Saturday, May 19, 2007

How do you teach language online?

The real trick with an application that relies on user-generated material is to ensure some kind of overall quality without sacrificing individual creativity. My plan is to design the framework in such a way as to encourage certain general principles in the teaching while allowing more or less free choice of material.

In addition to the design, I'm planning on providing some examples for people to work from, which will also have a nice effect of making it easier for people to get started with a language. I'd also like, eventually, to set up moderators for some of the languages to make some modules and pick out the best from the user-generated content.

Through my experience with language classes, books, and computer programs, I've come up with some design principles for the app. Tell me what you think.

Language independent and immersive

The language module should ideally only refer to the language that's being learned. There are several advantages to doing it this way.
  • The application can be used by anyone, regardless of their native language.
  • The learner associates words and phrases directly with the idea rather than translating.
  • It's a more intuitive, as opposed to an analytical, approach.
  • It allows the learner to really discover the language which leads to better retention. Plus it's more fun that way.

I want to incorporate the idea of flow used in games. The idea is to keep a person at the point where they can just reach the challenge in front of them. If it's too far out of reach, or if it's too easy, it isn't fun.

The presentation of the modules is as a game, and I want it to be fun. I'd like to encourage people to have fun and be creative with the modules. One idea I think would be nice is if the modules had distinct characters and voices so that you could follow along and discover more about them as you move through the modules.


One of the common criticisms of language learning applications is that they don't teach the kind of conversational language you need just to get around. This has been true in my own experience. I'd like the lowest level modules to give the script and this background.

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