Potentials of digital media in second language learning

Interview with Dr. Rola Naeb

Can you tell our readers something about you personally and your work as a scientist and lecturer?

© Jan Deutekom 20087/31/2017: My name is Rola Naeb, I am a lecturer in Applied Linguistics and TESOL at Northumbria University. I am also the program leader for the MA Applied Linguistics and TESOL. I am very interested in educational technology, and particularly the use of user-behavior tracking technologies to better understand the learning process. What I mean by this is collecting information about what learners actually do in real time. As highlighted by many researchers, such data can provide valuable insights into both second language learning and pedagogical design ’ by ascertaining precisely what learners do or do not do and determining whether there is a relationship to learning outcomes and the learning process‘ (Chun 2013: 256).

What are the potentials of digital media in second language learning?

There is no doubt that the new advances in technology and digital media continue to define and shape language teaching and learning. The impact of these advances led to new needs, new contexts for language learning and new forms of communication. Schrooten (2006) summarizes potential of technology for language learning in the following points
  • it allows a high degree of differentiation where individual needs and abilities are met;
  • it elicits a high degree of learner motivation and involvement
  • it offers enriched content in different modes
  • it frees the teacher’s time so s/he can work with individual learners
These points are as true today as they were in 2006. With the affordances of technology and ease of use and access of digital media, literacy is no longer limited to the ability to read and write. For example, learners will need to know how to fill online forms and how to find information about services and products online and so on.

Do digital learning programs rather support people with a strong background in language learning who already know how to organize their learning activities successfully? Or are they also helpful tools for educationally disadvantaged people?

Digital learning programs are advantageous to all language learners and more so for the educationally disadvantages learners. For those with strong background in language learning or those autonomous learners, it will help accelerate their learning journey by allowing them access to materials and tools to achieve their individual targets.

For those educationally disadvantaged learners, technology-enhanced learning programs also allow them access to materials that are tailored to their needs and pace of learning. Such materials can help learners with their emergent writing skills. Programs such as yours (language learning app „Einstieg Deutsch“) given them access to phrases and dialogues that enhance their ability to meet their immediate needs to communicate in everyday life. We should not also forget that a rudimentary knowledge of IT/technology will help them with their lives where technology is a basic part of everyday living. People with no or limited IT skills are narrowing their employment opportunities

Do you know anything about how refugees from Syria and the Middle East do successfully learn languages – on the run and in the countries where they stranded?

© DVVMost refugees, even those illiterate ones, know how to use smart phones, at least the basic features. Some refugees with limited or no education background have navigated their way around Europe using apps on their mobile phones; these include GPS apps and also translation and interpreting apps. The journeys have had considerable impact on the refugees’ linguistic abilities but much more on their problem solving abilities which, utilized appropriately, could lead to autonomous language learners.

In my view, survival is one of the main reasons why refugees learn the language of the country they are stranded in. They will have to communicate to survive. What they end up doing is memorizing phrases and utterances as chunks and using them to meet their immediate needs.
What we need is more research into how practitioners, material designers and teachers can use the knowledge and skills acquired through the journeys to enhance the learning experience of the learners.