Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Will There Be A Waiver For FLPP Soldiers Who Took the MSA DLPT5?

Will DoD work with students who aready took the Modern Standard Arabic DLPT 5 and have lost their FLPP pay due to lower results? I will try and stay tuned to what happens and see what they decide.

On the other hand, I strongly believe that DLI should look seriously at examining the Iraqi version of the DLPT test. From my observations over this past year, and according to feedback from students of mine who took it, it seems that the Iraqi test was fielded too early and has some serious problems. So far it has not managed to accurately reflect the true performance of students (including some who were native or heritage speakers of the dialect).

Hopefully DLI will use this discovery to strengthen its validation process for other Arabic versions of the DLPT and test thoroughly before releasing anything further in Arabic.

Having said all of the above, I have to say that validaing tests and putting out a solid standard test is a monumental task. They receive lots of whipping that they do not deserve. The current criticism of DLI is mainly a communications problem within DoD. Language requirements differ by the type of work a soldier or an intelligence element performs. What they have tried to do so far is make DLI a do-it-all organization with no flexibility, except for SOCOM (Special Operations Cmmand), in how language instruction is done. That resulted in bottlenecks, cookie-cutter solution for language training, and other problems. I'd rather see DLI play the following roles:

1. DLI should be training grounds for teachers of language rather than teaching students. DLI should focus on train-the-trainer solutions. Language teaching is an art and there is no one absolute way to teach language. A language teacher should be proficient or at least have knowledge of all teaching methods out there. DLI could specialize in providing such training. These trainers can be instructors who work at different JLCs or military educational organizations that train soldiers such as the Special Warfare School at Fort Brag, Air Force Academy and West Point among others. This way DLI would be a force multiplier rather than a bottleneck.

1.1 If you ask, who will teach students if DLI is out of the picture? my answer would be 'decentralization'. JLCs and other military academies and educational organizations plus private language schools should do the training. DLI becomes a certifying authority. If you want to get language training business from DoD then you have to have your instructors be certified by DLI which can include a course attended by instructors at their own expense plus a test taken every 4 years or something like that. This way you open the doors to the private market to take care of the increasing need for training language students and at the same time we know that the instruction received meets DoD standards.

2. DLI should develop curriculum, tests and teaching standards for all of DoD elements. Right now this lack of standards is causing all kinds of fragmentation in teaching, curriculum and not applying the right teaching methods in the right conditions. I have developed a 'Situational Language Teaching method' according to which I teach apply best practices in language teaching to different soldiers depending on where they are in the learning process. I am considering publishing the model here on my blog to get feedback.

DLI on the other hand has some organizational issues. From my personal observation and conversation with several people at DLI it seems to me (and I am open to correction) that there is not much information sharing among teachers, between teachers and students or between administration and faculty and teachers. Lack of a declared teaching methods and organizational memory which prevent study and evaluation as to what are the best practices for language education.

I remain an outsider to DLI and as I said, I am open to being corrected if my assesment is wrong. DLI has been a great resource over they years but I believe it is time for it to adjust its mission and focus on what it can be really good at.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

DLI Suspends DLPT 5

Why am I not surprised. The test was off-the-charts hard, according to many of my students who were 3/3 linguists in the past and scored 1+ on the new test. These were not ordinary students. They have years of experience working with Arabic material much harder than the DLPT and have very exceptional communicative ability.

I believe that DLI needs to do a more thorough job at validation. It has taken me 2 years so far to validate questions for my two upcoming books for Farsi and Iraqi Arabic, so I know how big of a challenge it is (each of my books contains over 400 questions while the DLPT has a total of 128 for both segments.).

