Technology: Bridging the Language Barrier

I just had the pleasure of collaborating with our Spanish as a Second Language (SSL) teacher on a family-tree video project. Her students, spanning 4 grade levels, more than a half-dozen nationalities, and a wide breadth of Spanish skills were finishing a unit on the family. To show off their new learning, and to apply some solid tech skills, we designed a video project. The intended language goals were to have students practice their new family vocabulary and Spanish adjectives through both writing and narration. On the tech side, students would learn how to create a high quality video through balancing sound, cropping images, and editing it all together. Overall, students did a great job carefully and purposefully creating their family videos. While the power of video as a learning tool was evident throughout, it was the unintended example of how technology acts as a powerful bridge, that was the most moving.

It was day one and we just finished showing off a few video examples; one quality video and one poor one, full of exaggerated, but typical, mistakes. The students giggled at the ridiculous as they logged into their laptops and began to work on their video. In the first minutes it was clear how learning to collaborate was essential for their success in this class and how technology plays such an important role. For this small group of students, who speak Korean, Polish, Japanese, and other languages at home, and most of whom’s only common language at school is basic English and Spanish, technology is the bridge that allows them all to communicate. Keyboard settings are effortlessly changed back and forth from Spanish to Korean and back again. Google Translate helps them find that just right word to add to their writing. Video tutorials help them not only hear instructions but also to see them. Students are able to download images of their family at school uploaded to Google Drive from home. They access school websites from the other side of the world showing their friends pictures of their cousins and families from ‘home’. And through this, they lean over again and again to show off their knowledge to their peers and to smile at cute pictures of younger brothers and sisters.

It was one of those many moments why being an educator is the best. Watching how these students have learned a wide host of collaboration and communication skills in order to get along and to figure it all out was inspiring. It further reconfirms my belief in the power of technology in creating a better and more connected world. Instead of students being isolated on an island of different languages and cultures, they use technology to build a bridge, connecting them to their learning and more importantly, to each other.

5 Ways to Bridge the Barrier with Technology

  • Have students make a video – having students use images, text, and music in a video to demonstrate their learning can be great for students still new to a language. Having them record narration provides a great opportunity to practice verbally and allows them to hear themselves! Finally, personal videos can help your students build community and connections! Watch my tutorial on how to create a video with images, text, background music, and narration using iMovie.
  • Students can record a Podcast – it can be intimidating for students learning a language to speak aloud in front of their peers. Recording a podcast can make students feel more comfortable. Also, if done consistently throughout the year, students (and teachers and parents) can hear firsthand their progress.
  • Use Google Drawings – Google Drawings is a powerful and intuitive tool to create basic graphics (Here are 10 ways to Use Google Drawings for Learning). Have students create visuals for new vocabulary, sort new words, or demonstrate their learning with a graphic design project!
  • Create Your Own Video Tutorialsusing video tutorials has been a game-changer for me as a teacher. It’s pure magic! By creating your own tutorials, you’re able to tailor your lessons to your exact students’ needs and provide a familiar voice your students are comfortable with. Having your students create their own tutorials can also be a powerful, and empowering, learning activity!
  • Gamify the Lesson – use Kahoot to introduce or review a topic with your students. The fast-paced and engaging game will help even the most shy of students break out of their shell! Play in Team Mode to get students talking!

How has technology helped your new language learners grow? What tools help you break down barriers in your classroom? Comment below!

Header image remixed using the following: “Bridge to Success’s Main Logo” by Bridge to Success licensed under CC Share Alike 3.



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