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Quarantine has changed the way you learn foreign languages: how to use the situation

Every day, a seventh-year student from Massachusetts, Cailin Wilson, takes a break from homework on the Internet and opens an application on her phone for a half-hour foreign language lesson. Writes about it USA Today.

Photo: Shutterstock

“The boy has three green bicycles and an egg,” the 12-year-old girl told her family in French early in her third week, using a mobile app from Rosetta Stone, the language learning software giant.

Wilson is not required to learn French; he does not enter the school curriculum. But during quarantine, when there is a lot of free time, the girl decided to try something new.

“I really enjoy learning French and it's not a routine for me,” she said.

While children across the country experience weeks and months of distance learning, educational technology companies are booming and their products are being sold as the most optimal solution. Only a few were ready for this, including companies developing language learning software that spent years honing the digitized, personalized, gaming experience of self-study.

Programs like Rosetta Stone, Duolingo, Babbel and Kahoot! used in schools for many years, but usually paired with a teacher. Tools can complement teaching in foreign and English, but several schools have quietly used them to completely replace a certified teacher who was too difficult to find or too expensive to hire.

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Business leaders have long emphasized that their software is not meant to replace educators. But when hundreds of thousands of new users log in from home, there is a global test - at least for this corner of online learning: how well can students learn on their own, with software, without a teacher.

And how much will this digital educational experiment change learning when children eventually return to traditional classes?

“I think this is one of the tipping points,” said Matt Hewlett, CEO of Rosetta Stone. The company added 10 to 000 new users every day as it lowered its subscription fees.

Hewlett did not tell exactly how this led to specific incomes, but he said that the first quarter of 2020 will be strong for the consumer business, consisting of school and student accounts, and adult subscribers.

“Technology and teachers are interconnected”

“We believe teachers and technology are intertwined,” Hewlett said. "We do not believe there is a self-learning trend that will replace teachers."

But at this unusual time, marketing materials position products as a home-schooling solution during the coronavirus epidemic.

“In light of the current COVID-19 situation, with millions of children across the country doing their school work from home, global language and literacy education company Rosetta Stone is doing everything it can to help parents who work from home get some relief. ", - said a company representative.

Language education experts praised companies for providing free resources without any conditions. But they are concerned that a growing reliance on software instead of real teachers may not provide students with all the tools to read, write and understand a new language.

"How you can use a language in a limited computing environment is one thing," said Howie Berman, head of the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages. "But once you get out of this environment, can you really use the language in real life?"

Academic researchers also supported the companies, but said their programs were not a common solution. The software may not always be adapted for students with disabilities or those with limited Internet access.

“It's important to understand that these resources are not a substitute for quality teaching, and that not all tools are for all types of learners,” said Cara Dawson, professor of educational technology at the University of Florida.

How well do language learning apps work?

In the beginning, most language learning programs were geared towards the consumer market - the average adult looking to learn a new language in their spare time, on the home computer, or in recent years on mobile apps.

Rosetta Stone, which began operations in 1992, was still selling boxes with its famous yellow CDs to consumers in the early 2010s. Now, like other companies, she switched to subscription-based services with speech recognition. In the latest Rosetta Stone iPhone app, users can point to the object on their phone, which the application will then translate into the language that the user is learning. The company also proposed connecting paid subscribers to free virtual tutors for virtual sessions until the end of June.

For companies that specialize in language learning, selling audience software is relatively new.

The concept, as a rule, is the same in different companies: individual students undergo exercises to study grammar and pronunciation, and the software provides teachers with feedback on how each student works.

Rosetta Stone also offers English literacy services for schools. In 2012, she acquired Lexia Learning, which complements the initial English language training and also helps students learn English as a second language.

According to Maya Goodall, director of the company, before the pandemic, Rosetta Stone served 17 schools and 000 million literacy students in English and foreign languages. This number is now much higher.

Babbel, located in Berlin, Germany, also offered free student access during the pandemic and added more than 50 new young users, including about 000 new students in the United States.

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There is little research on the effectiveness of the latest language learning software - in part because technology is advancing so rapidly. But for math and reading, a recent review of high-quality research suggested computer-based teaching programs that help students practice certain skills, resulting in great academic success.

The most effective programs have key features: they are interactive, allow students to grow at their own speed and adapt to their abilities, says Philip Oreopoulos, a professor of economics at the University of Toronto and one of the authors of this review. Better programs also pass on student performance data to teachers, he added.

Even Oreopoulos loaded Duolingo for his children, aged 11 and 9, when their schools in Toronto closed three weeks ago.

“They don't seem to mind spending half an hour a day conjugating French verbs, so I'm happy about that,” he said. "I don't know if it helps in the long run, but it's worth a try and it keeps them busy."

Developing Gaming Educational Applications

Duolingo entered the language learning market in 2012 with an online gaming platform and mobile application. And another key feature: it's free.

In 2015, the company launched Duolingo for Schools, which allowed teachers to track the progress of entire classes. It is also free and supported through advertising.

“As of March 19, shortly after the pandemic led to the closure of nearly all schools in the US, Duolingo for Schools' registrations increased 425% per week, mainly due to teachers distributing remote work and parents looking for resources. for homeschooling, ”said spokeswoman Michaela Krohn.

Carlos-Luis Brown, a Spanish teacher at Wilmington High School in Massachusetts, said he has used Duolingo for at least four years to complement his teaching - part of his students' homework.

According to him, Duolingo has become the “most consistent part” of what his students do at home.

Kahoot !, another gaming service for learning languages ​​and other academic subjects, also offers free premium accounts to teachers and schools until the end of this school year. According to a spokeswoman, in the midst of new traffic, the company received more than 100 new accounts per day.

Few states require learning a foreign language

A sudden surge of users of language learning software occurs in paradoxical times: few states require students to learn a foreign language.

Only seven states, including New York and Michigan, specifically require one or two years to learn a foreign language, according to the latest data compiled by the non-partisan State Education Commission. Twenty-two other states allow local districts to announce several student options to meet requirements.

According to a federal report, almost all states reported a shortage of foreign language teachers in high and high school in the 2016-2017 school year.

In 2016, a rural maine school in Maine struggled to find a foreign language teacher.

Brown said he used to work at a school that wanted to use Rosetta Stone as a curriculum for all of its elementary grades. Brown resisted this proposal - he was afraid that it would destroy the teachers.

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“We're actually teaching culture, and you learn the language as a byproduct,” Brown said. "This is an exploration of a different life and a different path, and the idea that students can tell their own story and hear other people's stories is critical."

The best of both worlds

Some teachers will continue to use what they consider to be the best in both worlds: reliable one-to-one instruction, as well as games and online tools that enable students to work, even if it is a struggle in the new world of distance learning.

In a typical year, Richard de Mage, a foreign language teacher at Hartford State High School in Connecticut, uses a variety of cool and virtual instruments. Students use the app to engage in controlled conversations with native Spanish speakers in other countries. They should watch the soap opera Destinos online and answer questions about the show. They take part in quizzes on Kahoot! They can also be practiced on Duolingo.

“Duolingo is free and great for building vocabulary, but not necessarily for communication,” said de Meige.

Now that everyone is at home, de Mage, who speaks eight languages, teaches via video and encourages students to stay connected with their studies using software.

“I think that in-person learning in the classroom will never go away,” he said, “but this is a golden moment for these language tools and learning platforms.”

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