Many English teachers in Korea face a common problem: A lack of contact hours makes it difficult to give students enough speaking practice.
KAIST professor Tim Thompson launched the website www.educationanyware.com on Aug. 1 to give teachers the chance to offer speaking practice using video recording.
The project has changed somewhat from its inception in 2010, when Thompson and a fellow professor started work on a program to help deal with the lack of contact time with students.
Thompson mentions in passing a key problem: the tests that students are supposed to pass:
“There’s so much teaching to these tests and that’s why they’re getting rid of all the native-speaking English teachers in Seoul. It’s because they’re like, ‘Yeah, we don’t need talking teachers; we need teachers who are going to prepare them for this grammar test,’” he said.
Fancy! Using the Internet to increase listening and speaking opportunities for language students! Thank God for PhDs and university professors. Progress would be little or none without them.
Although the concept sounds simple, Thompson said he was not aware of another similar offering, although he knew of one that was audio based.
“You would not believe the number of people who have said to me, ‘What, nobody’s already done that?’ But actually, having coordinated with the guys who put it together, it really is quite complicated,” he said, explaining that the balanced combination of technical skills and teaching expertise was rare.
That’s where the universities and PhDs come in. This isn’t just something anyone can set up. It takes brains, years and years of book-learning and writing papers no-one ever reads with tons of footnotes, to be able to come up with such a system.
Does it have to be a system, I hear you ask? How quaint! I suppose you think anyone could do this with an Internet connection, a website and a YouTube account? Ha-ha-ha!
How will it be used? Who will pay? I’m glad you asked!
Originally a downloadable Flash-based program with animated interviewers, the concept has changed slightly, becoming an open platform on a website where users can upload videos of themselves setting questions or speaking tasks.
Students can then view the videos online and record answers using a webcam.
Recording on the site is free, but the site charges for watching videos, with 5,000 minutes costing 12,000 won ($10.70). A trial 500 minutes is free.
Thompson said the idea was that the students would not pay, but rather the teachers or schools would.
However, he hoped that students would also benefit from playing back their own recordings.
“The goal is to get them to produce in a foreign language … if they’re actually watching themselves speak, that’s got to be a good thing,” he said, adding that a new feature allowing students to re-record and edit their answers was planned.
“The goal is to get them to produce in a foreign language”. That is the goal from the teachers’ point of view. Why “get them” to do this? Don’t they want to? So the teachers’ goal is no longer simply to instruct, but also to “motivate”, i.e. to persuade, or bully or coerce, students into “producing” in a foreign language.
“Producing” may sound a bit odd – why not just say “speaking”? Well, because it includes writing, too. Why not just say “speaking and writing”? Well, that’s not the way EFL professionals talk. Ya gotta use the jargon, see?
Actually, they could have just said “speaking”, couldn’t they? I mean, who is going to use video for writing? But, no: “producing” sounds more professional.
But language gripes aside, there is another problem hidden in here: why is it such a problem to “get students to” speak in a foreign language class? I mean, isn’t that why they signed up? Well, perhaps they signed up to LEARN the foreign language, but not to look a fool in front of other students.
Thompson pointed out that it could also help students who were intimidated by speaking in a class or teaching environment.
No shit, Sherlock! Whatever Thompson’s qualifications, I’m sure they were worth it. A simple, non-PhD, person could never have figured this out.
“Asking a student to speak in a class with 30 other students looking at them, potentially going to mock them if they’re wrong ― it takes that out of the equation,” he said.
Yes, it does, doesn’t it? Another way to take it out of the “equation”, as Thompson puts it, is to do away with classes of 30 students. Just have classes of 1 or 2 students. But we couldn’t have that, could we? Why not? “Well, it’s not economically feasible.”
Except that it is. Skype is a free video application that allows computers users to connect, talk and see each other if each has a webcam.
Meet Moses McCormick : a young man in Ohio who speaks somewhere between 40 and 50 languages.But he has never been out of the U.S.! How is this possible? Easy. The Internet. Specifically, YouTube.
in 2008, McMormick began using YouTube to record himself speaking dozens of languages to meet and get feedback from native speakers all across the world. He started getting many questions from other curious learners, and he began making videos explaining his techniques and answering specific queries, all the while meeting dozens of native speakers and impressed language professors.
I blogged recently about how the Internet is a godsend to learners of foreign languages, especially with such free websites as YouTube and free apps such as Skype (also available for smartphones and tablets like the iPad).
Benny Lewis is a young Irish polyglot who spoken nothing but English until after he had left university. He is now an Internet phenomenon who speaks 8 different languages (currently learning 3 more, including Mandarin) and advises others on how to learn them quickly. His website is Fluent In 3 Months: Language Hacking and Travel Tips.
Here’s a recent blog post where Benny explains you don’t have to live in the country where the language you want to learn is spoken, nor do you have to spend a ton of money on language classes:
There are so many ways to practise a language without travelling, and to prove this, I am currently in a non-capital city in Colombia and intend to speak seven non-Spanish, non-English languages every week. (I’m speaking almost entirely in Spanish the rest of the time, but that isn’t actually the mission). So far, this has been so easy it’s not even funny.
How does he do it? Hint: the Internet.
After moving into my apartment in Medellín, I got online and within five minutes had found people in the same city who speak the supposedly hardest languages of my set to practise: Irish, Esperanto and Hungarian.
What I did can be summarised very simply: I went into some social networking websites and searched for people who speak those languages and wrote them an e-mail to meet up with them.
Yes, that’s it. It’s not quantum mechanics I’m talking about here; anyone with a mouse and keyboard can do this.
As well as social media to meet up with people, Benny also uses smartphone apps such as Anki to learn and review vocab, and suggests ways to use podcasts to get some listening practice.
Benny’s “thing” is start speaking from day one. (Click the link to see his TED talk.) So, his reviews and opinions are based on the assumption that the learner wants to be able to speak as soon as possible. Benny also thinks that’s actually the best way to learn a foreign language quickly: start speaking from day 1.
This is not what happens in most language classes, especially those in university. There’s a lot of blah-blah about grammar, etc. In Japan, where I work, a large number of teachers, especially in high schools and colleges, seem to spend most of the class time explaining things in Japanese.
Krashen, a well known expert on second language acquisition, called what students got out of this kind of instruction “learning”, as opposed to practical knowledge of the language itself and how to use it, i.e. what is actual competence, he called “acquisition“.
The students in Korea, or anywhere else, who really want to speak English (as opposed to being “got to produce” by teachers who know what’s good for them, otherwise known as uninvited teaching) might do worse than going online and visiting some of the websites listed above.
[Sarcasm mode: off]
If you’re a language teacher, you might enjoy this video by Steve Kaufman where he talks about his view of the role of the teacher and the langauge classroom. (Of many gems in this video, here’s my favourite: “in a classroom, the teacher decides the agenda, and I think the learner needs to decide the agenda” @ 7:39). Who decides what to learn? That’s the key issue, it seems to me, the one that has the most impact on the learning results, not changing the furniture.
I’ll just finish this with a plug for Lingq.com, a site developed by polyglot Steve Kaufman (BTW, here’s Benny the polyglot’s review of Lingq). I’m using it now to brush up my Japanese and French. The approach Kaufman recommends, and the basis for Lingq.com, is lots of reading and listening. That means podcasts with transcriptions, narrated texts, etc. Watching Steve’s YouTube videos, Benny’s videos and Moses’ videos, reading their blogs, has reminded me of something that I’d lost sight of in trying to solve my classroom-management problems: what fun it is to speak and learn a foreign language. I suspect this is inevitable in a classroom, but I’ll let that be the subject of another post.