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Technology and Online World Critical to Growing Success of TEFL

By Sofia Rasmussen

Today we present a guest post from Sofia Rasmussen about what technology and the internet means for TEFL.  It’s a very well written, thought provoking article…thanks to Sofia for the submission!  Click “continue reading” for the article.

The ready availability of Internet access has led to many advancements in education, perhaps none as profound as those related to language opportunities. Online, the whole world really can be the classroom.  Students can read and react to foreign language media, can chat in real time with native speakers, and may even have the opportunity to interact with language students abroad. In the United States, technology has had particularly profound effects on Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) programs. Teachers at all levels have seen profound results by integrating web lessons and mobile technology into their curriculums.

In many respects, English is the number one language of the Internet. And to be fair, English speakers have aggressively developed the Internet. From offering the best PhD online <http://onlinephd.org/> to allowing complete freedom of virtual speech, English speakers often have full access to what the world wide web has to offer. This is often not the case in many places where English is not predominant. 

This means the vast majority of resources and sites are geared to an English-speaking audience, which means that TEFL coordinators do not have to look far for activities to aid student development. As the Internet becomes a more and more essential part of American and Western society generally, there is an argument that basic web literacy should be a  cornerstone for English language development. Students who have an understanding of English language communications online are often better equipped to integrate into English-speaking cultures—one of the primary goals of most TEFL programs.

One of the most obvious applications of the Internet into the TEFL classroom is through interactive grammar, vocabulary, and reading drills. The Internet offers a wealth of different games and applications that teachers can use to help students grasp nuances of the English language. These sorts of programs make learning fun for students, and can also be more efficient when it comes to tracking student progress. Many programs allow education to transcend the classroom, as well. “Activities, such as listening labs, crossword puzzles, and quizzes can be used by learners in their free time,” asserts the Loyola Community Listening Center <http://www.luc.edu/literacy/sites.shtml> . “Internet-based Listening Labs can also be useful with learners who are not immersed in English on a regular basis. Learners can use the Internet as a supplemental tool for use both inside and outside of the classroom.”

Thanks to ever-evolving technological advancement, it is often possible for TEFL instructors to design programs that students can quite literally carry in their pockets. Apps for smartphones and tablet computers can bring language learning to most any setting. The Boston University Center for English Language <http://www.bu.edu/celop/comp/ipad-apps.html> and Orientation Programs recommends a number of iPad apps for precisely these purposes. Some, like the “TOEFL Master Vocab Guide,” are designed specifically for individual drilling; others, like “Pocket English ESL” have a number of different features, and can be viewed almost as independent courses.

The interactivity of the internet also means that language learning no longer has to be a primarily independent journey. Students from all corners of the globe can come together in TEFL chat rooms or can “meet” thanks to videoconferencing tools. Students can thus practice their conversation and learn from a wide range of speakers, no matter where they are located or how often their official class meets. TEFL instructors can collaborate to provide real-time feedback to students on everything from pronunciation to idiom usage in a way that is non-intimidating and casual, but still instructive.  LanguageCorps new Online TEFL Certification program is a prime example.

While the possibilities are exciting, TEFL instructors should also be aware of students’ potential hesitation to jump into technology-based learning, two TEFL instructors warn in a paper published in the Internet Teaching English as a Second Language Journal <http://iteslj.org/Articles/Kannan-OnlineESL.html> . “There were a range of computer abilities among the learners, but the majority of students had little or no experience,” Jayna Kannan and Cynthia Macknish, wrote of their model class. In many cases, students were hesitant to engage in online activities, at least at first. “The initial apprehension was probably due to fear of the unknown. This was understandable considering that the majority of the students had little or no experience using computers. It is possible that the students felt that the [online] component would be an additional burden to their workload,” the instructors said. Over time, however, all students were able to use—and often even enjoy—the internet aspects to their course.

Each year brings more students to TEFL courses in all parts of the world. New advancements in Internet tools and language-based technologies emerge just as fast; merging the two has never been easier or more effective, and in many cases, the results can truly last a lifetime. 

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