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‘Language Labs’ - do we have the wherewithal to run them?

‘Language Labs’ - do we have the wherewithal to run them?
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Educators have been smart enough to join hands with technology to open new vistas in learning. For those who are new to the Language Lab (LL), it is a ...

Educators have been smart enough to join hands with technology to open new vistas in learning. For those who are new to the Language Lab (LL), it is a laboratory envisaged to cater to the growing demand of a large pool of fluent English speaking youth from all sections of the society, particularly in areas like BPO and ITES. A standard Language Lab has conceptualised customised training programme based on the latest technological tools and the most advanced training methodology to impart simplified and effortless learning of English. It also provides personalised training for British, American, Australian and global accent.

Speaking to users across the city put me into an entirely new perspective of this ‘tool’ which is not getting the much-deserved attention for the potential it promises. Academicians, students and LL experts all unanimously agree that it’s a life-changing thing to get trained in these labs.

Says Komali Prakash of EFLU, “I know of an IITian whose confidence levels got a substantial boost after he picked up communication skills in the Language Lab. Today he is a professor of English language in the same institute!” When Language Lab has the capacity to mould personality through language training why hasn’t it made way into schools, colleges and corporates as much as it should? Is it only because it’s an expensive affair to run one? Let’s find out what it takes to create, run and maintain a Language Lab.

Pooling inputs from EFLU language professors, students and all those associated with Language Labs, Young Hans provides useful insights into this amazing tool which can restore a student’s crumbling confidence and make a world of difference to his/her personality. Apart from this, a well-equipped LL exposes students to different styles and accents, thus grooming them into a ‘global product’.

Sudheer Reddy, proprietor DOT Systems, who installs Language Labs with Renet software says the idea as such is great but not many schools or/and educational institutes come forward to set it up.

Why are Language Labs important? How does Renet/Relan Pro help?

Traditionally language learning focuses on learning it through speaking. Now speaking is the most difficult part as learners are conscious of mistakes and feel shy to speak in front of their peers or teachers. Here is where a Language Lab helps as it overcomes this age-old barrier by allowing the student to speak in confined booths in privacy. The Language Lab environment helps the student attempt, make mistakes, learn and practice without the inhibitions felt in normal classroom situations. Learning the sounds, reproducing them, it’s like having a native speaker tutor you privately for any number of hours. Students can listen to themselves as they are speaking, which can be a great way to improve communication. Students can access digitally stored exercises and programmes which can be accessed any time at will. Using a software like Relan Pro from Renet, the instructor can discreetly monitor the students by listening to them practice without the student being aware of it and correct them whenever needed. The future of Language Labs is however not restricted to accessing content in a lab environment but from anywhere, anytime. This is what Relan Pro is trying to do. Relan Pro now has a cloud version with a great instructional design allowing the student to access the lab from anywhere in the world anytime and interact too.

Is it only the cost factor that didn’t bring Language Lab the attention it deserves?

I don’t think cost is the only factor that’s working against LL, although it is an important one. Using a Language Lab is a collaborative form of learning where both the learner and the teacher should feel the need and that is why you find it used more successfully in some colleges and universities where it is often used to learn phonetics and ESP courses. Lack of dedicated space, certified teaching content, maintenance, good instructors, technical staff, frequent up-gradations, etc are all reasons, to not have a lab. I think some teachers even perceive it as a threat.

Today the internet has a plethora of websites offering free content. However the veracity of the content is always a question. If there are budget constraints, teachers can always shortlist some genuine sites offering free content and make use of them in a lab environment. There is no academic achievement if there is no proper goal and an inclination to use the Language Lab in the right way and one can end up wasting a lot of money.

Some institutions are against content prepared by native speakers and prefer the Indian versions. I think learning from a programme that has native speakers and a communicative goal can get you closer to speaking the right way. Language Labs have well constructed tasks and exercises that need to be practiced and need an instructor who can use the facility creatively. Many don’t use the solution in the way it is meant to be and end up criticising them.

Why is it difficult to find the right content?

Many institutions, when it comes to English, prefer to have certified and specific content that is well-graded and that suits their curriculum. However there are very few companies offering such content in multiple accents that is graded as per user level, certified or recommended by a relevant authority (such as Cambridge University, British Council etc) and with other important features such as record options and instant feedback. This kind of content that is available is based on number of users and turns out quite expensive. Such institutions which cannot afford such content should rely on content made freely available by British Council or various other organisations that offer free online content. Alternatively, they can look at having some authoring tools to create their own content specific to their needs. It would have been nice if universities such as the English and Foreign Languages University created and offered free or affordable digital learning resources in English and other languages to promote such blended form of learning.

What’s Authoring tool?

It’s an extremely useful application for creating lessons/courseware, creating exercises, and grading exams. The programme offers built-in tools for the teacher to create, modify, and save lessons and also exams for their students to take immediately or at a later date. Teachers can also upload helpful media in the form of text, image, audio, or video to accompany each question.

The authoring tools allow the teacher to grade each question of the exam, offer feedback and even mark corrections. Teacher can then email each student his/her grade at the click of a button as well as view information about each question of the exam. Our handy import/export exam feature allows for the same exam to be taken by multiple courses and then individually modified if necessary.

This authoring tool is also one of the few, if not only, network CD based and web-based testing programme that allow students to answer questions orally by providing them with the means to record and playback their responses, which can be re-recorded as many times as they like while the exam is in progress.

This is a powerful authoring application that gives teacher and students a wide range of built-in tools not found in other testing programmes. While other web-based programmes might require a specific browser and non-free third-party applications, this authoring tool software can run in a wide variety of today’s leading browsers.

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