It’s tough to determine how many native English speakers there are in the world today. In 2007, there were about 365 million1. While this number is only growing as babies are born and raised among English speakers, plenty of people have learned to speak and are currently learning to speak English. For example, roughly 375 million2 people speak English as a second language. Incredibly, the International TEFL Academy3 reported in 2014 that there were 1.5 billion English language learners worldwide. Many of these individuals are learning English in the corporate classroom, for professional purposes.
Every day, more people wanting to teach English are signing up for various types of ELT courses and dreaming of making a difference in this all-important field. Should these individuals make it to the finish line and become English teachers, they will come to rely on certain technologies to help them effectively teach English to speakers of other languages. The technologies range from new to old, from expensive to cheap, but they all have one thing in common: they speed up the process of language acquisition.
Technologies That Support English Language Teaching/Learning
Technology has become vital to the processes of English language teaching and learning. A person can certainly learn English apart from technology, but there’s no promise that the process will be as effective and seamless as it could be if technology were utilized, even on a small scale.
According to The Guardian’s contributor Max de Lotbiniere4, specific technologies are making major waves in the world of ELT. He mentioned that The Pronunciation App, created by Macmillan Education, was the first mobile application to win one of The British Council’s awards for innovation in ELT. Speaking of technologies that support ELT, Lotbiniere wrote “Computer games are long-established but a book exploring how these games can be used in language teaching, Digital Play5, from Delta Publishing, caught the judges' attention in the Innovation in Teacher Resources category. The Digital Innovation Award went to Wordready Academic English6, from L2, an online tool designed for university students to build specialist academic vocabulary.” In addition to these apps and computer games, mobile technologies are crucial to the teaching and learning of English.
It’s nearly impossible to compile statistics about how many English language learners own and utilize mobile devices. But, it’s fairly safe to assume that those who do have a mobile phone, tablet, or other type of device most likely use it/them for a variety of language-related purposes. When connected to the Internet, these devices are often used to translate a person’s native language to English, and vice versa. Also, if an English course offers mobile learning options to students, mobile devices will almost surely be used to study lessons, complete quizzes, track progress, communicate with peers, etc. This is immensely useful to both teacher and student. It allows teachers to gather statistics on students and determine how to help them succeed and structure future lessons. For students, mobile learning provides practical and, most importantly, convenient opportunities for learning the English language.
An individual whose mobile device is not compatible with mobile applications and does not have a Web browser can still learn English on the device via SMS (Short Message Service). Academia’s article Technology and ELT7 says, “The biggest advantage of SMS is that the comfort level is very high when compared to oral communication. People are able to express their views freely and openly. When we consider the improvement of language learning through SMS, the first thing is that even a below-average student would send messages like, ‘Hi, how are you?’ and so on. This leads to more interactions with the receiver and sender and develops their communication skills. SMS technology might prove especially effective for vocabulary learning…vocabulary items can be presented through relatively short, discrete definitions, with examples that suit the screen dimensions of a mobile phone.” SMS-based learning is a type of mobile learning that is not utilized perhaps as much as it could be. However, there is no denying that it is a good learning option for students enrolled in courses that are low-budget and thus very light on technology.
Mobile learning isn’t just convenient; it is also incredibly effective. It lends itself perfectly to microlearning, which caters to the way the human mind learns best, specifically as it relates to language acquisition. As is the case with most types of learning, there are several different definitions of microlearning. Christina Cavage8, contributor to Always ESL Newsletter, wrote “What is microlearning? While the term may seem new to you, the concept is not. Students learn best when content is presented in small chunks. Recent research indicates that exposing students to new content in small doses is the most effective for learners today. Yet, while traditional learning methods are decreasing, media consumption is rapidly increasing for learners of all ages.” (This statement supports the idea that traditional, classroom-style learning, be it corporate or academic, may not be sufficient for students who want to grow in their English skills.) Instead of throwing large amounts of information at a language learner, it’s far better to present smaller bites of knowledge to him or her as they can be processed and recalled. This is the beauty and practicality of microlearning.
A huge variety of technologies are making the acquisition of the English language easier on the average learner. More than any other form of technology, webinar software is ensuring that students are gaining not just a working knowledge of English, but fluency in it.
How Webinar Tools Facilitate English Language Teaching
Many different types of technology, new and old, support ELT. However, webinar tools are in a class of their own when it comes to promoting English language teaching. Webinar software allows instructors to interact with students around the world. In a web conference, which can happen in real time, teachers and students can text chat, screen share, and see one another via web cam. The visual aspect of web conferencing can be especially helpful to English language learners since they, at least in part, attain language skills by observing an instructor’s facial expressions.
