What Works For Group Online Language Learning

Group online language courses–called MOOCs–have been around for a while. Coursera, for example, has a free program that has been in operation since 2013, but other courses have emerged in the industry as well.

Image: POPSUGAR Photography / Daniella Diaz

Most adults will probably remember the following story: A man has a heart attack in his bedroom and immediately wakes up, as if he has just been to the park. He then keeps jolting and falling off the bed, eventually in a coma. A cell phone rings at the hospital. A nurse removes the man’s shirt, checks his pulse, and sees that it is, indeed, his heart. A doctor approaches and says that if you had called earlier, you would have been able to receive CPR instructions during the pause between the cell phone call and the woman coming to the bedside. Finally, he says, you would have been able to listen to an aide reading that heart adage, which will keep his heart racing so he can regain consciousness faster. Once the woman leaves, the man is resuscitated.

This is the sort of story that can run rampant on a viral Facebook post or highlight anyone’s willingness to explore the benefits of group virtual language lessons. Online virtual groups are another way adults can understand and utilize the power of text and short videos as the predominant mode of language education. Adult learners who try out virtual groups find themselves browsing through content not related to their language development level — i.e., content with what is called “broader content,” which can include videos that teach a very similar concept and question, meaning that they learn in exactly the same way.

According to Melanie Hattenburg, co-founder of Haute Language Co. and an educator who uses group-based learning for her clients, there are some benefits to virtual learning that exceed those of traditional language immersion courses. For a beginning user, group language learning can be very helpful if you are looking to refresh your vocabulary and improve your conversational skills. However, once users reach the point of trying to grow an English-speaking community online, they find that videos and features offer very few benefits compared to the actual side-by-side face-to-face experience.

Learn French more quickly

Leading up to stepping foot into the real world and wanting to be able to go to a restaurant and order a dessert, the ideal experience is sitting down with a language instructor in person, having that first interaction with your language guide and being able to truly put what you’ve learned to the test. An online group format can help beginners through language retention issues as well; for example, video lectures are very helpful for getting accustomed to a new language. However, the translation of those lectures can be problematic because the lesson has to take place while the video of the tutorial is still playing. If you are watching the clip, you will be frustrated by the software because you’ll be reading a text, but then you start watching again and the computer never updates the video to make it look like the translation is happening.

For intermediate language learners, group learning is beneficial because it gives you an opportunity to gain a better understanding of what those videos do to a user’s interpretation of the language. Haute Language co-founder Hattenburg said, “Most of the time the video becomes obsolete, but it takes about six times longer than when the computer has had time to do the translation.” Adult learners are not just relying on the transition from video to text to hold onto any sort of information. Video also has to be processed in real time because it is different than picture or cartoon illustrations. For example, one of Haute Language’s favorite video courses teaches the American Sign Language (ASL) to students. After learning ASL, the students can go on and play a soccer game against other users. But whereas a simple digital illustration can be sent to a user as they watch the instructional video, real-time ASL will be displayed in the demo video, so once the teacher starts the soccer game, the video will automatically be going to “sports mode.”

Enjoy multiple perspectives

When students start a new language class, they don’t always know what kind of feedback they’ll be getting, whether from their language teachers or professors. But with online groups, learners will be able to feel comfortable, ask questions, and learn by eavesdropping on others. Hattenburg also mentioned the possibility of different teachers working together, wherein multiple English-speaking professionals will speak in one sentence in English. In order to learn in such a group, newbies will have to acclimate to their new language and experience it more quickly — and with greater ease.

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