Online language teaching: Modern technologies in language training


When I tell people we teach students English by Skype the reaction is usually the same ‘Oh that sounds interesting, how does it work’? In essence it works the same as any normal face to face English lesson.

The teacher calls the student by Skype at the beginning of the lesson; they then proceed in discussing materials, going through exercises, listening to pronunciation, or any other topic that is the focus of the lesson.

What is different about the lessons is the flexibility it affords students. In a normal English lesson students are expected to be in a certain place at a certain time, but with new technologies, such as Skype, students can organise their lessons more freely. It is increasingly possible to have lessons late at night or early in in the morning as a teacher doesn’t need to travel to the school or meet a student; they just open their computer and start the lesson from the comfort of their home, as does the student.

Skype also comes with a number of tools that can help replicate a ‘normal’ lesson. Firstly, the synchronization of a webcam on the Skype platform allows the teacher and student to see each other during the call. Although disconcerting for some, this does allow some key components of a lesson to be realised. Students often find it very useful to see the teacher’s mouth while they are explaining new vocabulary so that they can formulate the words correctly. Another benefit of video calls is that often we express ourselves not just with words but with body language as well. Explaining a word can be very difficult without using body language, it helps greatly to gesture and use ‘international symbols’. How many of us have walked into a shop in a foreign country and asked for something using our hands?

Another tool on Skype is the file share function. Often during a lesson a teacher will need to pass some materials to a student – on Skype this is also possible. By simply ‘dragging and dropping’ the file into the Skype chat window the selected file can then be downloaded by the recipient. This has an advantage for the teacher as all those materials that have been carefully filed and saved on the computer are a click away from being shared, no more photocopying!

The chat window itself is also a key component in the classes, it offers a sort of ‘white board’ that can be used to help explain words that are not understood, to send links to websites and to provide a written version of what is being said, which can help lower level students.

Social networking is another internet phenomenon that is becoming more widely used in language teaching. Like everything else it has become entwined in our everyday lives and it is a real benefit for a language school to have a good online presence on sites such as Facebook, Bling and Twitter. People use these sites in different ways, but I will give an example of how we use Facebook to help our students.

Facebook is an attention deficit sufferers dream. Just when one thing catches your eye, it’s led into another, whether its photos of your sister’s cat stuck in a box, or the latest absurd music video – it’s hard to stay focused. With this in mind we’ve created a very simple application for English learners, called ‘Daily English Expression’. Each day a user has a chance to listen to a new expression in English read out by a native English speaker with a translation. This obviously takes very little of the user time, but could give them one new expression daily and help them to broaden their vocabulary.

Other ways social network sites can be used is just that, as social networks. Students who have joined language learning pages on Facebook can connect with each other, ask for advice, organise informal conversation practise with each other and contact teachers. Where before students were possibly confined to their language school or classroom for these opportunities, now they have the whole world a few clicks away.




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


Language training for charitable organisations

Future technologies



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