When it comes to using ICT in the classroom, the UK is leading the way in Europe. A 2006 study showed that 60.2% of UK teachers had access to the internet and computers in their classrooms as well the competence and motivation to use them. This was compared with 41% of teachers in Germany and 19% in France and a EU average of 38% (Empirica, 2006 in Becta, 2008: 4).

What can ICT bring to language learning?

Research spotlight on ICTWith technology evolving ever more quickly, sometimes it can seem like new developments flash past in an instant. So can ICT have a real impact on learning, or is it just a gimmick?

Increasing motivation and confidence, expanding learning possibilities, creating opportunities for interaction and supporting differentiation – just some of the ways successful use of ICT has been shown to enhance language teaching and learning (Becta, 2004).

Indeed, ICT has a significant role to play in supporting learning across the curriculum. A recent Ofsted report found that in primary schools, the ‘effective use of ICT in other subjects enabled pupils to develop their independence as learners and improve their thinking skills, creativity and problem-solving’ (Ofsted, 2009: 9). And the contribution to raising standards in languages was particularly noted.

Examples of such good practice included using talking books in Key Stage 1 English and drawing on software to create cartoons which pupils with English as an Additional Language (EAL) used in constructing sentences. Digital sound recording and play-back functions were also shown to provide opportunities for children with EAL to monitor their pronunciation and identify ways in which it could be improved.

Animation, digital stills and video imagery were all reported to be ‘allowing pupils to express themselves visually, in ways that were not previously possible’ (Ofsted, 2009: 8). With all these new approaches to communication being opened up, technology clearly holds great potential for those interacting in a new language.

Videconferencing - in focus

Of all the new ways to interact with others, videoconferencing has to be among the most exciting. MustLearnIT was one project that focused on the videoconferencing in primary languages. As part of a wider European initiative, the UK-based component was coordinated by a team of researchers and specialists in primary, ICT and languages from Warwick Institute of Education.

In a 2007 conference paper, the UK team report that setting up videoconferencing links between 3 primary schools and a specialist language college in Coventry had ‘clear benefits for pupil learning and staff development’ (Pritchard, Barnes and Hunt, 2007 pro4: 9).

Supporting non-specialists

The aim was to facilitate access to French teaching from language specialists in cases where the primary class teacher may not have sufficient language competence or confidence to deliver language lessons alone. In this respect, the specialist secondary teacher was able to offer language expertise and experience of language teaching that many of the primary class teachers felt they were lacking, which had advantages especially in providing children with an accurate model for pronunciation.

Enhancing the role of the class teacher

Even so, one of the major findings was how crucial the involvement of the primary class teacher was to the success of the lessons. Through the videoconferencing work, the class teacher gained a new dual role in the primary classroom, that of ‘facilitator’ and ‘learner’. By preparing the lessons and the class, reviewing previous work, encouraging recall and repetition, asking questions, monitoring learning, giving one-to-one help and nominating individuals to participate, the class teacher facilitated the progress of the lessons. At the same time, the teacher was learning the new language alongside the children and was able to ‘act as a role model for the class’, adding to the motivating effect that videoconferencing had on the pupils (Pritchard, Barnes and Hunt 2007 pro4: 8).

There were also positive effects on learning. During the course of the project, some of the initial cohort of primary pupils moved up to secondary school, where secondary teachers noted their increased confidence to speak in lessons, willingness to experiment with language, improved ability to mimic what they hear and generally good pronunciation.

Joining up primary and secondary

And it was not just the linguistic benefits of the videoconferencing that impacted on transition. Videoconferencing gave primary pupils the opportunity to build a relationship with the secondary teacher before starting at secondary school. In turn, regular contact with the primary pupils enabled secondary teachers to gain a greater insight into the primary classroom, the children’s capabilities and approaches to teaching younger learners.

As a result, joint planning between the primary and secondary teacher emerged as the key to good practice, with teachers sharing resources for use in the lesson, such as flashcards, as well as follow up worksheets so that the class teacher can reinforce the language throughout the week.

Keeping up with the future 

These are just some examples of the multiple benefits ICT can bring to languages in the primary classroom. Of course, the number of ways in which technology can contribute is always growing.

Thankfully there are some helpful sources of information to help you stay ahead of the field…

  • Becta – develop and disseminate research evidence on the impact of ICT on all aspects of teaching and learning.
  • BETT blog -  provides information on the latest developments, industry updates and commentary.
  • Futurelab - Reviews commissioned from academic researchers to offer a route map through the vast body of research into education and technology. The potential role of ICT in modern foreign languages learning 5-19 may be of particular interest.
  • Jisc Techwatch - published reports and information resources on specific technologies and standards, plus links to technology resources elsewhere on the web.

And if you really want to know about the technology of the future, why not ask the people who will be responsible for creating it – well, they are right there in your class after all.

Ruth Churchill, CILT Primary Languages Information Officer

  • Languages Work
  • lingu@net europa
  • Languages ICT
  • Vocational Languages Resource Bank