How to Teach Grammar Through Technology [Webinar]

Posted on 25. Feb, 2015 by in Company News, education, 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: how to teach grammar through technology. You can preview the webinar slides and register to join us below!

What is the purpose of learning grammar?

The ultimate goal of many language learners is to communicate with others, so why bother sitting down with something as dull and dry as grammar? Consider this: the better our knowledge of grammar, the clearer we can speak, and the more likely it is that we will be understood. Grammar allows speakers to communicate clearly, but also form more complex, compelling sentences, resulting in more rewarding interactions in the language. And even if your goal is to speak at a high level, the ability to read and write in a language is paramount for proficiency. Having a strong knowledge of grammar helps develop these skills.

Beyond the practical, learning grammar can be fun. (Gasp! We know.) Identifying patterns and making connections can be exciting and motivating. We all want that “ah ha!” light bulb moment, and exploring the logic and grammar of a language is a great way to achieve that.

What are the elements of an effective grammar lesson?

Any effective grammar lesson should include four components:

  • First, learners need to internalize the new rule or concept in an input activity, such as reading a blog post that includes many examples of that grammar pattern.
  • Second, learners need to engage with and practice using the rule in a conscious-raising task, such as highlighting each example of the grammar rule in that blog.
  • Third, learners should demonstrate their understanding of the rule through some kind of output activity, such as writing their own blog article using the rule.
  • Finally, learners need to receive feedback on their work, either from their peers, their instructor, or both.

How do I incorporate technology into grammar lessons?

This part is better left explained in person! Want expert tips from a 20+ year veteran teacher of French and Spanish? How about sample lesson plans that use technology to teach grammar? Join us at our upcoming webinars:

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

Thursday March 26, 2015 4:00-5:00pm EST

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

A Flurry of Snow Day Language Thoughts

Posted on 23. Feb, 2015 by in Language Learning

You’ve probably heard the old claim that “Eskimos have dozens (or hundreds) of words for snow”… it was on my mind this morning as I looked out at the white stuff threatening to bury my driveway.  Never having studied Inuit, Yupik, or any other Native Alaskan language, I’m not going to wade into that particular debate, but it did get me thinking…  English is no slouch when it comes to snow terms, either.

Think about it – we’ve got snow, slush, sleet, frost, and freezing rain – and in a lot of the US, you’ve probably seen most of those in just the past week!  Furthermore, all that frozen precipitation can come down in snowstorms, snow showers, flurries, or blizzards, can be shaped into snowballs or snowmen, and can lie on the ground in snowdrifts, snowbanks, or even plow banks. In addition to being the bane of shovelers everywhere, that last is a great example of a modern term as specialized as anything the ancient Alaskans might have uttered – it neatly sums up the concept of “snow in mounds beside roads or across driveways after being pushed there by a snowplow” in just two simple syllables.

My plow banks - that's a LOT of snow.

My plow banks – that’s a LOT of snow.

A scattering of snowflakes can be a dusting; extreme amounts snowfall over time can form a mountain’s snowcap or even a glacier.  Speaking of mountains, we haven’t even gotten into the myriad of skiing terms: powder, granular, hardpack, and no doubt many others – like the Native Alaskans of old, skiers need to make fine distinctions when it comes to the surface their hobby depends on.

That, of course, is the linguistic concept at the heart of the old Eskimo cliché – the idea that a language may naturally evolve more terms for things that are more common, or more important, in the places where it is spoken.  It makes sense – a wide vocabulary allows speakers to more easily convey details about the matters that concern them most.  It doesn’t always happen, and it’s perfectly possible to talk about, say, “snow that is good for driving a sled” using a full phrase rather than a specialized term – but if you had to discuss such matters everyday, the Inuit word piegnartoq certainly would be convenient.[1]

Of course, this tendency is certainly not unique weather words, but they do make good examples – it’s no surprise, for example, that Icelandic has more words and idioms related to winter weather than, say, Arabic or Hawaiian, while a language like Spanish is somewhere in the middle. (You can see some fun Icelandic terms here in one of our Icelandic blogger’s posts, and some Spanish terms in a vocabulary list that I made here.)  Meanwhile, a language like English, with speakers spread across vastly different climates, is going to pick up specialized terms for all sorts of different weather events, though some of them may be regional is usage.

What about the language you’re studying?  Does it have more terms for hot weather or cold?  Are there any non-weather subjects it seems to specialize in?  Did I leave out your favorite winter word, or are you just tired of this season’s frozen nonsense and ready to let it go?  Sound off in the comments!



Transforming the Economics of Language Learning (Part 3)

Posted on 18. Feb, 2015 by in Language Learning, Reference/Usage Tips, Trends

In Part 2 we discussed how technology can transform the economics of language learning, but only if it’s the right technology. Now, let’s look at implementing the right technology in the right way.

You’ve seen those clickbait web ads for “One Silly Trick…” to lose weight, relieve pain or whatever. There’s not usually much value after the click. But for teaching and learning languages, there is a shift in approach—almost simple enough to be a “trick”—that can radically change how quickly and reliably students learn.

We call it DABL, “Declaratively Accelerated Blended Learning.” Obviously we’re not good at catchy names, but if you’re a teacher, you’ve probably come across the term “flipped classroom,” and DABL is something of a flipped language classroom. “Flipped” means doing homework in class and classwork at home.

Unflipped: teacher gives classroom lecture on how to do long division, followed by students doing long division problems at home. Flipped: students watch video on how to do long division at home, and then do problems the next day in class where everyone can see and help each other.



Flipped makes sense because the fixed one-way presentation is absorbed when alone, while the variable anything-can-happen work takes place where others can interact to correct a misunderstanding or celebrate something nicely done.

In language acquisition, the biggest, fixed body of information that needs to be absorbed is lexicon. Thousands of words and phrases need to be mastered to learn another language. If you had the time, you could just notice and absorb words and phrases through immersion, but in professional language programs, that vocabulary and other useful language “chunks” need to be learned deliberately. The alternatives are just too slow and unreliable.

A good teacher might say—and it’s not unreasonable—we’re going to do new things in language together, notice what comes up, and then for homework, you‘ll spend time to master the words and phrases we encounter. That works.

But here’s what works better:

  • Someone, perhaps the curriculum designer or the teacher, looks at each lesson in advance and selects the particular words, phrases and language chunks that are the heart of that lesson. What lexical material would best help a student to powerfully engage and excel during the class focused on that language? What vocabulary, phrases, patterns?
  • Put those words, phrases and chunks into varied, fast-paced, well-sequenced, computer-delivered activities, and task each student with completing those activities and mastering that lexicon before the class.
  • Have that computer (PC, web, mobile or whatever) confirm to the instructor that the work was completed and the material mastered.
  • And then… Plan and execute a great class of interesting and compelling task-focused, communicative and peer activities.
  • Do the same for each lesson, each class of your course.

Computers are really good at game-like activities that adjust to each student and drive faster mastery. If a student would typically learn 15 vocabulary items in a certain lesson, with DABL he or she can be assigned and successfully master 30. By using that new decontextualized vocabulary in engaging contexts in class the very next day, the learner begins the lifelong process of digesting and adding culturally accurate definition and nuance to those words and phrases. At course end, student lexicons are larger and more robust, and their skills are sharper because they were powerfully armed to excel in each class. Stronger lexicon and stronger skills equals greater proficiency. Greater proficiency in less time—for busy professionals that’s the best trick of all.