Welcome to Language Latte: a conversation about teaching world languages. This is Becky Morales from Kid World Citizen, and I am your host. Today we are focusing today on teaching languages online. Treat yourself to a latte, and settle in, so we can start our chat!
In every episode of the Language Latte podcast, I examine issues that world language teachers face when trying to help our students achieve proficiency.
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In this episode we are looking at the growing number of opportunities for teachers – and students- of learning and teaching languages online. We are discussing the advantages and disadvantages, tips to be a successful online teacher, and the most popular platforms right now. Then we speak with T’helah Ben-Dan, who shares her thoughts on teaching Hebrew on-line.
Teaching Language Online
Technology and the rise of online course have opened up a host of opportunities for teaching and learning languages online. In fact, many instructors are being asked to create and deliver these courses, either fully online, or with online components. Unfortunately, there seems to be little support and resources in how best to teach languages online.
Internet -based language instruction is defined as language teaching, conducted over the internet, using online tools and resources. Researchers are continuously developing and implementing new tools for CALL, which stands for Computer-Assisted Language Learning.
Today we will be looking at synchronous lessons: teachers delivering online language learning classes to students live, via Google Hangouts, Skype, or one of the many platforms that are now popular. It is really phenomenal that language students can have access to a live, native speaker from anywhere in the world, delivering a class via video, right in their own home! Online teaching has also opened up employment opportunities for teachers.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of learning and teaching languages online?
The biggest advantage of learning languages online is that students have easy access to global resources and native speakers from anywhere in the world. Especially for non-traditional students, on-line delivery means students who have geographic or time barriers are able to access quality instruction at any time of day from their homes. Certain students might feel that online is a safer environment to engage in speaking a new language. For some students, anxiety is diminished when they are not speaking in front of peers. Furthermore, any time a teacher is with a student in a 1:1 environment, the class can be extremely personalized to reach the students exactly where they are in the acquisition process. Instructors can experiment with techniques such as multimedia presentations, and can expand their curriculum to students at an international level.
On the other hand, the small 1:1 environment could be looked at as a disadvantage. Some students may miss out on student-to-student interaction. In an on-line class, students will not be able to work cooperatively with peers or hold group conversations. Some students miss student-to-student interaction and discussions, or group projects. Second Language Acquisition theories tell us that students acquire language when they have the opportunity to negotiate meaning with another person or text. Tasks are meaning-based activities closely related to learners’ actual communicative needs and with some real-world relationship, where learners have to achieve a genuine outcome. On-line instructors must take this research and apply it to the online classes, knowing that the teacher offers the only opportunity for communication in these peer-less environments. The final disadvantage, that I would be remiss to omit, is that teachers who leave the classroom in order to teach online from home often miss the camaraderie of a school setting, leaving them feeling isolated and cut off from colleagues. Joining teacher networking groups, such as our own Language Latte facebook group, helps keep teachers connected and up to date with current trends.
Despite the perceived disadvantages, online language learning is not going anywhere. In fact, it is growing every year.
You may have heard of VipKid from China for example. While the English education industry is on the rise, it was still very difficult to find quality English teachers, particularly outside big cities like Beijing and Shanghai. Founded in 2013, VIPKID is a global company that connects children in China with teachers for online English learning classes.
Their mission is to inspire and empower every child for the future. It envisions a global classroom that empowers students and teachers through personalized learning, connection of cultures across the world and the passion for lifelong learning. The key idea is to connect students with great teachers capable of personalizing learning and sparking curiosity.
This all sounds wonderful- but what characteristics or strategies do the best online teachers have? Here are 5 concrete tips to be a great online teacher.
Tips to be a GREAT online teacher
- Get the logistics ready. Make sure you have a fast internet speed, a clear working space- and definitely take care of what is behind you on screen. You should be on time, be presentable, and eliminate background noises that could distract from the class.
