How Technology Helps Foreign Language Teachers Be More Efficient
Everyone familiar with the teaching profession is aware of the significant pressures and demands that teachers face: time-consuming administrative tasks, the challenge of finding quality teaching materials, the need to differentiate according to varied student ability levels and learning styles, along with ever-increasing expectations from students and employers. Language teachers are no exception; any strategies that can be implemented to improve efficiency and save time should be welcomed. Moreover, in the case of language learning, it’s clear that old-fashioned approaches like memorising grammar rules and copying from a textbook are not the most effective or inspiring methods for the 21st century. The question is, how does technology help teachers address these problems and become more efficient? And which tools offer the most benefits to busy teachers?
Potential barriers to using technology in the classroom
Despite the benefits technology can offer, not all educators have access to technology in the classroom, nor are equally convinced about its importance. Some educational establishments may not have the finances or the will to invest in digital resources. There can also be psychological resistance to using technology in the classroom, perhaps due to a lack of clarity around its role and benefits, or even a full-blown dislike and mistrust of technology caused by negative perceptions or previous experiences. Faced with these barriers, it may seem easier to forego digital tools in favour of methods that are more familiar or traditional. But it would be a shame to miss out on the benefits that use of technology in education can offer, including improved efficiency.
For those who already believe in the importance of technology in the classroom, but have reservations about using it, it’s recommended to seek out information and training to better understand the role of technology in schools and how to maximise its benefits. Furthermore, if a significant part of any lesson plan is dependent on technology, it is sensible (as well as psychologically reassuring) to have a back-up plan in place, in case technical problems arise – such as an internet outage or other unforeseen events.
Students, teachers and technology – what are the benefits?
Technology in schools can provide a host of benefits for both teachers and students, in and out of the classroom. Let’s explore some of them.
Lesson planning and preparation
Writing lesson plans and building a well-organised online ‘bank’ of lesson materials saves teachers time in the long run. Using a cloud storage system such as Google Drive means that files are accessible from anywhere, and can be easily shared with students and/or other teaching staff.
Managing student work
Technology facilitates collaboration between teachers and students. Digital files can instantly be shared with other users, work can be assigned and graded via a learning management system, and assignment due date reminders can be set up in a calendar. Some tools offer time-saving features like automated marking and student performance data at a glance.
Continuity between lessons
For language learners to make consistent progress, frequent engagement with the target language is a necessity. Use of technology facilitates autonomous learning outside of class time. Furthermore, if class attendance is not possible due to illness or – notably since the global pandemic – lockdowns, then the availability of digital resources greatly eases the transition to remote learning.
Research has shown that integrating technology into lessons increases student engagement, caters effectively to different learning styles, and reduces dropout rates.
Access to resources
The internet is an unlimited source of content for language learners; the only challenge is finding quality materials that are appropriate for students’ age, interests and language level. Having a few go-to sources of such material makes lesson planning and preparation significantly easier.
Technology is readily adaptable to individual learners’ needs. For example, in a listening activity, students can adjust the speed of audio playback or pause the recording to assist their comprehension. Magnifying the text onscreen can make the material more visually accessible for those that need it, etc.
Developing digital literacy
Technology in education can facilitate digital communication, collaboration and self-study – all of which lays a strong foundation of skills for future academic and professional success. Depending on the students’ age, the digital landscape may have evolved in unpredictable ways by the time they enter the workplace, but they will be better prepared if they are made to feel at ease with technology from early on in their lives.
What to look for in online tools
- Time-saving: Features such as automated marking can simplify or eliminate a lot of time-consuming admin tasks for teachers. An initial time investment may be necessary in the beginning in order to become familiar with the new tool(s). Nevertheless, in the long run, the investment should pay off by saving teachers time.
- User-friendly: Naturally, a tool that is enjoyable and intuitive to use is more likely to appeal to students and teachers. After the initial training and set-up period, students and teachers should feel comfortable using the tool independently.
- Reputable: Is the tool well-established and reliable? Have you had the opportunity to test it yourself and ensure it delivers what it promises? Is it recommended by other teaching professionals? If there is a cost, does it represent good value for money? All of these questions are worth considering before adopting a new tool for the first time.
