1. AUDIOVISUAL MATERIALS
2. COMPUTERS AS AN AUXILIARY RESOURCE FOR LEARNING AND IMPROVING FOREIGN LANGUAGES
A number of new techniques for teaching English have been developed during the last ten years thanks to the fast development of new technologies and the decrease in price of appliances such as TV sets, video machines, camcorders or computers. Besides, the educational authorities have tried to develop their use, lately the use of computers in particular with programmes such as Aldea Global, Info XXI, Educared, etc.
These machines have not only made our lives easier but have also greatly contributed to the diversification of teaching activities when teaching a foreign language. Consequently, new products have been launched. New video methods, new computer programs, make the learning more enjoyable and enable the teacher to widen current classroom teaching techniques. We could say that these audiovisual technologies started to expand in the late 1970s or early 1980s and are getting more and more widely used.
However there are other techniques based on technological development which are still used in the classroom and which date back a little farther. These techniques are not really “audiovisual”, but we will study them: newspapers, radio, cassette recorder, etc.
When talking about the use of technology in the classroom advantages and disadvantages should be taken into account.
– language is taught in its context
– high motivation
– it provides creative opportunities
– it broadens horizons and extends contacts
– it means a great potential for a wide variety of activities
– it provides flexible responses to learning problems
– difficulties in comprehension (language and structural)
– it requires a lot of commitment on behalf of the teacher, who has to think that technology must serve him/her, but will never replace him/her.
1. USING AUDIOVISUAL MATERIALS
1.1. VISUAL MATERIALS
The student belongs to the “image and sound generation”. Therefore, the learning process must include visual and audiovisual materials which are so familiar to them. These images will encourage the student to communicate, as they are natural and motivating stimuli for them. They make the language used in the classroom look more real.
The main functions of the image in the English classroom are:
– motivating function: the students becomes active.
– it replaces reality: the image is used in substitution of reality.
– it creates situations: the student gets involved with it.
– it suggests experiences: the student is suggested interpretations or experiences that will lead him/her to real communication situations
– informative function: it transmits cultural aspects (customs, landscape, art, politics, celebrations… of the country)
– checking function: the image is used for checking the students´ understanding of the verbal message.
– concentration function: it focuses attention on something.
– reinforcing function: the image supports understanding and memorising.
We will talk about the newspaper because it is an essential visual material used in the English classroom. English-language newspapers are available world-wide on a daily basis. Some originate from English-speaking countries, others are locally produced. They are cheap and plentiful so newspapers can be useful in the classroom (the same happens with magazines).
Newspapers contain a very wide variety of text types and an immense range of information. They are therefore a natural source of many of the varieties of written English that become increasingly important as learners progress.
Reading newspapers is a way to transfer latent skills from the mother tongue to the language learning classroom. Those pupils who normally read newspapers in Spanish will be receptive to the use of English newspapers in the classroom. Reading newspapers we exercise skimming and scanning skills. These skills are very useful for our pupils. Newspapers are about the outside world so using them in the classroom is an interesting way to bring the real world into the learning situation.
Using newspapers is also useful to integrate skills. The reading material leads easily into discussions and writing activities. This integration of skills is also authentic as the response to what we read in newspapers is likely to be authentic and personal.
Topicality is both an advantage and a disadvantage. Contemporary stories are motivating, but also date quickly. For this reason, it may be better to collect human interest stories which do not date over a long period of time. Finally, we can say that newspapers are probably the best source of information about the target language culture.
However, there are also drawbacks. Most learners find newspapers difficult: special grammar conventions, obscure cultural references, large amounts of unknown vocabulary… Letting our pupils choose the text they wish to work with can get rid of many problems. Before the third cycle authentic newspapers shouldn´t be used, as the students could demotivate. In the third cycle we can teach them some of the conventions of the newspaper style at a basic level.
The activities we may use will include:
– writing and replying to small ads
– writing and replying to letters to agony aunts
– re-ordering jumbled paragraphs
– re-ordering jumbled cartoon strips
– completing cartoon speech bubbles
– predicting horoscopes for class members
– matching property ads with pupils´ needs
– replying to job ads (role plays)
– designing and elaborating a newspaper
All these activities can only be done at a very basic level with our pupils. However, it is important to familiarise them with newspapers. They will be used by secondary teachers more extensively and we must not forget that most educated people read one or more newspapers daily.
