Livening Up Foreign Language

from Technology & Learning

Technology enables language learning in authentic situations.

Technology has long been associated with language learning: we're familiar with seeing children wearing headsets, reciting in unison recordings of Spanish or French vocabulary words. Nowadays, students can experience real life in real time across the globe, thanks to a host of new Internet applications. Here, we envision what could be happening in your Spanish or Chinese class.

Internet Audio
Students feel like they are in a Spanish-speaking country every time they enter the classroom. The teacher often plays music or newscasts from an Internet Hispanic radio station ( by using Real Player or Media Player. The students listen to the music and identify the theme of the song, its tone, and some of the repeated images. For instance, they may flag today's song as one about the sadness of lost love and the images of broken mirrors, ripped letters, and storm clouds.

The class does a biweekly videoconference on societal themes with peers in a Spanish-speaking country. They prepare for these presentations by researching local culture and sharing their findings. Research may lead to talk and debate about global warming or other high-profile issues, and students benefit from opinions and perspectives far different from their own.

Students learn about varying perspectives by reading online newspapers from around the world.

Students enjoy the fast-paced "describe the image" culture game, where they pair up and tell a partner as much about the Woophy Flickr picture ( of a Latin-American place as they can in one minute. A variation is to have only one person tell about the image for the minute; with the partner offering additional sentences about the scene. They can also play "ask and answer" questions about the image. To assess progress, learners make a slash for each sentence they say and record the total number in a spreadsheet to easily see the number contrast from when they first played the game to when they last played.

Online Newspapers
Students stay up-to-date on news as one day a week they read Spanish-language newspaper accounts about a current event ( The teacher has students read a range of news sources so they can discuss the similarities and differences in perspective.

When the class watches part of a recent English movie in Spanish, the teacher often stops and asks them questions about what was said. The teacher then turns off the sound and has students supply the dialogue in Spanish. At other times, the teacher shows them a movie with original Spanish dialogue or a satellite Mexican TV show so they can explain the plot and themes, describe the characters, and tell their favorite part.

Recorded Conversations
To establish more personal connections, students might conduct ongoing written conversations with peers. Activities might include a chat about clothing styles with a student in Spain, or about peer pressure with another in Ecuador. Since they converse in an online program, their conversations are recorded.

TV Translation
Fast-thinking is required in simultaneous translation activities in which the teacher turns on an Englishspeaking TV station and a student translates content into Spanish. At other times, they translate from Spanish into English. Even though only one student translates in front of the class, the others are trying to translate from their desks.

Research Tours
For foreign language learners of Chinese, the classroom is almost a virtual experience. Each month the teacher displays printed out images from Woophy of various places within a different major Chinese city. The students take turns giving tours of those places after conducting online research.

Zoom in to major Chinese city streets to get a Woophy snapshot of life in the East.

Label Analysis
When visiting China, the teacher took many digital images of common household items such as cereal, laundry soap, tea, and toys. Students read and translate the Chinese labels and then participate in activities such as deciding which item to buy and explaining their reasons to the class. Google is another source for images of Chinese products.

Every two weeks student groups make movies on a topic such as problems in a restaurant. However, before they post it, they have a class in China critique it for culture, pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar. Students are motivated to do a thorough job as their Chinese counterparts find even the smallest error. Sometimes the class watches a YouTube video made by Chinese students.

Browser Translation
The class visits Web sites and searches specific topics in Chinese by changing the Firefox browser preference to show pages in simplified Chinese. One example is to read a comic book in Chinese ( and explain it to the class.

Compare and contrast products worldwide with the help of Google.

Translation Sites
Students translate dialogue on their own and then go to one of the many online translation programs ( to compare it. They do not assume the online translation is correct, and they often discuss the translations with the class. Students learn that words can have different connotations, which can drastically change the meaning of a passage.

At home, students listen to daily podcasts in Chinese ( to help prepare them for various videoconferences with Chinese peers. They often compare their views about the common literature they are reading.

Online Gaming
Zon—The New Chengo Chinese is a multiplayer online Mandarin language game that allows students to start in villages and work their way up to cities ( As they progress, they learn historical and cultural aspects from ancient times through modern China while communicating in Mandarin. When they finish, they can act as tour guides or conduct business in the game.

Harry Grover Tuttle, Ed.D., is a consultant (