Transparent Language Blog

Language Training in Half the Time? Posted by on Jun 26, 2013 in Archived Posts

“Reduce by as much as half, the time required for language instruction in the classroom.” At the 2005 dedication of the Center for Advanced Study of Language (CASL), founder Dick Brecht set that goal.

Who actually remembers what people say at dedications? Well, the language community noticed Dick’s statement. CASL was created at the University of Maryland to be America’s leading national research laboratory for language, and it seemed to some that its leadership was setting up an outrageous and unattainable goal right from the start.

A famous rule of thumb in the technology world, Moore’s Law, predicts that the cost of computer memory will be cut in half every eighteen months or so. The technological world is accustomed to rapid improvement.

But the formal teaching and learning of foreign languages in classroom-type settings has been going on for thousands of years. One would guess that anything tweakable was tweaked long ago, and the rate at which human minds absorb information is not likely to double anytime soon.

So, where did this goal of a fifty percent reduction in required instruction time come from? Imagine a 2005-era language training program that takes, let’s say, 20 weeks of full-time training to get students to a given level of language proficiency or performance. What would a 2013-era program do to cut those 20 weeks “by as much as half?”

Turns out, it comes partially from a given program doing old things better, and partially from using technology to do things that were not possible until recently.

Do Old Things Better

  • Pick better students. Smarter, more committed, more motivated, more language-experienced, more talented students with better work habits will learn faster. Some programs cannot pick their students, but some assign certain personnel to language training by pulling from a larger pool.  Learn which attributes most influence future success in a language program. It might not be the attributes you think.
  • Pick better teachers or train them to be better. Help teachers develop traditional skills, and help them gain expertise in new blended learning methods. (See below.)
  • Pick or make a better curriculum. Understand in detail what your students will do with a language, develop that into a well-aligned scope and sequence of instruction, create accurate content, and structure it well.

Exploit New Research and Technology

  • Blended Learning and Declarative Acceleration. Blended learning—combining human instruction with technology—produces consistently better results than instruction or technology alone. This is particularly true for language training, where instructors are better for many things, but computers excel in some areas as well—particularly the rapid learning of words and phrases. Declarative Acceleration uses computers for what computers do best, instructors for what they do best, and blends the two in a deliberate “flipped language classroom” style that is tightly customized to each particular curriculum or program of instruction. This curriculum customized, student-centered approach to learning produces stronger lexicon and stronger skills, and does so much faster.
  • How much faster? We’d say by as much as half of the time…

Nice call, Dick.

– Michael Quinlan, CEO, Transparent Language, Inc.

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About the Author: Transparent Language

Transparent Language is a leading provider of best-practice language learning software for consumers, government agencies, educational institutions, and businesses. We want everyone to love learning language as much as we do, so we provide a large offering of free resources and social media communities to help you do just that!

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