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Digital and online language learning

06/02/2019
door Marijana Matic
Taal: EN

       In the modernized world where the primary motivation of adults is search for a better status, job, life abroad, professional development digital and online language learning is a common phenomenon. Due to its adaptability to different client needs-flexible learning times, learning from home or office, by use of simple tools, being able to choose from teachers and materials from all around the world, this type of learning has become very popular. It seems that its popularity keeps growing.  We distinguish between digital language learning which refers to the use of applications and material online without any help of a language teacher and online language learning which involves learning with a teacher online and possibly but not necessarily other students.

      The use of different applications such as duolingo, rosetta stone, elevspel.se, gramatik bolaget, heja svenske.se and similar  can help students learn certain elements of the language. Undoubtedly their accessibility and the fact that they can be played over and over at any convenient hour are definitely their advantages. The wide variety of games and online material can certainly contribute to the expansion of vocabulary, practising pronunciation, practising grammar and listening skills.

      It is important to establish learning goals of online learners and their needs. Bearing that in mind the teacher should tailor his/her teaching. The needs of adult learners  who would like to learn online are manifold. In case of adult students living in a foreign country many of them seek help for learning beacuse the immersion method at official language learning institutions of the country by which all the explanations and teaching are done in the target language ( from the very beginning),  do not have satisfying results especially in case of beginners. They are rather frustrated and ask for clarification, explanations and correction in their mother tongue. Thus online learning with a teacher speaking their mother tongue comes into play. Such students also feel pressed to communicate in a foreign language which inlcudes listening and understanding and responding-most often speaking. The main obstacles are the fear to speak, feeling stressed and thus diminishing understanding (most often listening) ability, lack of self-confidence to communicate and resorting to translate everything into the mother tongue before responding in the foreign language, the fear of making a mistake. The levels of frustration and self-impediment are different: some students claim they can understand isolated words but not sentences, others complain of the speed the speaker(s) are using when addressing them or his/her dialect and many claim to understand everything  but not be able to respond in the target language.

The problems of adult students who live in their own countries and seeking online help in learning a language are similar. The pressure is somewhat smaller as the situation for which they are learning is usually simulated or imagined.

     The online learning method which has proven to be an example of good teaching/learning method for adult learners learning online for the past fifteen years of my online teaching experience (teaching English and Swedish, and sporadically Serbian for foreigners) is the following. Adults come with different levels of knowledge of a language and different skills- reading, listening, speaking, writing. Different skills can be on different levels for each student. That means for example that one student`s reading skills and passive vocabulary can be on B1 level,   whereas speaking and listening skills can on A1 level. The online teacher should first establish the goals of learning, then the levels of present knowledge, then the learning styles and mechanisms which prevent or slow down the online adult student from prospering in the foreign language. Based on all that the subject matter of language is taugth with the help of numerous online materials which can cater for specific student needs.

       The best course for adult online learners of foreign languages consists of the "right" mixture of practice, explanations, simulating the situations, vocabulary teaching, silent reading for understanding, repetition, giving support and feeling empathic about the fears, error correction,  teaching about how to use the online resources such as online dictionaries, listening materials and similar, teaching critical thinking and teaching about the culture and what is acceptable and what not in particular life/linguistic situation.

        Digital and online language learning seem to be here to stay. Based on a few hundreds of students taught over the time online, I give preference to online language teaching of adults over using digital applications as the online  teacher`s position is vital: to model the language,  explain, correct, practice, assess, give feedback, give support on progess and talk about apprporiateness.

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