The importance of efficacy research

By Dr. Nelleke Van Deusen-Scholl, Director of Yale University’s Center for Language Study, and Mary Jo Lubrano, Associate Director of Yale University’s Center for Language Study.

Recently Pearson, the world’s largest education publisher, announced plans to phase out print textbooks and make their resources “digital-first,” further confirmation that digitalisation of coursebooks and lesson materials is transforming education. We are witnessing a huge shift across the education sector: leveraging technology to deliver what is ideally a more accessible, affordable and flexible learning experience.

Earlier this year, a survey by the European Commission revealed that 62% of British people are English monolinguals. Taken together, these two trends suggest language educators should explore innovative ways of making language learning more accessible and effective. How can technology encourage intercultural exchange and multilingualism? In our digital world, millions of people learn languages on their mobile devices. However, there remains a large amount of scepticism among our peers regarding the effectiveness of app-based language learning,

Our recent white paper, based on research in collaboration with the language learning app Babbel, shows how well-designed mobile assisted language learning (MALL) apps can lead to improve proficiency in another language. We did this by measuring the oral proficiency gains of native English speakers learning Spanish via Babbel. We examined 117 participants, over a period of 12 weeks, and found that to reach a basic level of competency and proficiency, using an app can work. After gaining basic levels of proficiency, however, learners must speak with native speakers of that language to continue to grow; our study revealed that many participants sought out conversations with Spanish native speakers. If your end goal is a real conversation, Babbel can be the first step on your path.

At Yale University, technology augments and improves language learning by creating immersion-like experiences, reintroducing less commonly taught languages no longer offered in classrooms, facilitating student and teacher collaboration across vast distances, and much more. Technology also enables a wide range of learners (including older adults) to study a language, many of whom might not otherwise have access to traditional language instruction. Our study sheds light on the importance of continuous research into technology-enhanced language pedagogy. Learning through technology exclusively may not be ideal, due the negative effects of screen time, as well as the loss of the camaraderie and joy of the language classroom. Here, it is important to point out that digital tools and apps can be used alongside traditional methods to grasp basic proficiency, as meaningful first steps of a language learning journey.

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