Monday, November 24, 2014

Language Educators on the Tech Bandwagon

by Saloni Mishra

Users of computers and creative learning tools do not have to go through the stress of reinventing the wheel: technology is now widely available and can facilitate our teaching and make learning more interactive for our learners. To find a good example of recent teaching methods that make copious use of new technologies, we can look at CLIL or Content and Language Integrated Learning. CLIL is a great methodological tool for learning ‘content’ through the use of another language (minority, second, third), thus ‘integrating’ a subject with the acquisition of the language. This method was strongly promoted by the European Commission to enhance bilingual education and became part of its action plan known as: Promoting Language Learning and Linguistic Diversity: An Action Plan 2004 – 2006. The national government educational entities and educators themselves agreed that it was a great way to open doors to young students learning languages in ‘useful’ ways: learning math in English, arts in French, literature in minority languages… etc. There is a long list of so-called suitable subjects and an even longer list of various languages taught using CLIL, according to the 2006 Eurydice report published on this subject.

As would be expected, English, the most commonly thought foreign language in the EU, “is a long way in front in all countries, followed by French and German”, according to a report on CLILC published by the Goethe Institute.

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No surprise there: the English language is considered the most wide-spread lingua franca in the world and the number of people trying to learn it is increasing day by day. It is an official language in many countries and used many times as a mediator, or vehicular, language between countries, not only in Europe, but also in different continents English in schools has grown tremendously in Europe; it was altered to produce better results and had been implemented through policies to reach even preschool education across the continent. To implement CLIL or any other successful teaching method, however, one must integrate that method with appropriate technology that allows students to interact with people in their home environment in the same way that they would be interacting with them in the other country. Thus, technology is a must to help these students grow their bilingual skills.

Of course, technology means different things at different times. In the 1970s, teaching English started to be an effective language learning experience for students thanks to the method of ‘process-oriented writing instruction’. It seemed to be the most popular method of teaching due to its effectiveness in helping students learn faster and retain the language longer. The National Assessment of Educational Progress had found positive results regarding this method and refinements are being implemented every year.

In today’s generation, technology is a very familiar tool for most students. One can look at a curriculum, for instance, in primary schools in England and Wales called Design and Technology that started in 1990. This educational program combines the effectiveness of learning a subject and another language (e.g. Welsh). It is acknowledged as a multidisciplinary subject with different overlapping curricular activities.  When the Design and Technology program was assessed, experts found that its process-based nature was—educationally speaking—the most unique about it. Students were learning to formulate their own paths to results. Ways to arrive to a preferred outcome were not cookie-cutter but required to think beyond what was provided to solve the problem. Language-enhanced Design and Technology classes were not merely studying technology; they were becoming ‘technologists’ who demonstrated a “capability to operate effectively and creatively in the made-world” and increased their “competence in the indeterminate zones of practice”, according to a report published in the Journal of Technology in Education (Interim Report, D&T Working Group, DES/WO, 1988, p. 3)” (Wilson and Harris p. 52).

This is a remarkable result from the Design and Technology program as we can see that students are not merely repeating things that they learned but there is an opportunity for innovation and creativity. When it comes to integrating English with learning other subjects, we can use the D&T example to formulate similar curriculums where students are not just ‘in-takers’ but also creative users. Learning science, math, or arts in English or any other language using some of the applications developed in ‘Brainpop’ (see insert below) that was founded by a father who was dissatisfied with the way in which his children were learning science in school is just one of the many ideas that can be implemented with Content and Language Integrated Learning.

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Applebee, Arthur. "Issues in English Language Arts." Issues in English Language Arts. Center on English Learning and Achievement, n.d. Web. 1 Apr. 2014.

Wilson, V., and Harris, M. (2004). “Creating Change? A Review of the Impact of Design and Technology in Schools in England.” Journal of Technology Education, 15(2), pp. 46-65. Retrieved from

“Technology in Education – The Father who created BrainPOP” by BrainPOP. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC-BY2.0). Accessed 01 April, 2014.

Giersberg, D. (2007, November). It doesn’t always have to be a Mercedes – Perspectives on Bilingual Learning. CLIL in Europe. Retieved from

“01” by Rosa M. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC-BY2.0). Accessed 21 April, 2014.

The author of this blog entry, Saloni Mishra, was a senior in Political Science and Informatics at the University of Illinois when she wrote this text in the seminar PS 418, Language and Minorities in Europe in the spring of 2014.


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