find parts of it aren’t clear. They can then share this video with their peers and instructors as a demonstration of what they’re learning.
Hundreds of apps are available for mobile phones, iPads, tablets, and PCs that focus on various aspects of learning English. For example, students can listen to podcasts with headphones on a topic that they’re interested in, such as the latest news. They might play games that encourage them to practice their grammar skills or improve their reading comprehension. The number of apps for practicing specific English skills are nearly limitless, it seems, as new apps are being created every day.
Blogs and Pen Pals
To improve writing, students can engage in a wide variety of activities that incorporate technology. For instance, students might write posts in small groups, pairs, or as individuals for the class blog. They are likely to pay more attention to their writing if they know that it’s available to the world through the Internet and that their classmates will be reading their posts and then commenting on them (another great way to practice writing).
Students can connect with other English learners or with native speakers of English in another class through websites that connect teachers and students around the world as pen pals. If a student has an e-pen pal they like to write to, they are more likely to be internally motivated to put their ideas into an email to share with their pen pal on a regular basis than if they have to write just because the teacher says to.
Another idea to improve writing is to have students share their thoughts on online articles or discussion forums. The BBC offers a site for teenage students to read short news stories and then comment on them, for example. Using online identities (and with parents’ permission for young students), commenting on news stories or in a class discussion forum can be great ways for students to utilize technology to improve their language abilities.
Technology is not just present in the classroom for instructional purposes. For students who live in countries or who attend schools where academic content is presented in English, they often face difficulties in learning how to use the technology required for them to take assessments of their academic abilities, including their English language proficiency.
Teachers must do more than teach English. They must teach students how to use the platforms, click and drag, type in text boxes, for example. Students must learn vocabulary related to the instructions for the technological aspects of the test, such as “drag” or “icon.”
Students who are from low-income homes may not have access to computers and the Internet, and their schools may not have much in the way of computers, either, if they are located in low-income areas. Students may be familiar with how to use mobile phones and tablets more than computers, and this can put them at a disadvantage when they have to put on their headphones during an assessment at school and navigate the exam’s computer interface on their own.
Technology is not just for entertainment purposes. English courses for adults and children are available for free and for a cost. Private tutors and online English teaching companies teach using web conferencing software. Schools and governments test students using computers and expect them to know how to use them and the Internet to research and write papers.
Teachers are incorporating technology into the classroom to make learning more fun and engaging for students on an individual level. Technology in the English classroom is changing the way students are taught and how they learn, and it will continue to do so in new ways as technology advances.