FoTT Conf 2009: Mastering Oral Foreign Language Proficiencies

The second session for the day is “Mastering Oral Foreign Language Proficiencies with Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL): Pedagogical Implications” presented by S&T’s own Dr. Irina Ivliyeva, who teaches Russian.

Presentation Outline:

  • Subject background; students and classes; FL proficiencies
  • CALL and evolving technologies
  • Classroom activities and information management
  • Evaluation and assessment
  • Teaching methods: historical perspectives


Irina is a native of Russia, but still studied linguistic aspects of
the Russian language (sounds and how they are produced, among other
things). In her senior year in college, she took another look at the
phonetical system of teaching Russian (or other foreign languages). Her
instructor classified intonation types of foreign languages. Irina
taught at the Moscow Power Engineering Institute (Russian version of
S&T). She trained foreigners who had no knowledge of Russian to
speak/write in Russian in a short period of time (similar to an ESL
program).

In 1997, Irina started working at UMR (now S&T) to
teach Russian (only Russian teacher on campus). Students can minor in
the language. Irina teaches three levels of Russian (Elementary [001],
Readings [080], and Phonetics/Intonation [301]).

Learning a
foreign language requires four specific proficiencies–Reading
(Passive), Listening (Passive), Writing (Active), and Speaking
(Active). Speaking is considered to be the most difficult proficiency
to learn, but also the most desirable. Speaking requires the help and
support of the other three proficiencies, but also constant immersion
and contact in order to gain proficiency (much like learning a sport).

CALL
is a method of language teaching and learning in which computer
technology is used as an aid to the presentation, storage, and
assessment of the material which is to be learned (defined by Computer
Assisted Language Instruction Consortium, or CALICO: http://calico.org).

CALL
activities focus on two main groups of activities: 1) those which
relate to speech recognition and analysis and 2) those which relate to
speech synthesis (i.e. production of human speech).

Technology
has evolved to greatly improve and enhance language instruction: from
reel-to-reel tapes, to cassettes, to CDs, to handheld digital recorder
devices, iPods, to smart phones, to ???

Audacity is
a free software for recording and editing sound files. It is ideal for
recording foreign language speech to help correct mispronunciation, as
well as to record the proper pronunciation of foreign words. Audio
files can be converted to a wide variety of formats for playback on a
wide range of devices.

Wimba Voice Tools is another tool that
can be used to record audio files. One of the nice things about this
feature is that it is already integrated into Blackboard and can be
accessed/downloaded by the instructor directly from Blackboard.
Audacity files have to be uploaded for grading/assessment. Audacity
also requires students to download and install the Audacity client,
while Voice Tools can ideally be accessed from anywhere with an
Internet connection.

Irina provides several everyday classroom activities.

First
and foremost is a “permission to use form” so that students authorize
the instructor to use their voice recordings (like the recordings used
during this presentation). Most students don’t have a problem with it,
but it is necessary to cover any legal issues that may arise.

Mechanical
drills are traditional “listen and repeat” exercises found in most
foreign language courses. This is the foundational exercise for
building vocabulary and pronunciation. It builds reading, listening,
and speaking proficiencies.

Reading aloud with expression is
where the student does not have the instructor present to correct
mispronunciation. Students learn pronunciation rules, pay special
attention to word stress, and polish the pronunciation of difficult
words. Proficiencies engaged are reading and speaking.

Recording
your own speech helps to find weak pronunciation points and sounds,
critically analyze the recorded speech, and compare their own speech
with the speech of a native speaker (e.g. the instructor, Irina in the
case of Russian at S&T).

One version of this exercise forces
students to listen to the text and write down the words, combining the
listening and writing proficiencies of language.

Finally, Irina
assigns students to listen to songs, books on CD, and film dialogues so
that students improve their intonation skills and rhythm. This is
effectively text to speech to text and helps students work on their
listening  and speaking skills.

Sound files can be managed by recording them in Blackboard or Audacity. They can be stored on a hard drive, iPod or Blackboard.

One
of the homework assignments Irina likes to give students is to have
them develop instructions for other students in the class. This forces
the students to really identify with their target audience for the
language.

According to Irina, technology use in the foreign
language classroom is a work in progress as technology and its
educational applications continue to evolve. Classroom instructors are
not always familiar with the relevant technology, and technology
experts have no, or limited, knowledge of foreign language pedagogy.
Pedagogy must drive the use of technology, not the other way around.
Both teachers and students need to be trained in order to use the
technology effectively in the classroom.

Comments

  1. Angela Hammons says:

    Irina brings up a very important point. Technology must always be a tool that facilitates learning but not the learning itself. Pedagogy is the foundation of a course.