14 Nov 2011

Does Online Learning Work for EFL?

Guest post written by Marina Salsbury

The growth of online technology over the last few years has created a new world of possibilities for language learners. Many teachers continue to avoid or ignore online technologies in favor of paper-and-pencil homework, but the growing population of digital natives makes it essential for teachers to examine online technologies and take advantage of their usefulness for language learning, whether supplementing in-class instruction or even working to provide courses entirely online. For ESL and EFL teachers, a variety of online tools appeal to students while focusing attention on improving English proficiency.

The most common types of technology that can be helpful for EFL learners are online quizzes and games. Sites like UsingEnglish.com offer hundreds of free quizzes students can use to practice grammatical concepts, and online games that require focus on English usage and grammar. Many other sites offer similar activities, but teachers should be careful to review them first to make sure that they are level-appropriate, user friendly, and free to use. 

While creative use of technology can be used effectively to supplement English language instruction, teachers must be careful not to allow technology use to overshadow the importance of interaction with English speakers. Without face-to-face interaction, language learners may never develop the communicative competence essential for proficient, fluent English. However, with a computer and an internet connection, to some extent even this concern can be addressed through strategic use of technology. Videoconferencing tools such as Skype make it easy and inexpensive to talk face to face with instructors, conversation partners, and native speakers of English all over the world.

The internet offers many excellent options appealing to digital natives in a language learning environment. Even teachers with no great technology experience can begin with the use of ready-made quizzes and games, or explore further options through sources such as the online journal Language Learning and Technology. Ultimately these technologies work best as supplements to the personal interaction between students, teachers, and peers, though already it may be possible to provide that interaction in entirely web-based contexts. At the very least, exploring these options and finding ways to incorporate them into lessons, homework assignments, and everyday language use can enrich the experience of EFL students and help make their language learning more relevant, interesting, and effective. 

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