Here is a link to the official memorandum suspending the test.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Send Me 12 State Department Employees And They Will Know Arabic At Level 1+ In 5 Weeks

Just read the following article in the Washington Times and it amazes me that despite the desperate need for Arabic speakers the many institutes and colleges that teach Arabic in this country fail to turn out speakers of the language at the rate we need them. This is due, in my opinion to the failure of the methods used and has nothing to do with the difficulty of the language. I personally believe that Arabic is no different than any other language to study and I have the case studies to prove it. But I don't want to discuss that. In response to the State Department's need I am making the following challenge, send me 12 State Department employees, and regardless of their aptitude, I will have them learn MSA (Modern Standard Arabic), or any dialect of Arabic, at level 1+ in listening and speaking in one month of study. Level 1+ being defined as:

Speaking 1+ (Elementary Proficiency, Plus)

Can initiate and maintain predictable face-to-face conversations and satisfy limited social demands. He/she may, however, have little understanding of the social conventions of conversation. The interlocutor is generally required to strain and employ real-world knowledge to understand even some simple speech. The speaker at this level may hesitate and may have to change subjects due to lack of language resources. Range and control of the language are limited. Speech largely consists of a series of short, discrete utterances.

Examples: The individual is able to satisfy most travel and accommodation needs and a limited range of social demands beyond exchange of skeletal biographic information. Speaking ability may extend beyond immediate survival needs. Accuracy in basic grammatical relations is evident, although not consistent. May exhibit the more common forms of verb tenses, for example, but may make frequent errors in formation and selection. While some structures are established, errors occur in more complex patterns. The individual typically cannot sustain coherent structures in longer utterances or unfamiliar situations. Ability to describe and give precise information is limited. Person, space and time references are often used incorrectly. Pronunciation is understandable to natives used to dealing with foreigners. Can combine most significant sounds with reasonable comprehensibility, but has difficulty in producing certain sounds in certain positions or in certain combinations. Speech will usually be labored. Frequently has to repeat utterances to be understood by the general public. (Has been coded S-1+ in some nonautomated applications.)

I have been using my methods with great success with the US Navy, Army and Special Operations for the past 4 years now and I have done this, with relative ease many times.

So, if you are a State Department employee and want to take advantage of the jobs and opportunities offered by the department, call me and I will get you to speak Arabic in 5 weeks. You will get these promotions sooner than you ever thought was possible.

Article published Jun 8, 2007
State desperate for envoys to learn Arabic
June 8, 2007

By Nicholas Kralev
THE WASHINGTON TIMES - The State Department, in an unprecedented move highlighting its desperate need for Arabic speakers, is allowing U.S. diplomats to curtail their current assignments anywhere in the world and begin Arabic language training in September.

Foreign Service officers who are interested in learning Arabic or improving existing skills have until the end of July to apply for more than 100 positions in Arabic-speaking countries that will open in the next two years.

Asked why the program has been initiated only now — nearly six years after the September 11, 2001, attacks and more than four years into the Iraq war — department officials cited a lack of resources.

In a cable to all State Department employees worldwide on Wednesday, George M. Staples, director-general of the Foreign Service, urged them to seriously consider learning "one of the more difficult foreign languages for English speakers to master."

"We recognize that we must improve our ability to understand and influence an area of continuing importance to our nation's well-being," Mr. Staples wrote in the cable, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times.

The department "will consider breaking any tenured employee out of his/her current assignment for a September 2007 language start: for either the two-year program or one-year to improve or take existing Arabic language skills beyond your current level," he wrote.

Junior officers must get tenure within five years of joining in order to remain in the service. That benchmark is separate from the promotion process.

The State Department has about 270 employees with "general professional proficiency" in Arabic — or speaking and reading ability sufficient to do their jobs — according to department figures. Another 700 have limited knowledge.

The department, on which Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen P. Hughes has put a particular emphasis on improving the U.S. image in the Arab and Muslim world, has been criticized repeatedly since 2001 for its shortage of Arabic speakers.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February that her agency is "putting a great effort into language development for our diplomats," and that "this country has been underinvested in the study of critical languages like Arabic, Farsi, even Chinese, for a very long time."

She noted, however, that "this is something that takes awhile to remedy," and officials yesterday could not explain why it took them years to make their latest decision, saying they try to do their best with the available resources.

