Language Teaching Enters Cyber Age

Instead of sitting in front of a teacher, more and more foreign language students are opting to sit in front of a computer. In tough economic times, it makes sense. Students are finding that high technology is a low-cost alternative to language schools.

Compared to the average price of one individual lesson at a Paris language school, around 300F an hour, the new technologies are cheap. An entire CD-ROM language course costs 1,000F or less. And on the Internet, students from different countries are teaching each other their native languages for free.

While experts agree there is no substitute for a real teacher, CD-ROM sales and those of other computer-based teaching programs are soaring. In France, there is increasing demand especially for English self-teaching materials, says Amélie d’Esneval, marketing director for Softissimo, a Paris company that produces and sells language CD-ROMs.

“During the last year, sales of these products have increased significantly,” d’Esneval said.

One example is Quick English, by far Softissimo’s biggest selling language CD-ROM. Last year, Quick English sold half a million copies at 390F each, less than the cost of two private lessons.

But no matter how effective the product is, it will never replace teachers. “The technology is easy and quick so it teaches the basics very well,” d’Esneval said. “But then you usually have to have a teacher. For it to work, you need human intervention.”

Softissimo is not stopping with software, however. There are plans to introduce a new language product that will use the Internet, the worldwide interconnection of 50 million computer networks.

D’Esneval declined to discuss Softissimo’s Internet product because it is still under development. But at a Paris university campus, engineering students are using the Internet electronic communication system to learn English, Spanish and German for free, courtesy of a project called Tandem.

Tandem is a system in that pairs up language students in different countries who use e-mail to work together and learn each other’s languages. For example, a French student who wants to study English is introduced via e-mail to an American student in the United States who wants to study French. The program does not replace teachers, but instead assigns them the role of coordinators, who assign and monitor students’ progress.

“Using the Internet is a way of opening up the classroom, of giving students more of the culture of the country, of giving them a more authentic learning experience,” says Prof. Norman Gritz, one of the early pioneers of Tandem and co-chair of the modern languages department at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Postes, Télégraphes et Télécommunications in Paris.

A German and an American university created Tandem three years ago. The program now includes 12 universities in 10 European countries, as well as universities in Japan, the US, Canada and Korea. As of December,  more than 1,800 pairs of university students were teaching each other more than a dozen languages, including Croatian and Catalan.

“I look forward to reading in American the messages of my correspondent,” French engineering student Thuy-Anh Hoang Nguyen said. “They are not so rude as I imagined before.”

Gritz and his associates are working to improve Tandem, which now is limited to exchanging words. Soon, students will be able to talk to and see each other. One new development is the Tandem Center, a site where Tandem students will be able to “meet” and talk. The center is being “built” at a virtual campus called Diversity University.

DU, as it is called, exists only in cyberspace – that is, “the place between the phones,” as science fiction author Bruce Sterling calls it: “The indefinite place out there, where the two of you, two human beings, actually meet and communicate.”

Instructors have already given courses in virtual classrooms at DU, including courses in philosophy and psychology. And because DU is virtual and not real, its classrooms and the things in them can be changed at the whim of the instructor or student in whatever ways improve learning.

“Objects or places that are unique to the country (or language) being studied can be created and programmed to respond in ways that further understanding of that country or language,” said Jeanne McWhorter, a graduate social work student at the University of Houston and creator of Diversity University.

And so it comes full circle. The Internet takes students out of real classrooms and puts them into virtual ones. Guess that takes care of the chalk dust.

 

For more information about Tandem, e-mail James Benenson at //www.enst.fr/~benenson/engfra.

 

 

 

Tandem: Foreign Language Teaching Enters the (Cyber) Space Age

New Version 761 words

by Rob Goldsmith
Instead of sitting in front of a teacher, more and more foreign language students are opting to sit in front of a computer. In tough economic times, it makes sense. Students are finding that high technology is a low-cost alternative to language schools.

Compared to the average price of one individual lesson at a Paris language school, around 300F an hour, the new technologies are cheap. An entire CD-ROM language course costs 1,000F or less. And on the Internet, students from different countries are teaching each other their native languages for free.

While experts agree there is no substitute for a real teacher, CD-ROM sales and those of other computer-based teaching programs are soaring. In France, there is increasing demand especially for English self-teaching materials, says Amélie d’Esneval, marketing director for Softissimo, a Paris company that produces and sells language CD-ROMs.

“During the last year, sales of these products have increased significantly,” d’Esneval said.

One example is Quick English, by far Softissimo’s biggest selling language CD-ROM. Last year, Quick English sold half a million copies at 390F each, less than the cost of two private lessons.

But no matter how effective the product is, it will never replace teachers. “The technology is easy and quick so it teaches the basics very well,” d’Esneval said. “But then you usually have to have a teacher. For it to work, you need human intervention.”

Softissimo is not stopping with software, however. There are plans to introduce a new language product that will use the Internet, the worldwide interconnection of 50 million computer networks.

D’Esneval declined to discuss Softissimo’s Internet product because it is still under development. But at a Paris university campus, engineering students are using the Internet electronic communication system to learn English, Spanish and German for free, courtesy of a project called Tandem.

Tandem is a system in that pairs up language students in different countries who use e-mail to work together and learn each other’s languages. For example, a French student who wants to study English is introduced via e-mail to an American student in the United States who wants to study French. The program does not replace teachers, but instead assigns them the role of coordinators, who assign and monitor students’ progress.

“Using the Internet is a way of opening up the classroom, of giving students more of the culture of the country, of giving them a more authentic learning experience,” says Prof. Norman Gritz, one of the early pioneers of Tandem and co-chair of the modern languages department at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Postes, Télégraphes et Télécommunications in Paris.

A German and an American university created Tandem three years ago. The program now includes 12 universities in 10 European countries, as well as universities in Japan, the US, Canada and Korea. As of December,  more than 1,800 pairs of university students were teaching each other more than a dozen languages, including Croatian and Catalan.

“I look forward to reading in American the messages of my correspondent,” French engineering student Thuy-Anh Hoang Nguyen said. “They are not so rude as I imagined before.”

Gritz and his associates are working to improve Tandem, which now is limited to exchanging words. Soon, students will be able to talk to and see each other. One new development is the Tandem Center, a site where Tandem students will be able to “meet” and talk. The center is being “built” at a virtual campus called Diversity University.

DU, as it is called, exists only in cyberspace – that is, “the place between the phones,” as science fiction author Bruce Sterling calls it: “The indefinite place out there, where the two of you, two human beings, actually meet and communicate.”

Instructors have already given courses in virtual classrooms at DU, including courses in philosophy and psychology. And because DU is virtual and not real, its classrooms and the things in them can be changed at the whim of the instructor or student in whatever ways improve learning.

“Objects or places that are unique to the country (or language) being studied can be created and programmed to respond in ways that further understanding of that country or language,” said Jeanne McWhorter, a graduate social work student at the University of Houston and creator of Diversity University.

And so it comes full circle. The Internet takes students out of real classrooms and puts them into virtual ones. Guess that takes care of the chalk dust.

 

For more information about Tandem, e-mail James Benenson at //www.enst.fr/~benenson/engfra.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply