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Five Strange Directions Language Learning Won’t Take (Or Will It?)

15108534663_54eb461586_bTwo things are true at once: 1) language teaching and learning methods are still not innovative enough, and 2) any predictions about “the next big thing” for polyglots have, so far, been shaky at best. So the idea for this post is simple: I will try to write down some crazy, strange, big ideas for the future of language learning – almost too big to come true. This is one of those posts you want to come back to in ten years’ time…

Prediction One: No More Killing Trees

Imagine materials, dictionaries, courses and class notes that are all online or on e-paper. Imagine not having to ship dead trees all across the planet, not having to print things, not having to wait weeks for your book to arrive.

Schools aren’t ready – across the globe, many people still associate paper books with learning at all stages. And school teachers around the world are not the most keen to change their minds.

I’m waiting for this one to happen, but not holding my breath.

Prediction Two: Massive Open-Source Solutions

Wikipedia does a good job at getting all your knowledge together. GNU / Linux team up, globally, to unite people delivering amazing software. These are incredibly complicated projects, and they end up being free to use. Language learning seems almost trivial in comparison.

It isn’t. Language learners and users are much messier to deal with. The nature of communication is a lot “fuzzier”, since you’re not just dealing with code or facts. The market is dominated by people who still have some money to gain from helping others learn languages – why introducing “free” into the equation?

I still think of this one, sometimes, when I’m in one of my generous moods. Wikipedia for all languages. Wouldn’t it be nice…I’d be out of work, but still.


Prediction Three: VR for language learners

Remember Second Life? No, me neither.

Earlier in 2016, Oculus Rift released their VR kit. Almost immediately, the company got bought by Facebook. Early product demos promise to be revolutionary for gamers, film enthusiasts and pretty much the whole software industry. For language learning, virtual reality (or its more far-out cousin, augmented reality) can become the seamless blend which publishers have been striving for. Have the vocabulary translations appear right next to the thing you’re looking at. Have the phrase bank show up in the corner of your eye as you speak. Inspect a page of printed text, and have the system highlight the grammar points you learned about in the past week…

This one is potentially the most likely one to happen. Schools are investing in VR sets – big players in the tech world are paying attention – and the possibilities are not that far-fetched.

I just hope it’s not as awkward as those Second Life lessons.


Prediction Four: Language For the Lonely

Globally, the world population is ageing and becoming more isolated. Loneliness is no longer an exception. Are foreign languages going to become a luxury? If so, the lonely people will be more likely to have access to it. This would not have massive consequences, but may impact the way learning and teaching is thought about. If the “communicative language teaching” principle goes “boink” because your learner is just fine without the “communicating” bit, what then?

This one may just be important enough to re-consider the way we learn and teach. But ultimately, language almost pre-supposes communication – even if it’s as indirect as between a book author and reader. Lonely doesn’t have to mean silent.


Prediction Five: Emoji-based language learning

Trying to stop emoji is a futile task. And getting angry at people who use them is like shouting at that nice grandma who cuts a shortcut across the lawn to her flat. It’s convenient, and gets the job done, and she ain’t got time for anything else.

Trying to use emoji in language teaching will always be a losing game, though, won’t it? By the time a lesson is planned, checked, and published, a new set of symbols will be in use, or a better way to illustrate something will be found.

So can this one come true? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Photo Credit: czarcarter via Compfight cc

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