By Helena Kresin – BiCortex Languages
Less than even a year ago, the idea of teaching English to students around the world without moving from the confines of your home would have been deemed a novel concept. Due to the demands of a global pandemic, virtual language teaching has swiftly become a reality.
Through my work as an English teacher with BiCortex Languages, which teaches students both face-to-face and online, I have seen how virtual learning provides students with the unique opportunity to learn from native speakers while staying in their own country. I have seen how quickly students progress in their English learning as they engage in authentic, interesting exchanges, which prove far more effective than poring over sterile grammar books. Moreover, teaching English to students from innumerable countries has emphasised the interconnectivity of the modern world and, as we exchange anecdotes about daily life in our respective countries, I am reminded of how both teacher and student can learn from each other.
The need to move lessons online has also catalysed technological innovations in the online classroom space. Even the basic function of being able to share a screen has allowed me to switch from one application to another to create a particularly dynamic lesson, moving from showing a photo in order to illustrate a vocabulary item, to watching a video with a catchy English song. With such a wide range of resources available online, the teacher can easily employ visual aids to help students understand when language alone does not suffice. Thus, students can begin online language learning as complete beginners.
Regarding tutoring for kids, it is true that online lessons can present challenges with younger children, who are more prone to becoming distracted without the physical presence of a teacher. Nevertheless, children are increasingly digitally literate; sitting in front of a screen is something they are used to. Furthermore, when we are young, our brain is primed for language acquisition. Starting language learning later risks losing out on the chance to learn so effortlessly.
Online learning does not, however, always act as an equaliser. Not all students have access to suitable devices, fast internet, or people around them to encourage them to learn. The teacher can help to mitigate this by being cognisant of challenges and adapting lessons accordingly, but overcoming systemic financial and structural barriers requires an international effort.
The question we should be asking ourselves is not whether virtual learning is here to stay. As with all revolutions, once change has been tried, it is difficult to forget its taste. Rather, we should be asking ourselves how much online lessons might best complement face-to-face learning and how its minor flaws can be overcome.