The benefits of learning a language via Skype

Posted on April 16th, 2012

Fancy learning a language over Skype?

Our colleague, Dr Anneli Beronius Haake, has years of experience of using the internet for teaching and loves it. Here she writes about the advantages of this type of distance learning. Many thanks for your contribution to our blog, Anneli.

 

More people than ever before can engage in distance studies and receive tutoring online. This is due to access to internet, headsets and online telephone software (e.g. Skype). But some learners can feel a little bit skeptical about the idea of learning a language via Skype, and feel more comfortable with the idea of sitting face-to-face with their language teacher. Teachers can also feel uncomfortable with the idea of using this new technology for teaching. Therefore, I would like to share some of the benefits of learning a language via Skype and the internet, from my perspective as a language teacher as well as from the perspective of the learner.

1. Location

Learning online means you can learn a language even though there are no teachers available locally where you live. Generally speaking, it can be quite difficult to find a language teacher, unless you live in a major city that has language schools with your chosen language available. The other option is to travel to the country in question and do an intensive course, which is highly effective but may be on the expensive side for many learners. Therefore, learning over the internet means you can still go ahead and learn, regardless of where you live. This is particularly important for those learning less common languages, which can be hard to come by even in major cities.

For language teachers, it means an immense freedom in that you are not geographically restricted in terms of who you can teach. I have taught people from all over the world, from my house in Nottingham.

2. Listening and speaking skills

Whereas some may see the lack of face-to-face tuition as something negative, my experience is that it can actually be beneficial for the learner. The learner automatically focuses more on listening to ‘the music of the language’, and the experience will be mainly auditory. This builds confidence for both speaking and listening, and it stops the learner relying on body language – which often happens when trying to communicate face-to-face. Of course, webcam can be used too, if there are situations where this would be beneficial.

3. Using the chat box

 Learners can type directly into the chat box, therefore receiving immediate feedback on their writing as well as on their speaking. In Skype, there are other features that can be used during a language lesson. Both learner and tutor can use the chat box in Skype in real-time, to check spelling and to emphasize other aspects. I often use the chat box to illustrate emphasis in words. Only last week, I wrote to one learner to visually illustrate the emphasis of the word ‘studerar’ in Swedish, which is ‘stu-dEEEEEErar’. A few times I have had completely text-based sessions, where the learner and I have practised writing to each other. I also use it every time I run conversational practice sessions with more fluent students, as I can type out new words as we go along and the learner can save the chat record to their computer after the session, which is very much appreciated.

4. File transfers, sharing screens/links and giving examples

Sitting in front of your computer means more flexibility. The tutor can instantly transfer files or documents that can be useful in addition to the lesson material. Both learner and tutor can share links and use images to exemplify meanings and concepts. A picture says more than 1,000 words, as the saying goes, and I find it highly effective to sometimes be able to quickly find a picture on the internet that illustrates exactly what I mean. It also provides the learner with a more varied learning experience. Skype also gives you an option to share your screen, which I use when I want to show websites, or play around with grammar using Powerpoint, for example. I share my screen, and the learner can see exactly what I am doing, whilst also seeing and hearing me. This level of flexibility is not possible in face-to-face tuition.

5. Saving time

Learning online saves time and money. Travelling cost is none. Travelling time is, if not completely eliminated, minimized to however long it takes to turn the computer on, or walk down the stairs to the office/kitchen/lounge, or wherever the computer is located.

Some people are worried about the technology failing (internet crashing and Skype not connecting). This happens very rarely, in my experience. I would say that probably 97% of all my Skype calls are great. Of course, sometimes technology fails – my broadband provider had some local issues a few weeks ago, resulting in me doing one lesson via phone and re-scheduling another one. But this is rare, and I would say you are equally vulnerable to failure sometimes if you travel to a teaching location (traffic issues, car breaks down, etc). In other words, I think it is wrong to think that IT technology leaves you more vulnerable than travelling geographically. Both have their risks, but work fine most of the time. And today, most people have powerful broadbands and internet connections are not as unreliable as they were 10 years ago.

 

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