- Interactive: Using interactive tools in the classroom makes students feel more engaged and involved in the activity. It also reduces reliance on the teacher by increasing student autonomy.
Online tools that make teachers work more efficient
Google is a household name and, as such, needs no introduction. While almost everyone is familiar with Google search engine and Gmail, it is also worth exploring Google Drive file storage system if you haven’t already: its word processing tool, Google Docs, is useful for writing lesson plans and creating digital worksheets which can be shared with other users in an instant. Switching from “editing mode” to “suggesting mode” in Google Docs tracks changes which collaborators can accept or reject – a handy feature that speeds up the process of marking students’ written work. Google Forms is another useful tool for creating quizzes and surveys. In addition, students and teachers can use Google Slides to create slideshow presentations; this can be used for individual assignments, or for collaborative group work. Many students enjoy the process of creating and presenting their knowledge in the form of a slideshow.
Planboard is a feature-rich platform that includes a lesson planner, gradebook, scheduling tool, attendance marker, and digital student portfolios. Users have the ability to create lesson plan templates and import content from external sources such as Google Drive. Lessons can be previewed and edited across multiple devices including iOS and Android.
Using Quizlet promises to save teachers time and make learning easier and more fun for students. It has a huge library of pre-prepared flashcard sets for studying languages, along with interactive quizzes and games. Just in case you can’t find exactly what you want, you can take advantage of Quizlet’s features to create custom flashcards and quizzes to share with your class.
Microsoft’s digital notebook is a comprehensive tool for taking notes and organising work. Teachers can create individual folders for students and distribute pages to the entire class with only a few clicks. Students can work in their own personal notebook which is viewable only to themselves and the teacher, or they can make use of the shared space for collaborative work.
Evernote is a digital note-taking app that shares many features in common with OneNote, though it’s also touted as an all-round productivity and time management tool complete with to-do lists, schedules and reminders. Users can enhance their notes with images, videos, clipped webpage content, and other media.
This popular design tool offers free templates that can be used to create sleek-looking presentations, infographics, posters, and other kinds of media. Canva could be deployed effectively in language lessons to foster collaboration and bring out students’ creativity.
Time-saving online resources for language teachers
- Newsdle: For authentic reading material in French and Spanish, Newsdle is a go-to source of news-based articles with interactive features to encourage autonomous learning. Students can read articles targeted to their level, listen to native speaker audio, save words to their vocabulary bank, and complete quizzes to assess their reading and listening comprehension. Newsdle’s inbuilt features allow teachers to easily assign homework and monitor students’ performance with a few simple clicks. For the study of Mandarin Chinese, visit Newsdle's sister product The Chairman's Bao.
- Twinkl: This online library made for teachers is a rich source of downloadable PDF worksheets, PowerPoints, and printable materials. Content is available for teachers of multiple languages including French, Spanish, German, Russian, Mandarin, and more.
- Pixabay/Pexels: These websites offer a vast selection of copyright-free images which can be used creatively in language lessons – for example, for making flashcards, or as writing prompts.
Teachers and technology can be a powerful pairing in language education, provided that teachers are able to access the right tools and training. Smart use of technology not only saves teachers precious time, it also opens up a world of digital resources that can be extremely appealing and accessible to students.
How can language teachers use technology in the classroom effectively? Try different things and see what works best with your students: make an online quiz for students to complete for homework, or invite them to collaborate on preparing a slideshow presentation or infographic about a recent topic. For a comprehensive selection of French reading material on a platform designed with teachers and students in mind, consider giving Newsdle a try – book your demo here.
Good teachers not only teach their students what to learn, but how to learn. If the teacher champions the importance of technology in the classroom, and demonstrates how to use digital resources effectively, students are more likely to embrace it in their language-learning.
Daisy Ward is an experienced online English teacher, writer and content creator with a passion for foreign languages and cultures. Her expertise in effective language-learning strategies is derived from many years in language classrooms, both as a teacher and as a student. Fluent in French and competent in Mandarin Chinese, she attributes much of her success in learning languages to the use of apps and other online tools.