Transforming the Economics of Language Learning (Part 1)

Posted on 21. Jan, 2015 by in Language Learning, Trends

Learning another language for professional purposes takes too long and costs too much.

For many recreational learners, the economics, logistics and reliability of acquiring another language are not all that important. For them, the joy is in the journey, and concepts such as time to proficiency, reliability of outcome, or the availability of personnel for operations are not front of mind.

government language training

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It’s different when individuals or organizations need better language capability to address military, diplomatic, commercial, medical or similar professional requirements. Suddenly the economics are critical. The more disruptive and costly something is, the less it can be used. Imagine that someone is removed from their normal job and sent to a schoolhouse somewhere for language training. Add up expenses for travel, facility, teachers and administrators, student food and lodging. Add to that the estimated dollar value of the disruption to operations because that person is now unavailable to do his or her job.

A two-week training course, typical for many professional skills, is expensive enough, but developing language proficiency takes much, much longer. Beyond the beginner levels, even two more months of training moves the needle only slightly.

America’s success in defense, commerce, security and diplomacy is not optional, and it is widely recognized that to succeed the US needs much better language skills. Unfortunately however, the US is infamously not very language-capable–it’s hard to hire the needed language skills–and budgets are tight.

The only practical solution is to train languages much faster, more compellingly, and more reliably. As Dr. Richard Brecht, founder of our national research lab for language put it, “Train in half the time.” And train with certainty. Don’t let skills fall off after training. At Transparent Language, we’ve made that our mission. We serve many types of customers, including libraries, schools, and corporations, and we love anyone who loves language learning or teaching. But our primary mission is supporting “language transformation” in the most stringent and rigorous language training schools and programs in the US Government.

Smart people have been teaching and learning languages for centuries, so is there any hope that all of a sudden we will be able to “train in half the time,” more reliably, more visibly, more enjoyably, and with less fall-off after training? Surprisingly, the answer is “unequivocally, yes.” Emerging technology makes it possible. Finding one’s way around was revolutionized almost overnight by GPS and mobile devices, and that same degree of change is now available to language learning and teaching, including for less-common languages and for language for specialized professional purposes.

Technology is not the total solution; it’s just the new ingredient in the mix. It’s true you can get better at a language without any technology, or with only technology, but we have found that the best answer by far is blending human instruction or coaching with emerging technology, using each for what each does best. Technology can:

  • execute some aspects of instruction faster and more reliably than human instructors
  • beneficially shift the time or place that work is done
  • drive user engagement with progress and game dynamics
  • bring dispersed people together
  • seamlessly incorporate current, culturally rich authentic materials
  • make under-utilized “stovepiped” content archives more useful and accessible
  • make user time on task and progress significantly more visible and reportable to administrators

And–important for our customers and purposes–this is true not only for general proficiency in the most common languages, but for every different course of instruction, specialized domains, and for less-common and under-supported languages.

How to Create ACTFL-Aligned, Authentic Language Lessons [Webinar]

Posted on 19. Jan, 2015 by in Company News, Events, Language Learning

At Transparent Language, we don’t just support learners of a foreign language, we support teachers, too!  That’s why we started our Education Webinar series earlier this year. We’ve received so much positive feedback from attendees—and requests from educators unable to attend—that we’re repeating the series in early 2015! Up next: advice for creating ACTFL-aligned lessons using authentic materials for learners of all experience levels. You can preview the webinar slides and register to join us below!

What is an authentic lesson?

Authentic texts have been defined as “…real-life texts, not written for pedagogic purposes,” meaning they are written for native speakers and contain “real” language. Authentic materials have been produced to fulfil some social purpose, such as relaying breaking news or telling a story, in contrast to non-authentic texts designed specifically for language-learning purposes.

Authentic also means linguistically and culturally genuine. So, when thinking of authentic lessons, think of blog posts, poems, news stories, magazine articles, etc.

Why create authentic lessons?

One of the major benefits of authentic lessons is that they enable students to work with the latest news and events in real time. Students love working today’s news, ads, magazines, etc. They are exposed not only to the language, but to the culture and society of the target country. Especially when compared to a textbook, this approach is more motivating, engaging, and exciting.

There are more pragmatic reasons, too, of course. Authentic materials expand students’ vocabulary by exposing them to words and phrases used in different ways, such as idioms, slang, and other elements of a language you might not find in a textbook.

When the topics are modern and exciting, students are more likely to engage and participate in class, improving their speaking skills. You can also choose to introduce and reinforce grammar embedded in your chosen authentic materials, improving students’ reading and writing skills.

How do I create authentic lessons?

This part is better left explained in person! Want expert tips from a 20+ year veteran teacher of French and Spanish? How about suggestions of where to look for authentic materials and how to incorporate them in to your lessons? Join us at our upcoming webinars:

Monday February 9, 2015 7:00-8:00pm EST

Thursday February 19, 2015 4:00-5:00pm EST

Have questions or comments before, during, or after the webinar? Connect with us on Twitter using #TLedwebinars.

Updates from the Field: Preserving the Balinese Language

Posted on 14. Jan, 2015 by in Company News, Language Learning

You may recall that in 2013, Transparent Language launched the 7000 Languages Project, an initiative created to support the world’s less common, less commercial languages. One such language is Balinese, spoken on the island of Bali in Indonesia. We partnered with the folks at BASABali to help preserve this beautiful language, providing Balinese resources to schools across the island.7000LP

We’re thrilled to announce our continued partnership with BASABali and the new efforts to preserve and promote Balinese in 2015 and beyond. BASABali recently contacted us with these exciting updates:

We recently launched a multi-media Balinese-English-Indonesian wiki resource dictionary which functions as a dictionary within the Balinese language itself — with example sentences and YouTube videos of native speakers saying those sentences — drawn from newspaper columns, traditional texts, blog postings, etc.  The dictionary, with a choice of interfaces in three languages, also can be used as a translation dictionary between English, Balinese, and Indonesian.  2500 people from 77 countries have already accessed the dictionary, which was started with 10,000 words from Fred Eiseman’s Balinese-English dictionary.  The public is invited to add to the dictionary which is being edited by a team of 10 linguists from Balinese universities.

Hand in hand with the dictionary is Transparent Language’s Balinese Word of the Day, offering a daily word in Balinese with usage notes in English and Indonesian.   The Word of the Day will be added to the Wiki as we continue to try to capture the most current usage of the language.balinese word of the day

Also feeding into the wiki is a new online Balinese language monthly poetry competition, in which participants are asked to write a poem according to the theme of the month. Winners are selected by a team of linguists and by the public. We are working on culminating a Balinese year’s competition at a live poetry slam in honor of Saraswati Day, the Balinese day of Knowledge, at the Arma Museum and Resort. The live poetry slam will include not only the online participants, but competitors from youth organizations and banjars (community organizations) from each district in Bali.

On the education front, we continue to work with the schools and the government to distribute multi-media language materials to middle and high schools throughout Bali. With many thanks to Transparent Language and a team of translators, the materials are now available with both Indonesian and English instruction, and offer training in both written and spoken Balinese. The materials are also available to individuals at a modest cost ($25).

And, we continue to enjoy Google in Balinese, with many thanks again to all those who made it happen.

Here at Transparent Language, we’re committed to supporting all of the world’s languages and we are immensely proud of this work. To learn more about the 7000 Languages Project, visit: