George Lucas Educational Foundation

Foreign Languages and Technology in the Classroom

Foreign Languages and Technology in the Classroom

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As a full-time student interested in the use of technology in the classroom, I wanted to test my common observations with those personally involved with implementing it. I noticed that from my years of taking a foreign language (Spanish and Hindi) many of my teachers didn't use computerized lecture notes, like other disciplines or academic departments might have. I wanted to take this a step further and test my assumption that the foreign language department is generally lacking in technology use when compared to other disciplines. For those in the field (in any age bracket), would you agree or disagree? If you agree, does this have to do with the nature of learning a language or personal preference? And if you disagree, what technology have you implemented or seen implemented in the classroom to facilitate learning another language.

It would also be helpful to see your opinions on online learning like Livemocha or other systems, like Rosetta Stone - do you think students using this form of technology benefit as much as a traditional classroom setting.

I would appreciate your opinions. If possible, please list what grade and language you teach.

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Don Doehla, MA, NBCT's picture
Don Doehla, MA, NBCT
2015 California Language Teacher of the Year, Co-Director Berkeley WL Project at UC Berkeley Language Center

Hello Nikita - I am sorry to be so delinquent in responding to your query. With the end of semester, and the end of year holidays, I have been short on time!

Personally, I use a great deal of technology to teach my French classes to high school students, as well as in the workshop my team and I offer to teachers of World Languages. In my circles, we do very little "lecture" style teaching, so we would not typically post lecture notes, however, we do use technology tools to engage students in their own learning, to offer more individualized opportunities for language practice and exploration, as well as for giving students creative tools to use in playing with the language as they create projects.

For example:

- I use wikis as multi-media tools for language learning and practice by posting links to games, videos, listening activities, readings, and Google forms to collect writing samples of student work in response to prompts
- Students have their own wikis as well, where they post their projects over the school year, and for as long as they are taking a language - these become digital portfolios of their work so they can retrace their development over time.
- we use Edmodo as a classroom management tool, for posting assignments, agendas, handouts, links, and for communication within our class, as well as with classes abroad.
- we use several web 2.0 tools as creative ways to make projects - sites like:, Glogster, Prezi, SimpleBooklet, VoiceThread... there are so many from which to choose, and the students really enjoy being creative
- I have not had much cause to use software in class yet, but from what I have seen, Rosetta Stone is a terrific choice. There are many other on-line sites which offer language learning opportunities.

I am unsure where you are on the planet, and what experiences you have had in learning other languages, but in my area, at least, I know may WL teachers using technology as I have described, and I expect to see this happen more and more. I am sure there are many teachers who are hesitant to use tech tools for WL, but I would encourage these to consider taking the plunge! Our students are using technology, and indeed will need to show they can use the tools fluently in the new economy. As WL teachers, we have a unique opportunity to support students' acquisition of career ready skills by including more use of technology in our courses, not by ignoring their use or pretending they don't exist, and hoping they will just go away!

Best wishes,


Patricia Sagasti Suppes's picture
Patricia Sagasti Suppes
Spanish professor in Virginia

I use a web site with a great deal of in formation and many course materials, both open and password-protected. I also use online labs, which I don't think you can use in high school because they're prohibitively expensive, and they require internet connections from home. I use a program called Talk Abroad for online Skype conversations with people in various countries, but again I don't think that's something you'd be able to do in high school. I have also skyped with people I know in other countries with my entire class. I also use social media, such as a Facebook group for each of my classes. I have students do videos or audio recordings as well as short writing and they post those to the class site. They are required to comment on each other's postings, and it's been a wonderful tools for getting them to produce language of their own, as well as for helping them create a "safe" learning community.
As far as Rosetta Stone or similar programs, I can't think of any good pedagogical uses for them. They promise to teach language without any of that onerous grammar or memorization, and as you know without memorizing anything or learning the structure of a language, the most you can do is learn set phrases. That will help you find a bathroom when you're abroad, but it won't help if someone wants to have a real conversation with you and it won't be of any use whatever if you want to read something written for native speakers or if you want to say anything at all complex, or if you want to write a letter. In other words, those programs never get you beyond the most basic of beginner levels of language, and I don't think there's any place for them in education.

Tim Weyland's picture
Tim Weyland
K-5 Spanish teacher in Colorado

Patricia and Don,
I have experience in dual language schools, high school Spanish and am currently teaching elementary Spanish to a mix of native and non-native speakers.
One tool you might think of using is Google voice, especially if you are in a high school setting. This allows me to assess students' spoken language ability. They can do this during class time for formal assessments, or from their telephones for informal assessment and practice.
Also the use of iPads for inquiry groups doing project based learning. I have found success with using iPads as research tools and for creating presentations of projects. i.e. Students are directed to market research a restaurant in Mexico. They are responsible for creating a business plan (including a menu) and then present this to prospective investors. They can use the iPads to record and edit videos for this presentation.
I don't know if I am too late to comment on this, but Don's response really grabbed my interest.

Don Doehla, MA, NBCT's picture
Don Doehla, MA, NBCT
2015 California Language Teacher of the Year, Co-Director Berkeley WL Project at UC Berkeley Language Center

Those are great ideas Tim. I use Google Voice as well. I like that I not only get the voice message, but also a transcript (not always accurate, but close enough for my needs) as a sort of 'receipt' for my students that they did indeed turn it in.

I don't have iPads, but netbooks. Either way, however, the tech access is a real help to implementing PBL for several reasons: creativity, collaboration, and more obvious. In addition, I like to use a playlist, like MentorMob or BlendSpace, to pull together a lot of authentic resources on a given topic, so students stay more focused, and yet still have choices about the things they want to read for their inquiry.

Your idea for a business plan / restaurant is great! Students have many choices about their project plans when they can create a whole restaurant to that point - well done!

Best wishes,


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