Other visual materials are photographs, the overhead projector, realia, flashcards or drawings on the blackboard, rods, wall pictures, slides, etc.
1.2. AURAL MATERIALS
Here we can include the radio, the cassette recorder, the laboratory. The radio is not very common in the English class. Though it is a very useful way to develop listening skills, our students do not have the necessary linguistic abilities to cope with radio programmes. The foreign language lab is hardly used now and it can be replaced by a computer lab.
We will speak more about the cassette recorder. Though much can be done by simply speaking while all the children follow what we say, it is clear that the development of listening skills in our classroom situation relies heavily on the universal availability of a cassette of pre-recorded material.
All new Primary English coursebooks have a teacher´s cassette with the corresponding texts and songs. These cassettes provide a good model of spoken English and real language.
We can accustom our pupils to listen to recordings of simple stories or fairy tales with activities to follow if we set up a listening corner in our classroom where we can have two or three cassettes and the activity books. The children will of course need to be trained in how to use a cassette player on their own, but they probably know how to play it already. It is a good reinforcing material for slower students, who can work autonomously.
If we use the cassette player to introduce new language we can always give our pupils the possibility of listening to the recording more than once. Listening materials suitable for our levels are very simple and the range of activities they include are somehow limited. We must try to widen the range of activities including pre-, while- and post- listening activities which will improve the listening skills of our pupils.
Recording devices can also be used to improve our pupils´ oral skills. They can record themselves noticing differences between their own pronunciations and the pronunciations of the cassette. This is also motivating for our pupils. One activity which promotes oral skills and motivates our pupils is recording their own songs in a tape.
2.3. AUDIOVISUAL MATERIALS
Audiovisual materials proper include both sound and pictures. We next study how to use the television, the video and the camcorder in the classroom.
In relation to television, we can say that it is inherently a medium that has a great potential for motivating learners. It provides a wide variety of situations, accents, topics and presentation techniques. The real situations provide a context for language exploitation. The language used offers the necessary authenticity. It offers the possibility of exploiting students´ current interests. Television provides a wide range of paralinguistic clues – facial expressions, body movements, etc. – that are very useful for comprehension. Television can introduce the culture of the country – food, clothes, buildings, etc. -. A major advantage is that the same programme can adapted to different levels, depending on the task students are asked to do. The role of the teacher becomes crucial to take the decision as to how to work the programmes. As one of the major problems of using television and video in the classroom is the ephemerality of the medium, our task as teachers is to confront the pupils with activities that build and reinforce the viewing experience.
Children may not understand a real TV programme, but that is not a problem. Watching regularly TV programmes especially made for native children is very beneficial. But we cannot expect children to answer questions or reproduce what they hear, even if they spend hours watching programmes in English. TV programmes, such as cartoons, do not teach the language, but help internalise it. This kind of material must be authentic and interesting.
The problem of using TV is that we cannot stop it. Although TV is an important aid for study, it fulfils its real importance in the classroom on videocassette.
As an addition to the teacher´s resources, video offers an interesting and motivating aid to learning. It brings the outside world into the classroom, it offers examples of new language and is a stimulus to the classroom communication.
Video materials used in language teaching come from a wide range of sources:
– video recordings of language-teaching broadcasts and films
– video recording of domestic television broadcasts, such as comedy and news programmes
– video recordings of specialists films and television programmes such as documentaries produced by industry, or educational programmes
– video language-teaching materials made for the classroom rather than for public transmission or broadcasts
– self-made video films, involving the teachers and learners.
The combination of sound and vision is dynamic, immediate, and accessible. This means that communication can be shown in a context; it is what we could call language in action. We find out straight away about the speakers in dialogues since they can be seen and heard. This way, we find out about their ages, their sex, whether they are related or not to each other, the place where the situation is taking place, etc. With all this information the learner can clarify whether the situation is formal or informal, etc.
Register is the way in which we say things depending on the people we are talking to and our relationship with them. The learner can see why things are said in a different way. Watching the video, s/he can judge relationships and feelings from the speaker´s gestures, facial expressions, posture, distance from each other, dress and surroundings. All these factors influence or reflect what people say and how they say it, and only video can show them fully.
