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Brenda's Blog


Using Technology to
Bridge Understanding
For Foreign- and Second-Language Learners

For some reason, my memories of French class all take place right after lunch in a semi-dark classroom. The middle-school French program at that time made use of film-strips and an accompanying tape recording. I remember nodding off as my classmates repeated the same phrases over and over. Sentences like Voila Monsieur Thibault, voila Madame Thibault" and Il pntre dans l'appartement. Il parle la concierge" are permanently embedded in my brain. Unfortunately, very little French vocabulary has stayed with me through the years. All and all, it was a pretty dull way to learn, and sitting in a semi-dark room right after lunch didnt help my engagement or my long-term retention!

Today, the use of newer technologies to teach foreign and second languages has made language learning a happening place to be. Computer-assisted language learning is nothing new and has been used for years to supplement face-to-face instruction (Whats Online for Foreign Language Educators). What is new is that the plethora of emerging assistive technologies are now web based and widely available through open-source (anyone can change or share it) software. Effective use of such Web 2.0 tools as blogs, wikis, Skype, Google tools, video conferencing, and podcasting can:

  • permanently increase students ability to collaborate and communicate in foreign and second language;
  • give students opportunities to hone new vocabulary; and
  • extend their working understanding of the new language by accessing more authentic environments to practice the language.


Internet-based technologies have the potential to enhance and extend the principles of good language teaching and to modify and adapt language activities that teachers have used in the past. For example, teachers can update the use of connecting students with international penpals by accessing extensive resources available on the ePals web portal and group discussions can move beyond the walls of the Spanish classroom by creating an online threaded discussion community (Your so students can dialogue with Spanish students from Mexico. Teachers looking for live" conversational opportunities for language students can make use of video conferencing or Skype.


* Harris, J. (April 1994) Opportunities in work clothes: On-line problem-solving project structures. The Computing Teacher, 21(7), 52-55
* Peck, K. L., & Dorricott, D. (1994) Why use technology? Educational Leadership, 51(7), 11-15
* Stepp-Greany, Jonita (January 2002) "Students perceptions on language learning in a technological environment: Implications for the new millennium". Language Learning and Technology
* Ware, P., & Kramsch, C. (2008) Peer feedback on language form in telecollaboration Retrieved on March 28, 2008.
Research supports the use of Web 2.0 tools to support and extend the instructional and learning possibilities in foreign and second language classrooms:
The use of videoconferencing gives not only immediacy when communicating with a real person but also visual cues, such as facial expressions, making such communication more authentic.
~Stepp-Greany, Jonita, 2002

Technology provides a widespread audience for students' work. Computers link students to the world, provide new reasons to write, and offer new sources of feedback on ideas.
~Peck & Dorricott,1994

Lee (2004) demonstrated that native speakers of Spanish assisted non-native speakers in composing their ideas and in improving their grammar, although she found that language proficiency, computer skills, and age also impacted the nature of the interactions.
~as cited in Ware, 2008

E-mail provides opportunities for "peer review" and group editing, and the Internet allows students to publish their stories and to share results of their research or problem-solving.
~Harris, 1995 (pp. 157, 165, 168)

Youve Got some GALL: Google-Assisted Language Learning
~From the University of Maryland


The National Research Council suggests that new technology tools can

  • Provide scaffolding tools to enhance learning and help students solve problems.
  • Provide more opportunities for feedback, reflection and revision.
  • Build global and local communities.

It is important that language learning include a component of creation, not just aspects of listening and reading. In the new Blooms Taxonomy model, evaluating is not at the top as it was in the past -- creating is. And so it should be, since creation requires learners to make use of all the levels of the taxonomy and demonstrates a students depth of understanding of the content. If a student can use the new language to create a video production, podcast, or collaborative project using Google tools, he or she is demonstrating an ability to synthesize the language into a new creation, not just making rote use of vocabulary.

The following list of online tools will help to transport students out of the sleepy, semi dark classrooms characterize din my French memories. Use of these tools will allow teachers take advantage of the learning benefits that accompany the use of emerging technologies.


Use the following tools to communicate, collaborate and create in foreign and second language classrooms.


Use web-based mind mapping tools to brainstorm ideas to contribute to learners' grammatical competence.


Free voice communication using the Internet:

Students can practice their conversation skills using such Podcasting tools as:


Make use of open source programs that model correct pronunciation.

Open source programs connect language learners with opportunities to work together with learning partners from other countries using telephone, e-mail or other media.


Use Digital Mapping Tools to create interactive maps that include photos and foreign or second language-specific comments.


Record students participating in a Readers Theatre or creating an advertisement. Teachers can use these tools to digital examples that models correct pronunciation.

Open source text-to-speech programs help language learners practice vocabulary and develop reading skills.


Use the following tools to create language tutorials -- upload them to your class wiki or web site.

  • Slideshare
  • Google Docs and Presentations


    Use Windows Moviemaker, PhotoStory, iMovie and Animator to create digital stories in a foreign or second language.

  • Animato
  • PhotoStory Tutorials and Tips
  • Foreign Language Learning Goes Digital
  • A Day Without a Tourist Visa Students create their own videos to practice future tense:


    Teach foreign and second language vocabulary and concepts by using online videos from YouTube, Google video, and TeacherTube, and use them to teach Spanish and to extend students understanding of the language.

    Use BubblePly to add Spanish annotations to the video.

    About the Author

    Brenda Dyck is a sessional instructor at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, Alberta (Canada). In addition to teaching preservice teachers, Brenda is the moderator of MiddleTalk, a listserve sponsored by the National Middle School Association (NMSA). Her "HotLinks" column is a regular feature in NMSA's magazine, Middle Ground. Brenda also is a teacher-editor for MidLink magazine.

    Author: Brenda Dyck
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