Learning with Steve: How has modern technology affected language learning?

modern technology

In your experience, how has modern technology influenced language learning?

Modern technology is starting to have a major influence on how we learn languages. The way languages are taught in schools is not yet really taking advantage of all of these new developments. However, the potential is great, even revolutionary.

When I studied languages 50 years ago, the open reel tape recorder was considered a powerful tool. It meant that the teacher was not the only source of the language you were learning. But the open reel tape recorder was not portable. The sound quality of many of the tapes was not very good. These were usually installed in expensive language labs in schools and universities. Today, in my view, the school language lab is obsolete.

Why would you say language labs are obsolete and what has replaced them?

Today we can store hours and hours of audio, and hundreds of thousands of words of text, in a very small device like an iPhone or other handheld device. We can carry these with us wherever we go. The sound quality is outstanding. We can find almost unlimited amounts of interesting audio and text content on the Internet to download to these devices.  In addition,we can buy, or even obtain for free, wonderful applications for language learning, which we can use on these handheld devices.

As a result, I would say that most of my language learning time is spent listening to my MP3 player. I also read my lessons from  LingQ on my iPad, or my iPhone,when I have time during the day. I don’t need to go to a classroom. I don’t need to go to a language lab.

There are many language learning website and communities like LingQ. There are resources for grammar, for listening and reading, and places where we can exchange languages with native speakers. The Internet, and therefore the world, is my classroom.

Are there some special ways in which you use modern technology to learn languages?

Yes, I have found that for the languages that I am learning, there are outstanding podcasts and radio stations which offer audio and transcript for these languages. I download these to my MP3 player, or import them into LingQ.  LingQ is the hub of my  language learning activity.

I also find Google translate and the dictation feature on my computer to be very useful. I dictate English into Google translate, and this produces a translation into  my target language. I import this translation into LingQ. The translation is not always accurate. However, I am able to learn many phrases and words for the thoughts that I wanted to express in my target language. This is extremely useful in improving my accuracy in speaking and writing. It helps that I know enough of the language to avoid imitating the examples of incorrect usage that Google translate might create. But even if I pick up  the odd inaccurate phrase, this will not, in my view, influence me in the long run, since most of my activity is listening and reading.


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