Sanako is a Finnish Educational Tech company helping schools and language teachers to improve language teaching efficiency and results.
Students around the world may have been familiar with acquiring a language online using solutions such as Duolingo®, Babbel® or Memrise® since a long time ago. However, when Covid-19 outbreak started and affected us all, giving language classes online did not appear to be as easy a transition as one might think.
Zoom®, Google Meet® and Google Classroom® are among the most widely known tools for online teaching currently. Nonetheless, are they optimized for teaching languages? How do they differ from a specialized online language teaching platform like Sanako Connect? Read on and find out which online platform we think is the best for teaching languages.
Synchronous and asynchronous teaching
There are two main ways of delivering language learning content to students in online environment. The first one is teaching in real-time when teachers and students are both online at the same time. The second one is when materials are delivered to students even if teachers are not online, and students can learn without the simultaneous presence of teachers. Zoom® and Google Meet® are suitable for the former teaching type while Google Classroom® is better when it comes to the latter type.
Conferencing solutions like Zoom® and Google Meet® are particularly strong tools for synchronous teaching. Students and teachers can easily see each other, communicate both verbally and via chat in real-time. Sharing a teacher’s screen is a really good way to show materials or present to students. Nevertheless, once a teacher wants to share different types of files to the class, it can be a bit harder.
If you are using Zoom®, you need to go to their settings to actually allow file transfer. In Google Meet®, you can mostly share files when preparing the meeting invitation. Of course, during the call, you can share the links for content you have uploaded on other online file sharing platforms but it is not directly shared easily in the chat window like Zoom®.
For both of these platforms, after several classes, the management of the files you have shared may be quite challenging as files are not stored on the system so it might be hard to track the files you have shared with the class. Often you will have to use an external file management system to organize materials you have shared. The reason is Zoom® and Google Meet® are designed for synchronous online meetings exclusively rather than for asynchronous teaching where file storage and management for longer period is an essential part of the learning and teaching process.
If you are an independent language teacher that normally teaches one-on-one classes or have only a few students in your class, you can manage quite well using Zoom® and Google Meet®. If you are teaching in a school or university and have a bigger class, combining these tools with a class management system is necessary to keep your workload manageable. This is when Google Classroom® comes in as an effective solution.
Google Classroom® allows teachers to not only share files and exercises with students but also collect their submissions in an orderly fashion. Teachers can also grade and edit documents conveniently inside the platform. It might be even more convenient if all students and teachers use Google tools together. Notwithstanding, Google Classroom® has its own limits for materials creation, especially for language teaching.
Creating language teaching materials and exercises
If you look at language teaching platforms, you’ll notice that it’s the actual interaction of the students with the exercises that affect the effectiveness of the learning process. The more engaging the content, the more students are willing to learn the language. Keeping students engaged has always been a problem teachers need to solve in both traditional classroom settings and now with online language classes.
Although language learning platforms like Duolingo® or Babbel® can have really good and engaging content for learners, they are all pre-made and teachers cannot modify or decide which one can be used in their classes exclusively. These products are meant for self-study when one wants to learn a language but they are not made for language teachers to create content to be delivered to their students.
When implementing Zoom®, Google Meet® or Google Classroom® to teach languages, teachers often create materials from Microsoft Office suite such as Powerpoint presentations or Word documents to share with students. In the case of Google Classroom®, it is actually convenient to use Google Docs or Slides instead. One good point is that teachers can provide feedback on students’ work by commenting directly on the material.
Still, since it is not a platform tailored especially for language teaching, Google Classroom® offers limited selection for teachers to create engaging content and exercises meant for language learning. The case is actually no better for Zoom® and Google Meet®. Teachers have to find other solutions for this. Many have to rely on external resources to create quizzes or flashcards for students to learn the language better. These types of solutions may help with learning vocabulary, grammar or even listening skills but they do very little in improving students’ pronunciation.
To improve one’s pronunciation, self recording and listening back to one’s own pronunciation is widely known as a tip for language learners. In Zoom® or Google Meet®, one will be able to record the whole call. In Zoom®, a host or a teacher can easily initiate the recording, either for it to be saved on cloud or locally into the device’s memory. Others in the call can also start this function as well by placing a request to be approved by the host.
However, recording the whole call can be hard for review later, especially if it’s a long session. Another problem is that collecting individual recordings can turn to a quite burdensome procedure. Thus, with solutions not specialized in language teaching, users might need to be really patient and also hard-working to cope with all the limitations.
