The Ins and Outs in language education in 2023

The field of language education is changing at an ever-increasing rate.

Traditional notions of education are giving way to newer, more innovative ways of thinking about how we learn, teach and acquire knowledge.

Twenty-first century students are tech-savvy, worldly and quick to shrug off what cannot be proven. Today’s students see right through false claims that learning a language is easy. The notion that one can play an audio program while drifting off to sleep and wake up fluent, an idea that once seemed seductively easily, is now dismissed as a myth.

Text by: Anastasia Spyropoulou

There are ways to make learning languages fun or more enjoyable, but that does not mitigate the need for continuous and dedicated practice.

Remember the “10,000 hours to become an expert” rule, brought alive by

Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers. In the book Gladwell explains the research behind the notion that true expertise is achieved after an individual has invested 10,000 hours in learning or practicing a skill. This may be a sport, a musical instrument or the study of something.

If we consider fluency to be the same as being an “expert” in speaking a language, then a learner may well invest 10,000 hours in their language studies to attain fluency. People will shake their heads when they hear that. No one wants to believe it really requires that much work.

The challenges of learning another language are immense. Yet millions have achieved some degree of fluency in at least one other language. Those who achieve true fluency do so because they put in dedicated, consistent effort over a long period of time. Claiming otherwise is tantamount to fraud.

Authoritative teacher attitudes

In 1971 a scholar by the name of Robert Nisbet claimed that “the man of

knowledge and his pursuits were sacred”. Much has changed in years since professor Nisbet wrote those words. While teachers are still regarded as knowledgeable, they are no longer revered as sacred. While some may lament, and even resist this notion, it is safe to say that teachers no longer enjoy the “aura of the sacred”, as Nisbet calls it.

In today's world young people are very aware that sometimes they know

more than many of the "over-30s", at least when it comes to technology.

Adults regularly turn to young people for help and coaching on matters of

hardware, software, the Internet and other topics related to technology.

Individualized, customizable, learner-centred approaches

If teacher-centric instruction is out, then student-centred approaches are

definitely in, as is recognizing the need for learner autonomy and

cooperative learning. In the twenty-first century, individualized instruction is becoming the norm. As educators and schools

recognize and celebrate students’ demonstrations of knowledge in clear and tangible ways, so too are we celebrating students’ individual talents,

aptitudes and skills.

Not only is learning becoming more student centred, but also student

participation in the development of outcomes for learning is on the rise. While this may be unsettling for teachers and administrators who are used to exercising their authority to determine student outcomes, it is likely that the trend towards learner-centred approaches and student

participation in the development of outcomes will continue.

Proving the value of language learning through stories and speech

Public speaking and presentation skills are enjoying new levels of prestige. There is an increasing focus on the clear verbal articulation of ideas. This is being reflected in the field of languages, as there is an ever-increasing focus on articulate communication. Second language speech contests, debates, poetry readings, and storytelling are particularly trendy.

Linking language learning to leadership skills

Students today want to learn a language not only to communicate, but also as a means to find contacts, meet people and establish partnerships. Such activities can only be facilitated by learning other languages, but leadership and interpersonal skills are also necessary to make

connections and develop lasting partnerships. There is a trend towards

learning other languages as a means not only to become self-empowered,

but also, to empower others. Students are choosing to learn another language in order to go to a country where they can make a difference, for however short a time. Housing projects. Clean water projects. Health-related projects. Projects that help children and families in the developing world. These are more common place today than they have ever been. Learning a language in order to reach out to others and make a difference in the world is in.

The world is changing at a rapid pace. How we learn is changing. How we teach and assess learning is also changing. Old, authoritarian models are giving way to gentler, more collaborative models. Students are as hungry as they ever were to be guided, coached and mentored. Their curiosity about the world around them continues to be piqued. The difference now is that they have that world at their fingertips. They are experiencing the world through technology in a way that their parents and teachers never did.

Today’s language classroom is vastly different from that of the mid- to late twentieth century. The focus is no longer on grammar, memorization and learning from rote, but rather using language and cultural knowledge as a means to connect to others around the globe.

Geographical and physical boundaries are being transcended by technology as students learn to reach out to the world around them, using their language and cultural skills to facilitate the connections they are eager to make. There is a case for a reconceptualized field that is more learner-centered, more collaborative and more technologically driven. The trends in language learning are moving us forward in such a way as to empower our students to communicate with others across the globe in real time.