By Lynn Zimmerman
Editor, Teacher Education
Second language acquisition as a body of research looks at various aspects of learning and teaching languages other than one’s native language. Most people probably think of this as foreign language teaching and learning. Because of the complexity of language learning and teaching, this field of research covers a wide range of issues from the order in which learners acquire grammar and vocabulary in the language they are studying to what the most effective teaching methods and strategies are. As learners and teachers alike seek more effective and efficient ways to teach and learn languages, technology use has grown.
Perhaps technology use for language learning began back when people used record players to listen to and repeat what was on a record. In the 21st century, the opportunities for using technology has grown enormously, ranging from podcasts you can download to interactive activities on the Internet where you can practice all aspects of a language. These activities range from short texts to read and answer questions about to full-length courses taught over the web. With mobile technology, learning apps enable the learner to study anywhere, anytime. Each of these types of technology-assisted language learning comes with its own strengths and challenges for the learner and the developer.
In his blogpost, “How could SLA research inform EdTech?,” Scott Thornby suggests that the developer or user needs to ask some questions based on second language research about how an application may fit into the language learning process to determine its effectiveness for learners’ specific needs. He lays out what he calls 10 “observations” from second language research. Then he formulated questions, related to each observation, which ask how technology can enhance language learning. His questions focus on how adaptive the software is to different types of learners and to an individual learner’s history as well as how it addresses the complexity of the language. Thornby also suggests asking how well it gives opportunities for meaningful input and output as well as how well it provides feedback.
However, in the long run, I think the most important question he poses is “Is the software sufficiently engaging/motivating to increase the likelihood of sustained and repeated use?” After all, no matter how good it is from a pedagogical standpoint, if the software doesn’t engage the learners, it will gather dust on the virtual “shelf” as surely as those records from days past have gathered dust on people’s bookshelves.