Once upon a time, screens acted as cold separations from the warmth of other people. However, they have now become an integral part of our daily lives that offer us the chance to connect with people that we otherwise would not have. The arrival of Covid-19 also saw an increase in the usage of video platforms as educational tools. Children attended school from their living rooms and students completed degrees from their beds.
Language learning especially has benefited from the transition to digital platforms in a way that other subjects have not. Online video software has provided a platform for people in the UK to access native speakers as far away as Japan. Distance is no longer an object in accessing native speakers of a learner’s target language.
Ukrainian startup Preply has wagered a considerable amount of time on the development of their own digital platform to teach languages – and it’s paying off, with the company experiencing considerable growth.
We spoke with Preply’s Campaign Manager, Daniele Saccardi, about how the language learning sector has evolved in the past decade and how the pandemic has influenced the transition to digital learning:
Learning a language used to be all about memorising vocabulary and understanding grammatical theory. However the world has adapted to a new communicative approach, emphasising the importance of being able to express oneself and share information in the target language. Not only is this approach more practical, as it allows the learner to begin
spoken practice immediately, it is also beneficial for improving confidence, motivation and memorisation.
Language learning technology has evolved to adapt to this communicative approach and fit into an ever shrinking world. Far from the days of Software DVDs that we used in the early part of the century, we now have access to a variety of digital tools, such as mobile applications and video conferencing platforms. The requirement to remain at home during the Covid-19 pandemic led to an increase in the usage of these conferencing platforms and opened up opportunities for students despite their geographical locations. Although I believe that we would have begun to rely more on technology in education, the pandemic definitely acted as a catalyst to trigger this transition sooner. Apps, such as Memrise and Anki, focus on providing students with key vocabulary by turning memorisation into a game.
These applications make great support tools to complement more formal learning but can also be used as stand alone platforms to learn the basics.
Some of the downfalls of these applications are dehumanisation and a lack of deeper understanding due to their surface level approach. Technology can only take us so far before assistance from native speakers is needed.
Without communicating with native speakers, learners also miss out on learning colloquialisms and culture. What Preply does is bring together technological advances with humans, in order to bridge the disconnect between the two and to provide a more comprehensive and personal learning experience. Our tutors are well versed in the merging of these two faces of language learning, allowing them to focus on building a connection with their students and tailoring the teaching to their particular needs.
The future of language learning technology looks bright and it is worth watching this space for advances in AI technologies. At the moment, AI is limited to “spaced repetition”, meaning that the same word is repeated at regular intervals to improve memorisation. However, there are endless possibilities to how AI can be integrated into language learning technologies in order to improve the user experience. One such suggestion that I am aware of is the use of chatbots that respond to your messages with personalised responses and can even provide feedback on your performance. Although this is convenient and can provide learners withmore confidence to make mistakes without being judged, I still strongly believe that
conversations with native speakers cannot be replaced due to the cultural underpinning oflanguage learning.
At Preply, we understand that each student has different requirements and so we use technology to complement and assist our teaching to varying extents depending on the student. The increased use of video conferencing platforms has opened up the world to opportunities beyond the classroom and we are proud to be a part of the ever evolving transition to hybrid learning.