Using Mobile Technologies to Create a Language Lab?

Just thought I would share some really cool stuff I am learning, and thinking about…

French Immersion students experience challenges on all fronts:

1. in this context, they are not fully immersed
2. French is an incredibly complex language to read and write
3. even if students know what to say, they often can’t pronounce it so that they can be effectively understood…

When the oral final exam comes in grade 12, they are faced with a huge challenge: getting a stranger to understand what they are trying to say… A task largely based on pronunciation competencies given that the person evaluating them has no idea, prior experience with the student’s accent, or visual clues as to what students are talking about… It wasn’t until this year, my first year teaching FRAL 12, that I realized what a handicap pronunciation will be in their final and most important summative evaluation….

Wanting to help students work on pronunciation in preparation for this major hurdle, I created a series of assignments that would force students to speak using proper syntax, and encourage them to pronounce words correctly… I learned a lot from this experience. I loved that students could complete this task using new technologies of their choosing… Of all ‘homework’ assigned, this was the most likely piece to be handed in. In the screen shot, you can see that students are in fact using a variety of tools from iPhones, to Blackberries, to iPods to complete their homework… One student reported that she completed her homework while at work, another, while waiting to play in a volleyball tournament. Some students are using iPods that belong to the French Immersion department, but most are using their own devices. At the onset, they supported each other to figure out how to complete their homework, after a couple of assignments, they all knew what to do… without any support from me. (I like that… and this is important in that we can deduce that educators need not know all there is to know about new technologies to use them).

Another thing I learned was that, by listening really closely to my students (evaluating their homework), I became even more aware of the difficulties they are facing… (Picture yourself answering a 10 minute call from a person in Beijing, or Croatia, or Brazil or the Philippines… trying to understand what the person is saying without any visual clues… Imagine that this person is not at all fluent and often makes mistakes in their lexical, syntactic or idiomatic expression choices… Give that person a score based on the information that you understood.)

In the next few months I am hoping to use our iPads to connect students from our school to other schools, with a focus on pronunciation. In my opinion, the reason why we are not as unsuccessful as we’d like to in this area, is that, because our students communicate ONLY face-2-face with other students (and teachers) they know REALLY well and are able to be understood without ever correcting themselves or being corrected. One the evils of teaching a language in this context is that, we don’t want to correct speech since it would discourage it, thus exacerbating the frequency issues we are already experiencing…

By connecting students with different accents and skill levels on a regular basis, I am hoping that achievement levels will be greatly enhanced by this missing piece in their language learning path. In essence, I believe that we can use FACETIME or the likes, to create a new kind of language lab experience…

The task here will be to develop lessons, and support materials to facilitate this experience… But we do have the technology… And I hope that we can put it to good use.