7 years after teaching languages through lesson podcasts, a once in decline medium seems to be on the rise again thanks to smartphones and tablets. I’ve always been medium agnostic whether it was during the iPod/podcast hype, the awkward years following or the current revival. It’s much more about the intimate personal connection one builds with the message rather than the medium.
Making a Human Connection
In an age where digital learning has become part of the essential learning mix, I strongly believe that the role of the message and the messenger should be celebrated even more, because language learning is social. Personal and parasocial relationships are even more important in digital learning when it’s often done in a self-study fashion without the human dynamics to engage, motivate and encourage the learner. Students want to feel the same kind of human touch as they would in a classroom but with the convenience of it delivered to their location and in their own pace.
Injecting Personality in Learning
I still remember the first time when a ChinesePod user showed up in his suit and tie and carry on luggage when he came by our office. He was from the States, learning Chinese using our product for a while. He spotted me from the office and called out ‘Jenny’ before went on saying that we ‘go back a long way’. But it was the first time we’d ever met. However, my Chinese lessons had been playing in his car everyday for the past 6 months. ‘Your voice and those long drives’, he said. I, a teacher in Shanghai was made massively available to students everywhere in the world by podcast. I still have many lovely moments like this when learners visit us to put a face to the voice and personality that they’ve developed a bond with. Learning on their own, on a computer, smartphone or tablet was made less mechanical and more alive by the personality that delivered the message.
Creating High-Touch Offline Activities
This is something that I wish I had done earlier. People need to meet, mingle and speak the language. But it doesn’t necessarily need to be in the form of a traditional class. Grassroots local meetups could be an option. The meetups have a distinct language learning purpose where learners gather together with the help of a native speaker facilitator to practice the language and meet fellow learners. Technology makes these small dispersed events more purposeful. The meetup could happen around a centralized lecture delivered in the form of a video or audio lesson. The students get together not to listen to a lecture (which they do before hand), but to practice the language taught in that specific lecture. OpenLanguage recently did out first meetup of such kind in Shanghai with a group of English learners using our product. Everyone came prepared. They got to speak a ton of English with native speaker facilitators and each other. It also gave us the opportunity to hear customer feedback firsthand, face to face and helped them with issues on the spot. This is so important for digital products as you don’t usually meet students, see and hear problems firsthand.
Many would agree that a blended model is the way to go for language learning and learning in general. The challenge now is how do we blend so that we preserve and elevate the human aspect of learning, but making it more efficient and productive for both the learner and teacher.