Schoolshape Webinar today I am looking forward to showcasing Schoolshape today in a webinar with @JoeDale, a highly respected UK education advisor. Joe’s expertise in the use of technology for language teaching and learning is second to none. His recent series of webinars on this subject has been appreciated by a wide audience of language educators. First there will be a brief history and rationale behind the Schoolshape Language Laboratory, and how it has come to be used by schools around the globe as a hybrid/blended language learning tool. I’ll then present a combination of slides and video explaining in detail how you and your students can work closely together, in or out of school, building their skills in any language.

Foreign Language Learning: An aid to Friendship

Writing this in the 48 hour Twitter protest about hate messages, I recall an interesting discussion on Sunday about the future of foreign language teaching. The school and university subject, often known as ‘Modern Foreign Languages’ in the UK, or ‘World Languages’ in the USA, has been woefully sinking in popularity with students in recent years. Trade with foreign lands is of course the bedrock of any nation’s economy, and plainly the last thing a post-Brexit Britain needs is a population able to communicate with foreigners only by shouting loudly in English. However, there is a more vital reason to encourage young people to engage with foreign cultures. On Sunday I posed a Twitter question about students exchanging information, sharing points of reference, common interests etc., thus strengthening and bonding foreign links between our country and others around the world, and received the following response from an eminent professor of languages. Prof: “It should be included alongside art, theatre, sport, history, science, youth culture, architecture etc etc - in the countries where the #languages are spoken. This enables some shared ground when learners meet peers. Discussing similarities & differences is fascinating” The wisdom of his words is twofold. 1. Surely an understanding of foreign cultures will foster empathy and reduce animosity between individuals and nations. 2. Sharing ground with foreign people is fun and endlessly fascinating. Me: “Today being a day of reflexion for some, would you feel comfortable with linking this to a teacher's moral obligation to open students' minds in this way? I certainly would!" Prof: “Definitely! That’s the greatest benefit!” What nobler mission for a teacher or student than to fight the scourge of hatred?

Neural Pathways,Language Learning and the Call of Nature

The latest research into neural pathways and the ability of the brain to create new connections when needed (and delete when not needed) has helped me to understand why learning language in a real context is so much more effective than other methods. I have always found that a useful classroom disciplinary device is an insistence on target language usage, along with a system of rewards and penalties. If students spoke in English they had to apologize (in eg French). This helped with an agreeable atmosphere of peace and quiet needed for classroom learning, especially with beginners, and prepared the ground for fluency with complex structure required for saying you're sorry for doing something in any language. This complex structure, probably involving pronouns, reflexive verbs, infinitive and a past participle was elicited by me saying something like 'Qu'est-ce qu'il faut dire?' It turned out that the most reluctant learners were sometimes the most adept at recognising the prompt and saying the complex sentence simply because they had to repeat it more often than the more obedient students and, furthermore, perfectly fluently with a good accent. This brought another very important advantage. When the time ever finally came to teach personal pronouns, cases, reflexive verbs infinitives and past participles, their relevance in everyday usage was already understood and, presumably those neural pathways had already begun to grow in the right direction. The method worked extremely well when an urgent need struck the student. ..How to borrow a pen, a pencil sharpener, or anything else in another’s  possession which they craved at that moment. I can confidently say that all my students know (subject to neural pathways not being deleted) how to ask, in a foreign language, if they may go to the toilet. This wasn't something they were asked to do in examinations, but definitely a thing to say before operating the pause button if working synchronously with someone online! It stands to reason that neural pathways in the brain are most efficiently created when an urgent need for them is present, so opportunities to reinforce them need to be alluring, immediately at hand, and attractive. Nowadays this usually means 'online'.

Language Learning Hotspots

Interesting to do some analysis on the areas of the world in which language teachers and their students have been continuing to practise using their four language skills using the Schoolshape online language laboratory even during the coronavirus pandemic with so many schools and colleges closed. The top seven areas of constant usage have been Cyprus, Scotland,California, Florida, Brazil, South Korea and Kenya.

Formative Assessment of Speaking Skills

With language laboratory software, any legitimate person can see grades and play back daily conversations with teachers or foreigners proving students' level of competence. This begs the question: Why do we need summative speaking tests? A source of dread for generations of language teachers and students, speaking tests are an anachronistic, unnecessary form of institutionalised torture. To overcome the ever growing global crises, we need peaople who can work together on a global platform. This will not happen if they do not understand each others' languages and cultures. The world needs foreign language learners in their droves. In what way will the prospect of torture encourage them in their studies?