Grouping and pairing students
A very common activity in language classes is pair or group discussion. Google Classroom® obviously cannot be used for this, and neither can Google Meet®. And if you don’t know it yet, it’s actually possible to divide people inside Zoom® using what is called as Breakout rooms. You can enable this from the settings of Zoom®.
Hence, Zoom® can be used for dividing a bigger class into small groups or student pairs. If your focus is mostly interaction among participants and less on the classroom management and exercise execution, Zoom® can be a rather good choice in this sense for online language teaching.
So, what are the 3 biggest advantages of a specialized Online language teaching platform like Sanako Connect over these alternative tools?
Sanako Connect includes a balanced combination of all the different elements and features to support language teaching and learning, both in a classroom setting and also in the online environment.
How can we claim this? Let’s explore Sanako Connect - the modern online language lab inheriting knowledge from our 60 years of experience in delivering language labs to institutions around the world. For a quick comparison with other solutions, please refer to the table below:
Advantage 1: A teacher-led environment
Operating a class online can be challenging at times, especially when there are many students attending at once. Imagining having a group meeting with 10 or more people, more often there may be noises that interfere with the meeting, or simply because when you’re online, it’s more difficult to take the cue as to when one can speak without interrupting others. That is for a normal meeting setting, however, operating a class with students can be even more difficult online.
This is why Sanako Connect’s approach is prioritizing the role of the teacher as the one leading the teaching session. Inside Sanako Connect, teachers can easily provide uninterrupted guidance to the whole class at once as well as delete any inappropriate content shared by mischievous students. Moreover, the teacher is kept informed of a student’s status, whether he or she is working on an assignment, recording or discussing in a group with others. The teacher can then decide to provide help if needed at any time through either audio or chat as the communication channel. Besides these, there is another feature dedicated to a teacher’s control over a class - the forced collection of any exercise or task. This function is especially useful for administering quizzes and tests online on the platform.
Advantage 2: Rich content and specialized exercises for language teaching
As mentioned above, other platforms provide limited choice to content and exercise creation. Sanako Connect, on the other hand, has multiple elements that can be used for creating an engaging lesson. For sharing content or instructions, a teacher can use either text, recorded audio of his/her voice or other multimedia elements such as different types of files or also videos. For creating tasks that require interaction and input from students, Sanako Connect offers several options that can be mixed and matched freely according to the teacher's needs and wants.
The exclusive task types pertaining to language teaching inside the Sanako Connect are Simple and Advanced recorder, which initiate the recording of a student’s voice. This is a distinct characteristic belonging to language labs that helps students to have more speaking time and teachers to access students’ recordings easily to listen to their pronunciation more closely.
The Simple recorder contains only one track to record either students’ practice individually or in pairs and groups. The Advanced recorder, as illustrated in the picture below, includes two tracks: one for the original audio and one for the student’s voice (Read more about Simple and Advanced recorder).
Advantage 3: Synchronous and asynchronous teaching in the same platform
Sanako Connect is designed to make it easily accessible for both students and teachers in different teaching scenarios. The solution is unique as it enables both synchronous and asynchronous teaching. This means that teachers can deliver content to students both in real-time or allow students to access the lesson at their own time. If we think about it, Zoom® and Google Meet® are nice online tools to move the normal class to online but they are not meant for moving the language class online. Sanako Connect instead enables the language teacher to move their language lab online.
Furthermore, Sanako Connect online teaching platform is browser-based, unlike many other specialized software for language teachers, which makes it compatible with a wide variety of operating systems and devices. Students can interact with Sanako Connect’s rich content on either laptops or tablets at their homes or in the classroom, acquiring language skills at their comfort.
In addition, as students’ privacy is becoming increasingly important in a lot of countries, Sanako Connect is the right product to erase this concern for schools, especially when moving classes online. One apparent characteristic that differentiates Sanako Connect from other solutions is that it requires no account creation from students. Students will be able to access a learning session simply by clicking a link shared by the teacher without having to create an account with their email address.
Considering all points discussed above, Sanako Connect might be the most suitable option when one wants to look for an online language teaching platform for their school or university.
Sanako is not affiliated with the other brands mentioned in this article in anyway. All the trademarks related to their brands and products are owned by the corresponding brand in question. This article and the comparison between these products was based on the publicly available information when the article was published in 9th of September 2020. Note that all of these products are constantly developed, so refer to each company and product for the most recent product specifications.