5th March 2019
How technology is changing the way English is taught
By Patricia Moores

It is estimated that over 1 billion people are currently learning English worldwide and there have never been so many ways to learn it. We asked industry insiders for their views on the best new advances in technology and delivery to support teachers of EAL and their pupils, both inside and outside the classroom.

For teachers, FutureLearn’s Head of Client Services, Fiona Reay, highlights The British Council’s online program: Teaching for Success: Practices for English Language Teaching. The program helps EAL teachers understand and plan their professional development as an English language teacher. “Taken in any order, the three courses equip any English language teacher with the tools they need to take responsibility for their own CPD. Each course looks at four professional practices and in doing so explains their importance to the continuously developing teacher; offering a range of practical advice and suggestions, as well as providing the opportunity to interact with fellow teachers around the world”, says Fiona.

Meanwhile, in the classroom, we asked colleagues from UK Boarding schools across the UK for their favourite new gizmos and Apps to help pupils engage with EAL, favourites highlighted were:

AI Assistants Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri got several votes and both can be employed to good use in the classroom. The fact these devices are voice-activated, is an immediate advantage, forcing students to use whatever language they know to extract the information they require. Secondly, it was highlighted that these devices also help them build the confidence of more reserved students, as they are more likely to ‘ask Siri’ than ask a teacher or their peers.

The principal of Brooke House College, Mike Oliver says; “we have now put Alexa into our science rooms as well as the Intensive English rooms. This has really helped with scientific words that need to be explained to our EAL students”.

FluentU is a favourite of Pete Collier, Head of EAL at Kings College St Michaels. Pete highlights FluentU is an App that students can use in their free time to increase their exposure to the English language. The App separates itself from its competitors by using authentic videos, such as celebrity interviews, music videos and adverts as a basis for teaching students. “I have found that students really enjoy the use of these authentic videos when learning English, giving each lesson a sense of accomplishment and worth as they interact with texts that native speakers themselves expose themselves to instead of the often stilted, generic texts plucked straight from the pages of a textbook”, says Pete.

But what about students who are outside a formal learning environment, but are still eager to learn English?

The proliferation of online learning courses is well known, but finding a course that is well presented on a high-quality Learning Management System is important, as the learning experience should be highly interactive and, arguably, most importantly, fun.

“I have found that students really enjoy the use of these authentic videos when learning English”

Sylvia Guinan, online English teacher, website editor and winner of the British Council Teaching English blog award  says  “one outstanding find is the English Out There initiative by Jason West who has created six-level courses of English that incorporate the use of social media for fluency development, confidence-building and social/emotional engagement”.

Back at FutureLearn, Fiona Reay highlights the power of online delivery alongside face-to-face instruction (blended learning) to help assist refugees affected by the conflict in Syria to learn English and help prevent a ‘lost generation’ in the region.

Working with King’s College and the PADILEIA project (The Partnership for Digital Learning and Increased Access) FutureLearn has developed  Basic English 1: Elementary and Basic English 2: Pre-Intermediate — the first two free online courses in a new series to assist refugees. 

Key to getting things right in the project included understanding what the real needs were in the region, and to this end research was carried out by PADILEIA that deemed A1 and B2 English most critical to help build a credible pathway into higher education.

Also, to suit the learners in this particular region, these courses were audio-heavy — rather than video heavy — as the video files would have been harder to stream. Learners could also download the material at the beginning of the session so interruptions like power cuts wouldn’t feel as disruptive. By providing written transcripts on every audio step, and Arabic translations, students could experience the material without extra obstacles.

So whether it’s Alexa in the classroom or online courses aimed at refugees in Syria, the variety of new ways of delivering EAL, reflecting the true needs of learners, worldwide, has never been more exciting…

This post was published on The PIE’s blog.

Also, please do visit the site to compare UK Government approved English Language exams.

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