A report by the bipartisan Foreign Affairs Council this week criticized Miss Rice for failing to request more funds for the department despite her influence with President Bush.

Mr. Staples' cable contained a list of the Arabic-language positions for which employees can bid. Those officers who require only a year of training can apply for jobs opening in 2008, and those who need two years for slots opening in 2009.

Out of the 48 positions next year, 27 are at the embassy in Baghdad. In the so-called Provincial Reconstruction Teams, where State Department personnel work together with the military, Arabic is not required but is strongly encouraged.

Plucking dozens of diplomats out of their current assignments is not likely to be welcomed by the management of the "losing posts," officials said. They insist that there are important countries outside the Middle East and expressed concern that missions in other key areas could suffer from the early departure of some employees.

"The department understands that this initiative may well create some new vacancies at posts in addition to existing vacancies resulting from the deficit at the mid-ranks," said Mr. Staples, who is retiring at the end of July.

"While [we] will make every effort to find a qualified replacement for the losing post, at this time we do not foresee that existing resources will allow us to fill in behind every employee who curtails, nor do we anticipate having alternative-employment funding available to reimburse bureaus for costs resulting from these possible curtailments," he said.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Answers To Common Questions About Ace My language-Arabic Edition (aka Ace The DLPT-Arabic Edition)

I receive so many inquiries about my book Ace My language-Arabic Edition (aka Ace The DLPT-Arabic Edition) and I have written so many people back that it makes sense to post some of my answers here.

What is Ace My Language-Arabic Edition? Did you stop publishing Ace The DLPT-Arabic Edition?

Well, both are actually the same book but here is the story. When I first published Ace The DLPT-Arabic Edition it was a great success with the students. After all, and realistically speaking, that is what every student wants. Two things happened though. The book was a success with Arabic language students outside the military circles and we received distribution deals in Europe and orders from several colleges around the US and Europe.

The second thing that happened was that I met with a friend of mine who is a major and works for DLI and he explained to me that while the success of the book has been established and while the students love it and can see great improvement in their scores after using it, the name of the book makes it sound like its only purpose is to help the students pass the test, which is not the case since our data shows that after using the book learners receive a long term boost in their language ability.

So our decision was, based on our expanded audience, and to clear any misunderstanding we decided to change the name of the brand to Ace My Language.

How does your book help me improve my Arabic?

My book is based on a simple philosophy which is that listening is the key to both learning (more about this in a minute) and maintaining a language. It contains 406 questions selected by a statistical model to guarantee maximum exposure to MSA (Modern Standard Arabic). Many of the book's users have been in the military taking the DLPT regularly over a 15 years period. A great percentage of them have reported that after using the book on their own by listening to the passages and reading the text they managed to score 3's in both the listening and reading parts of the DLPT for the first time in their career.

The book has significantly more listening material in it than any other book on the market. In addition to that it is listening material that is transcribed and you can refer to it in the book. Reading after listening helps a lot. The statistical research behind the book is aimed at increasing your level of Arabic by one level at least on any standard test such as the DLPT and it also increases your real-life performance in the language as it trains you on the highest frequency words and structures used in the language. What makes the book especially useful is that it is based on a massive corpus that contains over 100 million words which I have built, maintained and expanded on since 1994. A corpus is simply a database of articles in the target language. A great portion of my database is tagged and that is what allowed me to build a model that theoretically guarantees that your language performance will increase after using the book.

How do your results compare to Rosetta Stone and Auralog?

Both RS and Auralog are great programs. I actually use RS in my spare time as a part of curriculum I designed to teach myself Farsi. Auralog is a massive program that is also very useful in building your language. If you have the money to buy them or have access to them via the military do use them especially if your unit does not have the money to send you to class.

Results from using such programs actually vary widely. If you are a self-starter, have plenty of time, and a discipline for study plus a high aptitude for the language
learning then you will probably do well. Unfortunately, many people I meet with, especially in military circles, do not have the time to spend behind a computer learning a language. Not many people have access to a laptop they can carry around for those few moments they have to learn a language or maintain what they already know. Consequently, I believe that the best way to start learning a language is in a classroom with an instructor who will speak and apply the language in class over 90% of the time. For the great majority of people I work with RS and Auralog are not enough, on their own, to teach language. You need to start in a class (more in a minute about that). If you already know the language and desire to increase your score then you need a book that will offer you lots of listening material, preferably with that material in a transcribed form also so that you can read 'after' you've listened.

I have designed the Ace My language Series on that premise. The book is accompanied with a CD that has more listening material on it that any other product in the market including RS and Auralog. If you have already finished a class and you are at an ILR of 2 then AML-Arabic Edition will help you move faster to the next level than any other product I know in the market. If you are at an ILR of 0+-1+, and you have learned how to use the Hans Vehr Dictionary the book will definitely deliver results for you but it will be a slightly slower process than the people at an ILR of 2 or above.

Do you have Ace My Language books for other languages or dialects?

In June of 2007 I will publish three new books. One of them is AML-Iraqi Arabic Edition, which will be the first book of its kind with a DVD including hundreds of minutes of native Iraqi Arabic speakers in live, non-scripted conversations with DLPT-like questions attached to each conversation. This product will be far more useful than any other Iraqi product in the market for learning and improving your knowledge of Iraqi Arabic. We will also publish an AML-Farsi edition during the same month.

We also have plans for AML-Spanish in mid 2008, AML-Chinese and AML Korean by late 2008.

Is the value of the book diminished because of the new version of the DLPT ?

Absolutely not. All that changed in the new version is the length of the articles and the number of questions per test article. AML-Arabic Edition is designed statistically to make sure you acquire as much of the language as you can. If you do all 406 questions and give them a good try you will succeed in 'any' standard Arabic test regardless of how the format of the test changes.

Do You offer training classes?

I do indeed. Global Language Systems, a company I own and operate, has been in the business of Arabic language training for the past 4 years. I have taught classes from all branches of the US military including the US Navy, US Army, Rangers and National Guard. I teach classes for MSA Arabic, Iraqi Arabic, Levant Arabic and Egyptian Arabic. Like the books, I have developed a training methodology that enables me to teach students the language at an ILR of 1 (spoken and listening) in 160 hours of classroom interaction (one month, 5 days a week, 8 hours per day).The methodology has been tested with great success by the US Navy and the Army Rangers. My classes are based on the same methodology of the books where students are taught the high frequency words in the language then they are drilled daily in that language using that vocabulary until they can produce it spontaneously.

This is all I have for now. Hope it is useful. I will add more questions and answers as they come in.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Strategies For Language Learning

This is a useful read. I believe in the motor-mouth style. People who actually practice what they learn. Here is my formula for you:

1. Get Pimsleur CDs if it is available for the language you are learning and get a phrase book with some tapes (the Teach Yourself series from McGraw Hill is fantastic and I highly recommend it).

2. Read the phrase book, listen to the tapes over and over and over. Forget about detailed grammar studies in the beginning just listen to those basic phrases and repeat them. learn them well.

3. Use 'every' opportunity to listen and learn. I listen to my tapes in the car, while I work out and sometimes even while I am visiting with family. Use every spare moment.

4. Realize you will not learn overnight but if you are persistent your efforts will start paying off within a year.

5. When you feel that you know the basic vocabulary well start reading websites written in your target language. Get a good dictionary and read, listen, listen, listen.

Learning Styles And Their Effect On Language Learning
by: Frank Gerace
Learning Spanish!

How can you best learn Spanish? It depends on your particular approach to learning. Take a look at the following approaches to learning Spanish. But if you already know where you are, you can skip the following reflections and go back to see what is available for your level ( beginning, intermediate, or advanced ) in Spanish, to sort and search for your specific needs, as well as to read reviews and summaries of the books that strike your interest.


Non-Virgins: Those who studied another language should use the skills they acquired with that language. They know what a conjugation is. They know that verbs are different from nouns. Their previous study gives them some mental hooks to help with their Spanish. They should not throw away their advantage by working on Spanish in a completely conversational manner. They should try to get an overview of some commonplaces in the language. They should get an "old fashioned" grammar and lean heavily on the tables to organize their thought. This type of learner should "invent" Spanish on the basis of what they know of the other language. They will remember a little of the structure of the other language. For example, what is the relation between adverbs and adjectives in Spanish? What is the most common way to express what happened yesterday (past tense)? If the other language is a Western language, they should observe the possible similarities. If the other language is non-Western!

, the very differences can be their starting point to learn the counterparts in Spanish. In short, they should study "the wrong way". This is not for everyone. The learner should know his or herself.

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Brains: These folks will operate much like the Non-Virgins. They will progress better by concentrating on the little points that intrigue them such as the difference in usage between the prepositions "por" and "para" and the verbs "ser" and "estar". To master one or two of these elements so characteristic of Spanish will help the learn build on their conquests to go on to master other things. This analytical approach will be of great utility to the persons with the cerebral learning style.

Motor Mouths: The persons who are not afraid to try out their Spanish will progress very rapidly. These folks probably have a little genetic edge over the rest of us. However, we all should try to put together the pieces as we learn them. If there is no opportunity to talk with someone else, then we can tape our attempts. There are two parts to this early talking practice: confidence and pronunciation. The most important thing is to gain confidence or to be thick-skinned enough to speak your piece, knowing that the exercise will pay dividends. However, we should not put off working on our pronunciation until it is too late and we have given up on acquiring a valid accent. There are too many people who after living years in a Spanish speaking country are perfect in their grammar but who have a typical or even stereotypical English accent. There is no need for that. Spanish is perfectly regular in its phonetics. Motor mouths should also work on their accent!

People People: Anyone who likes being with people and who has a need to communicate will progress quickly in learning a language. Many outgoing, friendly people learn language in the "motor mouth" mode. However, other people without the gifts of the motor mouths can gain valuable exposure to the language by just following their social instincts. These folks, however, should not overlook the need to speak correctly. Although they are not interested in traditional grammar in the same way the "brains" are, they must work at speaking correctly. We all know people who learned English years ago, but still say things like, "I am interested to go with you". You don't want to spend your life in Spanish with a similar easily corrected error. Learn it right as soon as you can. The people people have to stay curious about the language.

Learn-while-doing People: I was told once that the only way to learn French was to sleep with a French woman. The idea behind this is that we learn the expressions and words for the activities we are interested in. People who learn like this try to get their Spanish-speaking friends to accompany them as they cook or fix their car. They find that they learn better when their whole body is involved in learning the new words and phrases. For example, the person who learns the word "serrucho" while sawing a board will remember it better than the person (see the "word collector") who just learns the vocabulary from a list.

Word Collectors: This person may be great at crossword puzzles (Crucigramas) in Spanish but rarely gets to speak it. If you find yourself learning words and not getting any further, break out of it! We once had a houseguest, a young man from Spain who came to learn English. There were times when our family would be talking Spanish, and he would echo all the Spanish words with their English equivalents. He had a great vocabulary but never got around to talking English. This kind of learner should alway make sure that they make up sentences to practice using the new words they learn. They can combine their ability with vocabulary with the "divide and conquer" tactic. They should not only invent sentences to use the new words; they should run through diferent grammatical constructions as the setting for their vocabulary.

Divide and Conquer People: Every learner of a foreign language has to learn to incorporate the learning style of dividing and conquering into their own style. If they are "brains" they should concentrate on one grammatical turn of phrase, such as conditions contrary to fact, (If my grandfather hadn't died, he'd be alive today!) until they can handle it.

The people people should repeat in the same conversation the new expression that they just heard. The same goes for all the others. The only way to learn a language is by following the "swiss cheese" method, nibble away at the things you don't know, and master them until they are all gone.

Lost Latinos: This person should try to remember the nursery rhymes that they might have learned in Spanish. They should run over the names of their cousins and uncles. All of this will loosen up their rusty language skills. They should listen to how others speak "spanglish" and try to figure out the proper way to say things. They should make a game of trying to spot the influence of English in the Spanish they hear at home or in the barrio. This detective work will make them more aware of correcting whatever bad habits they have picked up. However, don't think that these persons have all the advantages. The person learning from scratch will probably spell Spanish words better than those who know a little Spanish. I'm not sure why.

What works for EVERYONE… There are two activities that will help everyone, no matter what their learning style, move forward rapidly: They are: 1. Passive Listening, and 2. Pattern Response Drills.

1. Passive Listening. Everyone should keep the Spanish radio on as much as possible. Keep the radio or TV on while you doing other things. It has to be the sea of sound that you swim in while you are beginning your study of Spanish. You don't have to concentrate on it; you are not listening to try to understand. After a while you won't hear it but it will be affecting you. Little by little you will begin to anticipate the rhythm of the language, even before you understand everything. You will also begin to recognize certain words. You will begin to hear "beyond" the differences in pronunciation of different people and recognize the underlying word. Once you clearly hear a word or phrase, you can look it up and progressively expand your vocabulary.

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2. Pattern Response Drills. You have to run through all the permutations of the new expressions that you learn. For example, suppose you just learned to say. "Pedro tiene cuatro a os" rather than translating from the English incorrectly, "Pedro es cuatro". Now to make this new element of the language stick with you, you should go on substituting different ages and the names of different people. You have to be able to say comfortably, "Mar a tiene cuatro a os." "Juan tiene ocho a os." "Yo tengo treinta a os." " Cu ntos a os tienes t ?" "Nosotros tenemos cuarenta a os." This type of drill is necessary for all the different learning styles.

Prince Harry To Learn Arabic

Prince Harry is joining his troops in Iraq to fight and is going to learn Arabic. That is very intriguing. He will probably be the first monarch to learn the language.

Britain's Prince Harry, the 22-year-old grandson of Queen Elizabeth II, will be sent to fight in Iraq, the British media reported Sunday. The prince is reported to be due to start special preparations with his regiment for combat in Iraq which is to include Arabic language training, according to the British tabloid newspaper, The News of the World.

The prince, the younger son of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana, joined the Blues and Royals elite regiment after completing his officer training at Sandhurst military academy last year.

Harry has himself said that he wants "to fight alongside" his men.

A spokesman for the palace confirmed that the prince was to take part in the training, but said that this did not mean he was going to Iraq, the newspaper reported.

The prince has always said he is determined to do battle with his 100-strong unit, A Squadron of the Blues and Royals, part of the Household Cavalry.

They begin a six-month tour of Iraq in the spring. Before that, they are expected to take part in war games and exhaustive preparations for conflict.

E-learning Curriculum For Your Mobile Device

This is a new trend in the industry. I have been trying to use my iPAQ with my Farsi language PDFs for the past couple of months but it is not the comfortable. It is a great tool though for sound files and I enjoy listening to my Farsi sound files on it. I would be happy for now with a PDF reader that can read Farsi and display the files correctly.

Atlantic Link's ground breaking rapid e-learning authoring tools have taken a hugely significant leap forward. The software now allows courses to be designed specifically for the small screens of Windows Mobile devices. This means that courses are not only able to be run directly on Windows Mobile devices, but also look superb as all the functionality of the ground breaking authoring tools can be applied to small screen design.

UK (PRWeb) January 26, 2007 -- Atlantic Link's ground breaking rapid e-learning authoring tools have taken a hugely significant leap forward. The software now allows courses to be designed specifically for the small screens of Windows Mobile devices. This means that courses are not only able to be run directly on Windows Mobile devices, but also look superb as all the functionality of the ground breaking authoring tools can be applied to small screen design.

