Technology helps students learn foreign languages

USF students struggling in French, Italian or Spanish have opportunities to help them better learn the foreign language.

Internet-based options for language acquisition are available to students, and some are even used and recommended by USF instructors.

The ideal language-learning environment is total immersion in the language, whether in a classroom or living in a foreign country, said Nancy Di Bella, an instructor and doctoral student in second-language acquisition and technology.

“The more exposed you are to a language, the better off you are,” she said. “If everything around you is in Spanish, and everything you hear is in Spanish, and everything you say is in Spanish, then this is the ideal environment.”

New technologies that USF instructors are using help students do this by allowing them to interact with others through the Internet.

Hillary Wade, a German teaching assistant, said she once took a graduate class in which the professor used Elluminate, a program that links students with teachers in a virtual classroom.

Elluminate is a private software company that focuses on Web learning and collaboration. At USF, professors can request to use the program through Blackboard,
Wade said.

Another option, Lingueo, is a new webcam-based tutoring site that connects language tutors and students throughout the world.

Di Bella said the one-on-one structure of Lingueo is useful for the facilitation of language acquisition.

“One-on-one has the advantage that the instruction is directed towards you and your needs,” she said.

Di Bella said that though she would not use the program in her class, she would recommend using the Web site as a supplemental activity.

“I like the classroom environment,” she said. “I like how students can speak to each other and how they can learn from each other. I have taught one-on-one, but it’s not the same as when you have different people with different ideas and different ways of learning.”

Wade said she recommends students use webcam-based learning like Lingueo.

“I can see how having  face-to-face time over the Internet through a webcam would be very beneficial for language learning, because you get to see the person’s facial expression and can hear them,” Wade said.

Justin Manuel, Lingeuo’s English market manager, said he believes Lingueo is a valuable resource for university students.

Manuel said that unlike other Web sites, Lingueo incorporates Web 2.0 technology, which integrates the software into the Web site and makes the program easier for students to use.

“Now people don’t have to download software — the video conferencing system is all online,” Manuel said. “All you need is a webcam, and you can log on and you’re put right into the video conferencing classroom.”

“We feel like the people who can benefit the most are the ones just starting to develop their careers,” Manuel said. “In an economic climate like this it’s very beneficial to be bilingual and even trilingual.”

Prospective tutors go on the Web site and fill out a profile that lists where they are from and what classes they want to teach, he said. Tutors record a brief video introduction so potential students can determine their fluency in the language and choose a tutor to hire.

Likewise, students fill out a brief profile that includes interests they would like to talk about with their tutor.

“It makes it easier to converse when the tutor and the student are into the same things,” Manuel said.

For the Web site, students pay the tutors through PayPal, an online payment processor. Lingueo makes money by taking a transaction fee out of the student’s payment to keep the site running.

Tutors set their prices between $10-40 per hour, Manuel said.