Teaching A Foreign Language In An E-Learning Environment – Part 8 : Tips And Tricks

Teaching and learning a foreign language can greatly benefit from the use of an e-learning platform. While the process may seem similar to that in traditional classrooms, it has some particularities of its own.

Don’t hesitate to make your students speak

An e-learning environment helps students be fully present in class. In order to learn a foreign language, one’s mind has to pay attention to many factors in a classroom. These range from information and understanding to nuance, voice, and attitude. I like to compare teaching a foreign language to a theatrical performance. Not only is there a message, but it needs to be delivered in an aesthetically pleasing manner.

Learning to speak the language has proven to be the hardest part of any language class. Compared to the traditional classroom, a teacher can have much greater success in oral activities performed in the virtual classroom. This is due to the fact that every student is, at the same time, both at home or in another type of secure environment and in class where they can deliver their speech or participate orally. This shift between safe/intimate environment and social/performing activity is one of the best simulations of a real situation. So don’t hesitate to make your students speak and for once speaking activities will not be skipped in class!

Immerse yourself in the space where the foreign language is practiced

We can compare a foreign language to an unknown land that we need to explore. Student presence and attention are the most important factors in this situation. In an e-learning environment, students view the teacher and themselves in much the same way as they do when they watch videos or live streams on YouTube. Nowadays, each one of us can be virtually anywhere in the world by using technology and social media. And one of the key resources a foreign language learner can use is video content. This way they can get literally immersed in the space where this foreign language is practiced. Not only can they hear the voice and intonation, but also see the facial expressions and the body language of the native speaker. Students can see the surroundings and walk down city streets or through the countryside in order to get to know the country better. In terms of passive activities like comprehension, these resources are much more effective than good old reading and listening.

I am not saying that students shouldn’t read; literary excerpts, articles, and all types of original native-speaker content should be used. However, at the same time, students are living in a world and experiencing a learning situation that is quite similar to what technology offers on social media. And we all know that technology is getting closer and closer to everyday life. This means that anyone seeking authentic experiences can find them more and more easily.

Using quizzes and questionnaires

Assessing students, teachers, and the course itself has never been easier. You can use questionnaires to:

  • conduct surveys
  • ask students for their expectations before the beginning of the course
  • get feedback at the end of the course on how students felt throughout

But that is not all. In a foreign language teaching context, quizzes are really useful whenever you feel that students aren’t progressing at the same speed. The course itself may need some adjustments and a new direction because of the students’ different learning styles, for example. A quiz will guide you toward the right action to take.

Quizzes can be used not only for theoretical knowledge, but for training as well. The teacher can assign a text for reading and the quiz can check student comprehension. Teachers can also use matching and drag-and-drop activities to illustrate a rule or just to add some practice for a given rule.

Context is everything

An e-learning environment will not appeal to students by its innovative features alone, although they sure are useful. The teacher can and should create and design the course so that it reflects their personality, their teaching style, and the goals of the course itself. In foreign language teaching, context is everything. In order to learn, students need to step out of their comfort zone. As we already mentioned, they have to learn to be able to imitate intonations and body language. In short, they have to create a new persona for their new knowledge, that of a foreign language. For many of them this is demotivating. Some may even drop out because they feel they don’t fit in with the group or the atmosphere doesn’t appeal to them.

An online course has many aspects that are reassuring, starting from its color scheme and fonts, to the design of the lessons and activities, and down to all of the smallest details. The possibility to personalize almost every feature of a course is a way for the teacher to accentuate the value of their work. Students will no longer miss the important parts of a lesson, and they will get the feeling that they are improving with every class.

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Emanuela Svilarova is assistant-professor in French as a foreign language at Sofia University "St Kliment Ohridski". Her activity includes classes for beginners up to Advanced - B2 levels, and classes in French for specialized domains - humanities, economics. Apart from language teaching, her fields of interest include French and Bulgarian contemporary literature and comparative literature. She has participated in the creation of textbooks for high schools of intensive French classes, the handbook "Laughter in class" and in various teaching- and learning-oriented projects.
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