MD Mike Alcock explains, "The traditional problem with courses on mobile devices is that they've never been designed for the smaller screen and are essentially shrunken versions of courses designed for viewing on PC screens. To tackle this we have enabled our software to author at the native screen size of a Windows Mobile device. Because the output of Content Point is Flash, the courses still contain all of the high quality and interactivity of Atlantic Link's usual output, but with the benefit of small screen design. Quizzes, games, activities, audio, video and Flash animations are all supported and play back perfectly, giving users the richest possible course experience."

The courses can be deployed locally (from the hard drive of the phone) or from the Internet, giving users a true mobile learning experience. Authoring is undertaken with the same software that is already delivering the fastest e-learning authoring for major companies across the globe.

Mike Alcock continues, "The potential applications for this technology are huge and almost mind-boggling. Tourist guides, language training, product training and updates, maintenance guides and training, medical training, interactive museum guides, schools training, the list is almost endless. With the government focusing on 'personalised learning', we believe that we are at the forefront of the next wave of e-learning. Because our rapid e-learning software is so incredibly quick at producing courses, content producers now have a method for producing huge volumes of highly interactive content for mobile devices in hours instead of weeks. Needless to say we are enormously excited about the possibilities."

Atlantic Link are demonstrating the new software on Stand 14 at next week's Learning Technologies Exhibition at Olympia 2.

If you want to see a simulation of the course running on a mobile device, visit here.

If you have a Windows Mobile, view a sample of Atlantic Link's mobile e-learning here.

Atlantic Link Contact
Mike Alcock, +44 (0)115 906 1375
Media Contact

Andrew Third, Integra Communications, +44 (0)115 906 1377

Using Skype And The Internet For Language Instruction

This is a great article on using Web 2.0 technology for language learning. I have been aware of people using Skype for Korean and other languages for the past couple of years. The only requirement I think should be there is a set of curriculum and method of instruction that fits the medium and a way to measure progress otherwise it is a great medium to use for language learning.

Skype as a language-learning tool
Prerna Rao
Hatchet Reporter
Posted: 1/29/07

Most GW professors would rather hear nails scraped across a blackboard than allow their students to talk on the phone or connect to the Internet during class, but professor Richard M. Robin lets his students do just that.

Starting this week, students in Robin's Intensive Basic Russian, course will be making some long distance phone calls from the classroom using Skype, the free Internet phone service, to talk to Russian students on the other side of the world.

"In a classroom setting, a lot of the Russian that students hear will be from teacher-talk or student-to-student conversation, which is basically fake," said Robin, who began using Skype as a classroom tool almost two years ago. "This enables (students) to make their Russian communications and conversational skills better."

As the Russian Language Director at GW and the author of the best selling first- and second-year Russian textbook in the U.S., "Golosa," Robin takes Russian language education to a whole new level by using the free Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) during the spring semester of the academic year-long course.

"This only starts halfway through the year because only then they will be able to carry on a conversation beyond 'Hi, how are you?'" said Robin, who has been teaching at GW since 1981.

Robin said the free price tag of VoIP programs like Skype and ICQ Audio/Video is what makes all these real-time international conversations possible during class time. With a microphone, Web cam and Internet connection, Robin's students are practicing Russian with native speakers. Robin said he believes new technologies like Skype will play a key role in the future of foreign-language programs.

"Right now Skype is a very hot commodity, almost exotic, so a lot of (professors) don't use it. Twenty years from now when I retire, it won't be so exotic, so I'm sure it will be in use like this in many more classrooms," Robin said. "Foreign distance education will be a much more common thing."

This week, Robin's students will get to speak with a former Russian exchange student from the Plekhanov Institute of Economics in Moscow, who lived with Robin's family two years ago.

Senior Alexandre DeAguiar, who took Robin's intensive Russian course last year, said using free Internet phone programs to speak Russian with native speakers made learning the language a more realistic experience.

