Online language teaching: Language training for charitable organisations


I discussed in the last chapter how Skype and similar technologies are helping to broaden the possibilities of language learning. One of the key advantages of Skype is the ease with which people can now communicate over long distances. Obviously it was possible in the past using a telephone, but now Skype offers a very cheap (Skype to Skype calls are free) and more involving experience than before. With people increasingly spreading around the world to work and live, Skype has become part of a weekly ritual for some families and a way of staying in touch.

How then can this expansion of communication be used in charitable organisations? And what are some of the problems that disadvantaged communities face that these technologies could help to overcome?

Firstly some of the world’s poorest communities live in some of the least populated parts of the world. People in rural areas of our poorest countries probably don’t have the same possibilities to attend language courses, and if they could, they would probably not be able to afford them. There are many good charities that organise volunteer teachers to teach at community centers, these can provide a real boost to the local people and give them enhanced possibilities for progressing in their careers, finding new opportunities and maybe helping their own communities in return. However, logistically, it is difficult to send over teachers and it’s also very expensive to facilitate. A cheaper option would be to have a community center with some basic computer equipment where lessons with small groups could be held over Skype. The costs are much lower as the volunteer teachers are not required to travel, they could donate a few hours each week and the teachers would not be restricted to one small area. In theory, many small centers could be created in some of the poorest areas with teachers from around the world giving lessons. Our language school has created a charity scheme with a similar ethos – called ‘English Enable’.  Although in its early stages, we feel it could be an idea that really takes off and could be a big benefit to many poor communities.

Another example of online language teaching used in charitable circumstances has recently been noted on the Guardian website, regarding English lessons for recent immigrants to London. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, suggested that vulnerable groups of immigrants with low levels of English could access training through the internet and mobile phones. He was cited as saying that often migrants are restricted because of their language barriers to low paid jobs and very long hours, with internet lessons seemingly offering a solution. Critics pointed out that those who could not afford fees for an ESOL course, might not be able to afford the equipment and internet cost for online lessons.

I feel however that this misses the point; it would be relatively cost effective to have lessons by Skype for immigrants, if the lessons took place at local community centers where computers and internet connection are already in place. It is a system that would rely on volunteers, but with a potential catchment of volunteers from around the world, it would be easier than relying on just London based volunteers.

Language training is usually about words, but Skype also offers another potential tool, in its video technology. Sign Language has increasingly been learnt by people to either provide support to hearing impaired or to help in the language training. As covered in the last chapter, Skype’s ‘video chat’ allows both callers to see each other. In a world where sign language teachers are relatively sparse (compared to English teachers), it would seem a good use of the technology to widen the potential lessons availability. Sign language is also increasingly popular in child development, with sign language helping children to read in early stages.




Read more in the ‘Online language teaching’ series by following the links below:


Modern technologies in language training

Future technologies

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