A guest article by Laurianne Sumerset, webmistress of LanguageSoftware.net
Embracing Software for Successful Language Learning
Technology is having a significant impact on the way that people learn languages. Sophisticated voice recognition software and multimedia content are making language programs an increasingly realistic simulation of talking in real life. It's definitely not a substitute, but probably best to be looked at as a supportive instrument for classroom learning or immersion. Thanks to faster internet connections and mobile devices most of the old-fashioned language learning software features are now web-based.
In fact, web-based courses are proven to be beneficial for additional home and on-the-go learning. According to a 2009 study published by US Department of Education, students who studied online in addition to their in person classes, performed better than those students who relied solely on face to face teaching.
While software programs are becoming more advanced lots of users may be failing to realize the full benefits of them. Understanding how to effectively use such a program is as important as establishing your goals beforehand. Below I've listed a few activities to get the most out of your software-based language learning.
As mentioned in the introduction, I recommend you create a study plan first, set up learning goals, and write down what you want to achieve. For example, most of the current programs include flashcards as part of their learning system. You might decide that you want to master 500 words and phrases from these cards over the next six months. Another goal might be to complete a certain amount of units or to achieve to complete a particular program by a certain date. Having goals can help to keep you focused as you use the software. This is a pretty general advice and does not just apply to online-learning.
Post Your Progress
Once you have created your goals you may want to share them with your friends or perhaps post them on a social network or blog, anywhere you can easily update and comment on your progress. According to a study conducted by Dr Gail Mathews of the Dominican University of California which looked at 267 participants, those students which who wrote down goals, shared them with their friends, and then sent weekly updates were 33% more successful with achieving their goals. Most of the programs that you'll find have their own social network i.e. forums where you can interact with other students learning your language. Participating in these social networks can enhance your studies.
In a 2010 study conducted by Burke, Marlow and Lento over 1,200 participants were interviewed to study the connection between social media networks and education. The study found a positive link between use of social media networks and access to new information through a diverse range of acquaintances and increased bonding with other students which decreased feelings of isolation.
Online social networks provide support and encouragement to ensure you keep up with your studies in the face of other priorities. You can also practice your language skills with other students and share tips about the best ways to use your software program.
Create a Study Plan
It's a good idea to create a detailed plan of what you need to work on each day to reach your language goals. This might include choosing at least 5–10 minutes for flashcards at the start of your session, 10–15 minutes of language conversation exercises, and 10 minutes of games or quizzes to recap the material that you have studied.
Software programs typically offer a wide range of activities and features such as quizzes, flashcards, videos, and games. With all of these features it's easy to simply jump from feature to feature without making substantial progress. Most programs though offer progress tracking and a clear path through the course which is helpful.
Create a Timetable
Your timetable should show when and for how long you intend to study. One of the most important factors with language learning is consistency. Typically you will want to set aside at least half an hour each day for your learning. Many people find that first thing in the morning works best as there are fewer distractions. If you commute and like to play with your mobile phone doing so, most programs offer apps and flash cards for on the road; particularly useful for repetition and vocab.
Make sure that your timetable takes other commitments into consideration. Frequency is more important than the length of time that you study. So commit to studying for a shorter time each day than trying to do hours of study on the weekend and then neglecting your studies for the next week. Frequency is critical to retaining new words and phrases. Studies have shown that most learners need to be exposed to a new word between 5 to 16 times in order to retain it.
Consider On-The-Go Learning
Another important consideration is whether you want to access the course on a specific device or across a range of devices. Most companies offer a web-based version of their courses. This means that a course is entirely stored on their servers not on the students' computers. When you purchase access to the course you are provided with a password and account name which allows you to log in from any device. Web-based courses are a major trend in education and not just for languages. In fact, 91% of two-year colleges already offer online classes and 50% of college presidents believe than within a decade that most of their students will take their classes online. If you use multiple devices such as a laptop, tablet, and iPhone, online courses are a convenient option. It also works well for students who may want access to their course both at home and at their school's computers. However, some language learners prefer to have the course either downloaded onto their computer or to have the physical CDs. The advantage of this option is that you can use the course even when you don't have access to a computer. Make sure that you choose the right option for your own circumstances.
For more information on current programs and courses, visit my websiste LanguageSoftware.net where you'll find easy-to-read charts with feature and price comparisons.
Take Advantage of Speech Recognition and Skype Conversations
One of the most important aspects of succesful language acquisition is regular conversational practice with native speakers. Computer programs have become very good a mimicking real life conversations with video dialogue, but are no replacement for talking to an actual person. Rosetta Stone, for example, has included an online coach. You get a certain amount of time credits when you buy the course. You can then reserve your time slots online.
Skype conversations is another way to catch up on conversational practice. There are websites like iTalki that offer students to search for Skype practice partners. Another option is Facebook; search and reach out to native speakers and ask them if they're up to a short convo, maybe once a week? You could do that with several people, practice your social skills, and make friends at the same time. Being polite and upfront honest is key! Why not just try it out?
Language learning software has made studying foreign languages significantly easier based on the fact that you can carry your lessons around everywhere you go. To get the most out of these programs however you still need to have clear goals and a plan for how you will achieve them. It's also good idea to take full advantage of the additional features offered by these programs such as online coaching and social networks. If you take these steps you will find that you are able to reach your language learning goals faster. Full immersion, however, is still one of the best ways to learn a language. Skype conversations are great too, but in most cases not enough to push you further, and can't teach you grammar properly. With Skype learning a regular schedule and knowledgable convo partners are crucial. Here's to your successful language learning adventure!