Unit 7. Internet Technologies for Authentic Language Learning Experiences
With the focus on language communication, and culture for foreign language learning, foreign language teachers are continually searching for better ways for accessing authentic materials and providing experiences that will improve their students’ knowledge and skills in these target areas. As the Internet transforms communication around the world, it is natural that it should play a major role in the foreign language classroom.
The Internet enables computers throughout the world to communicate. To do this, each computer must have its own Internet address, be connected to the net, and be able to talk the same language, TCP/IP. Any kind of computer can be networked in this way. Internet applications are computer programs that know how to use the Internet to interact. What matters to the typical foreign language professional are not these technical details but the software that enables communication over the Internet and how it can enhance the classroom experience. The wide range of these programs (text, image, sound, video, multimedia) makes them powerful additions to the foreign language teacher’s repertoire. Internet applications that can be used to enrich the foreign language classroom include:
1. Electronic Mail1 E-mail was in use before the Internet as we know it today, it is probably the most commonly used Internet application. With a single E-mail account, foreign language teachers can integrate email-based activities into their curriculum. For example, international keypal projects that enable students to correspond with native speakers of the target language are easily implemented where participants have the necessary access, equipment, and foreign contacts. Distance learning is another curricular area where email is being used.
2. Electronic Lists. Electronic discussion group or “lists” (sometimes referred to as “LISTSERVs”) use email to provide a forum where people of similar interests can participate in a professional dialog and share resources. Hundreds of lists of interest to language teachers are available on the Internet. When participating in discussions, certain rules and protocols referred to as netiquette should be observed. Following list guidelines and learning how to accurately express and gauge the tenor of a post or response (often by using smiley faces) are very important skills.
3. Electronic Journals. Several electronic journals target foreign language professionals. Generally, these journals are free, are published quarterly, and do not exist in paper form. There are a number of reasons for publishing a journal electronically. First, by using electronic communications technologies, electronic journals can reach a large and diverse audience in a timely manner. Second, the hypermedia nature of Web-based journals enables articles to include links to related background information located elsewhere on the Web. Third, many of these journals have a technology focus, and electronic dissemination illustrates many of the technologies treated in a given issue.
4. World Wide Web. Although it is only one of the various Internet applications, the Web browser may be the only one that many people know. The Web represents the broadest and most powerful Internet application. The multimedia nature of the Web and the use of the Web page as an interface to other services have greatly expanded the power of the Internet by making it possible to display information using a combination of formats. For some media formats, additional helper applications or plug-ins must be downloaded and installed to enhance the Web browser. In addition, sophisticated programming functions can turn a Web page into an interactive computer program.
5. Streaming Audio and Video. One way of connecting students with native speakers and authentic materials is by using the technologies of streaming audio and video. Students can hear live or pre-recorded broadcasts of music, news, sports, and weather from countries around the world or watch the nightly news from France or live TV program from Chile transmitted to their computer in real-time. This technology is in its infancy but is being developed and improved at a rapid rate.
6. Remote Access to Libraries and Databases.Many library catalogs, bibliographic resources, and other types of databases are available on the Internet. Gopher, Telnet, and the Web are all applications that enable users to access these databases on their own computers. The ERIC database is one example of an important resource accessible via the Web, making it easy for teachers to locate Digests, Minibibs, and articles of interest on-line.