Reflecting on the rush for people to continue with work, studies, meetings, happy hour encounters, etc on zoom, Skype and any other video conferencing platform I came to the conclusion we risk overusing that technology to our own loss.
Even The Guardian who tries to be balanced in issues other than politics, is adding fire to the game. Look at the headline below:
“If you need to go for a walk… why not wander around a video game?” Nothing left to the imagination or, gulp, to actual physical activity. But that would be subject for another post.
My point is that we risk missing out on the development of a great skill – especially if we’re teaching language learners: listening. Back in the 1990s we already could see the lack of time and mobility some students were facing to attend face to face classes. So I started teaching English lessons over the phone – “Phone Classes” – with great levels of success and student satisfaction. They ranged from 15 to 30 minutes a session which could be repeated 2 or 3 times along the week.
As a teacher of English and Spanish for nearly 30 years I can tell you that listening is one of the hardest part of language learning. Yes, they need to build confidence when speaking or writing and reading – they’re all important – but when it comes to listening especially if living in a country where L2 (second of foreign language) is not ubiquitous…
Yes, their hearing may be even better than mine but we can’t overlook the fact that many are so busy speaking or looking at “bells and whistles” that they can’t really focus on listening what others are telling them.
Yes, you may argue that there are tons of movies and TV shows to watch, internet radio is here to stay, yada yada yada (since we’re talking about sitcoms) but the default language exposure will be the learners’ L1 (mother tongue) – they may even watch a video in English but with Portuguese subtitles – “I just wanted to decompress, teacher Mo” – “I needed a break so I listened to songs but didn’t any pay attention to the lyrics”, they would say. And to add insult to injury video lessons are having the same problem. Entertainment instead of Education.
The teacher may present the best data show software in the market but progress will be slow even if entertainment is high.
Phone classes (no eyes necessary) – a couple of students of mine have stuck to the system and benefited from it – helps learners develop and enhance their listening skills – they have to really understand what somebody is telling them with no body language.
Of course, I can pre-teach them the vocabulary, tell them to research the topic we will be discussing online and even send them a sample interview, dialogue, for example. But when on the phone they won’t be focused on the teacher’s hair or makeup or PJs but on the sound the teacher is producing.
Quite often in my teacher talking time, I say what I imagine could be a new word in the target language (they wouldn’t know, for example, what a “field hospital” is but would for sure have heard about it in their mother tongue these days). So I usually say: “well, I was driving past a field hospital they’re setting up near my home for Covid-19 patients… how do you say “hospital de campanha” in English?” And they will always glibly answer “field hospital” – just to check if they were listening and following what I was saying.
So to sum up, not every class must be visual 100% of the time, learners will greatly benefit from extra listening practice.