Enhancing Authentic Language Learning Experiences
through Internet Technology. ERIC Digest.
by LeLoup, Jean W. - Ponterio, Robert
With the focus on language, communication, and culture in the national
standards for foreign language learning (Standards, 1999), foreign language
teachers are continually searching for better ways of accessing authentic
materials and providing experiences that will improve their students' knowledge
and skills in these target areas. As the Internet has transformed communication
around the world, it is natural that it should play a major role in the
foreign language classroom.
The instant worldwide connections enabled through the Internet have
changed the way people everywhere think about communication, information,
and doing business. Although Internet applications are really just computer
programs that know how to use the Internet to interact, we view them as
an extension of the world that we live in, an extension that brings the
world to our fingertips. We can share all sorts of things with the world,
get authentic materials from anywhere, and interact with people in distant
locations as never before. How can Internet software enhance the classroom
experience? In addition to the original Internet applications, like FTP
for moving files between machines and Telnet for logging into distant computers,
the wide range of features and media (text, image, sound, video, multimedia)
supported by the current crop of Internet programs makes them powerful
additions to the foreign language teacher's repertoire. This digest highlights
a number of Internet applications that can be used to enrich the foreign
Email was in use before the Internet as we know it today even existed
and is still the most commonly used Internet application. Foreign language
teachers can integrate email-based activities into their curriculum (LeLoup,
1997; Warschauer, 1995). 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 (Knight, 1994; Shelley, 1996). The infrastructure
requirements for email are minimal, making it the most available of all
Internet tools. Distance learning is another curricular area where email
is being used (Ponterio, 1996). Today's email software can handle text
in a wide variety of languages, can transmit diacritics, and can include
word processed files as attachments. The software also allows us send sound
and images as attachments that enhance the context of the written communication.
Electronic discussion groups 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. (See, for example,
electronic lists.) Some are service lists, such as LLTI (Language Learning
Technology International Discussion Forum), which distributes information
about all aspects of the technology used in language teaching; and IECC
(Intercultural E-Mail Classroom Connections, K-12), which provides a service
for teachers seeking partner classrooms for international and cross-cultural
electronic mail exchanges. Others are language specific and address topics
as specific and diverse as their membership warrants (e.g., AATG, ESPAN-L,
TESL-L). FLTEACH (Foreign Language Teaching Forum) is a list that cuts
across language lines to discuss methodology, instructional innovation,
professional articulation, and enhanced student learning, among other topics.
Participation in electronic discussion lists can be a useful tool for professional
development, particularly for educators who are isolated geographically
or within their districts from other teachers of the same language (LeLoup
& Ponterio, 1995a, 1995b).
When participating in discussions, certain rules and protocols (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 in this faceless communications environment.
In addition, some lists are very active, and keeping up with the messages
may be a daunting job. Most e-mail software can easily sort mail into separate
folders to help manage list messages.
Several electronic journals target foreign language professionals. Generally,
these journals are free, are published on a regular basis, and do not exist
in paper form. There are a number of reasons for publishing a journal online.
First, electronic journals can reach a large and diverse audience in a
timely manner and without the printing costs of a paper journal. Second,
the hypermedia nature of Web-based journals enables articles to include
links to related background or reference information located elsewhere
on the Web. Third, a number of these journals have a technology focus,
and electronic dissemination illustrates many of the technologies treated
in a given issue. With good submission policies and a strong editorial
board, an online journal can be as dependable as a similarly run traditional
journal. Of particular interest are "Language Learning & Technology
(LL&T)" (http://llt.msu.edu/) and "Teaching English as a Second Language:
An Electronic Journal (TESL-EJ)" (http://www-writing.berkeley.edu/TESL-EJ/).
WORLD WIDE WEB
The Web browser, usually Netscape or Internet Explorer, is the window
through which most people view the Internet. Thanks to its flexibility
and integration of other services, the Web represents the broadest and
most powerful Internet application, pulling many others in under its umbrella.
It has two main defining elements. The hypertext link allows anything on
one page to link to any other page in the world, and the ability to combine
objects of many different types makes the Web page an excellent format
for mixed media. 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 (Fidelman, 1996). This is essential for the delivery of authentic
materials, including texts; images; sound recordings; video clips; virtual
reality worlds; and dynamic, interactive presentations. For some media
formats, additional helper applications or plug-ins must be downloaded
and installed to enhance the Web browser. In addition, sophisticated programming
into an interactive computer program. All this can allow the student to
work in interesting ways with the authentic materials found on the page.
