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Language Teachers Bring the World Into A Classroom

Studies Show That World Language Teachers Cannot Be Replaced by Technology

By Lisa M. Swayhoover, NEA Staff 

Recognition of the importance of studying a world language has gained some momentum in recent years - especially studying Chinese and Arabic, which are regarded as crucial to ensuring the U.S.’s global competitiveness and collaboration. This has placed even greater demands on resource-strapped school districts. 

In the face of declining budgets, some school districts are moving toward computer-assisted language learning as a replacement for a high quality teacher in the classroom. Instead of being used as a tool, commercially developed language learning software is being looked at as a solution to the problem of balancing supply and demand. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages issued a position statement (May 2011) stating, “There is currently no research to indicate that students will acquire a second language effectively through technology without interaction with and guidance from a qualified language teacher.”  

In the effort to save money by eliminating teachers, are school districts unwittingly creating a higher need for technical support personnel? Researcher Katharine B. Nielson (University of Maryland Center for Advanced Study of Language) found in her 2011 study that technological problems are one of the biggest complaints and causes of learner dropouts. The learners in this study also reported needing to find additional resources such as grammar guides and even native speakers to help them understand the vocabulary and increase their conversational skills. Nielson cites a study that found that universities with self-directed language centers reported lower learner satisfaction when compared to learning centers that provide advising and other interpersonal support. 

Any world languages instructor will tell you that learning a language is more than drills on vocabulary. Language learning is culture learning. The ideas students learn to express in Spanish or Arabic or Chinese in classrooms today will prepare them to communicate with the people who speak those languages throughout the world.

A teacher of world languages brings the world into the classroom, preparing students to participate in an interdependent world by providing opportunities to investigate the world, recognize perspectives, and communicate ideas – essential global competencies for an increasingly global environment.