"When we're in a classroom environment, we're locked into grammar learning and things like that," he said. "But once we get to talk to someone, it becomes spontaneous and we get to hear and say things that we have never before."

"I feel that it actually makes our thinking and language skills much better," he added. "I remember how not-ready to talk I was, we all were, and after later conversations I was able to detect improvement in my ability to produce language."

Although Robin acknowledged that speaking to people in Russia won't give his students a "linguistic breakthrough" by itself, he calls the program "motivational."

"The kids like it way better than communicating (just) with each other," he said. "I find that they are more enthusiastic, and the conversation is just better."

In the past, Robin has set up international conversational exchanges using his contacts with Russian students, families and professionals.

"How I choose the people who will be talking to my students is that they are mostly personal connections, like friends I have in Russia or their families," he said. "I plan on keeping it at my own personal connections. There are also lots of little bureaucratic issues to deal with if I wanted to expand it, but what I'm doing now is effective."

Robin said that despite the program's advantages, the eight-hour time difference between D.C. and Russia "makes finding people in Russia willing to do this very difficult."

Broadband connectivity there is also an issue, he explained.

"There, the economic situation is reverse. Here (in America), students go to school and expect to get and receive awesome Internet connections through campus and in their dorms," he said. "There, it's the opposite. Russian schools want students to have the better connections at home."

DeAguiar said he appreciated the experimental nature of Robin's class, and recommends its usefulness to all foreign language students.

"Every other language should get involved in something like this," he said. "Professor Robin's class helped me more than anything else when I studied abroad last semester in St. Petersburg, Russia. He really likes what he's doing and is serious about it."

© Copyright 2007 GW Hatchet

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Problem Is In Human Resources Not The Military

The situation of language training in the military is far more complex than this article suggests. The military has done lots of great things to train its soldiers in the different languages that are needed. The military produced hundreds of new curriculum , books, learning management systems, great content. The US Military today has all the tools that it needs to train.

The main problem that the US military has, and that any army would have for that matter, is a human resources one. There is a severe shortage of skilled language teachers , and I emphasize on teachers, who understand what the military wants and who understand how to utilize the tools that DoD has made available during the past 5 years. Academic linguists care about research more than teaching, and when they teach in a military setting they assume that you need 4 years of college to master the language. I mean, there are literally some Arabic classes out there where 3 months are spent learning the alphabet, script and a few basic words. That is a waste of time and resources!

Outside of academia there is a lack of language speakers educated in the target language country who have the skills to teach language.

So the problem in a nutshell, as I see it, is lack of skilled teachers, who are skilled in the different methods of language training, who are available to serve. that is why we see that companies like McNeill Language Services for example use native speakers whose profession was driving a cab. Nothing wrong with cab drivers, but that would be like me driving a cab (I know nothing about it).

That is why at Global Language Systems I have developed methods by which we train native speakers who were educated in the target language country (college education minimum, high scholl for some rare languages). We also use language training methods that are suitable for the needs of the military based on customizing courses down to the mission level and also make sure that they acquire the language within the shortest period of time possible. For example, it takes the US military right now about 400 hours of initial training to get a soldier to level 0+ or 1 in Iraqi Arabic. We do that within 120-160 hrs of classrom time, almost one-fourth the time the military needs.

One company like mine cannot solve the problem but what is really needed is for the DoD to start focusing on training their instructors and establish a base-line training methodology, or a template, that is applied throughout the military whether internally or by contractors. That template should focus on methods that have been proven to help students acquire language in a short amount of time. Such a template is lacking in the US military and its language schools. Teachers control the teaching methods and even the curriculum most of the time. Superb curriculum that has been developed by the DoD goes ignored.

Bottom line is, fix the human resources problem and you fix a great portion of the language training problem in the US military. I don't think that you can snp your fingers and get Arabic speakers (as Tony Snow said in his press briefing today) but I believe that the problem can be solved within a very short period if the human resources were steered in the right direction.