STREAMING AUDIO AND VIDEO
One way of connecting students with native speakers and authentic A-V
materials is by using the technologies of streaming audio and video, which
virtually transport the target language environment to the second language
classroom without waiting for huge files to download. Students can listen
to live radio stations from around the world or hear pre-recorded broadcasts
of music, news, sports, and weather. They may watch the nightly news from
France or live TV from Chile transmitted to their computer in real-time.
One of the many places to find online media of this sort is Media Info
(http://emedia1.mediainfo.com/emedia/). This technology keeps getting better
thanks to faster computers and better Internet connections. RealPlayer
and Media Player are the two most common streaming formats, and both can
be freely downloaded.
The Web is so extensive that good tools are needed to help us find authentic
materials that correspond to the topics of the foreign language curriculum.
A search engine is an online "private eye" that does this detective work
for the user. Search engines use keywords to find any site (documents,
files, Web pages) that contains the keywords entered by the user. Some
even calculate how good the match is so the most likely hits are presented
first. The Web is growing and changing so fast that trying to navigate
it and locate desired information without search engines would be a formidable
The Web has numerous search engines (e.g., Yahoo, Altavista, Google).
Each one searches the Internet, creating extensive indexes of all of the
words that it finds on all pages in all languages. When it finds links,
the search engine examines those pages as well. Although there are language
specific engines (e.g., Ole, Encuentrelo, Crawler.de Suche, Il ragno italiano,
LOKACE, ECILA, SAPO), all of these tools work well for many languages.
Each one performs a little differently, so it is a good idea to read the
"help" page to learn the best techniques for doing simple and advanced
searches with the engine you are using. In addition to searches, many of
them also provide ready-made collections of pages on specific topics from
current events to cooking to business.
REMOTE ACCESS TO LIBRARIES AND DATABASES
Many library catalogs, bibliographic resources, and other types of databases
are available on the Internet through a Web browser. Many of these used
to be housed in closed systems or on CDs, but more and more are now Internet
accessible. The ERIC database is an example of an important resource available
via the Web (http://www.accesseric.org/searchdb/searchdb.html), making
it easy for teachers to locate Digests, Minibibs, and articles of interest
on-line. The Perseus Project (http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/) includes an
online database of classical texts. There are also databases of lesson
plans and teaching resources, like RETANET (http://ladb.unm.edu/retanet/)
for Latin America.
CHAT, AUDIO AND VIDEO CONFERENCING, MESSAGING
While much of the Internet is about the presentation of information,
instant communication with other individuals allows an interpersonal exchange
with a friend around the corner or around the world. Such real-time communication
takes place via several different types of chat, conferencing, and messaging
programs. One such application is Internet Relay Chat (IRC), which enables
synchronous "conversation" among participants anywhere in the world. Users
enter a channel and "talk" by typing messages to all of the other people
on that channel; everything that is typed is seen instantly by everyone.
Hundreds of channels exist, with names usually reflecting the topics and
language discussed. Private closed channels can also be created for use
in the classroom.
Audio and video conferencing programs, such as CUSeeMe and MS NetMeeting,
are options for engaging foreign language students in voice conversation.
Users can talk directly to their interlocutor and, using the proper hardware
and software, can even see and be seen by the person they are addressing.
These applications take a large amount of bandwidth and depend on a good
modem connection; network traffic will also affect the results. The development
and availability of broadband service through cable-modem and Digital Subscriber
Line (DSL), which are much faster than modem access, is making desktop
video conferencing a reality for an ever growing number of people.
Messaging software such as ICQ or Instant Messenger provides an instant
connection to the people on a user's list of contacts by letting the user
know when those people are online. These programs facilitate quick communication
by making a connection to an individual as easy as clicking on a name.
These new technologies are already powerful and have the potential for
tremendous impact on the ability of students to communicate directly with
native speakers in target language environments.
WEB COURSE MANAGEMENT
Web course management software is designed for creating and managing
online courses but can also be used to support and extend a traditional
class by making materials with teacher annotation, glossaries, syllabus,
and assignments available to the students through the Web. The collaboration
tools built into this software for communicating with and among students
have been exploited by language teachers for interactive homework by having
students exchange messages in the target language in a real-time chat session
or on a closed bulletin board (open only to the students in the class).
The computer automatically saves these messages for the teacher. Two examples
of course management software are WebCT and Blackboard.
Ultimately, it is incumbent upon the foreign languageteacher to integrate
these tools into the curriculum in apedagogically sound and meaningful
way. Clearly, targetlanguage communication and cultures are easily accessiblethrough
current and emerging technologies, and informationabout using these resources
is readily available online. Theintrepid and creative teacher will venture
into this virtualrealm, find authentic resources, and use them to make
thesecond language classroom a marvelous place to learn.
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