Guest Post: Online Resources Get the World Talking

Today’s guest post takes a look at online education’s contribution to the world of language learning and the possibility of turning kids into hyperpolyglots capable of speaking an enormous number of languages. Despite the hyperbole, the access to instruction does have huge potential to teach kids languages, something often discussed on MultilingualMama, while they are young, the best time to learn them. The author, Jennifer Jenkins, is a freelance writer and researcher at http://www.onlineuniversity.net/, a resource for any student considering taking online classes.

 Online Resources Get the World Talking

Despite the benefits that come from speaking multiple languages, fewer than 1 in 4 Americans make the effort to become bilingual. Recently, however, a number of businesses have made language acquisition easy and inexpensive. As these new tools become common knowledge, Americans may start to feel some peer pressure to learn how to speak an additional language – maybe more.

Some people even learn dozens.

These people are referred to as hyperpolygots, or people who knows how to speak many languages. To break down the latin, it means literally more than (hyper) – multiple (poly) – tongue (glot). Until recently, hyperpolyglots, especially those outside of Europe and parts of Asia, were extremely rare, due to the sheer number of resources required to acquire such a vast number of languages.

Think about it.

The average price per class at a state university is $900 and most schools require two or three classes before students can graduate; however, this is far from learning a language. For the most part and most people, learning a language requires some degree of immersion and constant practice over an extended period of time. This means that learning a language through a university program, the way many in the United States attempt the endeavor today, can cost families thousands of dollars.

One reason few Americans to do it.

That said, something that cannot be overlooked when trying to understand why so few Americans are bi or multilingual, is the cultural and idiomatic dominance the United States and their native language English has had over the world for six decades. Americans simply haven’t needed to learn another language because the world uses their language, essentially, as the common tongue. However, as the Internet makes the world a much smaller place and emerging economies rise to power, the arrogance of English speakers is starting to diminish. Learning a second language is now a powerful asset in a sluggish economy and in some parts of the country, native English speakers are quickly becoming a minority.

However, technology has also presented North Americans a number of solutions to the problem it has caused.

The most formal of these is in the form of virtual education technology. There are now a number of teaching tools that can cut that cost down to an eighth of traditional brick and mortar classes. Rosetta Stone, for example, charges $1,000 to bring its students to full fluency. While many might think that learning a language from a computer program is impossible, these advanced teaching tactics actually seem to cut down on learning time. Apparently, knowing more about the brain and how it makes connections makes it easier to teach it things, like language.

Beginner lessons typically show pictures, write vocabulary words, and play a recording of a native speaker voicing the words simultaneously. Lessons introduce grammatical concepts, such as prepositions, by featuring pictures depicting the physical relationships between objects. For instance, the learner will see a picture of a plane with a boy standing underneath it. The phrase contains both objects and the relation between them. Although the lesson will not explicitly state what each individual word means, the student can recognize the objects and by process of elimination, can figure out what the abstract relation word/phrase is. Thus, language learners acquire grammar and other abstract concepts almost subliminally. This program also includes an opportunity to speak with native speakers.

Rosetta Stone is not the only low-cost tool out there, either. A competitor, Tellmemore, brings a similarly advanced product but focuses on accents. The company’s software includes advanced voice recognition tools that provide feedback on the learner’s speech patterns. This piece of software functions as an advanced-level speech instructor, but the website charges $390 per year for total access to its six-language database. Babbel is another inexpensive tool. It charges a low monthly rate for access to everything from beginner’s courses to a 10,000 word set of flashcards, which can be downloaded to mobile devices. For Spanish aficionados, the Instituto Cervantes has an online learning platform supported by a number of  offices in major cities around the world.

Short of immersion, natural conversion is the best tool someone can use when using a language and technology is making this much easier as well. Low cost options for face to face chatting like Google Chats and Skype make it possible for language learners to have actual conversations.There are also more free-form and community generated tools. Sites like italki and livemocha give you a chance to connect with learners around the globe keen on practicing their languages. As English speakers, North-Americans have a huge advantage as it is easy to find someone to barter conversational time in English for any language that catches your fancy. You can also ‘hire’ a formal teacher through the sites at very affordable rates. Additionally, people have begun to join language learning groups on Facebook and LinkedIn, another way in which learning a language has been facilitated on the Internet.

And if you are still not persuaded, remember that Alzheimer’s is rarer in people who have learned to speak another language, particularly during their mid-life. Researchers believe that learning a language at this point prevents brain decay and increases the ability for learners to multitask in all areas of their lives.

With so much value in language acquisition and such small cost to receive the benefits, Americans should start to see how learning another language is a cheap investment in the brain.

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5 thoughts on “Guest Post: Online Resources Get the World Talking

  1. I’ve always wanted to try Rosetta Stone, because it uses such an unconventional way to teach languages. I’m curious if you can add online resources for kids? Specifically we are looking for Mandarin for our 4 kids, (and my husband and I too)! We all are bilingual Spanish-English, and it would also be fun to have more games to help us with the reading/writing for our kids.

    • Hmm. First reply disappeared! Thanks for the comment Becky. It’s funny, I too have always wanted to try Rosetta stone. As far as kids resources, I am in serious need as well and need to get my act together

      InCultureParent (https://www.facebook.com/incultureparent?fref=ts) is actually doing a great series posting a bunch of resources on a different language every week or so. For example, this week is Vietnamese. I saw it via their Facebook Page. I am sure they have already covered Mandarin or will do shortly and do share any good Spanish goodies.

  2. So interesting. I’ve also wanted to try Rosetta Stone for French and while I’ve heard it is effective, I didn’t know a lot about it. I’m even more interested after reading this post.

    • Glad you found the post useful. I am thinking I may try it for Thai when I can save up some money. I really need help with the tones. I keep talking about horses instead of dogs and taxi drivers look at me funny. (they are the folks with whom I generally get to practice my thai!)

      Thanks for visiting and commenting! (PS. I am totally envying your bush/homeschooling experience. Was browsing your blog last night)

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