The Pros and Cons of E-learning for Foreign Languages

It’s well known that learning a foreign language not only increases your chances of getting into grad school, improves your career opportunities, and impresses the ladies and fellas, but it also molds you into a more culturally-intuitive person. While most would say the best way to truly grasp a language and culture is to study abroad—immersing yourself in an environment where you’re forced to speak a foreign language to survive will have you saying c’est la vie in no time—realistically, not all of us have the time, or the money to do so. Maybe that’s why more and more people are turning to online education to learn a second language. Before you consider enrolling in an online course to learn that conversational Spanish, or decide to use Babble to perfect your German, here are some pros and cons of e-learning.

More Interactive.  Most online programs have established unique and innovative teaching techniques for their students— something perfect for those who dislike the monotonous structure of lectures and grammar lessons stripped straight from the pages of a boring textbook.  Lesson plans are structured to be more interactive, using numerous games, audio files and videos to teach and administer tests and quizzes.  Some online programs also contain interactive, speech-recognition software.  Students speak into the microphone installed in most lab tops or desktop computers and the software checks for pronunciation and accent through a scoring system—100 percent is perfect, 0 percent is awful. This is ideal for those who are uncomfortable with direct communication or embarrassed to speak in a class setting.

Flexible Schedule. While most in room-classes require you to have a specific set meeting time, for instance every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from noon to 1 p.m., online courses are designed for those who need a more flexible schedule.  Some programs also allow you to download lesson plans on your smart phone, perfect for those who are constantly on the go. It’s important to remember that foreign languages do need to be practiced daily in order to properly retain the information, especially for firs-level students. If you are the type who is pressed for time and review lesson plans in sporadic chunks, try changing your settings on your phone and social networking sites such as Facebook to the foreign language you are learning. It’ll help you retain information and learn at a faster pace if things that you do in your daily routine is in the foreign language.

Must be independent. Most prefer learning foreign languages online because they can do so in the confinements of their own home. However, if you are generally not a person who likes to work independently then this route might not be ideal for you. While most instructors in a traditional classroom setting allow students to work together to complete some assignments and encourage students to hold conversations to improve language skills, online courses do not provide this added social interaction. There is no direct exchange of communication. That’s not to say that instructors are not available for assistance or that’ll you’ll be completely isolated from other students, there may be discussion boards, for example, but one must be independent in order to complete assignments.

Unqualified professors. Despite the fact that most of the assignments are completed independently, students will still depend on instructors and or tutors to point out mistakes and to give praise when they do something outstanding. But it’s important that you know that your instructor gives praises and corrects mistakes accordingly—meaning  research your online program of choice and see if the instructor is suitable to teach the foreign language. Are they native speakers? Do they have a high pass/fail percentage? It’s quite possible that you get stuck with an instructor that is unqualified if you decide to pursue an online course that it is not accredited.  Just do some research before you commit your time, and money, to a certain program online.

This guest post is contributed by Olivia Coleman, who writes on the topics of online colleges and universities.  She welcomes your comments at her email olivia.coleman33@gmail.com.

More about Shannon Kircher

Shannon Kircher is the founder and editor of The Wanderlust Effect, formerly The Traveling Scholar. Founded in 2009, she has continued to document her international escapes as an expat in Europe and the Caribbean. She is a former resident of London and San Francisco and now calls the island of Anguilla home. In addition to The Wanderlust Effect, Shannon is the Director of Marketing for the Frangipani Beach Resort and is on the Board of Directors of the Omololu International School in Anguilla.