Open education, as a modern day concept and application, has managed to raise quite a few eyebrows with the privileges and opportunities it provides for its students. In terms of language learning, one of the primary concerns for students of all types and ages, open education platforms and programs seem to be offering numerous options as well. Whether it be distance-learning programs offered by experienced linguists, in-depth online resources based on decades-old theoretical teachings or a virtual assignment assistant that helps students cope with language exercises, open education is expected to break new ground for students aspiring to learn new languages or improve on their existing skills. In any given inquisition, balancing possibilities and realities is important for the sake of objectivity and constructivism and this new phenomenon thus needs to be examined further on, based on mainstream media opinions and theoretical research within the field.
The introduction of Artificial Intelligence, Artificial Reality, and Virtual Reality has been long anticipated by the world and so far, the collaboration between these technologies and education has also made a significant impact on students’ and educators’ lives. Language learning seems to be a new area of interest for such purposes, as buusu’s Alexa Bot is currently offering hands-free language exercises, Google’s new wireless headphone set is providing its users with real-time translation services and Monday VR is offering an extensive foreign language-learning application for all those interested. These developments have spawned a new era of debate with a dystopic side claiming that technology will eventually render human intervention obsolete and an optimistic camp claiming that there will always be room for human beings for language learning and related applications. Data and information in large quantities are supposedly broadening horizons whereas William Poundstone, the author of ‘Head in the Cloud’, believes that all such developments come with a cost of ignorance. In order to overcome such a shortcoming, human beings need to understand language and its connection with technology through the prism of cultural relevance. Michael Haugh, a professor of Linguistics and Communication, chips in on the issue to state that the need to learn languages is still human and therefore technology should be utilized in a certain way that will enhance human capabilities and not replace them. According to him, soon blended learning modules will be massively popular, integrating face-to-face learning with online learning apps and technologies, while increasing efficiency and productivity in the process.
Duolingo, a new online sensation that makes it possible for aspiring learners to utilize their browsers or smartphones to access online language-related resources, has been in the spotlight for some time now. Recently, its developers addressed one of the most intriguing issues related to their system, real-time online support, and introduced a new generation of text-based chat-bots. The new technology will be aiding Duolingo users with conversational skills and everyday life scenarios such as “ordering food, visiting a tourist attraction, shopping for clothing or catching a cab.” Having an algorithmic software to respond to user inquiries, the bots will continue conversations initiated by users and react to preset types of user input. The company’s CEO Luis von Ahn recently made a public announcement, stating that conversations are some of the most important elements in language learning because, through them, students can master their vocabulary skills and develop more sophisticated comprehension abilities to build confidence on their way up. The bots’ algorithms have been intensively researched into and developed and therefore they will be able to pick-up on complicated statements and expressions to provide in-depth answers to user questions. Currently, the system operates on computers through browsers as well as Android and iOs systems on smartphones, offering courses in a variety of languages including French, English, Russian, Spanish, and German. In the future, the developers wish to expand the number of languages and are seeking cooperation from language experts on the issue.
Bilingualism, the capability to speak two languages with high skills and capability, is a serious issue in the developed world where immigration is a socially and culturally accepted reality. Spanish, the world’s most spoken second language and America’s most popular foreign language, is one of the languages that have been defining western lifestyle for decades and recent developments in interactive media and digital technology are signaling a new era of popularity and acceptance for the language. Being a compatible language with English, Spanish is also a rather easy language to learn structurally speaking, providing ease of use and technicality for its speakers, making it a great source of improvement in conjunction with the mentioned developments. However, there are still things that need to be done by human beings and using media and devices to support Spanish learning is one of them. Interactive media content and portable gadgets are always in the help of those who wish to supplement their learning on the go. E-books in English and Spanish are also a great source of aid for such people because they are largely available to the public and have specific exercises and tutorials to help learners. Spanish TV has also recently become a popular source of information and entertainment, being easily accessible through TV sets or internet technologies. Its programs are colorful and entertaining, meaning that watching them will help the learner develop a sense of affinity and proximity with the language. Watching movies with Spanish voiceovers is a great idea as learners can pause or rewind if and when they do not understand the content. Spanish documentaries are becoming more popular and they provide useful, academic information in the language, enabling their audiences to understand deep and intriguing concepts in Spanish. Finally, Spanish apps and digital storytelling tools are massively popular and by using them, Spanish learners can access and create crucial educational material as supplements to their curriculums.
Governments are not shying away from participating in the new trend of online language learning and recently, the British government-funded ‘The Open School for Languages’ project received £5.4 million in grants to begin its operations. One of the system’s clients is the Bradford City Football club with the club’s management seeking to help its squad members integrate faster by having them take online language courses in Spanish. The director of operations, Dave Baldwin, states that more than six of their players have voluntarily signed up for the courses, with the trend having started following the club’s decision to sign of the Chilean star Billy Topp. The club is also offering such programs to its younger, upcoming generations of football players, as the British government has no plans to make language courses mandatory at public schools in the near future. Although football players have signed up for courses, the Open School for Languages system is at large targeted at younger people aged between 11 and 16 coming from all backgrounds in the British society, providing them with a variety of online materials relevant to their world while also providing fresh teaching resources for their educators. Currently, the project is intended to provide education in French, German, Spanish, and Mandarin while household names such as Cambridge Education Language Center have already publically announced their interest in becoming a part of the system. The system intends to provide its students with a life-long capability and advantage of speaking another language, picking up on the globalist developments observed in today’s world.
European societies have always taken pride in their cultural exports and language has always been one of such products. German, the internationally acclaimed language of science and philosophy, has recently become a popular subject among British students between the ages of 18 and 30, showing the linguistic interests and demands of the millennials. However, the British government’s recent ‘Brexit’ decision seems to have turned the tides around as a recent study by the British Council has revealed that in comparison with the 34,300 students taking A-level German courses in 1997, the same number dropped to 19,200 for 2018, with predictions for 2019 showing an even lower number of 17,505. Angela Kaya, the director of the Goethe-Institut in London, believes that Brexit’s wave of isolation and monolingualism will soon fade away, stating that the centuries-old European culture will help the open-minded learners to pay more attention to the technical yet aesthetic nature of German language. Kaya believes that applications such as Memrise, Babbel, and Duolingo are perfect for learning German because the most obvious obstruction to learning and mastering the language is the difficult way the nouns and participles are formed in it. However, a brief introduction to the logic behind the linguistics will surely enable aspiring students to study Friedrich Hölderlin, Goethe, or Heinrich Heine in authentic German, comprehending the beautiful simplicity behind the language’s outlook. The author, John le Carre, recently quoted the great Mark Twain with his words ‘some German words are so long that they have a perspective’ in an Observer interview, but it is becoming increasingly easier for the new generations of German learners to understand the dynamics of the language thanks to the mentioned technologies. As a result, such pupils are expected to fall in love with the German way of life in the future, paying homage to presumably one of the most advanced and constructive cultural tools to understand European identity and heritage.