Like any feature film or TV programme, a video will use close-ups of people, places and things to emphasise or explain what it is going on. The camera technique helps learners to understand the narrative and the character´s behaviour and motivation.
One more important aspect to think of is that learning a language is not only a matter of structures and words. Cultural factors are a very important part of language learning. Video allows the learner to see the target language at work.
Although the audiovisual features of video films are found in cinema films and television broadcasts too, they do not offer the same facilities for classroom exploitation. On top of that we must not forget the electronic tricks to create special effects and images.
All these previous aspects make the video material interesting. At their best, video presentations will be intrinsically interesting to language learners, and they will want to watch more, even if comprehension is limited, and should ask questions and follow-up ideas and suggestions. By generating interest and motivation, the video films can create a climate for successful learning.
We have to make it clear that the video recorder cannot and does not replace the teacher. It changes his or her role so that teachers become more facilitators adapting the materials to the needs of individual classes or pupils. Learners should not be exposed to long excerpts whose body of texts would be so demanding that could create more frustration than encouragement. As a general rule, it is much better to choose a short excerpt and to work thoroughly on it.
An adequate approach could consist of three phases:
– in the first phase the video is just being played so that pupils become familiar with the materials they are going to watch
– before the second phase takes place, some vocabulary might be taught but it is not necessary. In this phase the video is paused frequently so that attention can be focused on specific items of vocabulary and the actual teaching and learning activities can be initiated.
– phase three is aimed to reinforce the work that has been done. Depending on how challenging the materials have been, the video can be played through or paused at different stages for pupils to process what is being said.
Some techniques for the use of video are:
1 Silent viewing: playing the video with the sound turned down for no more than two minutes. The learners watch it and decide what is happening and what the speakers are saying.
2 Freeze frame: pressing the Pause button on the video recorder to freeze the motion of the screen. This allows the learner to look more closely at individual images or utterances within a sequence. It is useful for detailed language study, observation, and description.
3 Roleplay: it is, together with acting, one of the most useful ways of using new language through a video. Acting out involves practising the exact words of a dialogue, while roleplaying means that the learners use their own words and personalities to act out the situation they have seen on the screen.
4 Behaviour study: it concentrates on the non-verbal ways in which people express themselves – facial expressions, gesture, posture, dress, physical contact, etc. The main aim is to sensitise learners to conventions of behaviour in another culture.
5 Prediction: the teacher stops the video and elicits from the class what happens or what is said next. They can predict the topic after looking at the title, predict the end, guess the title, write the dialogue, the synopsis, etc.
6 Thinking and feeling: this technique is designed to focus on the thoughts and emotions of the characters in a sequence, and their relation to what is said. The learners have to say how the speaker is feeling, giving reasons for their choice. The teacher can also as “What are the characters thinking?” or even “How would you feel in a situation like this?”
7 Sound only: the opposite of silent viewing. Instead of not listening, the learner can listen but has to imaging the picture. The technique provides practice in describing things or people, identifying things or people from their description and following an oral description of something.
8 Watchers and listeners: half the class watch the screen and the other half listen. Then the watchers explain to the listeners what they have seen. This provides practice in speaking, observation and accurate reporting.
Video improves both listening and speaking skills, but it can also be used to improve writing ones, with exercises and activities, jumbles, word soups, etc. Even at higher levels learners can be asked to complete a script, to take short notes about what is being said, or produce short summaries.
The video camera
At a certain stage (after rehearsal, but at any level) students can be invited to produce their own material and record it in video. It is a high motivating task, but it requires time and technical mastery.
The teacher and/or the learners should operate the video camera and equipment competently. Then a wide variety of stimulating projects can be undertaken. Speaking abilities are developed, but also self-confidence, work in groups, organisation and order, care for the class materials, etc.
Four steps can be suggested to make use of the camcorder:
– a talking head: one person talks to the camera
– dialogues: two or three people are filmed talking together
– group discussion: a larger group of people are filmed in discussion
– project work: a freer use of the video facilities
The activities that can be carried out can be categorised in groups:
– language-training video: which presents to the learners some aspects of communication in the target language
– recordings of the learners: which allow them to see and hear themselves performing in the target language
– video projects controlled by the learners, which offer the learners the opportunity of working together in the target language
With small children the exploitation of the video camera will be on the part of the teacher, but it will be as stimulating and instructive as with older students. The viewing will be, in this case, the most important part of the process. For both small and older students the viewing is enjoyable and surprising, and means the moment of feedback.
