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Expert article

What's new in teaching and learning languages? New trends and challenges

In recent years, even recent months, a lot has happened in the educational field. In the last decade, the development of the flipped classroom, task-based approaches and a greater focus on differentiation have already transformed the process of learning languages.
Student happy while studying foreign language
AdobeStock / zinkevych

The pandemic has certainly accelerated trends that were already discernible before. I would like to focus on those that, to me, could bring about the most important changes in the immediate to mid-term future.

These trends can be divided into three categories: new learners’ profiles, which require new content, and new tools to learn languages.

 

How can we teach the new generation of (language) learners?

 

Access to knowledge is everywhere, but in a classroom environment, be it in person or virtual, is no longer the primary way of providing it.

Furthermore, learners’ attention span tends to be shorter due to early exposure to short online content (TikTok generation, stories on Instagram or Facebook). This was even more obvious during and after the pandemic.

Immediate gratification and almost constant feedback is also important for the new generation. For example as is offered by video games, which the new generation plays intensively.

Additionally the diversity of learners requires more attention: neurodivergent learners have to be considered, identified and included.

To respond to these challenges, the role of the language teachers will have to be reconsidered. They will no longer be the sole transmitters of knowledge and will need to become coaches who encourage, motivate and orient learners on their learning path, offering constant feedback, formative evaluations, personal help and guidance. This will require teacher training to be completely redesigned to adequately support them in this new role.

 

Should new content be developed to respond to these new trends?

 

Meta-cognitive skills are increasingly important and crucial as they make the learning process more efficient and more adapted to each learner. For language learning, students are learning to learn, finding their own learning style, designing their own learning strategies, self-assessing their work and progress, and developing intercultural skills. The skills need to be taught explicitly, as described in the new companion volume to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, teaching, assessment (CEFR).

Micro-skills are also a new trend to consider. Micro-skills like greeting a guest, writing your CV or taking notes in a foreign language could lead to micro-credentials, which are included in the language portfolio. This could especially motivate students in vocational training as it would make the outcome more attainable and concrete.

 

Do we need new tools to respond to these challenges?

 

Two new elements seem particularly promising: gamification, which technically already exists, but the content needs further development, and artificial intelligence (AI), which is in the early stages, but the extraordinary speed at which it is developing is very promising.

Gamification can stimulate and engage learners. Immersive learning environments with virtual reality and a metaverse can allow languages to be practised in close to real-life situations. Chatbots also offer interaction in the form of conversation on various topics and engage in role playing. Gamification also implies rewards and immediate gratification.

However, maybe even more promisingly, AI can allow the learning process to be completely personalised via adaptive learning. By identifying learner profiles and analysing their challenges, AI can propose a completely custom-made learning path for everyone, including neurodivergent learners. I think it may be the most exciting new development of the last few decades. It will of course not replace the teachers and the need to learn in a social environment, but it is likely to make the learning process more efficient and more motivating.

 

Dr Pascale Fabre is the President of CLL Language Centres' OLS Strategic Committee (Online Linguistic Support). She has worked in the field of language teaching for more than 30 years in the US, Singapore, Thailand, Poland, France and Belgium.

 

Additional information

  • Education type:
    School Education
  • Target audience:
    Government / policy maker
    Head Teacher / Principal
    Librarian
    Parent / Guardian
    Pedagogical Adviser
    Researcher
    School Psychologist
    Student Teacher
    Teacher
    Teacher Educator
  • Target audience ISCED:
    Primary education (ISCED 1)
    Lower secondary education (ISCED 2)
    Upper secondary education (ISCED 3)

Tags

Blended Learning
Cultural diversity
Cultural heritage
Digital tools
Inclusion
Initial Teacher Education
Language learning
Migrant students
Parental involvement
Refugee education
Support to learners

School subjects

Citizenship
Classical Languages (Latin & Greek)
Cross Curricular
Foreign Languages
History of Culture
Informatics / ICT
Language & Literature
Primary School Subjects

Key competences

Citizenship
Cultural awareness and expression
Digital
Multilingual
Personal, social and learning to learn