- Be prepared. Prepare creative ways to present vocab and use the language in context. When you are teaching languages online, your students will need loads of comprehensible input. Because they are only looking at you on a computer, you must bring in props on screen, and have a whiteboard to write down words, showing lots of visuals. Create an outline of the lesson, and prepare additional resources and links for your students. Because you probably won’t use a textbook, pull out your favorite lessons, or check out these fun speaking lesson I have for students (ESL, Spanish, German, French).
- Be dynamic. Online teachers should be animated with their voices, expecting that audio might not be as clear as it is in person, and pronunciation should be enunciated and clearer than normal. Make sure to have exaggerated and positive body language and facial expressions because students are not getting a complete view of the teacher.
- Personalize the lesson. In the episode on community building, I talked about how kids have to feel a sense of belonging, in order to be engaged in class. As teachers, we should be supportive of our students’ needs, goals, and especially their interests so that they are more motivated. Learn about your students and really personalize the topics within the lessons.
- Be patient. As language learners and teachers, we know that taking IN the language (whether it’s listening or reading) comes before producing the language, like speaking or writing, and we have to be patient for our students to get comfortable enough and ready for output.
Where are people learning and teaching languages online?
Perhaps you are interested in diving in to this new world of language teaching online. Let me do a quick overview, in case you are unfamiliar with what is hot right now. Whether you are looking to teach online for extra cash, or you would like to acquire another language, here are the most popular, online language learning sites:
- One of the most popular platforms seems to be VipKid. Vipkid specifically teaches English to kids in China, and they’ve got over 600,000 students!
- Verbling has 7500+ teachers, teaching over 50 languages and self-describes their site as the most advanced language learning platform in the world.
- iTalki says they have over 5 million language learners learning from their native speaker teachers. Students can scroll through the profiles of professional teachers to find one that suits their needs.
- Verbal Planet is another platform with multiple languages, and they deliver classes via skype.
- Lingoda is a German-based company that currently offers classes in English, German, French, and Spanish.
- Lingoci is a newer company that teaches Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, and Swedish via skype.
The nature of the internet and its changing face means online learning will always be in a state of development. Hopefully you now have a better understanding of what teaching languages online looks like and where it is headed!
An Interview with Hebrew Instructor T-helah Ben-Dan
T’helah Ben-Dan is the founder of The Kefar, an education services company that provides curriculum design, language teaching, and education consulting services. A current elementary school Hebrew teacher, T’helah has also been teaching Hebrew online since 2014 to students ages 8 to 70. She also has international teaching experience, having taught English as a Foreign Language (EFL) in elementary schools across Israel. T’helah holds an M.S. in Early Childhood Services, a B.A. in African & African-American Studies, and certificates in Teaching Hebrew to Beginners and Exposing Young Children to Hebrew Language and Culture. In her free time, T’helah enjoys traveling internationally, reading, and engaging in professional development opportunities.
1) T’helah, which languages do you speak and where did you learn them?
2) What language do you teach now, and where?
3) Today we are talking about teaching languages on-line. E-learning is exploding- from VIPKids to iTalki, Lingoda, QKids. A huge perk is that you can teach from anywhere, with a flexible schedule. Why do you like to teach online?
4) What are your best tips to be an effective teacher online?
- Assessment (of teacher, by students)
- Edtech tools- in moderation
- Online PD communities
5) I imagine that there are some challenges to teaching through a screen. How are some strategies you use to reach your students and help them achieve proficiency?
6) Where can listeners find you if they’d like to ask some follow up questions?
- Website: www.thekefar.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram, Twitter & Pinterest: @thekefar
- Facebook Group: Hebrew At The Kefar (https://www.facebook.com/
- YouTube: bit.ly/kefaryoutube
Resources & Works Cited for Teaching Languages Online
Colpaert, Jozef. (2014). Pedagogy-driven Design for Online Language Teaching and Learning. Calico Journal. Vol 23, No 3.
Hampel, Regine (2006). Rethinking task design for the digital age: A framework for language teaching and learning in a synchronous online environment. ReCALL, 18(1) pp. 105–121.
Son, Jeong-Bae (2011). Online tools for language teaching. TESL-EJ, 15 (1). pp. 1-12.