How to reinvent Language Education - Or is it already?

Aaron G Meyers, a language coach, living and teaching in Istanbul since 2008 shared some interesting thoughts on his blog: 9 Ideas for Reinventing America’s Language Education System


As Aaron and I share a similar background, I left Germany to teach languages in France, his post made me think, and so I reflected on the past four years that I have spent in online language learning. What did change and do we need to reinvent the system? It also reminded me of my first post for Disrupt Education “The Power of Communities in Modern Language Learning”. 

In 2007/08 and early 2009 the belief amongst startups and online language teachers was that the real revolution lies in the live teaching over VoIP services like Skype or virtual classrooms. A student could finally have the perfect native speaking coach without leaving “the comfort of ones home”. Looking at the state of the market today, it became quite clear that most students don’t care that much about live teaching at all. In July 2010 I wrote a post “Why Live Lessons are FNACs” (feature, not a company - Mark Suster) in which I stated that live lessons are

“… inconvenient, more expensive and don’t seem to attract many students compared to self paced offers in the language learning space.”

A recent poll amongst the fans and subscribers of my Deutsch Happen project also showed no interest from their side to have live lessons or seminars with me. They “just” want more video content, mostly grammar centered and written exchange on the Facebook fan page.

So I came to the conclusion that language learning is already being reinvented from the bottom up as learners take matters into their own hands. The Internet gave them a huge candy shop of free content in various formats which they can cherry-pick from.

A huge role in this process play the free language learning and exchange communities like Livemocha or busuu that provide the self paced learner which everything needed to start a new language. Basic lessons are available for free, feedback, correction and practice is provided by the community, no teacher or coach is actually involved.

Now, I won’t get into further discussions at what level a teacher might or might not be needed but I would like to quote Aaron from his point 4 - Teachers as Coaches here

Teaching would still take place but would focus on teaching students how to learn a new language, presentation of ideas about second language acquisition and instruction on how to access the language on the internet and in the community. The teacher would act as a facilitator, regularly introducing students to new tools and activities for learning and monitoring progress as they empower students to take control of their language learning. Modeling language learning would be an important part of the job and they would work more than anything to help their students become independent, self-directed learners. They would not teach grammar. They would not give grades.

In May, I wrote a post titled “Teachers need to become Learning Consultants” in which I focused on the aspect of implementing applications and other tech into language learning.

One thing I am thinking about for quite a while now is the curation of learning tools, services and applications. Every day the number of those is growing and who else than the teacher / tutor could give learners distinct advice on which of the tools would meet their needs and expectations best.

In his post, Aaron takes a quite radical approach to reinvent language education. He suggests to start from the ground, forget everything about how a language needs to be taught and learned today. Furthermore, he suggests to get rid of the grades and levels, basically killing all the sacred cows of public education.

Though I agree with him that all of this does not really help to spark the interest in learning a language or maybe even killing the interest completely, I am not sure that we are able get rid of this framework. What we need to do instead is to add better reasons besides grades and levels to the mix. Opening the classroom to the world, connect with peers across the globe, make communication, interaction and culture the center of language learning. Just make it worthwhile and fun.

Blackboard image from Shutterstock

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