Mohamed Sathik and Sofia G. Jonathan wrote a fascinating article9 titled “Effect of Facial Expressions on Students’ Comprehension Recognition in Virtual Education Environments”. This article, published by NCBI, made a case for why students need to literally see an instructor teach a lesson. The authors wrote, “…facial expression is the most frequently used nonverbal communication mode by the students in the virtual classroom…facial expressions of the students are significantly correlated to their emotions which helps to recognize their comprehension towards the lecture.” It is not unreasonable to assume that language learners have a higher need to see a teacher’s face during instruction. Web conferencing allows teachers to meet this need and to get feedback that cannot be communicated verbally.
Web conferencing tools are vital to the success of any student or employee learning English. This type of software is precisely what allows a language learner to not just hear a lesson, but to see an instructor teach that lesson. The ability to literally watch an instructor teach in real time may be the deciding factor in whether or not an individual becomes a skillful English speaker.
The Irreplaceable Role of Learning Management Systems in ELT
So far we have discussed a couple types of technology that are important for English language teaching and learning: mobile technology and webinar tools. These two classifications of technology don’t even scratch the surface of how many are available to the ELT community. How convenient that mobile technology, webinar tools, and a host of other ELT-related technologies come in package form via a social learning management system (LMS), which is also referred to as an eLearning system.
eLearning systems play an irreplaceable role in English language teaching. Instructors rely on social learning management systems to help them design effective language courses, implement learning paths, and ensure that learning is collaborative and students are continually engaged. Social learning tools such as blogs, forums, chat, pictures, polls, Shoutbox, and web conferencing make learning and teaching English fun and efficient. The modern LMS’s ability to facilitate mobile learning is outstanding, as are its collaborative learning features (online communities, bios, pictures, etc.). An eLearning system’s features make it an ideal tool for teaching English in the corporate realm.
Learning to speak a foreign language is a social process. One simply cannot learn a language without the input of others. In today’s technology-rich world, students are often separated geographically. An LMS can unite English language learners and nurture the social aspects of the language acquisition process.
Language localization is a feature that many social learning management systems have, and it is invaluable to bother learner and instructor. This feature makes it possible for an English language learner to access learning materials in his or her native language. Imagine the clarity this could bring to language instruction and the learning roadblocks it might prevent. This builds an even stronger case for the use of eLearning systems in ELT.
It is crucial to realize that not all LMSs are created equal. Some LMS service providers don’t tell their clients that the cost of their eLearning system varies depending upon the amount of users it hosts. This can wreak havoc on a company’s budget. The only safe bet for clients is a full featured, cloud-based social learning management system that costs one reasonable, flat rate, regardless of the number of users it has.
Even if a company launches an eLearning system for the purpose of teaching employees to speak English, there will still be the issue of what type of learning model to implement. There are several training models that are commonly used by companies today, and they include strictly online learning, traditional learning, and blended learning. Which is best for ELT in the workplace? In many cases the answer is blended learning.
What Model of Training is Best for ELT in the Workplace?
Blended learning is a mode of training that is often very helpful to language learners. Basically, a blended learning program includes some classroom-based instruction and some online instruction. It’s possible that the majority of ELT programs use this mode of training. Blended learning is effective because it utilizes mobile learning, microlearning, online learning, experiential learning, and in-person instruction, which is a combination that often can’t be beat. In the article Virtual Blended Learning10, Pearson English stated, “Historically, face-to-face English learning was the single solution of choice for most companies. But attendance is typically low, quality is difficult to control, costs are high and consistency is all but impossible to maintain. With these challenges in mind, there was a shift to the online environment, which resolved a number of issues but presented new challenges, for instance, how to keep people motivated with a purely technology-driven approach. Virtual blended learning combines the best of both worlds: the important aspects of human-based training and the best of technology innovations.”
Online-only learning is a learning model that takes place almost exclusively online. In some ways, this can be a great thing. Online learning combines the types of learning mentioned in the paragraph above, except for in-person instruction. Since in-person instruction can be vital to the full understanding of the English language, strictly online learning may not be as effective a choice as blended learning.
Blended learning and strictly online learning can both, to varying degrees, be effective for English language learners in the workplace. Both of these types of learning can be accommodated by a social learning management system. While an LMS cannot be all things to an English instructor, it can meet a vast majority of his or her teaching needs.
As multilingual workforces grow, so will the use of LMSs for the purpose of English instruction. Who knows what exciting English instructor-specific features will be added to full-featured social learning management systems in the future.