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Nov 01 2011

Emerging Technologies Help Students Master Foreign Languages

Cell phones and Web 2.0 tools can help students become better non-native speakers.

In today's global society, knowing how to read, write and speak a nonnative language can help students advance in their careers and become more well-rounded citizens of the world. But learning to communicate effectively in a foreign language takes dedication, time and practice. With 21st century technologies, that process becomes less arduous.

Lesson Description: For years, foreign-language courses were considered electives. But in the 21st century, knowledge and appreciation of other cultures and languages is vital. Many foreign-language students struggle with speaking in particular because they lack self-confidence or fear making mistakes. By leveraging mobile devices and Web 2.0 tools such as Voki, which lets users express themselves online, in their own voices, via a customized avatar, students can record, assess and improve their oral communication in the language they're studying. Using their cell phones and the Internet to self-assess instead of engaging in traditional face-to-face conversation with their instructors alleviates students' anxiety and increases their comfort level with the language, helping them learn faster.

One or two days before beginning this lesson, give students three to five questions to which they should prepare answers. The questions should be language-level appropriate. (For example, a basic biographical question for a Spanish I student would be far too easy for a Spanish III student, just as a complicated process question for an advanced French student would be too difficult for an entry-level student.) Also, familiarize students with Voki's features and tools and ensure that each student has a computer with an Internet connection and a cell phone. Students who lack their own devices will need to partner up with students who have one before proceeding with this activity.

To start, have students either sign up for an individual Voki account or log in to an already established class account. They should then use the website's tools to create their avatars. Allotting 10 to 15 minutes to complete this task should be sufficient.

Next, circulate one of the predetermined questions to each student. Ask students to call Voki's toll-free number using their cell phones and record their responses to their avatars in the target language. Students should save their recordings and avatars to the Voki account specified or submit their recordings for instructor feedback via e-mail.

At the completion of this activity, access students' avatars and review their recordings, and then provide feedback on their pronunciation, grammar and the level of detail in their responses. Students, meanwhile, should return to their avatars to view instructor comments and replay their recordings; this will help them identify areas in which they are having difficulty so they can work to improve those skills.

Subject Area: This lesson was designed for high school Spanish II and III students, but it can be adapted for any language or grade level.

Curriculum Standards: This lesson fulfills interpersonal conversation performance standards outlined in Wisconsin's Model Academic Standards for Foreign Languages, including standard A.2., which dictates that students effectively ask and answer questions in a language other than their own. It also fulfills several of the National Educational Technology Standards for Students established by the International Society for Technology in Education.


Grading Rubric: Students should be graded on their pronunciation; grammatical accuracy; understanding of the questions posed; and the level of detail they provide in their responses.

Teaching Tips

✔ Technology can be unpredictable at times. Remember that lessons improve with each implementation.
✔ Verify that the room where you plan to record has good cell phone reception.
✔ Allow students to listen to their audio recordings at least once to self-assess and auto-correct themselves accordingly.