2. COMPUTER AS AN AUXILIARY RESOURCE FOR LEARNING AND IMPROVING FOREIGN LANGUAGES
Although they have been used for teaching since the 1960s, computers only became practical and affordable for language learning in the early 1980s, when relatively inexpensive personal computers first became available. The first Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) programs were mainly used for manipulating words and sentences, playing games with students, testing them, and giving them feedback on their performance. Used in this way the computer has often been described as the “medium of the second chance” (because the activities usually let you try more than once to get the answer right) and of risk-taking (because you can make mistakes in your answers without other students knowing).
As computers became more powerful, and multimedia software became practical, the early 1990s saw the emergence of CD-ROMs, storing complete encyclopaedias or language courses with text, graphics, and audio or video. Commercial products of this sort, which are professionally produced, reliable, and straightforward to use, have a place in many classrooms.
Of course, the teacher must know how to work the computer and the program. The students have the mastery already. Every school has now its computer room and each learner can sit down and work.
The use of a computer is an excellent way to set remedial work. Not only does the learner have access to it at any time (with a computer at home), but has a reliable source if the program has been properly developed, and, what is more, the computer never gets tired, irritable or impatient. It is particularly good for learners who cannot cope with a more traditional teaching approach. As in video learning, computer learning makes use of a series of techniques that eases the task and makes it more enjoyable and entertaining. And pupils find that using computers is highly motivating.
The number of interactive programs on the market has increased a lot, but not all of them are useful for the class. Many are for adults and are still focused on the language, not on the content, as the machine cannot grasp meaning. They work on pronunciation, repetition, grammar and vocabulary exercises. The communication is still something that has to do with human beings.
Programs that children can use are made specially for them, some are for the learning of English but do not focus on grammar, but on concentration games, memory games, tales, cookery recipes, numbers and letters, paintings, etc. Others are not specially sold for learning English, but has the option of using it in this language. They are very motivating for our students and they learn the language unconsciously and in a playful way.
In many ways, however, the challenges presented to both students and teachers by the Internet can provide a more interesting, rewarding experience. The Net is a huge, rich resource. Its main distinguishing feature is that it is a medium of exploration, which releases creativity and imagination.
The Internet is beginning to transform language learning:
– first of all by making available to teachers and students an enormous range of information and resources
– as a means of communication
– not only in writing, but it is beginning to allow audio and video communication
– it leads to more cross-curricular work
– for their potential to motivate.
The students, once they are working on the computer, unless they need help, take the attention away from the teacher, though the teacher must co-ordinate and assess. This allows more flexibility in managing the lesson, and in particular there is often more time to work with individuals and groups than in an ordinary class. Most of the activities with the Internet require small groups, they are not usually done individually.
Materials from the Internet can be used with a variety of levels by allowing students themselves to choose the kind of material they work with, and by varying the kind of task they are asked to perform. For example, if students have to visit newspaper sites in order to produce their own newspaper, they can be given a choice of Websites, of the kind of news they select, and of the task they are to carry out with the news they find.
There are also steps to work with computers:
1.Pre-computer work: in some cases, before beginning an activity on the computer, it will be necessary to pre-teach vocabulary, or a specific function or structure. In every case, however, you will need to ensure that the students know exactly what they have to do when they begin work on the computers.
2. Computer work: If the activity has been well prepared, and the students suitably trained, the teacher should intervene only if s/he is asked for help. Instead, the teacher will monitor what the students are saying and doing.
3. Post-computer work: it is important that anything done in the computer room should be transferable to the normal classroom, and any Internet activity should be planned from the outset with some kind of follow-up activity in mind. Wherever possible, students should have something physical that they can take away with them from the computer room, so that they have a record of what they have done for follow-up work or for end-of-course- revision.
One drawback of the Internet is that it is a huge, rich resource, much of it yet unplanned. The variety of resources is so great that deciding how to exploit resources once you find them can be a challenge in itself. You have to plan the lessons very well in order to ensure your students´ Internet time is productive in terms of language learning.